New Writings In Sf 26

By Kenneth Bulmer

Rating: 3 stars

This is a collection of SF stories from 1975. There’s a decent selection with Christopher Priest’s Men of Good Value, a near-future tale of an SF writer who gets tangled up with a TV crew, David S. Garnett’s The Man Who, an early take on the “doomed to repeat the same day again and again” theme and Ian Watson’s To the Pump Room With Jane, a somewhat disturbing tale of a climate-changed future where icebergs are towed in to provide water, being highlights.

There were a couple of weird stories that I didn’t really get, with Brian Aldiss’ Three Coins in Enigmatic Fountains and The Seafarer, by Richie Smith and Thomas Penman being chief amongst these. These were both very lyrical, but the plots didn’t really go anywhere, I felt.

A mixed collection that was worth reading though.

Book details

ISBN: 9780552102322
Publisher: Corgi
Year of publication: 1975

Against a Dark Background

By Iain M. Banks

Rating: 2 stars

Sharrow is being hunted by a religious order who are convinced that she must be killed in order to bring about the coming of their messiah. Her only hope is to find the last of the apocalyptically powerful Lazy Guns.

Although packed full of Banks’ trademark huge ideas, this non-Culture novel fell entirely flat for me. I think it was that the pacing of the book was entirely wrong and it just felt plodding. Despite the fact that Sharrow was constantly on the run and being hunted, there was no sense of urgency about the chase at all; the sub-quests that she and her team embarked on seemed somewhat artificial; a set of twins who constantly shadow and manipulate her are annoying rather than mysterious; and you can figure out who the Big Bad is without much trouble.

I think this is the weakest Banks book I’ve read to date. His Culture novels, and indeed, his other SF books, take the same dizzying scales and ideas but the writing is so much better. There’s a great book in here trying to get out, it’s a shame his editor didn’t push for another draft.

Book details

ISBN: 9781857230314
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 1993

My Early Life, 1874-1904

By Winston S. Churchill

Rating: 3 stars

This is an autobiography of Winston Churchill recounting his early life up to when he was first elected to Parliament in the early 1900s. It’s striking just how much the young Churchill fitted in to his life, becoming both a military officer and a highly-respected newspaper correspondent (and doing both at the same time during the Boer War). I suppose, though, in a sense this isn’t unexpected since he came from a rich and well-connected family which opened many doors for him in life.

While I respect the man for what he achieved, both in the course of this book and as a war-leader, the personality that comes out of this isn’t one that I find particularly pleasant. He was very much a British aristocrat and standard-bearer for the Empire.

Book details

ISBN: 9780684823454
Publisher: Scribner
Year of publication: 1930

Fahrenheit 451

By Ray Bradbury

Rating: 5 stars

I read this book years ago but pulled it down from the bookshelf to read on the plane home, partly because a friend adores it and has waxed lyrical for some time and partly from my new found interest in Bradbury. The language is Bradbury at his best, using tight prose to flesh out his dystopia in which books are banned and anybody found possessing them has their house burned down by firemen.

The snippets of poetry and quotes are well-chosen to make whatever point Bradbury wants to make at that moment (part of the argument of the firemen, as articulated by fire-chief Beatty, is that books are fickle and can argue against as well as for you) and the bitter-sweet ending is vivid indeed. This one’s recommended for lovers of literature, as well as dystopia fans.

Book details

ISBN: 9780307347978
Publisher: DeBolsillo
Year of publication: 1953

The Best of Fritz Leiber

By Fritz Leiber

Rating: 4 stars

I’ve not read much Leiber before but I’m really glad I picked up this volume (another of the many that I got from Jonathan). It presents Leiber’s pick of his short stories from when he started writing in the ’40s to the book’s publication in the ’70s, with the bulk of the selection being from the ’50s.

Some of the writing reminded me heavily (and in a good way) of Ray Bradbury. He has the same fun with language and the stories tend to linger in the mind. His dystopian visions of future America’s are both insightful and disturbing, while his more playful stories are fun, even when you do figure out the twist beforehand. Particular gems are ‘The Ship Sails at Midnight’, ‘A Pail of Air’ (which I’ve read anthologised several times), ‘Space-Time for Springers’, ‘Little Old Miss Macbeth’, and ‘Rump-Titty-Titty-Tum-Tah-Tee’.

Book details

ISBN: 9780848821272
Publisher: Amereon Limited
Year of publication: 1974

Thief of Time (Discworld, #26)

By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 4 stars

When the construction of the Disc’s first truly accurate clock threatens to destroy time itself, it’s up to Lu Tze, his young apprentice and Susan Death to save the day.

I love this book. Despite being one of Pratchett’s later Discworld books it has the sparkle, energy and linguistic fun of Sir Terry at his best. Despite the somewhat unnecessary subplot with Death trying to reassemble the Horsemen of the Apocalypse to ride out and the growing unlikeability of Susan (is it just me or has she become more unlikeable with each book she’s been in) this is a very fun book with a lot of laugh out loud moments.

Book details

ISBN: 9780552148405
Publisher: Corgi
Year of publication: 2001

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