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I seem to have only posted twice in the last three-and-a-bit months. Oops. Nonetheless, we ait'n't dead.

What's happened here in the meantime? Well, not very much, really. I finally got my knee scanned in early December, and am now awaiting a triage appointment with the relevant surgical department (torn cartilage and cysts that may be pressing on things). In the meantime I continue to sit around too much, eat too much, not get enough exercise, and have concerns about my slowly-but-steadily rising weight and blood pressure.

Resolutions-wise, I obviously didn't manage weekly postings in November or December. I also still didn't post my new-book-lists for 2011 or 2012 (to which I can now add 2013). However, I didn't buy any second-hand books, either, so at least that one went pretty well. I'm planning to try and retain that habit, and return to weekly posting, this year. I'm also going to make an attempt to get back up to reading two new books each week (I managed 55 in 2013, well down from the previous couple of years). While I'm about it, I'll continue to try to ensure that an acceptable proportion of those books have female authors. (Of 2013's 55, 27 had female solo-authors, two were co-written by a husband and wife team, and there was one mostly-male anthology with a couple of stories by women in it; near enough exactly half.)
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Same rules about format as last time. I think it's fairly obvious which books are fiction and which are (at the very least intended as) non-fiction. If you want something, leave a comment and I'll put it aside (and strike it out on the list). Anything not claimed by the end of July will go to a charity shop, or booksforfree, or somewhere else similarly suitable. (I accept no responsibility for some of these books; the assorted mediocre fantasy books are all my fault, but I have no idea where some of the others came from.)

Anya SetonThe Hearth and EaglePB
Ben BovaThe Duelling MachinePB
Bill BrysonThe Lost ContinentLPB
David BergerThe Motley Fool UK Investment Guide LPB2000 edition; some of the general advice is probably still worthwhile to think about, though.
Dr Chris Wells/Graham NownIn Pain? A self-help guide for chronic pain sufferersLPB
Ed NahaGhostbusters 2PB
Ernest DrakeWorking with Dragons: A Course in DragonologyHB
Frank HerbertDune MessiahPB
George GipeGremlinsPB
James BarclayDawnthiefLPBThe book of his D&D campaign
Jane AustenPersuasionPB
Jasper CarrotA Little Zit on the SidePB
John WyndhamChockyPBDuplicate copy
Larry Niven/Steven BarnesDream ParkLPB
Martin John YateGreat Answers to Tough Interview QuestionsLPB
Michael P FertigIf Cats Could TalkHBCute kitten pictures with silly captions
Peter Wilde/Paul ButtThe WHICH? Guide to Renting and LettingLPB1999 edition; probably a bit out of date now
Richard CarlsonDon't sweat the small stuffPB-ish
Richard RobinsonBrainwaves in the BedroomPBMagic tricks, with explanations of how they work, aimed for youngish children
Storm ConstantineThe Way of LightLPBMediocre fantasy. Actually vol 3 of a trilogy, but stands alone perfectly well.
Trudi CanavanPriestess of the WhiteHBVolume 1 of the “Age of Five” trilogy
Trudi CanavanVoice of the GodsHBVolume 3 of the “Age of Five” trilogy
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There's now a Healthy Planet/Books for Free unit in the old carpet shop behind the Seacourt Tower on the Botley Road (just inside the Ringroad/A34). I don't know whether this is a replacement for, or supplement to, the one in the city centre (I don't get to Gloucester Green all that often), but there are an awful lot of books (mostly in heaps on the floor between the empty shelves, if anyone feels like helping them out) out there. Also, for those interested in such things, you can see the interior of a modern large retail unit with the guts ripped out. (I plan on getting some photos next time I'm in the area.)
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ETA: These books have now all gone; some to new homes, others to Oxfam.

I've been having a bit of a tidy and sorting out (amongst other things) piles of books that neither K nor I think we're likely to read again (as well as the occasional duplicate). There are still some shelves I've not done, but since there are now well over a hundred books on the list and the boxes are starting to get in the way, it seems a good idea to get started. Stuff that no-one's interested in will probably go to a charity shop in a week or so to make space, but I'm happy to caretake books people actually want while I get organised.

