Thursday, 5 July 2012

At the crossroads

Changes to this blog.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Paper Passion

Have an ebook reader, but miss the smell of paper pages?  The Paper Passion perfume will give your reader than bookshop odour–at £68 a bottle.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

A gentle reminder

To all writers sending manuscripts to Random House; if you are using Fedex, prepare to exercise patience punctuated by episodes of extreme violence.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Review: The Warlord of Mars

The Warlord of Mars (1919)

In the third of Edgar Rice Burroughs's Barsoom series, John Carter, an Earth man transplanted to Mars, is impatiently waiting for a time-locked prison cell to free his wife Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, when he discovers that two baddies have a key to the back door to the impregnable cell that they use to kidnap the a fore mentioned Dejah.  There follows a protracted chase across Mars from the South Pole to the North by way of the forest city of Kator.  Along the way, Carter encounters friends and foes as well as the legendary yellow men of Mars, apts, giant wasps and other wildlife.

This is an old-fashioned all-go novel with John Carter swashbuckling for all he's worth from one end of the planet to the other for all he's worth.  It's pure adventure with battles followed by chases followed by battles with leering villains, stalwart fighting men and all manner of literary spectacle.  Many times it threatens to bog down into pure pulp, but Burroughs's hand at soaring description and ability to elaborate on his world of barbarism and super science keeps things moving.

The only real flaw is that as the books go on, Carter becomes more and more fatheaded, making the same mistakes over and over.  Also, we don't get to see nearly enough of the incomparable Dejah Thoris, who is usually merely glimpsed as she is carried from one confinement to the next.

Unlike the previous two volumes, this one ends with a rousing ending and reunion of all the principal characters, so this one reason why the first three books are generally marked as the Mars Trilogy.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Not impressed

Letters of Note has a letter from Raymond Chandler to his agent in which he poses the eternal question, do they really pay sci fi writers to come up with that crap?
6005 Camino de la Costa
La Jolla, California
Mar 14 1953 
Dear Swanie: 
Playback is getting a bit tired. I have 36,000 words of doodling and not yet a stiff. That is terrible. I am suffering from a very uncommon disease called (by me) atrophy of the inventive powers. I can write like a streak but I bore myself. That being so, I could hardly fail to bore others worse. I can't help thinking of that beautiful piece of Sid Perelman's entitled "I'm Sorry I Made Me Cry." 
Did you ever read what they call Science Fiction? It's a scream. It is written like this: "I checked out with K19 on Aldabaran III, and stepped out through the crummalite hatch on my 22 Model Sirus Hardtop. I cocked the timejector in secondary and waded through the bright blue manda grass. My breath froze into pink pretzels. I flicked on the heat bars and the Brylls ran swiftly on five legs using their other two to send out crylon vibrations. The pressure was almost unbearable, but I caught the range on my wrist computer through the transparent cysicites. I pressed the trigger. The thin violet glow was icecold against the rust-colored mountains. The Brylls shrank to half an inch long and I worked fast stepping on them with the poltex. But it wasn't enough. The sudden brightness swung me around and the Fourth Moon had already risen. I had exactly four seconds to hot up the disintegrator and Google had told me it wasn't enough. He was right. 
They pay brisk money for this crap? 

Monday, 11 June 2012

Review: Swords Against Death

Swords Against Death by Fritz Leiber (1970)

The second volume in the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser Saga sees Leiber's heroes wandering the world as they try to forget their first and greatest loves who died and were avenged in the city of  Lankhmar.  After travelling the world of Nehwon and many adventures, including meeting their spiritual mentors Sheebla the Eyeless One and Ningauble of the Seven Eyes, they return to Lankhmar where greater adventures await.

Like the first volume, Swords and Devilry, Death is a collection of stand-alone stories that still hold together by sharing common themes and chronology, but where the first volume suffers by needing to be a retroactive introduction to our heroes, Death has them up and running with some of Leiber's best writing–especially the remarkable "Bazaar of the Bizarre".  Yet what is most remarkable is that these short stories manage is what short stories aren't supposed to do.  Short stories are about the "gag".  Since they are short, such pieces must use an unexpected twist at the end or suspense or the characters experiencing some revelation.  yet in Death,  Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser undergo actual character development; something that shouldn't be possible, yet in Leiber's skilled hands is.

