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The Finishing School

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3 stars.
Muriel Spark is one of my favourite authors, mainly for her quirky style and often cruelly funny observations of human behaviour.

The Finishing School is a book of jealousy. The headmaster, Rowland Mahler, of this tiny is trying unsuccessfully to write a book. Chris, one of his pupils, at 17, is writing a book with ease. Rowland's jealousy consumes him and prevents him from writing, while Chris, recognising this jealousy, finds he can't write without it.

Black Swan Green

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Black Swan Green by David Mitchell – 2 out of 5.

An Audio Book for me this one & very much picked out of the library at random, just to see what it was like. I'd heard good things about “Cloud Atlas” (by the same author, which isn't the David Mitchell from Mitchell & Webb by the way). This Novel sees our hero, Jason, as his life moves from childhood into teenager & the struggles involved. It's set back in the early '80s & has some nice nostalgic references sprinkled liberally through the book.

Moby Dick

Moby Dick by Herman Melville – 2 out of 5.

I listened to this one on audio book from the Library, trying to get in some classics. For anyone who doesn't know (where have you been) it's basically the tale of a bunch of guys, lead by the vengeful Captain Ahab, trying to kill a big white whale. This was read by Bill Bailey (no not that one) & has some nice “mood music” at key points throughout.

Published way back in 1851 the language is old fashioned & the setting exemplifies this.

Transition

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Iain (M) Banks is my second favourite author behind out illustrious Robert Rankin, he is the only other writer who's work I think I've read in (more or less) it's entirety (there may be a book or two still waiting on the shelf).

Banks can be a funny author, often leaning towards the “big build up” & this book certainly has that, to the point that the the first 50 pages or so come over as a pretty random intro to the characters. Perhaps at this point (for those who don't know) I should point out the duel nature of Iain's writing. He does SF as Iain “M” Banks & fiction as Iain Banks.

Retromancer

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Retromancer by Robert Rankin – 4 out of 5.

Retromancer is a direct sequel to The Brightonomicon. It sees Hugo Rune & his acolyte Rizla (played by Jim Pooley) up against arch nemesis Otto Black in a struggle for the future (& the past) of the human race. We are set mainly in the first person & looking at things through Rizla's bleary eyes. One morning breakfast consists of Bratwurst rather than bangers & things have clearly gone wrong somewhere along the way, the Germans won the war & this is just the thin edge of the Cambozola.

Cat's Cradle

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut - 3 out of 5

I like to keep some slim books around to fill in the gaps between the more weighty tomes, Cats cradle – at 179 pages – is just such a book. I also find books with short chapters to be quick & easy to read from a structural point of view.

Leatherhead Library - 11th Febuary 2010

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Robert will be speaking at the Leatherhead Library on the 11th February 2010, 1930 - 2100Hrs.

Tickets can be booked via e-mail and will cost £4.00 per head.

TICKETS

 

SFX Weekender - 5th - 6th February 2010

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Robert is one of many guest among a glittering line-up, though undoubtably the best, for what will (hopefully) be an excellent weekend.....

*NEW* Robert has been announced as the master of ceremonies for the SFX awards :)

There are a good number of club members making it along so lots of opportunity for toot and ale:)

Going Postal

I've been enjoying getting back into some of Terry Pratchett's books after a hiatus of several years.

This means that I've missed quite a few, and I've not necessarily reading them in order, so there are gaps that I've obviously missed. In this book the obvious one is the Grand Trunk or "Clacks" - signalling towers that run the length of Diskworld transmitting messages like a slightly more manual internet. I'm not sure when they first turned up, but I do recall them being well established in The Truth.

Salt

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4 stars

Salt is a fascinating novel focusing on the conflicting political systems of two groups of colonist on the planet Salt. As its name suggests, this world is not what the colonists were expecting, there is little water, the sunlight is eventually lethal, the air is poisonous and the planet crust is almost entirely salt. One group of colonists have a completely anarchic society which actually works. They set up the settlement of Als while the other main settlement of Senaar is completely organised under the totalitarian rule of Barlei.