There are a lot of them )
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I've just added "The Meaning of Tingo" to the pile of books to be got rid of.

I can only assume that the "Absolutely Delicious" attributed to Stephen Fry on the cover was either relating to something else entirely, or an explanation that the best thing to do with the book was shred it finely and use it to add some bulk to your "absolutely delicious" cheesy mash.

The author starts off by observing that the Albanians have "no fewer than twenty-seven words for [...] mustache, ranging from mustaqe madh, meaning bushy, to mustaqe posht, one which droops down at both ends."

That's not 27 words for mustache. It's 27 adjectives that can be used to describe mustaches, like "bushy", "extravagant", "feeble", and so on. I suspect that with a bit of effort, anyone likely to be reading this could come up with at least another 24 examples in English.

And it didn't honestly get any better from there. Well, I suppose possibly it did, but I got bored after trying half a dozen dips that weren't any more interesting or revelatory. Spanish, he reveals, has a word to describe the job of someone who is paid to climb telegraph poles and fix problems with the wires at the top. So does English ("Lineman" is the correct technical term), but presumably he doesn't know that. (Possibly because the specialised job has now largely disappeared and been subsumed into the more general purpose "Engineer", leaving Lineman little-used). I'd expect a decent modern dictionary to still contain the older term (and, on checking, my Concise OED does indeed give it with that meaning, followed by one to do with sport). Did you know some languages have words to distinguish between food that's "stale" and food that's "rotting"? It may sound amazing, but it's true!
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Sorry, revsolutions. Normally I don't really bother with these, but lets see how these work out, OK? They're not exactly huge life changes in any case. )
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Urgh. I seem to have been rather quiet recently; this is mostly due to the new government policy of having the DWP make life really ridiculously difficult for disabled people*. I may rant about this more thoroughly later.

* for those who argue that this was also the previous government's policy. Well, yes, alright, you have a point. make life even more really ridiculously difficult, then.

In other news, so far this year I have (according to my notes) read twenty-four books that I'd not previously read (and failed to complete one other); around half of those were borrowed. In the last fortnight, I've acquired nearly forty books, one way or another (plus I have another half-dozen library books to read). I should probably try to cut down :) (OTOH, it's a relatively affordable type of retail therapy, and unlike chocolate and booze it doesn't come with health problems. Space problems, yes, but maybe I can part with a relativebook or two I don't need any more to resolve those.)
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Sorry, meant to do this yesterday and then there was lots of sunbeam and the tigers all went to sleep in it.

Which book would I erase from history, if one had to go? While it might, as [personal profile] ladyofastolat noted, be interesting to erase a major religion (or political movement, although those tend to have a wider base than one book) and see what happened, I'd be reluctant to do that without some mechanism for returning things to the status quo ante if the world turns out substantially worse.

The book I would expunge is Machiavelli's "The Prince". There's a good case to be made that it was intended, basically, as a satire, especially if you compare the assumptions and advice it contains with the rest of Machiavelli's political writings (which are largely about the superiority of republics over monarchies and the best ways to achieve justice and equality for all citizens). But because it's crafted to be easily readable, and his normal style is... rather dense and complex... "The Prince" is much more widely read than any of his other work - to the point that many (most?) people don't realise that it isn't the sort of thing he normally put forward. And of course, you have the people who regard it as a guidebook they should follow, which is... not good.

So I'd like to get rid of "The Prince" to: reclaim a serious political philosopher, remove a source of encouragement for deranged bampots (political and corporate) and, as a minor side-benefit, perhaps attach the adjective "Machiavellian" to the sort of political behaviour he would have approved of.
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So, I offer a prospective LJ-meme for people to consider.

