Stranger in a Strange Land

By Robert A. Heinlein

Rating: 4 stars

I read a Heinlein book about eight years ago and it’s taken me this long to get around to a second one. I’m glad I did though, since this one was much better, and fully deserves its status of ‘classic’ SF novel. No, I don’t agree with his politics, nor his treatment of women in his books, but there was a lot to this book, and I don’t fully grok it yet. The religious aspect of the book intrigued me a lot, particularly the idea that Smith’s teachings could live side by side with existing religions.

The story follows Valentine Michael Smith, who was the baby survivor of the first expedition to Mars. The Martians look after him until 25 years later when he’s rescued and brought back to Earth. Smith has a unique way of thinking and his Martian upbringing has unlocked the potential in Humanity, and it’s up to him to decide what to do with his unique gifts.

According to the introduction, this edition is a restored edition published after his death. When the book was first published, the publisher had demanded that it be significantly cut down, to the tune of about 60,000 words. I can see that this could maybe be trimmed a bit, but I can’t see how you could chop out that much without completely distorting the story.

Book details

ISBN: 9780340938348
Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks
Year of publication: 1961

Monsters (Isaac Asimov’s Wonderful Worlds of Science Fiction #8)

By Isaac Asimov

Rating: 3 stars

This is an anthology about, um, monsters. Big monsters, small monsters; monsters with teeth, psychological monsters; alien monsters, human monsters; monsters of all shapes and sizes. Some of the stories were fun, some were disturbing, but it’s a good collection and the theme works well.

Book details

ISBN: 9780451154118
Publisher: Signet
Year of publication: 1988

The Complete Persepolis (Persepolis, #1-4)

By Marjane Satrapi

Rating: 2 stars

An autobiography in graphic-novel form, this was a rather odd book. The author is Iranian and the great-granddaughter of the last emperor and the book tells the story of living during the Islamic Revolution and the odd schizophrenic society that developed after it, as well as her time in Austria for four years.

I wasn’t hugely impressed by this. I don’t think the graphic novel format worked and that normal prose would have told her story better. It just didn’t add anything to the telling, and it also meant that each incident (the focus of a chapter) had to be told in sketch form (no pun intended) rather than in any great depth. An interesting experiment, but I don’t think it worked. I also didn’t feel much sympathy for the author for a good chunk of it either.

Book details

ISBN: 9780375714832
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Year of publication: 2003

Making History

By Stephen Fry

Rating: 2 stars

I don’t know what it is, but I just don’t seem to “get” Stephen Fry’s books. I think the man himself is great and love his TV/film work, but his books just don’t do it for me, and this, unfortunately, is no different. A time travel/alternative history piece set in Cambridge, it’s enjoyable enough, but never quite gelled for me. There were some plot holes which, although small (and not related to the time travel), jarred and I didn’t care enough about the protagonist to worry about him.

Book details

ISBN: 9780099457060
Publisher: Arrow
Year of publication: 1996

The Satanic Verses

By Salman Rushdie

Rating: 4 stars

Over the English Channel, a hi-jacked airliner explodes leaving two survivors clinging to each other as they fall. One gains a halo while the other grows horns and goat legs, acting out the ancient battle between good and evil again; but which is which?

This is a very complex book, with many interwoven themes: love, belonging and betrayal being the central ones. Different people will get many different things out of it, but what struck a chord with me was the issues of belonging, and the difficulties of standing between cultures, since this is something I feel on a day-to-day basis.

I also loved the language of the book. Rushdie has a wonderful gift for words and it was a pleasure to let the words drift over you. It also captured, for me, the voice of Indian literature. It does sound like an authentic mix of cosmopolitan English and Hindi; while Rushdie wasn’t the first Indian writer to write in English and add a twist of Indian colloquialism, he has certainly mastered the art. Like its predecessor, Midnight’s Children, I can’t recommend this book enough.

Book details

Publisher: Vintage
Year of publication: 1988

I Before E (Except After C): Old-School Ways to Remember Stuff

By Judy Parkinson

Rating: 2 stars

Subtitled “Old-school ways to remember stuff”, this was a very mixed bag. Some old favourites are there but there’s a lot of random things as well, and I often thought that the mnemonic is sometimes more complicated than what it’s, er, mnemon-icising.

Book details

ISBN: 9781843172499
Publisher: Michael O'Mara
Year of publication: 2007

The Best of John Wyndham

By John Wyndham

Rating: 4 stars

This is a posthumous collection of Wyndham’s best short stories. Wyndham has a dry and somewhat humorous tone that very much fits these stories, although I oddly heard some of his stories in an American accent, despite the man being a very British gent (and I never had the issue with any of his novels). In the collection, Close Behind Him was really rather creepy, while there’s a humour and playfulness about The Perfect Creature and Pawley’s Peepholes which is endearing. A good collection from an excellent author.

Book details

ISBN: 9780722193693
Publisher: Sphere
Year of publication: 1973

The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes: A Calvin and Hobbes Treasury

By Bill Watterson

Rating: 5 stars

I love Calvin and Hobbes and this collection, which I won at an Io ceilidh raffle, was great fun to read. The idealised childhood and the ever-present uncertainty as to Hobbes’ status in life just add to the charm.

Book details

ISBN: 9780751507959
Publisher: Sphere
Year of publication: 1990

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