Murder On The Orient Express

By Agatha Christie

Rating: 5 stars

Although I count myself as a fan of Agatha Christie, I must confess to not having read this, possibly the most famous (due to the various media adaptations, none of which I have seen either) of her Poirot novels, before. This has now, finally, been rectified. After some business out in the middle east, M. Poirot is returning to London on the Orient Express. One night, as the train is caught in a snowdrift, one of the passengers is murdered, and it’s up to Poirot to investigate which of the other passengers on the sleeper was responsible.

Like Poirot himself, this is a very neat book. It has a nice structure, with the build-up, the murder, interviews with each of the suspects, all presenting the evidence to the reader at the same time as it is revealed to the detective, and inviting the reader to play along. As usual, I failed miserably to spot whodunnit, but enjoyed the ride, and the company of the master detective and his “little grey cells”.

A great book, and one that I’d like to re-read, which is unusual for me with a whodunnit. I’d also like to see the film (the 1974 one with Albert Finney) to see how well it was adapted.

Book details

ISBN: 9780006137122
Publisher: Fontana
Year of publication: 1934

Right Ho, Jeeves (Jeeves, #6)

By P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: 5 stars

You know what they say about the best laid plans of Bertie Wooster [1:]? So when Madeline Basset ends up accidentally engaged to Bertie instead of Gussie Fink-Nottle, his cousin Angela breaks up with Tuppy Glossop and the finest chef in England threatens to leave his Aunt Dahlia, it’s up to Jeeves to untangle the knots and ensure that everything gets sorted out.

A couple of episodes of the Jeeves and Wooster TV series were based on this book but it’s nice to see it in its full unabridged glory. I find Wodehouse eminently readable and great fun to come back to. His characters are obviously parodies but they capture the upper classes of the early 20th century so well. I love this stuff.

[1:] If not, here’s a hint

Book details

ISBN: 9780099513742
Publisher: Arrow Random House
Year of publication: 1934

The Rediscovery of Man: The Complete Short Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith

By Cordwainer Smith

Rating: 5 stars

This volume contains the entire of Cordwainer Smith’s short science fiction. This mostly consists of stories set in his “Instrumentality of Mankind” future history, but there are a handful of other stories at the end. The Instrumentality universe is a massive imagining, as mankind is shepherded by the all-powerful Instrumentality, protecting it from itself and beyond.

The stories here are lyrical, vivid creatures that demand to be savoured, one or two at a time and Smith’s style reminds me in some ways of Ray Bradbury, another of my favourite writers. This volume, combined with Norstralia contains the sum total of Smith’s output, cut short by a heart attack at the awfully young age of 53. The Instrumentality universe is rich and varied, with themes including the liberation of the Underpeople (genetically modified animals used as slaves) and the meaning of what it is to be human (leading to the “Rediscovery of Man” period).

Picking highlights is difficult, but Scanners Live in Vain, Smith’s first published story, is excellent. It tells of the men who man the spaceships, with their sensory nerves cut to block out the “pain of space” and the volunteers who undergo the same procedure to monitor them, and the process that could make them obsolete. The Dead Lady of Clown Town and The Ballad of Lost C’Mell both deal with the liberation of the underpeople while Mother Hitton’s Littul Kittons is a darkly humorous story about the lengths that the Norstalians will go to to protect their monopoly of the immortality drug, Stroon.

In all, this a marvellous collection for any fan of future history and the Instrumentality will stay with me for quite some time.

Book details

ISBN: 9780915368563
Publisher: NESFA Press
Year of publication: 1993

Star Songs of An Old Primate

By James Tiptree Jr.

Rating: 4 stars

This was a great collection of stories by Tiptree. As well as shorts, there is a novella, A Momentary Taste of Being which starts off like a normal colonisation tale, with a ship looking for planets to colonise to relieve pressure from an Earth creaking at the seams, but becomes something much darker.

Houston, Houston Do you read? is a story that’s stayed with me for some time after reading, telling the story of three astronauts who get bumped forward in time by a few hundred years and the world they return to, while Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, shows flash points in the protagonists life as he is forced to relive them again and again…

These stories do show Tiptree at her finest, and while The Psychologist Who Wouldn’t do Awful Things to Rats may not be the most subtle of pieces, it’s still an excellent story in an excellent collection.

Book details

ISBN: 9780345254177
Publisher: Del Rey
Year of publication: 1979

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