In some strange parallel universe, you have just been selected to perform a rather unusual task: you must choose a book to be utterly expunged from history. (You don't have to do the expunging, just choose the book.) There is a condition: you aren't allowed to delete a totally unimportant book that's been forgotten anyway - the book must be something widely considered a 'classic'; that is, one that lots of people have read (or at least heard of and felt they should have read), and is felt to be in some way 'significant'.

What classic book (fiction or nonfiction) do you choose to retcon out of reality, and why?

(Answers welcome either here or as posts on your own journal in the hope of spreading!)

(I'll post my personal answer tomorrow; I do have one ready:)
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On the offchance anyone doesn't already know, Diana Wynne Jones died at the weekend, after a long battle with cancer. A national treasure, as Neil Gaiman rightly said*, who will be missed by many. (Obit. by Chris Priest; also one by Neil Gaiman, as pointed out by [personal profile] na_lon, and another, by Emma Bull.)

* I've speculated elsewhere that Mr G's own rise to fame can be tracked quite neatly by the changing attribution of that comment - originally just "Locus magazine", then "Neil Gaiman in Locus", and finally "Neil Gaiman" without mentioning the magazine.
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This started off as a collection of links to go into a comment on [personal profile] naraht's journal, but it got a bit out of hand, and took rather longer than I intended, and....

Behind the cut, you'll find a very slightly ranty description of some of the evidence that using DRM not only increases costs, but actually cuts sales too. That is, if you have two identical (electronic) products for sale at the same price, one with DRM and one without, not only is the margin (and thus profit-per-sale) on the DRM-free version better, it will sell more copies as well. Big media companies tend to insist that everything needs to have DRM because all their customers (you and me, in other words) are thieves by nature: the evidence is that not only is that attitude highly offensive, it's directly costing them money as well. Where does the evidence come from? Well, mostly from sales figures provided by big (and some smaller) media companies, actually.

Read more... )
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I meant to post these as the year went along, and completely failed to. Also, it seems I never posted the last two months for 2009 either. Whoops!

Anyway, in 2010, I seem to have read a total of 69 books I'd not previously perused. Of those, 37 were borrowed from the library, and another eight were borrowed from other people, meaning that I only actually removed twenty-four books from my huge stack of unread books. I suspect I added at least that many (indeed, quite a few of the books on this list are either new buys or gifts), and certainly the bookcase remains full to overflowing. Diana Wynne Jones contributed a total of eight of the 69, while no other author was responsible for more than about three, but I think I've now run out of her back catalogue of stuff I'd not read, so I suspect that won't happen again. This year, I may try and keep track of re-reads, too, although if the list gets too embarrassing I won't make it public ;)

Full list behind the cut in blocks of ten; quite a few books are lacking any comment, especially near the beginning of the year, and there's even one where I failed to note the title. Organised: we'z herd of it.

Read more... )
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I've now read the first four volumes of Charlie's "Merchant Princes" series - which is to say that, in his original plan, I'm halfway through book 2. Unfortunately, I don't have copies of volumes five and six, and the Oxfordshire libraries website informs me that the only copies available on-shelf are in Witney, Henley, and Banbury, all of which are about as far away from me as it's possible to get while remaining within Oxlib. So if anyone is able to lend me "Trade of Queens" and "The Revolution Business", I'd be very grateful. Otherwise I'll just have to keep an eye out and wait for the city library copies to be in.

On a faintly related note, one of our local charity shops has a copy of the UK paperback of "Saturn's Children" for a pound, if anyone needs it? (I picked up a near-mint hardback of said book in the same shop for 50p a month or so ago. No, I don't understand their pricing either.)
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Thus beating my initial target in ten months instead of twelve. (And I'm only a fortnight behind on the write-ups, too.)

