Books


#701

Final book of red rising comes out in a couple weeks, so excited.


#702
Reading Bill Bryson's Road to Little Dribbling, which is Notes From a Small Island 20 years on.

I enjoy Bill Bryson…his views are so similar to mine. What a great place Britain would be if they just understood a scintilla about service. It’s as if the sufferings of the Blitz are deeply ingrained in people unto the seventh generation. They really enjoy their misery.

His comparison between British shop-people and Americans is wonderful. One gives you no service whatsoever, the other drowns you in it.

In England when you go into a shop, you are first of all greeted with a facial expression that says, “Oh God, another ■■■■■■ one,” and then you are made to feel as if you have to justify your request for whatever you want. They only seem genuinely happy when they announce that what you’ve just asked for is out of stock.

I don’t think it’s got anything to do with the Blitz. I think it’s more to do with a fear of being punished for doing something wrong. The basic attitude seems to be, I’d better be defensive and hostile to people I meet because they’ll probably be hostile to me, especially if I make the slightest mistake. Nobody seems to have twigged to the idea that if you’re nice to someone and smile at them, they just might be nice to you and smile back.

In Australia, in general, the attitude on meeting a stranger, in any context but particularly in shops, is exactly the opposite: I’m here to sell you things, and you’re here to buy them, so what could be better? It’s one of the very best things about living here.

I remember going to a burger joint in Oxford St in 1997…ordered the chili burger, and what I got was a pattie with chili sauce on it…and ordinary chili sauce too. Cost about 12 quid…service was woeful…and they slap a non-optional 12.5% tip on. Admittedly I have had very good experiences in England too. But they stand out.

Yep, the UK is definitely the worst value-for-money place in the entire world, especially when it comes to food. You ay a fortune and you generally get crap.

If you go back the only food worth buying is Indian in the cities and fish and chips at sea-side towns.


#703
Currently for Ben Aaronovitch's next book in the 'Peter Grant' series

That’s been put off til next May or something hasn’t it?

Yep. Feel more sorry for G.O.T readers when I heard that G.R.R Martin missed his deadline to get the next book done.


#704

Hes gonna die before the series ends.


#705

Yeah, he gets slower and slower every book, and I’m not sure his heart is in it any more. Spends all of his time on the tv show, at conventions, on other writing projects like Wild Cards, and on the cinema he bought a while back.

I reckon we’ll see Winds of Winter in 2017 at the earliest.


#706

It’s times like these a good book provides therapeutic escapism right? Not necessarily I just found out, at least not if the book you’re reading is Hilary Mantel’s very long dramatised take on the French revolution, “A Place Of Greater Safety”. It was the 5th of her published novels but really it’s her first book, written in Saudi Arabia, where she had dutifullly followed her geologist husband, as her health and marriage were collapsing, and then rejected by some very short sighted publishers. She revised the book prior to its eventual publication, and at times it is an uneasy mix of history and fiction but the dialogue is pure masterful pleasure, breathtakingly witty and endlessly spontaneous, and overtly the work of a literary main player. Maybe they were worried that Mantel assumes too much on the part of the reader and certainly a working knowledge of the key characters and events of the French Rev comes in handy.
Mantel liberally draws on the revisionist historical approach and her revolution is more about blood lust than liberty. What she does uniquely provide is a perspective on the women of the revolution, with largely fictionalised depictions of the wives, lovers, mothers and sisters of her chosen revolutionary triumvirate of Danton, Desmoulins and Robespierre. If a male novelist were to produce fictionalised woman to accompany their factual figures of history they’d most likely be tragic and long suffering whereas Mantel renders them simply insufferable; lecherous, manipulative, selfish, shallow and devious. The Duplay sisters who harboured and coveted Robespierre, at least according to Mantel, are just awful creatures. Of course, Mantel has a knack for producing seductively unsympathetic literary portraits of women, look no further than her Anne Boleyn. I could flippantly declare her the most sexist writer since Nietzsche but that cheap shot ignores the fact that as a writer she’s more misanthropic than misogynistic and the men are generally just as unpleasant. Still it struck me as unfair to have Babette Duplay attempt to emotionally, if not physically, rape Desmoulins and then accuse Danton of rape to seal his fate with Robespierre. Still it doesn’t hurt the yarn.
I was reading the latter parts of novel on the day of our recent persecution and I have to say the depictions of revolutionary tribunals and in camera committees sacrificing personal liberty for that mythical metaphysic, the greater good or general will, made for salient and depressing reading. But then again the mind is a powerful thing and as you read of Hebert, the nasty scheming scabrous journalist who had made a career out of baying for the blood of better men, being dragged screaming to the guillotine you can always fix Tim Lane’s face onto his body and daydream just a touch.
A must for any lover of her Cromwell novels.