The Brightonomicon Audio Play

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5 Stars
This is a splendid audio dramatisation, rather reminiscent in style to the Hitchhikers' guide to the Galaxy. Adapted by Elliot Stein and Neil Gardner, Robert Rankin's 'The Brightonomicon' story lends itself very well to a play of thirteen episodes. The first episode acts as an introduction, then the following consist of twelve bizarre mysteries each of which take up one entire episode, giving each a satisfying beginning, middle and end. The mysteries must be solved by the great Hugo Rune and his amnesiac amanuensis, Rizla, in order to save the world from the evil Count Otto Black.

The Power of the Dog

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Don Winslow is a very angry, and very clever man, and everything in this book is based on stone fact. From the Black Irish button man with a heart of glass, to the Arch Bishop with a fondness for cigarettes, high class whores and Liberation Theology, to the CIA Colonel who is also a made man, all these people have lived and are still living in the foetid hell that we know as the Americas.

Edward Trencom's Nose

4 stars
A novel of History, Dark Intrigue and Cheese. Edward Trencom, owner of a spectacular nose and England's finest cheese shop tries to unravel the mysterious past of his family. Throughout history, males of the Trencom family have abandoned their cheese shop and met with various unfortunate and untimely and Byzantine ends. And now Edward believes he is being watched.
It's an interesting book and though the story itself doesn't hold too many surprises, the descriptions of rare and exotic cheeses are mouthwatering and sumptuous. Don't read this book if you're trying to diet!

Wrath of the Lemming Men

5 stars

This is Toby Frost's best yet. Isambard Smith and his crew take on the Lemming men who are sworn to destroy him when not being distracted by great heights from which they can't help but throw themselves. This story has more sub plots and it is told from more points of view. The characters have filled out and true friendships are growing. The constant nods to other sci-fi stories are now joined by references to Thomas the Tank Engine, The Chipmunks and Watership Down.

Brave New World

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Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – 3 out of 5.

The edition I read starts after a rather bleak self assessment intro from Huxley himself, suggesting the events described in the book could well happen far sooner than he initially postulated. The basic premise is that in the future the “Human Product” has become standardised through an extensive eugenics programme. People are churned out in massive groups of identical siblings with there futures planned out for them, through pre & post birth conditioning. I wonder if this was the first instance of the test-tube baby idea.

The Fifth Elephant

The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett - 2.5 out of 5

Well I'm at a bit of a loss as to what to write about this one. When I'm reading through a novel (or listen in the car as an Audio book) I make some notes about what I though, so I have something to write up at the end. The trouble is, despite trying to think of things to note down, I only have two notes for this one.
1) Sam Vimes is in it
2) The word “sighed” is used to much.
Other than that I'm left with a quick plot summery.

High Society

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High Society by Ben Elton – 3 out of 5.

Again this was an audio book for listening to in the car. This one was read by Greg Wagland, who does a sterling job of covering all the characters. The story is very character driven here with each chapter being about the events surrounding an individual person.

Blind Faith

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Blind Faith by Ben Elton - 4 out of 5

This was my second Ben Elton audio book. This one was read by Michael Maloney, who was ok, but some of his voices were irritating. The premise is near-ish future, post massive flood. The initial set up is pretty crazy and unbelievable, with an insane Church running the show (well maybe not all that unbelievable).

Retromancer Book signing

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Robert will be at Forbidden Planet, London, on the 12th December from 1300Hrs (that's 1pm;)) signing his new book.

We will be heading to a local hostelry for a few pints after, so the more the merrier:)

Who's coming:?

Triplanetary

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Triplanetary by E.E. “Doc” Smith - 3 out of 5.

This is the first book in the Lensman series. (Though I believe it was actually brought out after the original series as a prequel, but based on short stories written before those original books. Confused yet? Well there are also at least two versions of this book knocking about with various additions & subtractions. I have (what I think) is the longer version).

