Brief musings on books read

In modern times, I place all my book reviews on Goodreads, so this page is a bit of a relic.

  • Songs of Distant Earth – Arthur C. Clarke. What attracted me to this book was the Michael Whelan artwork on the front. Very wistful, very hopeful. The book itself isn’t bad, dealing with the themes of separation and distance. More “human” than any Clarke book I’ve read.
  • Imperial Earth – Arthur C. Clarke. I’m not sure why it’s titled as such, as it deals with a guy from the moon Titan on his expedition to Earth, which is far from Imperial. Not bad, not bad at all, just nothing extraordinary about it. As usual with Clarke, the science means more than the humans.
  • Rendezvous with Rama – Arthur C. Clarke. A strange (and huge) object enters the Solar System, prompting a journey of exploration. Considered to be one of the landmarks of science fiction, it has all of Clarke’s traits as an author; solid science, cardboard characters and a simple and easy reading style. A good book nonetheless.
  • The Outward Urge – John Wyndham. Four related novellas each detailing the lives of successive members of the Troon dynasty in space. The title refers to the drive that motivates each protagonist to go onward and upward. Solidly written but nothing special. I much prefer Wyndham’s “cosy catastrophes” like The Chrysalids.
  • The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham. Speaking of cosy catastrophes. I’m positive most of the world knows what this one is about, but they’d be most likely basing it off movie experience. The book itself doesn’t so much deal with triffids as it does with the question of how the few would cope in a post-apocalyptic world. Triffids only really come into it toward the end. Rambling first person narrative doesn’t always adhere to the subject at hand, but it’s a landmark novel and recommended reading.
  • Golden Witchbreed – Mary Gentle. About an Earthwoman’s diplomatic mission to a far world populated by a neo-Luddite alien culture. Decent book, eminently well-written. Starts off a little slow, but soon reaches top speed. Decent world-building and depiction of a strange society. Fairly good book all round.
  • Outcasts of Skagaray – Andrew Clarke. For further info. You may have dramas finding this book as it was self-published here in Australia. That link has contact details of the author.

I borrowed it my local library. Well-written, but needs desperate editing attention. Deals with a very mean-spirited and Spartan society with echoes of Nordic culture, and one young man’s attempt to overthrow the influence of the evil idol that has inspired such nastiness. Sound familiar? Yes, it’s Biblical allegory camouflaged and re-written and it’s not really fantasy as it takes place in an island in the Atlantic somewhere and has no real supernatural elements apart from the idol. Needed better cover art too; what’s on it now, looks cheap.

  • Shattered Icon – Bill Napier. About a conspiracy theory involving Greek Orthodoxy, pieces of the cross Jesus was allegedly nailed up on, the journal of a 16th century Scottish cabin boy, sexy villainesses etc. Action packed, but written in a cheap and slapdash manner that may throw some off. You could almost call the prose style amateurish. I couldn’t tell whether the author was trying to be funny or not at times.
  • Jack of Shadows – Roger Zelazny. An oddball book for sure. About the adventures of the eponymous character on his world which is caught in synchronous rotation. Magic on the dark side, science on the light, etc. Part science fiction, part fantasy and all weird, and that’s a good thing.
  • Honoured Enemy, Murder in LaMut, Jimmy the Hand – Raymond E. Feist and William R. Forstchen, Joel Rosenberg, and Steve (S. M.) Stirling respectively. These three are collaborations Feist has done (apart from the ones he did with Janny Wurts). All three are eminently readable, even if they aren’t the consummate page-turners that Feist churns out alone. All three are based during the Riftwar, which was Feist’s first trilogy, and feature characters that have occasionally popped up there. Murder in LaMut is arguably the best of the three.
  • Flight of the Night Hawks – Raymond E. Feist. This is the first in his latest Midkemia series and it’s pretty good. It more or less picks up where Exile’s Return left off except with a different protagonist. As is Feist’s wont, his teenage boy characters are straight out of a Boy Scout’s guide to bildungsromans and his love interests are somewhat juvenile. Still Feist’s strength is his ability to spin a good yarn, and he succeeds well at it. Oh, there’s a pseudo-Australian thrown in for good measure too.
  • Into a Dark Realm – Raymond E. Feist. Sequel to the above. More of the same; a dark and powerful evil threatens to take over the universe and it’s up to the good guys to right wrongs. Compelling page-turner, like everything Feist writes, but it’s not high literature and you shouldn’t pick up this book seriously expecting it.
  • Wrath of a Mad God – Raymond E. Feist. Sequel to the above two. Ties things up nicely, the bad guys get their come-uppances, the good guys (most of them) live to fight another day. Like everything Feist writes, it’s not profound meta-fiction, but it’s a damned good story. He tells stories very well, even if some of the people and places he describes are rehashes and clichés. No doubt we’ll see more of his worlds soon enough.
  • Rides a Dread Legion – Raymond E. Feist. And lo and behold, we see more of his worlds soon enough. This time Midkemia, et al, is threatened by demons, and a new race of elves. It has everything you expect from Feist and it’s brain candy like the rest of them. The edition I read contained a few typos, so I feel it was rushed to publication.
  • Earthsea Series – Ursula Le Guin. I haven’t read The Other Wind or Tales of Earthsea.

I tried reading these books sans Tehanu when I was a kid but didn’t get very far at all, but on a second attempt recently, I sped through them. The first three, A Wizard of EarthseaThe Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore are landmark books. Le Guin writes in a simple yet descriptive language. The development of the protagonist, Ged, from boy to mature magician is masterfully handled. My personal favourite of the three would be the second book where Ged is a secondary character to Tenar. Le Guin’s descriptions of The Tombs are excellent. Tehanu, on the other hand, comes across as the work of a bitter person. It was a struggle to read, to be honest. Since it deals with the issue of child molestation, it can’t be considered a children’s book as the first three are commonly held to be.

  • 1984 – George Orwell. It took me a while, but I finally got around to reading this. Unrelentingly bleak, from stem to stern. Even Winston Smith’s “conjoining” with Julia have a sense of dystopian futility about them. Well-written, highly influential, but I found it very much an overstatement of its case.
  • Winter’s Children – Michael G. Coney. About a group of people struggling for survival in some frozen-over post-apocalyptic world. Unrelentingly average. Absolutely nothing interesting happens in this book.
  • His Dark Materials trilogy – Philip Pullman. About a little girl who lives in a parallel world to ours who has sundry adventures. At least that’s how it goes. I found these books to be totally and thoroughly disjointed and flat. The characterisations throughout are wooden and the author obviously has some major chips on his shoulder that he feels the need to tell us all about. Yes, these books are famous and yes, they won awards, but I don’t like them and I’m not sorry.
  • The Children of Tomorrow – A. E. van Vogt. About a spaceman who returns to Earth to find teenagers are trying to usurp the traditional control parents had over them, due to the adult’s absence in space. There’s an imminent alien invasion sub-plot in here too. Well-written, but a little dense.