Friday, 24 January 2020

A Weekend Reading Update and The Science Fiction Novel - John Brunner

The sun is finally shining and the dogs want to go check the mail. I'll get this started then we'll head over for a short walk. I went to my local used book store to drop off some books but it seems it had to close yesterday and today. Such is life. I'll try again tomorrow or go next week.

I finished my sixth book of January this morning, the first book in my 12 + 4 Reading Group Challenge - my aim being to finish off a number of series this year. I will update that and also let you know the next book I'll be reading in that challenge. I'll also continue with my look at the Sci-Fi novel, this time looking at British author, John Brunner. 

So I'll be right back and we'll get started.. 😏

Just Finished

1. Time Quake by Linda Buckley - Archer (Gideon #3).

"Time Quake by Linda Buckley-Archer is the third and final book in her Gideon trilogy. I read the first two books back in 2011ish so it took me a while to get back into the flow of this trilogy. The basic premise is that two young people Kate and Peter play with her father's anti-gravity machine and it is in fact a time travelling device. In this final chapter, Kate and Peter are stuck in London of 1793. 18th Century autocrat, Lord Luxon is using the device and is in present day New York, associating with a young historian and trying to discover a way of defeating George Washington to keep America in English hands. Kate's parents and friends are trying to devise a new machine to get Kate and Peter back to the present. Gideon, the Cut Purse, once their enemy is now helping the two try to find his brother, the Tar Man, as he has another machine, but works for Lord Luxon.

Phew, that's the briefest of incomplete summaries of this story. Kate is greatly affected by her various time travels. She is beginning to fade from existence and can only keep in her present by holding on to Peter. Whenever she lets go, she jumps forward in time losing track of herself. All of the time travelling also is causing time quakes, mixing up the various time frames of earth. Also parallel worlds are being created, which adds to the confusion.

So there you go. It's a very tense story and suitable finale to the events of the first two books. Things look very dire for the 'good' guys and Lord Luxon seems to have the upper hand and threatens to destroy the future (present?). I did enjoy this story but probably would have enjoyed it more if I'd read it sooner than later, and that's not the fault of the book, that's my fault. All in all, the three stories are well written, filled with action and neat ideas about time travel and peopled with great characters, both good and bad. Please check this book out, but read the first two before you do. (3.5 stars)"

Currently Reading

1. The Death of Kings by Rennie Airth (John Madden #5).

"In the fifth novel in the John Madden mystery series, Inspector Madden is called upon to assist Scotland Yard on a notorious decade-old murder case.

On a hot summer day in 1938, a beautiful actress is murdered on the grand Kent estate of Sir Jack Jessup, close friend of the Prince of Wales. An instant headline in the papers, the confession of a local troublemaker swiftly brings the case to a close, but in 1949, the reappearance of a jade necklace raises questions about the murder. Was the man convicted and executed the decade before truly guilty, or had he wrongly been sent to the gallows?

Inspector Madden is summoned out of retirement at the request of former Chief Inspector Angus Sinclair to re-open the case at Scotland Yard. Set in the aftermath of World War II, The Death of Kings is an atmospheric and captivating police procedural, and is a story of honor and justice that takes Madden through the idyllic English countryside, post-war streets of London, and into the criminal underworld of the Chinese Triads."

The Science Fiction Novel - John Brunner

John Brunner
John Kilian Houston Brunner was an English author of Science Fiction novels and stories. He was born in Oxfordshire in 1934 and died in Glasgow, Scotland in 1995. His novel Stand on Zanzibar won the Hugo Award for best Sci-Fi novel in 1968.

Brunner wrote his first novel, Galactic Storm, at the age of 17, published under the name Gill Hunt. He did not start writing full-time until after his military service, 1953 - 1955.  Brunner had an uneasy relationship with British new wave writers who thought his stories were too American in style and setting. Before his death most of his books had fallen out of print.

After writing his first space opera style Sci-Fi story, Brunner began to experiment with the novel form. His 1968 novel, Stand on Zanzibar, is a case in point as it can be read in various ways (see my later comments). Some of his novels dealt with nuclear proliferation and others ecological disaster. Brunner is credited with coming up with the term 'worm' and predicting computer viruses.

Over his life, John Brunner published 50+ Science Fiction / Fantasy novels. He also wrote in other genres. I have read 7 of his novels and have another on my book shelf to read. I'll take a look at some of my favorites and also provide the synopsis for the one TBR book.