To be honest the first 6 chapters (& nearly 100 pages) are pretty superfluous to the rest of the plot.

Empire of the Sun

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Empire of the Sun by JG Ballard - 4 out of 5

This is the semi-autobiographical tale of young Jim & his experiences in Shanghai in the aftermath of Pearl Harbour. Set over several years we see Jim growing up from a naïve boy, through troubled adolescence, into an emotionally damaged young man.

To start with, the war comes to Jim's world & he finds himself wandering about alone & abandoned by virtually everyone, this bit of the book almost comes across almost as a post-apocalypse story, as he begins his search for his parents.

Snow Crash

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Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson - 4 out of 5.

I'd not read any Neal Stephenson before & was lulled into a false sense of what I'd be getting by a preposterous (if strangely compelling) Pizza Delivery opening scene. Set in an alternative present day, our main man is one Hiro Protagonist, a samurai sword wielding computer geek.

There is some great technology depicted throughout the book, The Metaverse itself, the RatThings, Reason (a big gun) and some stuff that pre-dates things we all now use, such as wireless broadband & even Google Earth.

Flowers for Algernon

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes - 3 out of 5

I'm trying to work my way through the SF Masterworks series and this is number 25.

The book is written in the form of Progress Reports (basically diary entries) & follows the progress of a mentally retarded man (Charlie) with a low IQ who undergoes an experimental operation to boost his intelligence.

Aside from the “experimental operation” angle, there is very little SF in this novel, it could easily pass for a main stream book.

Golden Sprout Shop Pre - Christmas Sale

It may seem a bit early to be having a pre-christmas sale but with all the uncertainties of the postal system why not get those orders in now and be sure of getting your favorite Golden Sprouter thier perfect christmas gift safely tucked away ready for under the tree....

Better yet, why not grab them while they are on special! These items are all reduced for a limited time only (or until stock is gone) and will revert to full price on the 10th of December.

God Emperor of Didcot

4 stars - author Toby Frost

This is the second of the chronicles of space captain Isambard Smith.
Where the first book is a tribute to just about every sci fi sci fi book and film ever made, this one is mainly a tribute to Dune.
The evil Ghast empire has taken the tea producing planet of Didcot and the British Empire is likely to fall without the moral fibre generated by its much needed tea. The tea must flow!

With his crew, Captain Smith must muster an army to take on the Ghasts and the fanatical Edenites.

Space Captain Smith

5 Stars on this one - Author Toby Frost

I loved it! Space Captain Smith is desperate to 'have a metal at Gertie (the evil Ghast Empire) and show it his crack' (but the other way round). The British Empire with all its hang ups about foreigners combined with its belief of supremacy is catapulted into the future making for a hilarious romp where tea is the staple and a handlebar moustache is not for hanging on to.

Captain Isambard Smith if a lovely mixture of morality, pomposity, decency, bravery and a complete inability to cope with women.

The Wise Woman

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3 stars on this one - Author Philippa Gregory

Ex-historical re-enactors should never read historical novels!

I found this rather ordinary. It's the story of a young woman with the power of witchcraft in the age of Henry VIII. She flees her home in a nunnery as it is burned to the ground, leaving the woman she considers to be her mother to die in the flames. She goes on to fall in love with the man who burned the nunnery to the ground.

Seven - September 09

A very short newsletter this month as I just wanted to share some things that aren't in the next magazine (with you in the next 7-10 days) but might be of interest - these have appeared on the website so if you have seen them already, sorry:)

Retromancer Proof Copy.

Robert at the Alton Wordfest

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Robert is to be the special guest at this event. As the name implies, it wll take place in Alton, Hampshire and over the weekend of the 2nd and 3rd of October.

On the Friday Robert will be the guest speaker and be handing out prizes then on the Saturday he will be at The Little Green Dragon Book and Art Shop during the day where he will be signing books and in the evening he will be the guest of honour at the Wordfest dinner.

You can find out more HERE

Steampunk weekend at the Asylum

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A weekend of steampunk with Robert as the guest of Honour.

More details HERE

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