Supertoys Last All Summer Long

By Brian W. Aldiss

Rating: 3 stars

This collection of short stories includes the famous Supertoys Last All Summer Long as well as the two sequels that Aldiss wrote and which form the basis of the film A.I. I’ve never managed to read Supertoys until now and I found it a moving story of a boy whose mother doesn’t love him. The sequels were interesting, but they felt much more bitter than the original story and, to my mind, jarred slightly.

I didn’t find most of the other stories in the collection hugely memorable, really. Most of them had a feeling of ‘fable’ about them, so they felt more like fairy tales wrapped in an SF shell, which I like in bits, but I found it wearing after a while. To my mind the best story in the collection, other than Supertoys was probably White Mars, a Socratic dialogue describing how a brief utopia is formed on Mars and offering a hopeful vision of the future of Humanity.

While all the stories here have merit, beyond the title one, I don’t know if I’d read many of them again.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841490946
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 1969

The Secret Adversary

By Agatha Christie

Rating: 4 stars

Tommy Beresford and Prudence “Tuppence” Cowley are old childhood friends who meet up again in the aftermath of the Great War and, almost penniless, agree to form a joint venture: the Young Adventurers Ltd, willing to go anywhere and do anything. Their first assignment ends up leading them into much more danger than anyone imagined and they have to fight for their lives against the mysterious Mr Brown while searching for the one document that could save Britain from civil war.

This book feels very much of its time, with a gently paternalistic government that Knows Best and poor, misled British unions who don’t really want to strike, but those darned Bolsheviks are leading them astray. This makes it sound like I didn’t enjoy this novel. That’s not true, I did, but you certainly need to be aware of the context that it was written in to enjoy it. But that’s something that I’m quite good at, doing it regularly with the Golden Age SF novels that I enjoy so much, so it was easy enough to do the same thing here.

The book kept me guessing as to the identity of the mysterious Mr Brown right to the end, laying several false trails. I warmed to the two protagonists very early and became invested in them (so I’ll definitely look out for the other books in the series). Despite that, this book was written very early in Christie’s career and doesn’t feel as polished as some of her later work. As an indicator of things to come it’s marvellous, and it holds up well enough to be an enjoyable work on its own merits, so long as you’re able to place it in its historical context and not judge it too much.

Book details

ISBN: 9780007111466
Publisher: Harper Collins
Year of publication: 1922

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

By Thomas S. Kuhn

Rating: 0 stars

I bought this book for an adult-education course on scientific paradigms which was cancelled. Since it seemed like quite a slim volume I decided to read it anyway, but found it very hard going. It’s written in a dry, academic style which I found very difficult to read more than a few paragraphs at a time of, and retained even less, so I eventually gave up, just a few chapters in. Maybe I’ll finish it someday, but I don’t hold out much hope.

Book details

ISBN: 9780226458083
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Year of publication: 1962

The Enchantress of Florence

By Salman Rushdie

Rating: 4 stars

In a somewhat skewed version of the 17th century, a yellow-haired man calling himself Mogor dell’Amore presents himself at the court of the Emperor Akbar with a tale to tell. This is the story of that tale and what came of it.

This book feels different in tone to the other Rushdie novels that I’ve read (Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses), feeling more raucous, livelier and more sensuous, while keeping the beautiful language and literary bent of its predecessors. This isn’t a bad thing; although I really enjoyed those other books, it’s nice to see the author continuing to experiment with his tone and style.

This is a story about stories and there are several instances of stories within stories (within stories) as the tale makes its eventual way to its conclusion. It always hovers on the edge of fantasy, never quite committing itself to an event actually being magical, but always shying away, like one of the Mughal concubines shyly hiding behind a veil.

One thing I’ve always loved about Rushdie is his characterisation. When he introduces a new character, he stops for a moment to discuss the character, to draw out his or her history and traits. This shouldn’t work, it should feel clunky and slowing down the story, but I found myself getting really involved in them and that it enhanced rather than detracted from the story.

A fun story, then, and possibly a good entry point for people who haven’t read Rushdie before.

Book details

ISBN: 9780099421924
Publisher: Vintage
Year of publication: 2008

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