By Algis Budrys

Rating: 3 stars

Lucas Martino is one of the West’s greatest physicists, working on the highly experimental K-eighty-eight. An explosion in the lab changes all that, as the Russians get to him first and keep him for four months. When he is returned he’s as good as new… except for the metal replacement head they’ve given him. His Western masters are left with a dilemma: how can they tell that the man behind the metal head is Martino?

This is an intriguing novel of identity, although it shows its age both through its Cold War roots and the fact that DNA can’t be used to establish identity. We see things both through Martino’s eyes and those of the Government agent assigned to track him to try and determine just who he is. Mostly I found this a strong story, but the ending somewhat threw me. I’m still not sure what to make of it, but I’ll certainly be looking out for more Budrys

Book details

ISBN: 9780006154082
Publisher: Fontana
Year of publication: 1958

Feet of Clay (Discworld, #19)

By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 4 stars

Someone’s poisoning the Patrician, golems are lurking and it’s up to Sam Vimes to sort things out.

The main themes that Pratchett seems to be mulling on in this book are the nature of freedom, its limits and responsibilities, as well as leadership and what makes a ruler. There’s both cynicism and pragmatism in the line “They think they want good government and justice for all, Vimes, yet what is it they really crave, deep in their hearts? Only that things go on as normal and tomorrow is much like today.” It’s something that Pratchett will come back to and is worth bearing in mind when we think of our own democracy and what makes people vote in the ways that they do.

I really like Feet of Clay: the humour is sparkling, the use of language masterful and the characters spot on. Vimes has that smouldering anger that makes him Vimes, Carrot is cheerful and innocent, with a rod up him and we find hidden depths to Nobby Nobbs. This book also introduces us to the delightful Corporal Littlebottom, a dwarf who just wants to express herself (one shade of lipstick at a time).

Book details

ISBN: 9780552142373
Publisher: Corgi
Year of publication: 1996

The Puppet Masters

By Robert A. Heinlein

Rating: 2 stars

Sam is an agent with a top secret US government security agency who finds himself battling against alien parasites that take over human bodies as hosts. Together with fellow agent Mary and the head of the agency, they fight a battle for the survival of mankind.

This was a pretty straightforward action adventure story, with lots of running around, chasing and being chased. It had Heinlein’s politics hovering under the surface, and I found the treatment of Mary quite irritating: she changed from a smart, independent agent into a 1950s housewife the moment she gets married, never questioning her husband and seeming to lose her own will. Not the worst few hours of my life, but quite forgettable.

Book details

ISBN: 9781439133767
Publisher: Baen
Year of publication: 1951

The Best Science Fiction of the Year 5

By Terry Carr

Rating: 4 stars

Does pretty much what it says on the tin. The year in question is 1975 and there are some cracking stories by some excellent names of the day in this collection. Amongst others, Cordwainer Smith delivers another story from his ‘Instrumentality of Mankind’ universe, we get two crackers from John Varley, an excellently creepy story from Ursula K. Le Guin and a slow-burning novella that eventually sucked me in by Lisa Tuttle and George R. R. Martin. A great collection with hardly a misstep amongst them.

Book details

ISBN: 9780345250643
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Year of publication: 1976

Down Among the Dead Men (Forest Kingdom, #3)

By Simon R. Green

Rating: 2 stars

A decade ago, the Darkwood rose up and threatened to swallow the Forest Kingdom. It was driven back, but with great loss. Now a fort built on the border of the kingdom has gone silent and a small group of Rangers are sent to investigate, finding an evil more ancient than the demons of the Darkwood.

I didn’t really notice the author of this book when I bought it, just caring that it sounded vaguely interested and was the right size to fit into my pocket, but Simon R. Green is known as a horror writer, and I’m not a horror fan by any means. However, after reading it, although there is horror here, it’s very visual horror. It’s not the long drawn-out horror that can leave you uneasy for weeks afterwards, but the splatter-horror of the cinema. If this book had been a film, it would be gory and there would be a few ‘jump’ moments, but because I don’t have a particularly visual imagination when I’m reading, I only smiled wryly at the column of blood that erupted when a trapdoor was opened, for example.