The other thing that sets apart the stories in this volume is their mixture of broad humour with a truly unsettling sense of the weird and horrible, such as when the pair are bewitched into travelling across half of Nehwon to face a death trap or battling deadly, thieving birds controlled by a girl who may either be insane or a reborn priestess of an ancient goddess.  Though the stories are humourous, they are never comedies and always have a core of iron to them that points like a compass to the macabre.

And mixed with this, and what really makes the series work are the barbarian Fafhrd and the nimble adventurer the Gray Mouser.  In them, Leiber has created a story of friendship and camaraderie that is only equaled by the pens of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Patrick O'Brien.  Seeing this double act at work is a delight as they save one another from peril, scold the other for his idiocy and face life's adventures back to back–unless there's a comely wench to be chased, of course.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Review: Technos

Technos by E C Tubb (1972)

Carrying a message for a dead man, Dumarest follows a new lead on the location of Earth that plunges him into a political coup attempt that ends up at a literal maze of death.

The Dumarest books generally deal with Earl Dumarest on harsh, relatively primitive worlds that, for all their technology and space travel, are mining camps or feudal societies.  This time, Dumarest finds himself on Technos, an advanced, technological world where one's place in society is based solely on education and academic achievement.  It's an urban planet where Dumarest's knife-fighting skills and woodcraft must be put aside for an ability to evade a sophisticated police force, handle a stolen ID and bluff one's way on a world where taking the train is a deadly hazard for a man on the run.

This is also a world holding a horrible secret.  Dumarest smuggles himself to the close Technos by passing himself off as part of a human tribute from a vassal planet.  At first, this is just a convenient way to gain entry, but Dumarest soon learns that there's a connection between the people sent to serve the rulers of Technos and the youthful appearance of at least one high-ranking lady–a connection that could doom a people to slavery and extinction.  Meanwhile, Technos faces the choice between a coup of dictatorship by the increasingly insane head of the government.

And naturally, the Cyclan are there pulling the strings.

The seventh in the Dumarest Saga, Technos has the formula finally up and running.  Dumarest is solidly established as a character, his world is well-defined, his quest understood and the Cyclan made a credible set of villains who can be defeated in each story, yet remain terrifyingly powerful.  The urban setting in particular is a nice touch, as it shows how the formula is kept fresh by ringing subtle changes along the way.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Review: Carnacki the Ghost Finder

Carnacki the Ghost Finder by William Hope Hodgson (1913)

If you wanted to solve a crime in late Victorian London, you called Sherlock Holmes.  If you wanted to solve a spooky crime in Edwardian London, you called Thomas Carnacki, the ghost finder.

Between 1910 and 1912, William Hope Hodgson wrote a series of short stories in The Idler and The New Magazine featuring his supernatural detective Carnacki.  Based on the aforementioned Mr Holmes, Carnacki's brief was to investigate supposed haunting–usually ones with a suitably grisly facet to them.  These stories, which where collected in 1913 and in an expanded edition in 1948, follow a rigid formula.  The narrator of the story and three friends gather at Carnacki's London home for dinner followed by the detective treating them to an exciting tale from his casebook.  Everything is more or less wound up at the end and Carnacki sends them all home.

The variety comes in the cases themselves.  Some are genuine affairs of outright demonic hauntings by malevolent supernatural beings.  Others are fakes perpetrated for one reason or another and some are a weird combination where the fakers unwittingly collide with the eldritch.  The stories do have something of a repetitious quality with Carnacki forever letting off the flash of his camera or hiding in the protection of his "electric pentacle", but what makes them work is the uncompromising atmosphere of terror that Hodgson brings to the stories.  Carnacki is an honest enough character to admit when he's scared out of his wits, even when it turns out to be a trick, and Hodgson's descriptions of what is like to be sitting in the dark while something paces and pants around the room is truly frightening.  This is enhanced by Hodgson's talent for finding spine-tingling throwaway descriptions of his horrors that cunningly seed the reader's imagination. This is not a book to finish just before bedtime unless you've left on all the lights and are absolutely certain that the noise you heard after turning in really is just your daughter's pet mouse running in its wheel.

Otherwise, it can be a very uncomfortable night.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Review: Doctor No

Dr No by Ian Fleming (1958)

The Secret Service officer in Jamaica and his female No. 2 go missing and James Bond is sent out on what seems like a routine investigation of a man and a woman who've probably just done a runner, but missing files, mysterious tails and an assassination attempt point Bond to the island of Crab Key–the private kingdom of the incredible Dr. No.

