Plum Pie (Jeeves, #13.5)

By P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: 5 stars

This is a great collection of short stories by the master of upper class absurdity including one Jeeves and Wooster story, two Bingo Little ones and one Ukridge story. All are great fun to read and full of the warm humour that is Wodehouse’s trademark.

The stories are interspersed with little vignettes of ‘Our Man in America’, being (supposed) newspaper cuttings and commentary on life in America. It’s hard to know if they’re factual or not, since many of them are extremely silly or surreal, and yet real life has a habit of being stranger than fiction, especially in America.

A great collection for any established Wodehouse fan and a great way to get a flavour of his work for the newbie.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841591537
Publisher: Everyman's Library
Year of publication: 1966


By Charles Stross

Rating: 4 stars

This is a collection of fairly early short stories by Stross mostly united by the theme of the future passing them by. The vision that they were describing has already been overtaken, such as in Ship of Fools, which is about the Y2K bug.

Other stories stand up better, such as the one set in the Eschaton universe and his Lovecraft-inspired stories, particularly the whimsical A Boy and his God. Overall, this is a thought-provoking and enjoyable collection of stories, full of Big SF ideas and a good introduction to Stross’ work.

Book details

ISBN: 9781587154133
Publisher: Cosmos Books (PA)
Year of publication: 2002

The Water Babies

By Charles Kingsley

Rating: 2 stars

This is a book that I tried to read many times as a child but could never get through the first chapter. Seeing it on the shelf while visiting my parents I was determined to give it another shot. Although I got through it, to be honest it really wasn’t worth it.

Tom is a young chimney sweep who, through a series of improbable events, becomes a water-baby and goes thorough all sorts of adventures, all of which have morals to teach, before becoming a creature of the land again, as a grown man. It is a Victorian moral fable and although it’s stated that it’s aimed at children, and has a fairly simplistic style, it is interspersed with philosophical tracts and concepts that would go right above the head of most children.

It also has a very dismissive attitude towards Americans, Jews and (particularly) the Irish (although seems keen on the Scots) which makes for some unpleasant reading.

I just couldn’t really engage with this book at all, and only its short length got me through it, although my edition does have some fantastic illustrations by Lindsey Sambourne. There’s enough other good Victorian literature for children that you don’t have to read this one.

Book details

ISBN: 9781853261480
Publisher: Wordsworth Editions
Year of publication: 1863

A for Anything

By Damon Knight

Rating: 2 stars

This was an intensely irritating book for me. It starts with the invention of the ‘gismo’, a device that can duplicate anything placed on it, with no expenditure of energy. From this, it would seem that a Paradise for mankind should arise, but within two or three chapters, we see that the book decides to take a very different line with this idea. With material possessions now no longer an issue, there still needs to be some way of differentiating ‘grades’ of people: so slavery returns.

This came completely out of left-field for me, but after thinking about it, it sort of makes a kind of sense. If all that is left of value is labour, then who controls it controls the society. I think this is a very American attitude, well, a certain sort of extreme right-wing American, a European book with a similar premise would probably have gone along very different lines.

The majority of the book is set about 70 years after the invention of the gismo, when the new slave society is established as we follow a young freeman sent off by his family to spend a year as an officer in the army of the local ‘baron’ in an almost Gormenghastian mountain castle/estate.

There were some interesting ideas, especially later in the book following a slave revolt, but I just couldn’t get past the opening premise and failed to really enjoy this book. Particularly the rather bleak ending.

Book details

ISBN: 9781892884015
Publisher: Cascade Mountain Publishing
Year of publication: 1959

The Magic Labyrinth (Riverworld 4)


Rating: 3 stars

Supposedly the final book in the Riverworld series, where all the questions would be answered, the final few pages of this were actually quite frustrating as a lot seemed to be resolved right at the end of Burton and co’s trip up the River to the tower at its headwaters. And the final few sentences had me tearing my hair out as one of the characters thinks he hears footsteps and then dismisses it as his imagination. Gah! Well, I guess I’ll be looking out for Gods of Riverworld now, won’t I?

Apart from that, it was a good book, with lots of elements of dark humour scattered throughout the book. The book does explain the reason behind the creation of the Riverworld itself and some of the philosophy which makes for interesting reading. So I guess it did answer the questions that had been building up, it just hasn’t necessarily concluded the story.

Book details

ISBN: 9780586053874
Publisher: Panther Books
Year of publication: 1980

The Beasts of Tarzan (Tarzan, #3)

By Edgar Rice Burroughs

Rating: 4 stars

I’ve read very little Burroughs and no Tarzan so when I found this slim volume going cheap at a con I grabbed it. The writing style is fairly simplistic but once you get past that and the casual racism (the assumption that white men are superior to the jungle ‘savages’ is omnipresent but not pushed down your throat; and a tribe leader that Tarzan befriends is counted as one of the eponymous ‘beasts’ of Tarzan) it’s quite a fun story. Tarzan’s arch-nemesis Nikolas Rokoff has escaped from prison and is hell-bent on getting revenge. To this end, he kidnaps Tarzan’s wife and child and strands the ape-man himself on a jungle island. Yeah, that’s like locking the A-Team in a shed, they’re helpless, right? It’s not long before Tarzan escapes at the head of a pack formed of a panther, tribe of ape-men and tribe leader to rescue his family.

I sort of wish I’d encountered the Tarzan novels when I was younger, they are perfect teenage boy books with lots adventure and men’s men where villains are dispatched in appropriately gruesome ways. In saying that, it is very much of its time and the racism and implicit (and sometimes explicit) suggestion that white men are the supreme form of Humanity doesn’t sit well. However, if you can ignore that (and it’s a big if), there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had from this simple story.

Book details

ISBN: 9780809599844
Publisher: Wildside Press
Year of publication: 1914

The Dark Design


Rating: 4 stars

The third volume in the Riverworld saga, this book starts interleaving the stories of the characters from the previous two volumes (leaving the final volume to bring them together), adds some new ones, and has some shocking revelations of its own, including the return of death to the Riverworld.

I enjoyed this book, following the slight disappointment of the previous volume I felt this one brought the series back on track, keeping up a good pace even if it felt like some characters got more screen time than others. The mysteries of the Riverworld continue to intrigue both the reader and the characters and even the mysterious stranger who is bringing Richard Francis Burton, Samuel Clemens, Peter Jairus Frigate and the others together is shown to be fallible. I look forward to the final volume and the conclusion of this rather excellent series.

Book details

ISBN: 9780586048351
Publisher: Panther Books
Year of publication: 1977

The Dream Master

By Roger Zelazny

Rating: 2 stars

This is a story of a Shaper, Charles Render, who is part artist, part psychologist, as he shapes people’s dreams to try and cure psychological problems. His latest case is unique: Eileen Shallot, a blind psychologist who wants to become a Shaper herself but must be cured of her sight-neurosis before she can begin.

Being a book about dreams, this book had plenty of dream imagery, whole sections that didn’t seem to fit into the main storyline, but which made sense in their own dream-logic. The end was fittingly odd and suffused with dream-logic as Render’s fears started infusing his sessions with Eileen leading to a very strange and, for me, unsatisfying, ending, although it fits with the themes of the book very well.

Book details

Publisher: Ace Books
Year of publication: 1966

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