1. Stand on Zanzibar (1968). I've had this book for ages. My edition was published in 1976 and I believe I read it during my university years. I've read it a couple of times in fact. There are a couple of ways to read it; the normal way from front to end, then also by sticking to the sub-headings; Context, The Happening World, Tracking With Closeups, etc. Either way, it made for excellent reading.

Synopsis - "Donald Hogan was a mild-mannered student, a dilettante intellectual, at least that's what everyone was supposed to think he was.

But Donald knew otherwise.

He knew he was a spy.

But what Donald didn't know was that in a world overpopulated by the billions - in a society squeezed into hive-living madness by megabrain computers, mass-marketed psychedelics, and eugenics - where everyone was struggling for life …. he himself was programmed for death." (5 stars)

2. The Sheep Look Up (1972).

"Garbageman / Savior

He rejoiced at the sight of flies in a world where everything was dying out...

He had six hundred thousand dollars in the bank, but worked as a garbageman, and lived in a slum tenement in the heart of a dying city...

He had started a movement that could save the Earth... but was forced to go into hiding to save his own life!" (3 stars)

3. The Shockwave Rider (1975).

"One man has made it his mission to liberate the mental prisoners. to restore their freedom in a world run mad.

Nickie Halflinger, the only person to escape from Tarnover- where they raise hyper-intelligent children to maintain the political dominance of the USA in the 21st century – is on the run, dodging from loophole to crevice to crack in the computerised data-net that binds the continent like chains. 

After years of flight and constant changes of identity, at the strange small town called Precipice he discovers he is not alone in his quest.  But can his new allies save him when he falls again into the sinister grasp of Tarnover...? (3 stars)

4. The Super Barbarians (1962).

"I've enjoyed many of John Brunner's science fiction stories. Stand on Zanzibar stands as one of my favourites of all time and is a true classic of the genre. The Super Barbarians was published in 1962 and comes relatively early in his writing career. It's an entertaining, eminently readable story about Earth fighting to overthrow the Vorra, an alien race that defeated them many years ago in a space battle.

Gareth Snow is an Earthman, living on Qualavarra, serving as a major domo of sorts in the household of one of the powerful families on the planet. He also has a secret embedded in his memory that makes him a powerful enemy and a hope of Earth in their planned uprising against the Vorra. On Qualavarra is an area known as The Acre, where Earthlings are allowed to live in relative freedom. The meeting of Snow and the leaders of the city brings about the events that will commence this uprising.

I think I'll leave the story at that as it is a relatively short, but action packed and quick moving tale. I enjoyed my further reading into John Brunner's writing and found the story to be a pleasure to read. It reminds me of many of the stories I read as a teenager when I could delve into another world, another adventure that held my attention and let me enjoy these great imaginations as they create new worlds, new peoples, new adventures. (3.5 stars)"

5. Players at the Game of People (1980).

"War hero, jet-setter, gourmet - Godwin Harpinshield was all of those and more; his life was a game played among the Beautiful People whose fame, wealth and power set them above the law, and beyond the laws of nature. Because of a simple bargain that all the Beautiful People made, Godwin's every desire was his for the asking. Seduced by luxury, Godwin never doubted his fortune, never wondered about his mysterious patrons.

Then the game turned ugly.

Suddenly, the ante was raised and the game was real. The stakes were his future, his sanity and, possibly, his very soul. All Godwin Harpinshield had to discover was: What were the rules of the game? And who - or what - were the other players?"

So there you go, a few of Brunner's works for your consideration. The complete list of Brunner's works are available at this link.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, 23 January 2020

A Thursday Reading Update and The Science Fiction Novel - H. Beam Piper

Off to a late start with this today as I was trying to finish a book. I'll update that and also let you know the book I've started next. As well, I'll continue with my look at the Sci-Fi novel.

Just Finished

1. My Name is Michael Sibley by John Bingham (1952). This is my 2nd John Bingham mystery.

"My Name Is Michael Sibley is the 2nd mystery I've read by English writer John  Bingham. It's an interesting take on the mystery genre.

Michael Sibley is the protagonist of this story which is told from the perspective of the main suspect in a murder. We follow Sibley as he is interviewed by the police about the murder of his 'friend' / school acquaintance, John Prosser. Normally that the mystery is told from the perspective of the investigators so this adds a different twist.

As the story progresses, Sibley reviews his life, his 'friendship' during school with Prosser, a mate who teased him and made Sibley miserable. We continue with Sibley's life, his first job as a newspaperman in a small town, where he grows in confidence and meets his first girl friend. As time progresses, Prosser makes contact with him once again, something that Sibley can't turn down, no matter his negative feelings towards Prosser.

