The Man Who Sold the Moon

By Robert A. Heinlein

Rating: 3 stars

This is a collection of five short stories and the titular novella, all set in Heinlein’s own future history. I enjoyed most of the stories, although the behaviour of the union in The Roads Must Roll (about the union that brings the America’s trunk moving walkways to a halt) took me out of story completely. Mind you, this may be a trans-Atlantic difference – Americans have had a very different history with unions to Europeans, and may find this more believable.

The title story took a long time to get into. I found the idea of a bunch of very rich men scheming over how to effectively buy the moon to be unpleasant and unattractive, but eventually the sheer energy and enthusiasm of the protagonist got me engaged. It was worth it just for the follow-up, Requiem, which rounds off the collection and which is is wistful, sad yet uplifting as well, following the protagonist of the previous story, now as an old man.

In general, this is pretty classic Heinlein, with lots of rugged hero-engineers and scientists, making vast discoveries as individuals and having no truck with this namby-pamby government malarky.

Book details

Publisher: Sidgwick & Jackson
Year of publication: 1940

The Martian Chronicles

By Ray Bradbury

Rating: 5 stars

Any review I give to a Bradbury novel has to be read with the understanding that he’ll get an extra star from me just for being Bradbury. I find his prose incredibly lyrical and beautiful to read, and this incredibly melancholy set of linked stories blew me away. Being a future history of Man’s conquest and abandonment of the red planet within a single lifetime, it’s a warning and a guide showing us that there is no truly blank slate; wherever we go, we take our own prejudices with us.

I’ve read several of the stories before in other collections, but when assembled here, in order and in context, the wider themes come through and although the individual stories are excellent, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

The book was published in 1951, over a decade before the first probes were sent to Mars, so Bradbury can be excused the lack of scientific rigour in his red planet, but the setting is just a way to find a new frontier in which he can tell a story of pains of colonisation, and read that way it’s extremely satisfying.

Book details

Publisher: Harper Voyager
Year of publication: 1949

Batman: Black and White #1

By Mark Chiarello

Rating: 3 stars

This is a collection of very short, black and white, stories about the Dark Knight, from a selection of artists and writers, each with their own distinctive style. The stories are so short that I found it hard to keep them in my head much longer than reading the final panel, but there were a few exceptions, notably Legend, retelling the Batman legend from an almost Arthurian perspective; Good Evening, Midnight, where Alfred reads a letter written by Bruce’s father; and A Black and White World, Neil Gaiman’s very odd story of characters aware that they’re comic book characters and who view it as a job. Generally not bad, but also, as a whole, not memorable. Probably not one that I’d read again.

Book details

ISBN: 9781563894398
Publisher: DC Comics
Year of publication: 1998

The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge

By Vernor Vinge

Rating: 4 stars

Vernor Vinge is probably best known for his theory of the Technological Singularity, which is a point at which Human evolution and development hits exponential change, e.g. due to the development of hard AI or machine/Human integration, and we can’t predict anything beyond it. This collection of Vinge’s stories runs right from his early work in the ’60s right up to the turn of the century and this theme of technological advancement up to Singularity is explored right the way through it. Another recurring theme was how social and economic structures could develop, with several stories using an ‘anarcho-capitalist’ framework which I found interesting, albeit somewhat alien (which was the point, I guess).

Being familiar with some of Vinge’s other work, it was interesting to see how some of the stories were later developed, e.g. The Blabber being set in the A Fire Upon the Deep universe and The Ungoverned threw some tantalising glimpses into the world of Across Realtime, although each of these is also perfectly standalone, without having to be familiar with Vinge’s novels. This is a good jumping off point into his work though, and if you went from here to the novels, there are several good links to choose.

Book details

ISBN: 9780285638211
Publisher: Souvenir Press
Year of publication: 2001

Content: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright, and the Future of the Future

By Cory Doctorow

Rating: 4 stars

This is a collection of Doctorow’s writing on copyright, DRM and the internet. It is, like the rest of his work, available for free under a CC licence online, but I got the paper version, being the old-fashioned book-lover that I am. Doctorow acknowledges that he probably loses some sales through putting his work online for free, but his contention is that the publicity and goodwill he gains from it generate more paper sales than he loses. This has certainly worked for him, although I don’t know how viable a general model it is.

The essays that I thought worked best were the general informational ones where he wasn’t being especially polemic about DRM or his other hobby horses. These are always interesting, but they just make me angry without there seeming to be any real solution to the problems they raise.

The book was published in 2008 and although some things have changed, notably ebooks are finally starting to take off, through things like tablets and specialist devices like the Kindle, much of what he says is still relevant today. The most interesting article is probably his interview with futurist Ray Kurzweil, someone I don’t necessarily agree with, but who paints a picture of a future I want to live in.

Book details

ISBN: 9781892391810
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
Year of publication: 2008

John Macnab (Sir Edward Leithen #2)

By John Buchan

Rating: 4 stars

I really enjoyed this story of three successful leaders of their fields at the top of their game (a barrister, MP and banker), but listless and bored. And then they hit on the idea of writing to the owners of three Scottish estates and tell them that they’ll be poaching from the estate and collectively sign the letter John Macnab. The book is light, entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable. The pace is fairly good, the attacks on all three estates well-described and Buchan obviously loves the Highlands, since his descriptions there are extremely glowing.

Mind you, I wouldn’t recommend this to any class warriors, since the British class system is writ large throughout, with the three upper-class gentlemen always being larger than life, although the working class also get some good roles (the young Fish Benji being the best of them). If you can get past that, then I would have no hesitation in recommending this.

Book details

ISBN: 9781846970283
Publisher: Birlinn Ltd
Year of publication: 1924

Finn Family Moomintroll

By Tove Jansson

Rating: 3 stars

This is a simple book in which Moomintroll and his friends have lots of little adventures, often to do with the Hobgoblin’s hat, which they find one day in their valley. It’s a fairly simple children’s story which I expect I would have loved as a child, but coming to it for the first time as an adult, I appreciated it but found it a little twee. I read it as much because I’ve never read any Moomin books before as anything else.

Book details

Publisher: Puffin Books
Year of publication: 1948

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