The sixth of the James Bond series, Dr No, is a direct irect continuation of From Russia With Love, taking up right after Bond returns to duty after a near-fatal poisoning by Smersh agent Rosa Klebb.  Where Russia was a straightforward Cold War story, Dr No is far more fantastic as Bond and his West Indian friend Quarrel follow the leads that end in a clandestine visit to Dr No's island.  There Bond encounters Honeychile Ryder, a strange girl who is a mixture of resourcefulness blended into a childlike nature.  Their attraction for one another against the backdrop of eluding Dr No's men is already interesting, but when they are captured and escorted into the lair of the mysterious madman with steel claws for hands, the novel takes on an almost surreal quality.  This is heightened by No's entertaining Bond and Honey to dinner and polite conversation in luxurious surroundings that Bond is all too aware are just an ironic prelude to an evening of torture and murder.  Worse, he learns the reason behinds No's madness and that it involves more than just preserving his evil wonderland.

Though not well received on its first publication, Dr No has aged well over the years–not the least because the film adaptation formed the template for all later Bond villains right down to the sumptuous lair and the Nehru jackets.  It's full of the usual blend of "sex, sadism and snobbery", but added into the mix is the friendship between Bond and Quarrel that ends in tragedy, the strange protective/sexual relationship with Honey and the delicious banter as Bond and Dr No cross swords over drinks.

Not the finest of the Bond series, it is nevertheless a straight plot with a satisfying conclusion that puts it firmly in the middle rankings of the books.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Review: The Dunwich Horror

The Dunwich Horror by H P Lovecraft (1928)

The Whateley family who live outside of the forgotten, decadent village of Dunwich in Massachusetts's Miskatonic valley are shunned as freaks and wizards–especially Wilbur Whateley, who was born of an insane albino mother and an unknown father.  A profoundly ugly child, Wilbur grows and develops at an alarming rate.  Before he's even a teenager, he's the size and maturity of an adult.  And along with his barely human appearance, his grandfather is versing him in all manner of unspeakable occult lore that has something to do with shunned Sentinel Hill and the reason why more and more of the Whateley house boarded up and hollowed out as if to hide and make room for... something.

One of the defining stories of Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, The Dunwich Horror is also one of the most accessible, having later been made into a 1945 radio play and a 1970 feature film.  It's a frightening story of barely contained evil that is bent on breaking through and overwhelming our world, but its real power is the mounting revelation of the "other" as the oppressive decadence of Dunwich gives way to the evil of the Whateleys, who have sold out the human race, then the fate of Wilbur that uncovers his secret and then the even greater menace that this releases on the world.  Though the climax is a bit underwhelming, owing to being related by witnesses who only see it from a distance, the outcome is saved by one of the most chilling final reveals in weird fiction made even more frightening by its matter of fact statement.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Review: A Storm of Swords

A Storm of Swords: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book Three by George R R Martin (2000)

In the third volume of Martin's multi-volume epic, the war continues as the surviving kings battle for control of Westeros, Danerys works to build an army, the scattered Stark family members try to find their way and an ancient evil gathers its forces in the far north.

A Storm of Swords is essentially a place keeper of a story, which is unfortunate because it's also a giant doorstop of a novel that takes many manhours to plough through.  It took me three weeks, though to be fair I did take time off to read three other books along the way because this one was such a slog.

Nothing really happens here except in the final few chapters and the rest of the book boils down to long, long accounts of people going from here to there, people getting killed horribly, people getting mutilated horribly, being threatened, getting married, getting married against their will and getting threatened with getting married against their will.  Rinse and repeat each step so often that it gets tedious.  Martin's philosophy is that if it works once, use the same plot device 273,964 times.  I think he's trying to avoid having his books turned into a drinking game by making it unwinnable.  Worse, he keeps adding in more and more characters for no very good reason and he insists on doling out everyone's life story down to the last detail so that the reader ends up completely confused as to who is who, what is of importance and why we had to learn so much about a person who just gets slaughtered horribly five pages later.