90) Trick or Treatment? (Simon Singh, Edzard Ernst). A sensible, rational book that examines the evidence for "complementary and alternative medicine", reaching the conclusion (fairly obvious to anyone paying attention to the real world, rather than webternet frothing or newspaper 'debate') that some kinds of "CAM" are appropriate for treating some conditions (but are often oversold as panaceas by their advocates) while many don't work at all. The advocates of the latter, funnily enough, range from genuine (but sadly mistaken) believers to deliberate frauds preying on ill people. The front cover quotes the Daily Mail describing the book as "definitive - if controversial"; controversial only with people who make money selling CAM that doesn't work, oddly enough.[borrowed]

91) Going Under (Justina Robson). The third part of the series that started with (69) and (74), which continues to improve with each book. The porn and Sue-ism have now essentially departed, and the protagonist faces some interesting and difficult situations. I still don't feel any particular sympathy with any of the characters, but they're not actively problematic and the story and writing are both good.[Library]

92) The Android's Dream (John Scalzi). The first thing of Scalzi's that I've read. He has a good reputation, and I can see why. A book about robots, aliens, human identity, scientific dilemmas, and... sheep. Great fun, in a bouncy personal-action sci-fi way.[Library]

93) The Time-Traveller's Wife (Audrey Niffenegger). The story of a woman who spends her whole life waiting for Mr Right, with the unusual twist that she really does know who Mr Right is - and that he will turn up and marry her. Well written and enjoyable; I can see why it won awards, even if no aspect of it is particularly groundbreaking. Also, as an afterthought, it's interesting to see a book about a time-traveller that's written largely (about 2/3, at a guess) from the point of view of the primary non-time-travelling character.

94) The Reality Dysfunction (Peter F Hamilton). A vast book filled sci-fi space opera stuff. The writing isn't bad, but the problems are many. Some - most notably the apparent anthropocentrism, and the fact that the author appears to use sex scenes as a substitute for character development - are countered in later volumes, but some aren't. In particular, I found the author's violent (but probably unconscious) homophobia both disturbing and offensive, and that (while less obvious after the first book - mostly because they lack the continual sex) is a running sore throughout the trilogy. (There are problems with the depiction of female characters, too, but nothing to compare with the sole non-heterosexual.)

95) Counterfeit World (Dan Galouye). An interesting, gratifyingly complex book about the problems of artificial intelligence - both definitional and moral and ethical - as well as some nice work on questions like whether it's possible to distinguish reality from simulation - and whether it really matters. I'll be looking for other stuff by the author.

96) Brontomek! (Michael Coney). For the first few chapters, I wondered how this had won a "best novel" award, but I did come round to it. The eponymous big machines only turn up a couple of times, and are frankly irrelevant to a really quite interesting (and cynical) book about identity, humanity, slavery, and corporate ethics. Worth reading, if you can find a copy.

97) The Neutronium Alchemist (Peter F Hamilton). Which resolves some but by no means all of the problems I had with the first one (without introducing any new ones), and is slightly smaller but still a humungous wodge of a book. I'm really not sure I would recommend the trilogy to people, simply on the basis that there are plenty of well-written books out there that have caused me far less desire to thwap the author round the head with a copy of his own substantial work.

98) Shadow of the Torturer (Gene Wolfe). "The Book of the New Sun" is widely held to be one of the classic decaying-high-tech-universe fantasy novels, and in some ways I can see why. Unlike (48), this is Wolfe at his (famous) best; well written, involving, and memorable. But the story of Severian's journey from apprentice Torturer"Seeker for Truth and Penitence" to Autarch does seem to me to be telling in ways that the writer never intended. If this was the only thing of Wolfe's I'd read, I'd be uncertain whether the powerful misogyny was that of the author or the - self-admittedly self-centred - narrator, but it isn't, and I'm not (although, to be fair, I think it might be intentionally emphasised here). The four novels that make up TBotNS are worth reading, but with caution, because of this attitude.
99) Claw of the Conciliator (Gene Wolfe). Probably the best of the four, overall; the interplay between the characters is interesting, and there's plenty to learn about Severian's world. Provided you can cope with having to read about WolfeSeverian's assorted lust objects all the time, of course.
100)Sword of the Lictor (Gene Wolfe). Not as good as the first two, but with slightly less of their weaknesses, as well as less of their strengths.
101)Citadel of the Autarch (Gene Wolfe). Which comes to a reasonably satisfying ending, but is probably the weakest of the four novels nonetheless given how much it flops in the middle.
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September contained a lot of re-reading, hence only four new books.