#707

I’ve just read Kingsley Amis’s “The Alteration” (1978), a novel Shelton 10, a fellow Amis snr admirer(I think), was less than impressed with IIRC (and I don’t always). Well I understand his misgivings and it took me a while to settle into it but ultimately Amis’s Sci Fi alternative history excursion hooked me and even dazzled me a touch. This was a period when Amis was genre hopping regularly and he puts his protagonist’s balls on the line, literally. Hubert Anvil is a ten year old boy who has been cursed with the gift of a much admired high pitched voice in a world that enthusiastically embraces pre pubescent castration in the name of art. The young lad understandably doesn’t like the idea and the plot thickens. What I admired about the novel was the overlaying of a contemporary personal drama onto a reconstructed world where the reformation had never occurred and Henry VIII had never reigned. Amis, an avid Sci Fi fan and reviewer, has the good grace to not only name his sources but to include an alternative version of Philip K ■■■■’s “Man From the High Castle” in the text.
I suspect it’s a novel that would bear repeated readings as there were all sorts of references to historical counter factual characters and incidents that would have added to the pleasure of the novel if I had the knowledge to place them all. For mine Amis’s world doesn’t ring quite as true as PK ■■■■’s and nor are the personal interactions and encounters as authentic, but the area where he does surpass his American influence is in the quality of his prose. In line with the nature of the tale, he reigns in the flippant wit he could dash off like few others but the command and flair of clearly one of the better English wordsmiths of the 20th century is patently on show.
I puzzled over the focus on opera and the omission of Jazz from an Amis novel so concerned with music, especially as Amis was a jazz nut, but it’s since struck me that Amis probably reckoned that improvisational music could never have flourished in a religious despotism. And thank God Henry VIII, who wasn’t really a schismatic at heart, was more interested in new wives than maintaining the ties to Rome, because frankly, and I say this as a lapsed Catholic, Kingsley’s right, it would have been unbearable.

The concept of setting contemporary stories in counter factual worlds is fascinating and I took to wondering what aspects of Australian history might be altered to promote fiction. I suppose Marsden did it with “Tomorrow When The War Began” but at the moment I can’t think of many others. What about a world where the AFL didn’t sign up to the WADA code? That might work.


#708

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#709
The whole idea of setting contemporary stories in counter factual worlds is fascinating and I took to wondering what aspects of Australian history might be altered to promote fiction. I suppose Marsden did it with "Tomorrow When The World Began" but at the moment I can't think of many others. What about a world where the AFL didn't sign up to the WADA code?

How about if Menzies retained power in 1941 and accepted the Brisbane Line, along with the Kimberley Plan. You’d think the White Australia policy would have remained for a good deal longer.
I’m not sure there’s much of a story in that, but…

Edit: Although you’d think the New Israeli’s would have mined the hell out of the Kimberleys and set themselves up with a few nukes.


#710
A must for any lover of her Cromwell novels.

Nice, loved WolfHall and Bring up the Bodies. This one sounds just as good!


#711
Yeah, he gets slower and slower every book, and I'm not sure his heart is in it any more. Spends all of his time on the tv show, at conventions, on other writing projects like Wild Cards, and on the cinema he bought a while back.

I reckon we’ll see Winds of Winter in 2017 at the earliest.