Throughout this review of Sibley's life and contacts with Prosser, he continues to be investigated by the police and Sibley reacts in seemingly odd ways to this investigation, lying to the police, encouraging his new girlfriend to provide a fake alibi for him, getting rid of a set of brass knuckles he had purchased as a young student but feels might somehow implicate him in the murder, etc.

The story can be slow at times but the perspective and development of the character(s) and plot are intriguing and well-crafted. It makes you wonder as you progress into the story whether Sibley is actually guilty of the crime and how much information the police might have. All in all it's definitely a fascinating concept and a well - developed, interesting mystery, not perfect, but still worth reading. (4 stars)"

Currently Reading

1. Carol by Patricia Highsmith (1952). The story was originally published under the name The Price of Salt. I've read a few of Highsmith's stories and for the most part have enjoyed them very much.

"Patricia Highsmith's story of romantic obsession may be one of the most important, but still largely unrecognized, novels of the twentieth century. First published in 1952 and touted as "the novel of a love that society forbids," the book soon became a cult classic.

Based on a true story plucked from Highsmith's own life, Carol tells the riveting drama of Therese Belivet, a stage designer trapped in a department-store day job, whose routine is forever shattered by a gorgeous epiphany—the appearance of Carol Aird, a customer who comes in to buy her daughter a Christmas toy. Therese begins to gravitate toward the alluring suburban housewife, who is trapped in a marriage as stultifying as Therese's job. They fall in love and set out across the United States, ensnared by society's confines and the imminent disapproval of others, yet propelled by their infatuation. Carol is a brilliantly written story that may surprise Highsmith fans and will delight those discovering her work."

The Science Fiction Novel - Henry Beam Piper

H. Beam Piper
H. Beam Piper was an American author of Science Fiction novels and short stories. He was born in 1904 and died in Pennsylvania in 1964. He is best known for his Terro-Human Future History series of books. There is some confusion about his place of birth, his first name (Horace or Henry) and the date of his death. His tombstone lists his name as Henry but he told people it was Horace, encouraging the assumption that he wrote only using his initial because he disliked his first name.

He was largely self-educated, obtaining his knowledge of Science and History without going to university. He started work at the age of 18 working at the Pennsylvania rail yards as a laborer and night watchman.

His first short story, Time and Time Again was published in Astounding Science Fiction in 1947. He published mostly short stories until he made a productive but short lived foray into novels in 1961. In 1964, with his career supposedly on the skids, Piper committed suicide. Some biographers attribute his action to financial difficulties, others to family issues. A friend said that he committed suicide to spite an ex-wife he hated, his suicide voided an insurance policy, thereby preventing her from collecting.

The main themes of his stories were space opera and cultural conflict or misunderstanding, the main theme of the three stories I have read. The Terro-Human Future History is Piper's account of the next 6,000 years of Human history. Most of the stories take place in the next millennium and include the three Fuzzy novels. These are the books that I read back in 1984, when I initially bought the books. I've had them ever since because I hope someday to reread the series to see if it is as good as I remember it. The three Fuzzy books are highlighted below.

1. Little Fuzzy (originally published 1962).

"Friends of Little Fuzzy Vs. the Chartered Zarathustra Company

The chartered Zarathustra Company had it all their way. Their charter was for a Class-III uninhabited planet, which Zarathustra was, and it meant they owned the planet, lock, stock and barrel. They exploited it, developed it, and reaped the huge profits from it without interference from the Colonial Government.

Then Jack Holloway, a sunstone prospector, appeared on the scene with his family of Fuzzies and the passionate conviction that they were not cute animals but little people.

The Company was aghast at this threat to their power and profits. If Holloway could prove the Fuzzies were people, Zarathustra would automatically become a Class-IV inhabited planet, the Company's charter would become void and the Colonial Government of the Federation would take over.

The Company did not hesitate to resort to coercion, murder – even genocide – to prevent the Fuzzies from being declared the ninth extrasolar sapient race."

2. Fuzzy Sapiens (originally published in 1964).

"Are Fuzzies People?

Pendarvis' Decision had finally declared the Fuzzies to be intelligent beings, and that meant some drastic changes for the Earthmen who had colonized their planet, changes that a lot of people weren't going to accept easily. But why worry? said others.

The Fuzzies seemed lovable, fun-loving creatures, only two feet high, and covered with soft, golden fur. Give them plenty of extee-three and they'd do anything you asked.