86) The Meaning of it All (Richard Feynman). Strangely, I've never previously read this collection (three short essays on science and society), which achieves the usual brilliant Feynman qualities. They're straight transcripts of lectures, rather than 'proper' written essays, and thus less focussed than Feynman's written works, but still much more worth reading than many more recent (not to mention lengthier:) books on the subject.[Library]

87) Dark Space (Marianne de Pierres). Good grief, what an awful book. Skiffy that doesn't even try to achieve "Sci-fi" status, with a rather thin plot and pretty poor writing to boot. The one-dimensional female characters cover a range from monomaniacal to utterly selfish, while their male counterparts vary from monomaniacal to simplisticly evil. Then, twenty pages from the end, the author decided to try rape-as-plot-device to see whether that made anyone want to read the next volume. I certainly don't; I needed a wash after merely remembering reading this one.[Library]

88) Blue at the Mizzen (Patrick O'Brian). Alas, no more. Well, there's the "unfinished voyage", which I might read, and unless O'Brian's will was written carefully, there'll probably be a generation of descendants who decide to go all Fleming, but I almost certainly won't be reading those....

89) The Blind Watchmaker (Richard Dawkins). Dawkins is a bit variable, to my mind. Most of this book is good, but it suffers from what I've come to regard as his usual problem - he's much more readable when discussing something he's interested in (like evolution) than when ranting about something he disapproves of (like religion); this book is, of course, mostly the former. I'm not entirely convinced it deserves its high status among popular science books, but it certainly isn't a bad explanation of how evolution works (and how we know how it works - and can prove it).

Bringing me up-to-date (or at least up-to-only-a-month-behind), at last. October's list takes me over a hundred new books for the year with two months in hand!
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Still catching up; some of these were written up at the time (or not long after), while others have just had notes made based on what I remember two to three months later. This may or may not show :)
No O'Brian this month, alas; I had to wait until August to get my hands on a library copy of "The thirteen-gun salute".

69) Keeping It Real (Justina Robson). In my traditional threeway classification, this falls on the boundary between sci-fi and skiffy. I'm sure someone recommended Robson to me, and I can only assume that some of her earlier books (nominated for a whole range of SF awards) are better than this. After a few chapters of pretty tedious and clumsy exposition, it settles down into a lightweight but moderately entertaining adventure story, but there's no science and very little depth, and the heroine rapidly goes from slightly overpowered to full-on raging Sue-ism. Then the final third of the book descends into "Mary-Sue has l33t healing sex with elves" (complete with classic hurt-comfort. Yaay!) interspersed with occasional moments of rampagingly obvious political allegory and stunningly trite moral observations. Since Robson can certainly write well, I'll probably try and look out one of her earlier, award-nominated, books, in the hopes of some proper science fiction, rather than this self-indulgent second-rate-fanfic stuff. I might consider reading the sequel for light entertainment, since I can cope with the awful cheese between the adventure bits, but I'd probably rather have... well, about anything from June's list, to be honest.[Library]

70) Nation (Terry Pratchett). Which is a good book and highly recommended, and which I should probably read again so that I can offer some more coherent comments now that I'm trying to write about it a couple of months later. I did have slight problems with the couple of points where (things that are very difficult to explain without resorting to) supernatural events are used to hurry along the plot of a book that is, basically, a diatribe about the need to apply rational thought to everything without exception, but mostly it does pretty well. Good solid Pratchett, and definitely recommended to all three people who hadn't read it before me :)

71) Science of Discworld 3 (Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, Jack Cohen). Um, not bad, I guess. The story parts are fairly entertaining (if unavoidably anthropocentric), and the other half is perfectly adequate pop-science explanation of evolution and related stuff (which totally failed to grab me because I know that much anyway).[library]

