Short Stories 2: The Friendly Brook and Other Stories

By Rudyard Kipling

Rating: 2 stars

This was an odd collection of Kipling’s stories. There wasn’t much of the Empire-drum-banging that is so often associated with Kipling; most of these stories were written after his return to England and disillusionment with the country, particularly after the Great War. The War runs through a lot of these stories, a vein of terrible sadness, Kipling’s son having died in it.

With a lot of the stories I felt that I didn’t get some of the context that surrounded them. They were written about a hundred years ago and a lot of what Kipling took for granted just isn’t around any more. Also, I don’t think that I got an awful lot out of them, since I was reading them as I would a modern story while I feel that they probably needed to be read more like literature – preferably in a group where it can be discussed and analysed, and I’m not sure I want to put that much effort into them.

Book details

ISBN: 9780140032826
Publisher: Penguin Books
Year of publication: 1971

Ten Technologies To Save The Planet

By Chris Goodall

Rating: 0 stars

Does exactly what it says on the tin. This book describes ten technologies that, when taken in combination, could help reduce the impact of climate change on the Earth. The technologies in question are: wind power, wave and current power, solar power, combined heat and power, super-insulated homes, electric cars, second-generation biofuels, carbon capture, biochar and sequestering carbon in soils and trees.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff here and the ways that the technologies can feed off and reinforce each other are described. Goodall is a pragmatist and although he discusses things like micro-generation of power he more or less dismisses it on the grounds that it’s just not efficient enough. Although he rejects nuclear power as one of his ten technologies, he’s quick to avoid the label of being a naive hippy, asserting instead that although all of the technologies he mentions are likely to come down in cost as the technology matures, this isn’t true of nuclear plants, whose costs has actually risen over the past 20 or so years.

I often felt a sense of frustration while reading this book – these are sensible ideas, why aren’t we don’t more to implement them? The biochar (burning organic matter into char and then turning it into the soil to increase its carbon content and usually make it better for crops) and soil sequestration ideas were particularly interesting, and cheap and easy to do as well. The problem is, as Goodall points out, political. It involves changing habits built up over many generations and especially these poorest people will need great incentives to do that such as including them in any large-scale carbon trading scheme.

In general he’s quite positive, not as doom-laden as someone like James Lovelock while not toning down the scale of the task in front of us. But we’re an inventive species, I suspect we’ll rise to the challenge. It’s not the technology that I’m that worried about, but the courage of our political leaders.

One issue that I have with the book is that there are no references at all, making it hard to read up on the technologies that are described and to ensure that Goodall isn’t talking out of his backside. That aside, this book has a lot to recommend it.

Book details

ISBN: 9781846688683
Publisher: Green Profile
Year of publication: 2008


By John Sladek

Rating: 2 stars

This is the memoir of a psychopathic robot whose “asimov circuits” have failed and he takes pleasure in causing as much pain and suffering as he can, while appearing to be a normal, well-adjusted robot, working for robot rights and entering politics.

This is an odd book. It often seems absurdist, obviously stretching a point to the point of breaking, such as the minor character with ever-shifting allergies, culminating in an allergy to the universe. Tik-Tok himself is an interesting character although there seems to be very little that distinguishes him as a robot rather than a human. He has no superior strength or memory, but the story draw an analogy between his status and that of black people in the 18th and 19th centuries in the US, hammering that point quite hard. The memoir interweaves Tik-Tok’s current life of evil with his history, and how he became the creature that he now is.

While it was an interesting satire on Isaac Asimov and his more benign view of robots, and I’d like to read more of Sladek’s work, I’m not sure I’d read this again.

Book details

Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 1983

Ship of Strangers

By Bob Shaw

Rating: 3 stars

The men of the Cartographical Service are always on the edge of known space, travelling to new worlds and mapping the ever-expanding surface of the Bubble of the Human Federation. Dave Surgenor is one of the few people who lasts beyond his original five-year contract, becoming one of the most experienced hands on the survey ship Sarafand.

This book is structured into a bunch of disparate adventures of the crew of the Sarafand with several recurring characters but it’s really Surgenor and the ship itself that are the protagonists. It feels like several related short stories have been linked together, since there’s little connecting each set-piece, but I don’t really have a problem with this and enjoyed seeing how the crew solves each of the problems it faces, from sending out six survey modules and getting seven back to facing a time-travelling species on a dead world.

The title refers to the idea that although there are only twelve crew on survey ships, they never become intimate with each other, remaining “wilful strangers”, jumping from planet to planet and never settling down.

An enjoyable book from a pretty solid author.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575043312
Year of publication: 1978


By Alan Moore

Rating: 5 stars

Upon re-reading this book, I was struck by how cinematic it was at times. Particularly near the beginning and the end, some of the pages felt like they were using the tricks of the cinema (very well!) so I can see just why it was so tempting to film it. Still, there’s just so much here, with its multi-layered story, including to mention the parallel Tales of the Black Freighter story and the extracts at the end of each issue that the film would inevitably not be able to fit it all in.

The depth of the characterisation is wonderful to read and Gibbons’ art really draws you in. For me, the second reading also added a lot to it, finding a lot that I had missed or not entirely understood first time round.

Book details

ISBN: 9780930289232
Publisher: DC Comics
Year of publication: 1987

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