The War of the Worlds

By H.G. Wells

Rating: 4 stars

It took me a while to get into this, although I suspect this is more to do with the way that I read the book (in brief snippets, widely separated) than the book itself. Once I sat down and got stuck in, I got absorbed pretty quickly. The story is well known but this is the first time that I’ve read it in a while, being more familiar with Jeff Wayne’s musical in recent years ;-). One thing that I had forgotten about was the character of the narrator’s brother, who provides a narrative of what’s happening in London while the protagonist is on his way there which is quite nice. It’s still a rollicking story, although you can’t help wondering how modern weapons and warfare would cope with the Martians.

Book details

ISBN: 9780375759239
Publisher: Modern Library
Year of publication: 1897

Dreamsongs: A RRetrospective: Book One (Dreamsongs, #1)

By George R.R. Martin

Rating: 4 stars

This is the first volume of a retrospective of Martin’s short fiction, split into four sections, each introduced by the author. It starts off with some of Martin’s very early work written for the fanzines in the 40s and 50s, moving on to his professional work in the 60s and 70s before touching on some of his fantasy work and ending with a selection of his horror work.

Newer readers may be mostly familiar with Martin’s fantasy work, most notably A Song of Ice and Fire but he has worked in all speculative fiction genres and started off in SF, for the simple reason that that was what paid. There are so many good stories in this collection that it’s hard to pick out highlights, but some that stand out are With Morning Comes Mistfall, about a journalist covering the search for the mysterious “wraiths” on the mist-wreathed world of Wraithworld; Sandkings, a disturbing story about an unpleasant man who purchases very distinctive pets; and Nightflyers, a ghost story with an SF flavour. A great collection, and volume 2 is waiting for me back home which I’ll look forward to diving into.

Book details

ISBN: 9780752890081
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group
Year of publication: 2003

Hellboy, Vol. 4: The Right Hand of Doom

By Mike Mignola

Rating: 3 stars

These are short stories about Hellboy, from his early days in the BPRD right up to more mythology stuff about his mighty stone right hand (the eponymous Right Hand of Doom). Mostly based on various mythologies from around the world, the stories are fun if a little short — some of them could do with a bit of expanding. I think my favourite is the first – a very short two-page story about Hellboy’s first encounter with pancakes.

Book details

ISBN: 9781593070939
Publisher: Dark Horse Books
Year of publication: 2000

xkcd: volume 0

By Randall Munroe

Rating: 5 stars

It’s XKCD, but in paper form. All the geekiness, none of the monitor eyestrain. Since the originals of some of the early strips are lost, so this isn’t a straight chronological listing of strips, but a collection of Munroe’s favourites. The tooltip texts are all present, usually inserted below the strip, or in between panels, and there is new stuff as well, with some being commentary on strips, some random doodles and some random-looking codes that are probably very funny if I could be bothered decoding them. Which I can’t.

Book details

ISBN: 9780615314464
Publisher: Breadpig
Year of publication: 2009

The Graveyard Book

By Neil Gaiman

Rating: 4 stars

Taking inspiration from Kipling’s The Jungle Book, this is a series of linked adventures about Nobody Owens (Bod) whose family are killed but he escapes and finds sanctuary in a graveyard where he is adopted by a childless couple of ghosts, given the freedom of the graveyard and the mysterious Silas becomes his guardian.

I really enjoyed this short book with each chapter following Bod as he grows up in the graveyard, and slowly unravelling the mystery of the man who murdered his family and the reasons behind it. Bod is clearly drawn and easy to sympathise with while the rest of the characters are mostly sketches but nicely defined and fit the story well. I found this a highly enjoyable read right from when Bod first enters the graveyard to the final time that he leaves it.

Book details

ISBN: 9780060530921
Publisher: HarperCollins
Year of publication: 2008

Curtain (Hercule Poirot, #42)

By Agatha Christie

Rating: 3 stars

At the twilight of his years, Hercule Poirot returns to the country house where he solved his first case and summons his old friend Hastings to help him solve one final crime.