72) Unjust Rewards (Polly Toynbee, David Walker). Another polemic against the way that the country (and most of the world) is run for the benefit of the few rather than the many. Unlike many, however, Toynbee and Walker don't just complain about the problems - they suggest solutions (and indeed solutions that might actually work, in many cases, since they're much less based on wild-idealism-against-the-facts than some I've seen). Also well-written and, for both those reasons, much less depressing than most similar books I've read.[Library]

73) In God We Doubt (John Humphrys). "Confessions of a failed Athiest", the cover has it, and in theory he's talking about agnosticism, which I thought might make for a good book; there are plenty of books advocating either religion or atheism, but rather fewer for the position of doubt. The early parts of the book, where Humphrys is discussing his research and discussions with various theologians, are excellent. Then he starts burbling and giving his own thoughts on matters, and the prose style falls off rather - while the content disintegrates completely (anthropic fallacies and argument from incredulity everywhere, never mind the other problems). In addition to showing that Humphrys is a good journalist but a poor theologian, I have to agree with the various interviewees who told him that he was a confused theist rather than an agnostic - he so obviously wants to believe in something (anything!).[Library]

74) Selling Out (Justina Robson). OK, so I saw this (the sequel to (69)) in the library and decided to have a quick flip through the first few chapters. I then proceeded to read the rest of it, with some degree of skimming. Much better than the first; still no science, but highly enjoyable writing, an entertaining spy-thriller plot, and no cheesy porn.[Library]

75) Bad Science (Ben Goldacre). Which is very much in the style of his blog. I don't think I gained anything from the book except for details relating to a few specific cases, but it would make a fairly good basic primer for people who need an introduction to thinking sceptically and doubting authority - which is, after all, Dr Goldacre's intention. I'm a bit uncertain how much of an audience it's likely to get among the people who actually need it, though; it seems more likely to be picked up by people who already read his blog or Guardian column....[Library]
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Still catching up on my backlog. I'm cheating a little bit here by not putting individual comments for each volume of the series, but there is some overall commentary in the notes on the first book in each case.

50) Between Planets (Robert Heinlein). Solid plot, plausible characters and good writing; one of the best Heinlein "juveniles", IMO, though not as good as "Have Space-suit - will travel".

51) Rocketship Galileo (Robert Heinlein). An OK "Boys' Own Adventure" type story, but nothing special. To be fair, it is Heinlein's first published novel, and not bad for a first novel, if very much of its period.

52) His Majesty's Dragon (Naomi Novik). Pretty good, although I found the structural flaws became more obvious in the sequels. The errors of fact were irritating (all the more so because I actually read these three interspersed with the early O'Brian novels), but the world-building failures were more problematic, for me at least. So fun, but frustrating, and arguably a good demonstration of the problems with using not-quite-the-real-world; the contingent changes aren't thought - or followed - through. ISTR that I also found the way that the ethical issues of the relationship between the two sentient species - humans and dragons - were (largely not) treated in the first three books more than a little disturbing.
53) Throne of Jade (Naomi Novik).[library]
54) Black Powder War (Naomi Novik).[library]

55) Master and Commander (Patrick O'Brian). Strangely, although I've been surrounded by these for a long time (as [personal profile] mobbsy has cause to know:), and I've read and enjoyed short passages from several, I'd never previously read any of the series properly. So, I started at the beginning.... (Arguably cheating a little, since while I haven't read them, they're not coming from my bookcase full of unread books, but hey ;-) I can happily assure anyone here who hasn't read them that the series lived up to my high expectations with ease.
56) Post Captain (Patrick O'Brian).
57) HMS Surprise (Patrick O'Brian).
58) The Mauritius Command (Patrick O'Brian).
59) Desolation Island (Patrick O'Brian).
60) The Fortune of War (Patrick O'Brian).
61) The Surgeon's Mate (Patrick O'Brian).
62) The Ionian Mission (Patrick O'Brian).
63) Treason's Harbour (Patrick O'Brian).
64) The Far Side of the World (Patrick O'Brian).
65) The Reverse of the Medal (Patrick O'Brian).
66) The Letter of Marque (Patrick O'Brian). Where I had to stop, for the time being, as we don't seem to have a copy of the next one ("The thirteen gun Salute").