The story was okay, albeit not hugely original, and the magic system was infuriatingly vague and unsatisfying. The characters were just sketches, with only Sergeant McNeil, the leader of the Rangers, getting any filling out at all. An enjoyable enough way to spend a few hours but utterly unmemorable.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575056206
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 1993

Perelandra (Voyage to Venus)

By C.S. Lewis

Rating: 2 stars

This is the second in Lewis’s Space trilogy, which started with Out of the Silent Planet. It’s been a while since I read it, but I quite enjoyed the first book, but the second has been a real chore to work through. It’s less a novel and more a theological discussion and, in my opinion, not a very good one at that.

The basic plot, what there is of it, sees Dr Elwin Ransom travelling to Perelandra (Venus) to find that planet’s Eve being tempted by the devil, possessing the body of his old enemy from the first book, Dr Weston. Most of the book is taken up with what Ransom’s encounter with the Lady of Perelandra and his argument with Weston. The arguments put forward in the book for Christianity didn’t seem that convincing to me, they seemed like the arguments of a man who couldn’t cope with the rate of progress of his time.

And towards the end, when he realised that he can’t out-argue Weston, he resorts to physical violence. He tries feebly to justify this by saying something like it being a new world and new rules, but it really doesn’t pass muster. His arguments weren’t as strong as his enemy’s so he resorted to violence. So he “wins” by brute force, rather than through discussion. Just like religions have done for millennia.

I’d avoid this book, unless you’re interested in a theological debate, although even there, I’d say it’s somewhat unsound.

Book details

ISBN: 9780330281591
Publisher: Pan
Year of publication: 1943

Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea

By Ursula K. Le Guin

Rating: 3 stars

I’m really not sure what to make of this book. Written many years after the original Earthsea trilogy, it continues the story of Tenar, the priestess that Sparrowhawk rescues from the Tombs of Atuan in the second book. Tenar has taken to a simple life as a farmer’s wife, and now widow, and spends time musing on what it means to be a woman. She takes in a young girl, Therru, who has been cruelly abused by her parents and then has to look after the spent Sparrowhawk, after he returns from the events at the end of The Farthest Shore.

This book feels like a book of ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’. There is none of the action or quests that characterises most fantasy, not to mention the original trilogy. This was written when Le Guin was discovering feminism, and it’s really a slow story of a woman and all that entails. It slightly frustrated me that there seemed to be a story in there, that of Therru, but it was never properly explored. Even by the end, Therru’s story remains mostly untold. Also, Tenar’s passivity was also frustrating, with things happening to her, rather than her actively doing anything.

Some reviews have decried the changes to Sparrowhawk’s character in this book, but given everything that he’s gone through, I can’t accept that as valid. I think that a man like Sparrowhawk would go through the emotional changes that Le Guin describes here and think that they work in the story.

I’d recommend this book, perhaps, as providing more background and detail on the world of Earthsea, but not for the story itself.

Book details

ISBN: 9780140348026
Publisher: Puffin
Year of publication: 1990

America Unchained

By Dave Gorman

Rating: 4 stars

Is it possible to travel from one coast of the US to the other without giving any money to The Man? This is the question that Dave Gorman posed to himself after a tour of the States where he was taken from one identical hotel room to another to perform. So to counteract this, he decides to start in LA and travel to New York using only independent motels, diners, grocery stores and, most problematically, gas stations.

I find Dave Gorman a very entertaining writer, and this book had me laughing out loud at several points. In saying that, I do sometimes feel somewhat guilty at laughing since I feel that I’m laughing at a man who has some genuine psychological issues. Half way through this book, he has a bit of a breakdown. Like he did in Dave Gorman’s Googlewhack Adventure. Like his obsessive search for namesakes in Are You Dave Gorman. I do worry a little about the man, but this didn’t prevent me from enjoying this book too much, whether it’s his director Stef’s obsession with mashed potato, the night they stayed in a beagle-shaped B&B or his bemusement when he starts researching the Mormons in Salt Lake City. There’s enough good humour and genuine enthusiasm in the man to make you care about his journey. Even when he is being an idiot.

Book details

ISBN: 9780091899370
Publisher: Ebury Press
Year of publication: 2007

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