As usual, Martin's book is a curate's egg.  Some parts of it are excellent.  The only problem is that he insists on mixing the good bits with too much filler.  He continues to jump between the stories of various main characters who almost never meet each other except briefly and the Danerys plot is so completely disconnected that you could cut out every word from all the books up until now and never notice.  I often feel that instead of writing these interminable bricks Martin would have been better served by breaking them into a series of smaller books so that instead of five volumes and counting we'd have 20 or 30 and counting. Besides, I think a thin volume titled "The Slavers of Astapor" or "Attack of the Wildings" has a lot more zing to it.  Though I don't know that a novel exclusively about the Sansa character would be much of a read.  200 pages of someone repeatedly kicking a human puppy isn't very entertaining

My greatest complaint about Storm is the brutality of it.  Some readers claim that this adds to the authenticity, but that only holds true if you know next to nothing about the real Middle Ages, which were no where near as violent and treacherous as depicted in this fantasy.  People are being betrayed, ambushed, beheaded and generally mistreated so often and so casually by their lords that in the real world the "nobility" that acted this way would in short order be ostricised, excommunicated, deposed and seriously dead within a week.  And further more, people in real feudal societies don't go around burning villages and slaughtering peasants left, right and centre.  With 13th century technology that very soon becomes too much like hard work and, more importantly, you're burning the crops and slaughtering the workforce that are supposed to make your conquest worth the effort.  It's like robbing a bank and setting fire to the money.

More to the point, it was established that before the first book Westeros enjoyed fifteen years of peace and prosperity, so where did all these noseless, earless, one-eyed bandits who'd sooner kill you as look at you come from?  Where did they learn their murdering?  Under whom did they apprentice their thugism?  Correspondence courses, presumably.

And here's a tip for Martin: If you're going to have Machiavellian characters, read Machiavelli.  The first lesson of The Prince isn't "make yourself completely unreliable".

So, it's on to volume four.  Let's hope the plot starts to move and Martin starts shedding characters or I may need to solicit help for reading some of the chapters.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Max Beerbohm's literary caricatures

Mr H.G. Wells foreseeing things
100 Years of Illustration looks at Max Beerbohm's graphic opinion of his literary contemporaries.

Monday, 30 April 2012

H P Lovecraft: advice columnist

Very few people realise that H P Lovecraft made money on the side as an advice columnist.  Here's a sample:
Dear Howie,
Last week I received a “you probably don’t remember me” note from a man I went to a school dance with nineteen years ago. He is married and has three kids, but states he is not happy. What should I do?
Concerned Lady 

Dear Concerned Lady: –
Although humankind has a yearning toward whatever is redolent of mystery and allurement, it is well that certain lacunae in our knowledge should remain forever unfilled. Your shadowy correspondent’s mention of the ill-regarded numbers nineteen and three recalls an unutterable experiment performed on sticklebacks by the Swedish icthyologist Dalgaard. I dare not describe his observations, but he concluded that, the longer we can remain innocent of our place in the cosmos, the better it must augur for our mental integrity. He came to understand there was more meaning than is commonly supposed in the nebulous half-inscriptions found on abandoned wharves — while who knows what malign significance underlies the latest findings on the growth of angiosperms, or the cycle of the solar spots? What of the transgalactic pulsings that have cost more than one astronomer his powers of reasoning? I have heard it whispered that the imprints found on Dalgaard’s pillow, toward the end, resembled the fronds of a kind of bracken previously unknown to botany. The muffled clattering sounds from my roof impel me hastily to conclude,
Yrs most cordially & sincerely, – HPL.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Review: Lallia

Lallia by E C Tubb (1971)

Earl Dumarest needs to get off planet fast and when he sees a ship's handler killed in a bar fight he tracks down the man's ship and signs on for the suddenly vacant post.  However, the ship in question turns out to be a decrepit tramp freighter with a fatalistic captain that is bound for a treacherous region of space known as the Web.  What at first seems like just a bad choice of ships soon turns into a life and death struggle as Dumarest fights for the life of a woman accused of witchcraft on a backwards world and the growing realisation that someone is on his trail for some mysterious reason.

The sixth volume in the Duamrest Saga, Lallia is a change of pace from the standard formula of Dumarest landing on a planet and getting caught between a struggle for survival and the machinations of the galactic nobility.  Here, most of the action takes place aboard a spaceship that is one passage away from the scrap heap–if it doesn't break up on the way.  It's a hard, constricted life of going from one planet to the next in search of profitable cargoes, dubious passengers and crew mates who range from the idealistic young steward to the murderously alcoholic engineer to the weirdly spiritual navigator and the captain who has been so crushed by the enormity of space that he can't bear to look at it.  Along the way, Dumarest becomes involved with Lallia, another traveller like himself who falls in love with him.  It's unclear whether he shares that love, but he does accept her as a companion and possibly a wife with whom he can settle down.  This being a Dumarest novel, neither happens and while he receives another clue as to the whereabouts of Earth, he also learns more about the secret he never knew he possessed and has made him a hunted man.