What ruling race of invaders could ask for a more ideal native population?"

c. Fuzzies and Other People (originally published in 1984)

"The friendship between human Jack Holloway and the small, golden-furred creatures of the planet Zarathustra has a profound impact on both Holloway and the Fuzzies."

For some reason, I've never tried any other of Piper's books. I'll have to do so. The complete list of his works can be found at this link

The weekend is soon upon us. Enjoy your Friday and the impending weekend. Take care!

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

New Books and The Science Fiction Novel - Philip K. Dick

Rain, rain go away, come again another day... :0) Yup, it's raining again. I'm afraid that's all that I have to say about that today.

Yesterday, a couple of books arrived in the mail. I'll update those for you and continue with my look at the Sci-Fi novel. My author today is Philip K. Dick, an author that I find myself going back to every now and then. He is one of the unique writers of Science Fiction and well worth checking out. 

New Books

1. The Casebook of the Black Widowers by Isaac Asimov (The Black Widowers #3 / 1980). I've enjoyed two of the books in this series. It's a most enjoyable collection of short stories, so far.

"Once a month the Black Widowers club meets to enjoy good food, fine wine, convivial company - and to entertain a guest.

Each month the guest provides them with a conundrum - a mystery which has so far proved completely baffling.

And so the Black Widowers set to work on the problem - aided and abetted by Henry, their perspicacious waiter, whose powers of deduction never fail to astonish..."

b. A Nail Through the Heart by Timothy Hallinan (Poke Rafferty #1). This is a new series for me.

"Poke Rafferty was writing offbeat travel guides for the young and terminally bored when Bangkok stole his heart. Now the American expat is assembling a new family with Rose, the former go-go dancer he wants to marry, and Miaow, the tiny, streetwise urchin he wants to adopt.

But trouble in the guise of good intentions comes calling just when everything is beginning to work out. Poke agrees to take in Superman, Miaow's troubled and terrifying friend from the gutter. Then he agrees to help locate a distraught Aussie woman's missing uncle and accepts a generous payment to find a blackmailing thief.

No longer gliding carelessly across the surface of a culture he doesn't really understand, suddenly Poke is plodding through dark and unfamiliar terrain—and everything and everyone he loves is in terrible danger."

The Science Fiction Novel - Philip K. Dick

Philip K.Dick
Philip Kindred Dick was an American Science Fiction writer who was born in Chicago Illinois in 1928 and who died in Santa Ana California in 1982. I was first introduced to his unique style in a Science Fiction novel course I took at University of Toronto. I think the first book I read of his was The Man in the High Castle (now a popular TV series). This was one of 44 novels written by Dick along with along with approximately 120 short stories. His brand of Sci-Fi featured alternate realities, authoritarian governments, altered states of consciousness. He utilized drug abuse, mental illness, transcendental experiences as themes in his books.

I have found some of his books hard to assimilate but others have been excellent and have grabbed me intensely. His ideas were fantastic and his story telling creative. Dick began publishing novels in 1951 at the age of 22. He found little commercial success until 1962 with his alternate reality story, The Man in the High Castle. 

A variety of movies and also TV series have been created based on his books; Blade Runner is based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Minority Report based on the short story of the same name, A Scanner Darkly based on the novel of the same name, etc. 

Over the years I've read 10 of Dick's books and I've still got another on my bookshelf. I will continue to explore this unique author. I'll highlight a few of his books for you.

1. The Man in the High Castle (1962). 

"It is America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco, the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some 20 years earlier the United States lost a war—and is now occupied by Nazi Germany and Japan.
This harrowing, Hugo Award-winning novel is the work that established Philip K. Dick as an innovator in science fiction while breaking the barrier between science fiction and the serious novel of ideas. In it Dick offers a haunting vision of history as a nightmare from which it may just be possible to wake." 
My review
"One of my all-time favourite SciFi stories. I've read many times; the first time while at university back 74ish. Great concept, got me interested in the I Ching. So much to it.
Update 08 Feb 2013
Read this for the third or fourth time this past week. As good as ever. It's a story that passes the test of time. Such an interesting concept. It's the first alternate history type story that I ever read. It's an alternate history within an alternate history. The basic premise is that Japan and Germany win WWII and have split up the USA and the rest of the world. However throughout the story is another book within this book which tells the story as if the US and Britain had won the war and the issues this causes. There is so much more to this story; culture, religion, art, love. Highly recommended. (5 stars)"
2. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968).