I was a bit wary about this, since it was apparently published after her death, and posthumously published work is sometime not published for a reason. However, according to Wiki, it was written in the ’40s during the war when Christie was afraid for her life and she wanted to ensure that her most famous creation got a decent sendoff. When it became clear that she would be okay, she had the manuscript sealed away for 30 years and it was opened and published in the mid ’70s. As a result, this was written when Christie was at the height of her powers, with an excellent mystery that kept me guessing right to the end. The misdirection was very well done, with me smugly thinking that I had figured out who it was only to be completely wrong. A great whodunnit and a very appropriate final adventure for Hercule Poirot.

Book details

ISBN: 9780425173749
Publisher: Berkley
Year of publication: 1975

Star Surgeon (Sector General, #2)

By James White

Rating: 4 stars

Doctor Conway is a Senior Physician at Sector Twelve General Hospital – a giant multi-species space hospital station, caring for sentient beings from your bog-standard oxy-nitrogen air breather to exotic species that live on the consumption of hard radiation. The book follows Conway as he deals with his many and varied patients ranging from a near-immortal alien meddler in worlds right up to Sector General itself…

I think this is another book I read at an impressionable age and I still enjoy it on re-reading although perhaps some of the ideas in the multi-species hospital don’t necessarily stand up. Conway and his foil, chief psychologist O’Mara, are good characters and I enjoyed reading about the many and varied aliens that White imagined up and how Conway dealt with them. Just don’t read it if you’ve got any medical training.

Book details

ISBN: 9780345291691
Publisher: Del Rey
Year of publication: 1963

The Ship Who Sang (Brainship, #1)

By Anne McCaffrey

Rating: 3 stars

Helva has been wrapped in a titanium ‘shell’ since birth, a shell that protects and nurtures her, as her own body is broken and useless. Inserted into a spaceship that becomes her body, she travels the stars with her partnered ‘brawn’, working for the Central Worlds government as a medical ship, trying to pay off the debt she incurred for her upbringing and spaceship body. But Helva is unique amongst Brainships, she is the ship who sings.

This book brings together several short stories about Helva that McCaffrey wrote in the 1960s and a new conclusion (at least, it doesn’t have a separate copyright date on it) that brings closure to her story. Some of the attitudes in the writing, especially in the earlier stories, were a bit odd and of their time (especially attitudes towards disability) but I still enjoyed the book. A major theme in the book is one of loss as Helva mourns for her first brawn, finds ways of coping and eventually gains contentment. This feels well-drawn and organic, happening over a number of years.

Book details

ISBN: 9780345334312
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Year of publication: 1969

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier

By Alan Moore

Rating: 3 stars

In the early 1950s Britain is just throwing off the shackles of the totalitarian Ingsoc Big Brother government and two shadowy figures steal a dossier from Miniluv (formerly the MI5 headquarters at Vauxhall House). The dossier turns out to be regarding the “Murray Group”, star of the previous two League books (and the book itself consists of them reading the dossier), filling in background on the world and stories that we didn’t see, as well as other incarnations of the League before and after Murray’s time.

The most jarring thing I found about this was how it made it completely clear that the League world was a fantasy world, having Henry VIII followed by his daughter, Queen Gloriana, who was half-Fairy. In the other two books, you could almost have believed that the world you were reading about was just a slightly different version of our own, whereas here, it goes completely left-field. Not a bad thing, necessarily, but just taking a bit of mental adjustment.

I found the penultimate story, “The Crazy Wide Forever,” a short story written in the style of Jack Kerouac, impenetrable, and gave up after a few lines (there not seeming to be any concept of paragraphs, or indeed, sentences) and the epilogue was just a bit weird. Apart from that, I enjoyed the variety of styles used in the dossier, from a “lost Shakespeare” story, to a Wodehouse parody involving Lovecraftian elder gods!

Since there are so many details (a background character, a throwaway reference or even a newspaper headline) I am going to have to go back and re-read it with the annotations now :-).

Book details

ISBN: 9781401203061
Publisher: America's Best Comics
Year of publication: 2007

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