Lallia is a neat little gear shift for the saga.  The villain of the piece is no surprise, though the logic of the plot and its resolution is neat and clean. We also get a chance to see Dumarest in an environment that isn't one of constant crisis, but one where we can see more of his personality; his likes and dislikes as well as the wary hardness that separates him from his fellow man.

A lean spare adventure, it's also one of the strongest in the series so far.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008)

From my review of the film The Hunger Games:
In a dystopian future America, the nation has descended into a brutal dictatorship divided into twelve districts that exist to serve the needs of the decadent inhabitants of the Capitol. As part of their programme of control, the government requires that each district send two children between the ages of twelve and 18, selected by lottery, to participate in a bloody last-man-standing gladiatorial game. Kaitness volunteers to participate in the games to act as a substitute for her sister, who has been selected in the lottery, and it sent off to the Capitol where she is introduced to a bizarre contest that is half show business and half fight-to-the-death.
No point in doing a synopsis twice when the film tracks the basic plot of the book so closely.

The first thing to say about The Hunger Games is that it was the first part of a planned trilogy, which is already one strike against it.  J R R Tolkien's publishers have a lot to answer for.  The Lord of the Rings was always intended to be a single book, but the publisher insisted on breaking it into three volumes and now everyone thinks that trilogies are the way to go.  Maybe for publishers, but for readers they're a pain in the fundament–especially when the writer doesn't know what he's doing and leaves you scratching your head over volume three because he can't be bothered to recap the action from one and two.

Anyway, Hunger Games.  Better written than Harry Potter (though a curry menu could manage that) infinitely less annoying than Twilight, but still a long way from justifying its baffling popularity.  Let's start with the good bits.  Collins can string together an acceptable sentence and she does have some understanding of her craft.  Her writing is clear and lucid, much of her imagery is charming and she does master the first-person, present tense style well.  She can pace her individual scenes, though the book as a whole drags badly, and she has clearly put a lot of time and energy into her world.

Her heroine is also well conceived.  She could have been that horrid creation Action Girl, who is as tough as any man and can cold-conk a drill sergeant three times her size with a left hook, but Collins is wise enough to make her a poacher with hunting and woodcraft skills that make up for being a girl in a situation that calls for Andy McNabb, not Andy McDowell..  Also, it's made clear that without her bow, she's a pretty vulnerable individual. Collins is also wise enough to keep her hero Peeta badly wounded and feverish for the last part of the book.  That way Katniss can plausibly take the dramatic lead of the story without making her paramour look like an utter weed.

That being said, however, much of that effort is wasted.

Let's take the basic premise; the gladiatorial contest known as the hunger games and the world in which they take place.  Both of these are so standard that its a wonder that there isn't a keystroke shortcut for writing them, but Collins had a lot of trouble here.  Her back story is overly complex and the way she designed the games is so convoluted and easy to subvert that she makes a basic writer's error; she was unwilling to step back, rip the lot to shreds and start over.  Instead. it's obvious that very early on she kept coming across flaws in her world that rather than correcting, she merely papers over or stuffs with equally weak material until the final product is an overly complex mass that never holds together.  I'm not saying that she needed to pen a complete, dauntingly researched history and ethnology ala Tolkien.  Quite the opposite.  She should have kept it simple enough that it can be explained in throwaway dialogue, allusions and incidents.

An example of this is District 12.  Why doesn't it have a name?  Why doesn't the Seam?  Or the Meadow?  Or even the Capitol, come to that.  Are proper names abolished in the future?  More to the point, there's almost nothing that gives us a sense of time and place.  District 12 as described in this book could just as easily be set in 1930 as in the future year of whatever.  Compare this to the economical style of E C Tubb in the Dumarest books.  Dumarest often finds himself on harsh worlds with a very primitive standard of living, but Tubb keeps reminding us that this is the future by pointing out that the beggar's bowl is made of plastic and that the guards have laser guns.  The setting may be medieval, but we never forget that it's the future.  With Collins, we rarely get that.  In fact, there's very little science fictional until late in the book aside from the general dystopian setting.

The other problem is that the plot is so thunderingly predictable.  From the very first plot point you know exactly what is coming next and can almost predict when.  I spent three quarters of the book hoping for some sort of twist, some spanner in the works to liven things up, but it never comes.