"I've seen the movie based on the book, that being Blade Runner, many times and always enjoy. For some reason, even though I find Philip K. Dick a fascinating science fiction writer, I've not picked up Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? before. It might be one of those things about not wanting to ruin the movie by reading the book, or something like that. Anyway, a couple of years back, I saw a new edition at one of my favorite book stores in Victoria and picked up a copy. And this year it was chosen for me as one of my Challenge reads. And for that I'm glad.
The story follows the basic plot line of the movie. Rick Dekkard is a bounty hunter for the San Francisco PD, paid to hunt down and 'retire' escaped androids. The story is set in a future where the world was almost by a World War. Many people have emigrated to the Moon and Mars and other planets. Few remain behind. Some, known as chicken heads, don't have the mental abilities to emigrate, due to the effects of the dust from the World War. Others just don't want to.
A group of androids, the Nexus 6 version, escape from Mars and come to San Francisco. Dekkard is given the assignment to find and retire them after his partner is almost killed by one. So that is the gist of the story.
Other elements only hinted at in the movie play much bigger roles in the book. The desire to have 'real' pets as most animals were killed in the world. People keep them on their roof tops. Dekkard is only able to afford an electric sheep and craves a real animal as he hopes it will help his marriage. Yes, he is married in the book. The other main character, John Isidore, a chicken head, works for a company that builds and repairs electric animals. There is also the interesting dichotomy between the Buster Friendly TV program that blasts out all day long on TV and also radio and Mercerism, an emotional linkage between millions of people.
All in all it's a unique story, quite fascinating. Dick can leave you feeling cold with his stories, I find, but as the story progresses and comes to the end, it did provide an emotional satisfaction. Well worth reading if you've not explored the Science Fiction of Philip K. Dick. (4 stars)"
3. Dr. Bloodmoney or How We Got Along After the Bomb (1965).
"Seven years after the day of the bombs, Point Reyes was luckier than most places. Its people were reasonably normal -- except for the girl with her twin brother growing inside her, and talking to her. Their barter economy was working. Their resident genius could fix almost anything that broke down But they didn't know they were harbouring the one man who almost everyone left alive wanted killed?"
My review
"Excellent story. I couldn't remember it at all from when I read it back in the late 70's or so. It's a post-nuclear disaster type story. Well-written, interesting, a real page-turner. So many interesting concepts; the different mutations, how people trying to get on after the disaster. Nice Philip K. Dick twists. I found I couldn't put it down at the end and wanted to see how things were resolved. Excellent story. (4 stars)"
4. Time Out of Joint (1959).

"I've read quite a few of Philip K. Dick's books over the past many years. He is one of the unique Science Fiction writers, definitely taking a different perspective on his subject. Time Out of Joint is one of his earlier efforts, written in 1958. You can see many of the themes that crop in his works; alternate realities especially play a major role in this and the other books I've read previously.
Ragle Gumm lives in a small town in Wyoming, living with his sister and her husband. He makes his living solving a mathematical contest that the local paper puts out each day. As time moves along, he and his family become more and more aware that things aren't quite what they seem. They find an old yellow pages and magazines. The phone book contains numbers that don't work and seem to indicate that they might be being monitored by some outside agency. The magazines show famous people, but people they don't know. Are the neighbours watching them. Why does the man from the newspaper drop in on Ragle?
We get tidbits from other people around Ragle, very suspicious things happening in this town. Ragle moves to discover what is really taking place and what he finds out makes for a fascinating story. Philip Dick never disappoints but he can confuse and leave you hanging... Interesting story from him and well worth trying to get a feel for his work and ideas. (4 stars)"
e. Martian Time-Slip (1964). The is the book I have on my shelf.

"Mars. As a desolate place, forgotten by Earth. Isolated homesteaders huddle along the lines of the great canals, in thrall to Arnie Kott and his plumbing union, which controls the vital water supply. Kott's manipulations poison the lives of those he draws to him: his mistress Doreen; Jack Bohlen, the schizoid repairman she comes to love; Manfred, an autistic child plagued with memories of a terrifying future; even the poor native Bleekmen of Mars."
As a matter of interest, I have also read the following of Dick's books - The Unteleported Man (1967 / 3 stars), The Crack in Space (1966 / 4 stars), The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965 / 3 stars), Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said (1974 / 3 stars), A Maze of Death (1970 / 4 stars), & A Scanner Darkly (1977 / 3 stars)
The complete listing of Philip Dick's books is available at this link.
So there you go. We're on the downhill slide for the rest of the week. Enjoy!

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