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.