Is anyone really that excited, given how horrible Book 4 was, and how underwhelming Book 5 was, with its long-list of cheap cliffhangers?


#712
The concept of setting contemporary stories in counter factual worlds is fascinating and I took to wondering what aspects of Australian history might be altered to promote fiction. I suppose Marsden did it with "Tomorrow When The War Began" but at the moment I can't think of many others.
Kelly Country

OK, I can’t actually remember if that gets all the way up to “contemporary” times.


#713
The concept of setting contemporary stories in counter factual worlds is fascinating and I took to wondering what aspects of Australian history might be altered to promote fiction. I suppose Marsden did it with "Tomorrow When The War Began" but at the moment I can't think of many others.
Kelly Country

OK, I can’t actually remember if that gets all the way up to “contemporary” times.


Hadn’t heard of it but I just looked it up and it certainly fits the bill of “alternative history”. But if there was no Glenrowan, what would Sidney Nolan have painted instead? And without the hanging, what tattoo would Ben Cousins now have emblazoned on his torso?
Is it any good?

#714

I read it as a kid. I recall liking it a lot then.


#715

I’m a fan of audiobooks, and a few days ago I finished the Diary of Samuel Pepys. That’s 120 hours of listening, 50% longer than the Bible (77 hours), which I’ve also listened to from In the beginning to Amen. The diary won’t interest everyone, but I loved it.

Samuel Pepys was born in 1632. His parents had eight children of whom five died at birth or in infancy, a proportion that was fairly typical at the time; deaths occur constantly throughout the diary, many being the deaths of infant children. His family dates back to the 13th century and was of the gentry class; Samuel was educated at Cambridge. He became the private secretary of Sir Edward Montagu, a navy man who was later created first Earl of Sandwich, and was quickly recognised as having exceptional ability. The diary begins on 1 January 1660 and ends on 31 May 1669 and thus covers an extraordinary decade of English history. At the commencement of the diary England has no king: the Protectorate, established by Oliver Cromwell following the overthrow and execution of Charles I, had collapsed, and the country was effectively under the control of the army led by General Monk. The Rump of the old parliament still existed but was under no effective control, and public opinion was strongly hoping for Charles II, who had been in exile since the overthrow of the monarchy, to be brought back to the throne.

Charles II was brought back to England from Holland in mid-1660, and Pepys, accompanying Montagu, was on the ship on which the King returned. The story of the diary is essentially the story of the decade: the restoration of the monarchy and the subsequent disappointment of the people at the indolence and licentiousness of the Royal court; the Plague years of 1665-6, the Great Fire of 1666; wars with Holland and on the Continent; religious disputes. Pepys was at the heart of it all. He became a member of the Naval Board, which effectively ran the navy, and was the most able and effective of the members; shortly after the diary ends he was appointed Secretary of the Navy, effectively its head. He became a trusted advisor first of the King’s brother, the Duke of York, and subsequently the King. He lived until 1703 and during those years built the navy that ruled the oceans for centuries after.

Samuel Pepys was in 1660 28 years old and had married five years earlier. He never had any children. The diary records all of the events of the time; but it also records in the most intimate detail the whole of his personal life. He seems to have developed the habit of making notes of major events each day, and sitting down every few days to write down in his journal a full account of the events of those days. He wrote in a code, and the diaries were not translated into English for over 100 years after his death. An edited version was published in 1825, but omitted what the editor considered were tedious accounts of daily life. I have a three-volume edition published in 1893-1899, with a long biographical preface that also recounts the history of the publication of the diary. It begins by saying that it is at last the complete edition of the diaries; but towards the end of the preface tosses away the remark that of course the parts that couldn’t possibly be printed have been omitted. The absolutely complete edition of the diaries was not published until 1970-1983. The audiobook edition was produced by Naxos Audio Books as a labour of love by the owner, who can’t possibly have made money out of it.

