To Your Scattered Bodies Go (Riverworld, #1)


Rating: 5 stars

Every human who has ever lived is reincarnated along the banks of an endless river and find that each time they are killed, they are reincarnated elsewhere along the banks of the River. Richard Francis Burton (adventurer and translator of the Arabian Nights) is determined to find the source of the River and whose mysterious beings who have brought them here.

I loved this book. The first in the Riverworld series, it’s a gripping adventure with a solid mystery at the heart of it, some likeable protagonists and a startling spiritual journey for Hermann Göring, who we first encounter as a tin-pot dictator who enslaves Burton and his companions.

Highly entertaining, I can’t wait to get hold of the next volume.

Book details

ISBN: 9780345419675
Publisher: Del Rey
Year of publication: 1971

The Maltese Falcon

By Dashiell Hammett

Rating: 3 stars

Sam Spade is the archetypal hard-boiled private detective. He and his partner employed by Brigid O’Shaughnessy to follow a man. And from there, it all goes downhill.

This was an interesting book to read. While it was interesting to finally read about the famous Sam Spade, I don’t think it did an awful lot for me. The writing felt unsophisticated and the characters somewhat crude. Hammett’s portrayal of O’Shaughnessy and her blatant use of her sexuality to try and win over Spade never quite sat right, while Spade’s hard-talking, no-nonsense hero felt a bit clichéd as well, although in this case it’s probably because Hammett invented that particular cliché.

Also, unlike a whodunnit, it’s not like the clues are there for you to try and track down the murderer yourself, but you just have to follow the protagonist on his journey, but that’s the nature of a noir thriller. Certainly worth reading but I felt more interested in it as an historical document than as a novel.

Book details

ISBN: 9780752865331
Publisher: Orion
Year of publication: 1930

Letter From America (Penguin Celebrations)

By Alistair Cooke

Rating: 3 stars

In 1946 the BBC asked writer and journalist Alistair Cooke to do a weekly broadcast from the US to Britain about America, its life, history and idiosyncrasies. That short weekly broadcast became a national institution and one that Cooke kept up until his death in 2004. This book collects letters from each decade that they were written and they provide a fascinating insight into that vast continent-as-country. The early letters in particular show both an America and a Britain very different to today, with his explanatory notes and assumptions often pointing out differences that no longer exist, or that are now meaningless.

Over his long life as a journalist, Cooke knew Charlie Chaplin and Groucho Marx, and was just metres away when Robert Kennedy was shot. These are all touched on in his very distinctive style (I could hear his voice in my head as I was reading them), providing a personal insight into American life.

I think that Cooke was at his best away from the politics of the day, when he was talking about the day-to-day, or eulogising his beloved New England, or explaining obscure points of obscure American sports, or when he reminisced about public figures he had known or not known, bringing people who deserved to be remembered to a new generation.

The University of East Anglia is supposed to be putting the entire archive of transcripts online, although there appears to be no sign of it so far. I suspect it’ll be a fascinating read to dip into, since as big as this book was (nudging 500 pages), it could still only cover a tiny fraction of the letters that he wrote over that half-century.

Book details

ISBN: 9780141035345
Publisher: Penguin
Year of publication: 1994

The Golden Apples of the Sun

By Ray Bradbury

Rating: 4 stars

This is a collection of SF and non-genre short stories that Bradbury wrote in the ‘forties and ‘fifties, all with the general theme of characterisation, people and the desires of men and monsters. The tales are told with Bradbury’s trademark flare and style, something that captivates me every time, even when the story itself fails to engage.

As well as containing classic Bradbury shorts like A Sound of Thunder, The Pedestrian, and The Fog Horn, non-SF stories such as The Flying Machine, The Golden Kite, The Silver Wind and The Meadow all leave searing images that linger in the mind.

As with every other Bradbury book I’ve ever read, highly recommended.

Book details

ISBN: 9780380730391
Publisher: William Morrow
Year of publication: 1953

Tank Girl (Tank Girl, #1)

By Alan C. Martin

Rating: 2 stars

I came to this after very much enjoying the film adaptation of Tank Girl. This volume collects the first 15 strips of Hewlett and Martin’s very, very strange comic. Unfortunately, I must confess to not particularly enjoying much of it. As I say, it’s very strange, sometimes non-linear, irreverent and just a little too bonkers for my tastes.

There’s little continuity between stories, and the whole thing of being on the run from the military just seems to fizzle out by the end. In saying that, there were a couple of stories that I enjoyed: the Italian Job spoof was fun, as was the one about God’s dressing gown. The later stories weaved in some Australian Aborigine mythology which was interesting and it would have been nice to see more of that.

An interesting read, but not one that I’d re-read.

Book details

ISBN: 9781840234350
Publisher: Titan Books (UK)
Year of publication: 1990

Taken at the Flood (Hercule Poirot, #28)

By Agatha Christie

Rating: 2 stars

A young bride is suddenly left fabulous wealth when her new husband dies in an air-raid, causing his relatives to lose out on money that had been promised to them; a stranger is murdered and a whole sequence of other events bring Hercule Poirot to investigate, but can he untangle the knots?

I felt that the writing in this book wasn’t particularly sophisticated, and it felt clunky at times. Poirot himself wasn’t introduced until the second half of the book (apart from a cameo in the prologue), the first half being used to set the stage and perhaps the book suffered a bit because of that.

But through it all, Christie is still good at what she does, and I was kept guessing as to the identity of the murderer right to end. She’s good at misdirection and setting pins up only to knock them down (either that or I’m rubbish at whodunnits, or both). So not great writing but a good whodunnit.

Book details

ISBN: 9780007121014
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd
Year of publication: 1948

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories

By Susanna Clarke

Rating: 4 stars

This is a collection of short stories about magic, set in the same universe as Clarke’s novel Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell. The stories are all enjoyable, and mostly structured like traditional fairy stories, inclusive of the sense of the sinister that fairy stories traditional were very good at. The title story brought this out particularly well.

One for established Clarke fans and people wanted a way into her work without starting with the 1000+ page Jonathan Strange.

Book details

ISBN: 9781596912519
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Year of publication: 2004

New Writings In SF-2

By John Carnell

Rating: 3 stars

This reasonably short volume has a novella and a group of short stories. Written in the mid ’60s, these are good solid science fiction of the era, with ideas being more important than characters.

The title story here, Hell Planet, sees humanoid aliens in a crippled spaceship making their way to the Sol system and being horrified when they encounter and translate the radio transmissions from Earth. The rest of the stories are mostly enjoyable, with a combination of humour and ideas. I particularly enjoyed A Round Billiard Table, The Creators and Rogue Leonardo.

Book details

ISBN: 9780552084123
Publisher: Corgi
Year of publication: 1964

The End of the Matter (Pip & Flinx #4)

By Alan Dean Foster

Rating: 2 stars

A giant black hole is munching its way through the galaxy and will encounter a Commonwealth star system in about twenty years and there’s nothing anyone can do, or is there there…? The fate of several billion sentients may depend on a seemingly insane creature called Ab that our hero, Flinx, has accidentally had dropped into his care.

This book didn’t quite gel for me. It felt like an author in the early stages of his career, who hasn’t quite mastered his art yet. I thought it needed a further editing pass and a rewrite in bits. Still, it was moderately entertaining and a good enough way to spend a few lunch times.

Book details

ISBN: 9780345334657
Publisher: Del Rey
Year of publication: 1977

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