67) The Stars My Destination (Alfred Bester). (Originally published in the UK as "Tiger, Tiger!".) Perhaps less well-known than "The Demolished Man" (which won the first-ever Hugo best-novel award), but IMO a better book (and a better story) - and TDM is extremely good. Everything by Bester is good, but Haldemann is right to describe this as one of sci-fi's "few works of actual genius".[library]

68) Changeling (Roger Zelazny). An entertaining, although not wildly original (especially by Zelazny's standards) magic-versus-technology tale of stolen and swapped children. Good enough to pass a couple of hours in light fluffy reading, but no deep thoughts here. [Library]

Which leaves me only two and a half months behind.
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I seem to have got a bit behind, somehow, and a four month backlog is a bit embarrassing, so I've finally got round to making notes on the missing one of these ((46), for what it's worth) and put them up. June's batch to hopefully follow fairly soon, followed by July and August :)

42) Professor Branestawm's Perilous Pudding (Norman Hunter). Fairly standard Branestwam fare, with the usual mixture of stories from so-so to brilliant illogicality.

43) A Plague of Demons and other stories (Keith Laumer; ed Eric Flint). There's some good stuff in here, but nothing really brilliant, and either the author or the editor is obsessed with the idea that teh hooman brane is speshul and not subject to the laws of physics. And the title story is actually two unrelated shorts nailed together; it's just that the author didn't know how to finish one or start the other. Definitely disappointing relative to (38), but I don't know which is more typical.[Library]

44) Morning Child (Gardner Dubois). It occurred to me that while I'd read numerous collections edited by Gardner Dubois, I'd never read any of his work as an author. All of the stories in this collection are well written, and present interesting variations on the themes they consider, but somehow they never quite clicked with me. I'd definitely recommend that other people try Dubois's work, but I probably won't be reading it again. Strange, really.[Library]

45) Newton's Wake (Ken MacLeod). Not at all bad, and suffers less from MacLeod's problems with producing endings than some of his other stories, many of which seem to just trail off while you're waiting for the.... I'll probably be reading this one again at some point.

46) Seeds of Earth (Michael Cobley). Highly enjoyable, with some interesting ideas. There's some rather obvious political stereotyping-cum-association, and a total of exactly one major female character, but definitely better-than-average sci-fi.[Library][ETA: I've just bought a cheap s/h copy of this, and might add more detailed commentary when I've re-read it!]

47) Born Under Mars (John Brunner). From Brunner's ridiculously productive patch in the mid-1960s. Simple but ingenious, with a plot that works and nicely drawn characters (no female ones of any significance, although the female walk-on parts do at least get to be doctors and scientists in higher proportion than the men). Not heavy-weight Brunner, but enjoyable and well worth reading twice.

48) Starwater Strains (Gene Wolfe). Five weeks on, I remember nothing about the contents of this book except that they didn't excite me much while I was reading them. I don't think the stories were bad, particularly, but they've very completely failed either to grip me or be memorable in any way at all.[Library]