It also doesn't help that Katniss fails as our guide.  Normally, the protagonist in this sort of story is discovering the world along with the reader, so as she's introduced to this strange, new place, so are we.  But Katniss is completely familiar with every aspect.  She knows exactly what everything is and why.  It would be nice if once and awhile she'd let us in on it.  Still, this does dovetail with another problem, which is that Katniss never sounds like a teenager from Appalachia.  She sounds like a university educated, middle-aged woman who worked in television a lot.  Sort of like... Oh.

In all, The Hunger Games isn't a disastrous book.  In many ways, it's very good, but it compares poorly to, for example, Heinlein's juveniles where you had a much better sense of the man inside the boy and where the story telling is much more efficient and focused.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Rejection payback

Author Norman Maclean has the chance of rejecting the overtures of a publishing who rejected his earlier work and revels in it:
You must have known that Alfred A. Knopf turned down my first collection of stories after playing games with it, or at least the game of cat's-paw, now rolling it over and saying they were going to publish it and then rolling it on its back when the president of the company announced it wouldn't sell. So I can't understand how you could ask if I'd submit my second manuscript to Alfred A. Knopf, unless you don't know my race of people. And I can't understand how it didn't register on me – 'Alfred A. Knopf' is clear enough on your stationery.
But, although I let the big moment elude me, it has given rise to little pleasures. For instance, whenever I receive a statement of the sales of 'A River Runs Through It' from the University of Chicago Press, I see that someone has written across the bottom of it, 'Hurrah for Alfred A. Knopf.' However, having let the great moment slip by unrecognized and unadorned, I can now only weakly say this: if the situation ever arose when Alfred A. Knopf was the only publishing house remaining in the world and I was the sole remaining author, that would mark the end of the world of books.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Cover: Red Planet

1st ed. 1949
Nice, but I prefer the first edition cover from 1949

Monday, 23 April 2012

Review: The Call of Cthulhu

"The Call of Cthulhu" by H P Lovecraft (1928)
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.
So begins one of  the most influential stories in weird fiction and the seminal work of what would come to be known as the Cthulhu Mythos.  The narrator of the tale is going through the papers of his great uncle, who died under circumstances that, at the time, weren't suspicious.  However, as our protagonist pieces together the clues, he discovers that his uncle had stumbled on upon a terrible danger that has threatened the existence of mankind since the dawn of time and a horrible cult serves this evil.  

"The Call of Cthulhu" is a world-spanning story that goes from the Arctic to the swamps of Louisiana to the uncharted reaches of the South Seas.  Lovecraft's method is to slowly reveal the mystery through a collection of  artifacts, newspaper articles, diaries and interviews that begins with a strange carving and an account of people having odd dreams and then progresses on to weirder and more horrifying episodes as each layer is peeled away.  The result is that the reader is slowly drawn into this terrible, unfathomable universe where man has no place, yet where any who discovers this secret places his life in peril.  All this builds to a climax set at what can only be described as an outpost of Hell; a place where all reason and morality vanishes into the Abyss.  

As with most of Lovecraft, the prose can be a bit overdone and his protagonists seem as resilient as overcooked spaghetti, but if you're willing to buy into his conventions, the ride is worth the bargain.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Rejection Generator

Tired of having to write stories in order to receive rejection letters?  Then use the handy Rejection Generator and cut out the middle man.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Amazon Bond

Amazon secures the exclusive North American publishing rights to the James Bond novels.

Rival book sellers are both shaken and stirred.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Monday, 16 April 2012

Review: Subversive

"Subversive" by Mack Reynolds (1962)

The Free Enterprise company is offering a new business model by completely eliminating the middle man and providing goods directly to the consumer, but the men tasked with suppressing this sort of thing are watching.

Whatever his merits as a writer, this is a short story where Mack Reynolds Marxist views completely overwhelm his fiction.  Despite its meagre sci fi trappings, this is really just a sugar coated lecture on the long discredited Marxist theory of added value.  That is, the idea that most of the price we pay for goods is nothing but pointless costs added on to the "real" value by an army of middle men, such as advertisers, shippers, packagers and so on.  It would require a dry lesson in basic economics about how the "real" value of a thing is a question of supply and demand and that most middlemen do add value to their goods–if for no other reason than that without them, for example, you'd have farmers with barns filled with rotting produce while families starved to death.   But this is a review, not Econ 101, so we'll let that pass.  Needless to say, the lecture is a dry and often misleading and the procedural plot that it's wrapped in proceeds to a twist ending that was laughable even during the Cold War. 

Still, it would be interesting to find out what Reynolds would have made of ecommerce.  Probably result in a paradigm shift without a clutch.