The history the diaries contain is fascinating, but it’s the personal parts that are at least as fascinating. I said “intimate detail” above, and the detail extends to his bowel movements and sexual encounters. The latter were many and varied, and the way that Pepys writes about them is amazingly revealing of the attitudes of the time. In the positions he held, Pepys was a man of power and influence and he was constantly asked to aid one person or another. He seems to have regarded it as his right to have a go at the wife of the man whom he was asked to assist, as well as maids, serving wenches at inns, shopkeepers’ wives, actresses, pretty much anyone. He wrote about these encounters not only in code, but in a kind of mixture of Latin, English, French and Spanish, which gives them the feeling of being dirty and underhand, which of course they were. He had a full sex life with his wife, who was suspicious of his friendship with one actress in particular but otherwise ignorant of his adventures, until she discovered him one day with his hand up under her maid’s skirt. That incident led to a huge rupture between the couple which eventually healed (after the maid had, of course, been sacked) but not for nearly a year. It is typical of Pepys that this incident led to sincere repentance on his part and earnest determination not to sin again; despite which he subsequently did sin again – but only when he was absolutely certain that he would not be discovered. It’s also typical of his attitude that he recognises that he has been the ruin of the servant girl, who was otherwise a completely chaste woman, and sincerely regrets that he has compromised her; but almost in the same breath he notes that he “must have her maidenhead”. It’s evident that his sexual encounters rarely included actual intercourse, although they sometimes did; mostly it was groping. The most extraordinary thing about his accounts of them is, to me, that he seems to have been entirely unaware that in most cases the women he made advances to only permitted them because he used his physical strength and his powerful social position made it impossible for them to complain.

Another aspect of his activities that fascinated me was his exploitation of the offices he occupied. Offices of that type are offices of profit under the Crown, and at that time – though no longer – the holders of those offices were expected to make personal profits from them. Although the practice was illegal, they were on occasion bought and sold; on his appointment to one office Pepys records that another man offered him 500 pounds to sell it to him; Pepys refused, principally because he thought the office was worth more than that to himself. He constantly records receiving gifts of silver and gold plate from persons he has assisted.

Despite all that, Pepys regarded himself as an honest servant of the King, and he was generally regarded as such. He does not discuss what he regarded as permissible or impermissible, but as far as I can make it out, he seems to have thought it perfectly proper to receive a payment from a person to whom he had, for example, awarded a lucrative contract, so long as the person to whom the contract was awarded was genuinely the best person to get it. For example, he awarded a contract to a particular man to supply the masts for the whole of the Navy, and records proudly that he saved the King 5,000 pounds per annum by choosing that supplier, as well as getting himself a payment of 200 pounds per annum.

The diaries are as extraordinary as anything I’ve read. There were many tedious parts and I was glad to get to the end of them; but on the whole they are worth many times over the effort of reading them – or in my case, listening to them. The audiobook version, available through Audible.com, is excellently read by someone called Leighton Pugh, who has the fundamental virtues of a pleasant voice to listen to, and genuine interest in and understanding of what he is reading. I don’t expect that anyone who reads this will either read or listen to the whole of the diaries, but I hope that someone might at least try part of them.


#716

Anyone else waiting for Ben Aaronovitch’s new novel in the Peter Grant series?


#717

Ever get to the end of a book and felt like you’d been conned. I’ve just this minute finished Dan Simmons’ “Hyperion”, a very very long book I now wish I’d never started. It’s basically a reworking of the 7 Samurai, which was basically The Magnificent 7, but without the final showdown, I now realize I’m expected to read another book if I want to reach the climax. It’s listed as SF and features plenty of SF motifs and gadgets but it reads more like quest fantasy. I didn’t mind the priest’s tale and the soldier’s yarn was notable for some of the more ludicrous sex scenes I’ve read-if you want to spice up your love life you and your partner should beat the ■■■■ out of someone and then get it on, preferably smeared in the victim’s blood – yes, that kept the pages turning. The Prof’s daughter’s time reversal tragedy was ingenious, if painful reading, but the final few campfire style expository tales were just hard ■■■■■■ going, bit like Monty Python’s Yorkshiremen stories without the jokes. Just get on with it and tell me what happens will you! And then I find out I’m meant to read number ■■■■■■ 2 to discover the denouement. Well ■■■■ that for a laugh. Some critics think Simmons can write, but by the end his grating grandiose style was ■■■■■■■■ me to tears. Why did I keep reading? I’m stubborn and I naively thought I’d get to the final gunfight or whatever. What happens next? The Shrike can tear them all to pieces and the Ousters can blow the rest of the Hegemony to the shizen hausen for all I care. Incomplete books like this should be forced to carry warning labels.
PS If you’ve read the sequel, I wouldn’t mind knowing what happens to the baby.
PPS It’s won a hatful of awards so I’m probably wrong.