49) Queen of Candese (Karl Schroeder). Which, by the time I finally wrote it up in September, I still remembered more about than I did about (48) after a fraction of the time. But I couldn't remember all the details, so I got it out of the library to reread. Worth re-reading, although slightly disappointing in comparison to many of Schroeder's other books. I suspect (and the reread reinforced the suspicion) that that's because it takes place in a world that he's already described in a previous book (Sun of Suns); this is an excellent story, with well-written text and solid characters, it's just that - unlike most of Schroeder's books - you're not having to get to grips with the physical and social properties of a weirdly-constructed world at the same time. (While this is set in a different part of Virga to Sun of Suns, and the local societies behave somewhat differently, there's nothing very startling about them, and the underlying physical structure is already known.)[Library]
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Today, I bought a second-hand (mass-market fiction) book with the explicit intention of defacing it by writing in it. This feels terribly wrong; it actually feels even more wrong than the time I bought a brand new book with the explicit intention of taking it home and gutting it with a Stanley knife. (Possibly because that was in a good cause(tm), while this is for personal entertainment.) Hopefully I will still feel able to go ahead with the plan - otherwise I'll have wasted 25p!
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34) Arguments for Socialism (Tony Benn, ed Chris Mullin). An interesting discussion of the challenges faced by Britain-as-an-industrial-country in the 1970s and 80s, based on speeches made by the then-minister (for industry) and edited together shortly after Labour left power in 1979. It's depressing to see how much of his proposed plan of action is still (often urgently) needed in order to address exactly the same problems (or to reduce the problems that he predicted would occur if things weren't changed, and which have duly come to pass). And how little of it the current Labour party shows any sign of interest in. Some things have changed, of course, and Benn has been shown wrong in a few of the predictions made, but not all that many. Also, see my comment on (27) :)

35) The Saliva Tree and Other Growths (Brian Aldiss). Sorry, that won a Nebula? (Reasonable pastiche of HG Wells, written 'to mark' the centenary of his birth, which probably explains it.) The rest of the collection is pretty mediocre, too, and hasn't done anything much to make me reconsider my opinion of Aldiss. It's all better than "White Mars", but that's a pretty low bar. He has written better stuff (I'm going to mention "Hothouse" and "Non-stop" again, because they're the two examples of interesting work by Aldiss that I can think of) - but, apparently, not very much of it.

36) The World Turned Upside-down (eds David Drake, Eric Flint, and Jim Baen). 'Compares favourably with any collection in the past 50 years' according to... David Drake. Actually, it's not a bad assortment of stories provided you bear in mind that they're ones the editors read when they were young - only three of the stories date as late as the 1960s. But there are quite a few by lesser-known authors, and some less-known stories by well-known authors too.

37) The Mind Cage (A.E. Van Vogt). I've long felt that Van Vogt produced better short stories than novels, and this - a novel based on one of his short stories - has done nothing to change my mind on the matter.

38) Bolo: Annals of the Dinochrome Brigade (Keith Laumer). Described on the cover as "the classic of space war", thus somewhat missing the point. While most of the authorised spin-off stories (and more than a few of Laumer's own later stories) are essentially war tales, the best of his original Bolo stories (which are gathered in this book) are actually about either coping with the tidy-up, or the problems of combat veterans in peacetime. The fact that the veterans in question are multiple-thousand-tonne artificially intelligent tanks merely serves to disguise the ways in which the stories relate to more normal veterans....

39) The Magician's Apprentice (Trudi Canavan). Sturdy (and substantial) prequel to her original "Magician's Guild" trilogy. Probably a bit over-long, and flags somewhat in the second half, but entertaining enough. It did, though, rekindle my long-standing desire to write a novel in which a boy and a girl from different backgrounds meet as teenagers and have to work together despite disliking each other on sight (and having strong prejudices against everything the other stands for), and still don't like each other at the end of the book. Hard-earned respect is fine, but do they always have to fall in love? [library book]

40) The Homeward Bounders (Diana Wynne Jones). Passable (better than "Black Maria" or "Time of the Ghost", but not by much), but not especially good - certainly well below average for DWJ. I liked the ending, though; a neat way of avoiding cliches. I don't feel the time spent reading it was wasted, but it's very unlikely to get re-read the way the Howl or Chrestomanci books do. [borrowed]

41) Eight Days of Luke (Diana Wynne Jones). Still not brilliant, but better IMO than either (40) or "The Game", which is the most directly comparable of her other works. I definitely prefer DWJ's own worlds (well, the more amusing ones :) to her experiments with existing mythologies, but this try is more successful than that one. [borrowed]

And that's the end of April. Only a week behind.


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