#718
Ever get to the end of a book and felt like you’d been conned. I’ve just this minute finished Dan Simmons' “Hyperion”, a very very long book I now wish I’d never started. It's basically a reworking of the 7 Samurai, which was basically The Magnificent 7, but without the final showdown, I now realize I’m expected to read another book if I want to reach the climax. It’s listed as SF and features plenty of SF motifs and gadgets but it reads more like quest fantasy. I didn’t mind the priest’s tale and the soldier’s yarn was notable for some of the more ludicrous sex scenes I’ve read-if you want to spice up your love life you and your partner should beat the ■■■■ out of someone and then get it on, preferably smeared in the victim’s blood – yes, that kept the pages turning. The Prof’s daughter’s time reversal tragedy was ingenious, if painful reading, but the final few campfire style expository tales were just hard ■■■■■■ going, bit like Monty Python’s Yorkshiremen stories without the jokes. Just get on with it and tell me what happens will you! And then I find out I’m meant to read number ■■■■■■ 2 to discover the denouement. Well ■■■■ that for a laugh. Some critics think Simmons can write, but by the end his grating grandiose style was ■■■■■■■■ me to tears. Why did I keep reading? I'm stubborn and I naively thought I’d get to the final gunfight or whatever. What happens next? The Shrike can tear them all to pieces and the Ousters can blow the rest of the Hegemony to the shizen hausen for all I care. Incomplete books like this should be forced to carry warning labels. PS If you’ve read the sequel, I wouldn’t mind knowing what happens to the baby. PPS It's won a hatful of awards so I'm probably wrong.

Shutter Island.


#719
Book 3 of Pierce Brown's Red Rising trilogy is here and i am excited.

Got it this week.

First chapter is a bit hard but it warms up and is a belter.


#720
Ever get to the end of a book and felt like you’d been conned. I’ve just this minute finished Dan Simmons' “Hyperion”, a very very long book I now wish I’d never started. It's basically a reworking of the 7 Samurai, which was basically The Magnificent 7, but without the final showdown, I now realize I’m expected to read another book if I want to reach the climax. It’s listed as SF and features plenty of SF motifs and gadgets but it reads more like quest fantasy. I didn’t mind the priest’s tale and the soldier’s yarn was notable for some of the more ludicrous sex scenes I’ve read-if you want to spice up your love life you and your partner should beat the ■■■■ out of someone and then get it on, preferably smeared in the victim’s blood – yes, that kept the pages turning. The Prof’s daughter’s time reversal tragedy was ingenious, if painful reading, but the final few campfire style expository tales were just hard ■■■■■■ going, bit like Monty Python’s Yorkshiremen stories without the jokes. Just get on with it and tell me what happens will you! And then I find out I’m meant to read number ■■■■■■ 2 to discover the denouement. Well ■■■■ that for a laugh. Some critics think Simmons can write, but by the end his grating grandiose style was ■■■■■■■■ me to tears. Why did I keep reading? I'm stubborn and I naively thought I’d get to the final gunfight or whatever. What happens next? The Shrike can tear them all to pieces and the Ousters can blow the rest of the Hegemony to the shizen hausen for all I care. Incomplete books like this should be forced to carry warning labels. PS If you’ve read the sequel, I wouldn’t mind knowing what happens to the baby. PPS It's won a hatful of awards so I'm probably wrong.
Yes...quite a few of Stephen King's books, especially "It"

Great read for so much…but then it was like he didn’t know how to finish…so he did it terribly.