Highly Recommended Reading, Authors worth pursuing & some Awful Warnings
- Green, Joseph
- Conscience Interplanetary (1972) is, in effect, a sequence of short stories charting the career of Allan Odegaard of the Practical Philosopher Corps, whose job it is to go to newly discovered planets to work out if the life forms there are intelligent and should be left alone, or the planet can be colonized from an Earth with a population of 11 billions or otherwise exploited by business and/or political interests. Very readable, worth seeking out.
- Crichton, Michael
- Sphere (1987) The author pushes a lot of buttons: civilians trapped deep under the sea in a habitat run by the US military when they got to investigate a giant spaceship buried in coral; time travel; an alien object and a weird alien entity, which calls itself Jerry; an intellectual kleptomaniac called Ted, who'll claim ownership of any idea before the originator has finished explaining it; and like that. Jerry is a homicidal nutter. Or is it?
Real cute ending, Mike!
- Royce, Ken
- The President Is Dead (1988) So is the Russian ambassador. Air Force One crashed into the sea off Ireland and it looks like a botched bombing by the IRA, who's funding from the US was under threat from the murdered president. Are the Russians, other IRA paymasters, also involved? The conspiracy keeps going in new directions until the shattering must-be-covered-up truth is uncovered.
- Tubb, E.C.
- The Gateway Omnibus (2013) contains The Extra Man (1954), The Space Born (1956) and Fires of Satan (2011), his final novel. 100 more novels are listed on the credits page.
No. 1 is a blast from the past setting right a society which has lost its way. No. 2 is a murder mystery on a slowliner, which is close to the end of a 300 year trip to a planet orbiting Pollux. The management, it quickly becomes apparent, is up to no good. Think Logan's Run, which came along 11 years later.
No. 3 is a writer at the end of his life considering a world-ending threat. Readers have to remember that the setting is contemporary rather than mid-C20; the end of the corrupt New Labour era. The author's view of politicians is jaundiced and, in the light of the Brexit antics going on when this book was read, Mr. Tubb believed that the more they do to promote their own selfish interests, the bigger the mess they create. How right he was!
- Hartwell, David G. & Hayden, Patrick Nielsen (Eds.)
- 21st Century Science Fiction (2013) Why do people give up on reading science fiction? Not enough spaceships. This collection of 34 stories of widely varying length opens with a whinge about the end of the British Raj. This is followed by some real post-industrial weirdness, then a guy from Laos's weird career in web-based publishing and his obsession with entirely trivial news when the demand is for celeb-based trash. No. 4 is by Neal Asher, the only name I recognized, who does some good stuff with weird aliens. And so it goes on as a very mixed bag. Just one of the stories can be classed as very good, 29% of them are good/okay, 24% are so-so and a massive 44% are NG/not interesting. How many with spaceships? Just a lousy three.
- Budrys, Algis
- The Gateway Omnibus (2014) contains The Iron Thorn (1967), Michaelmas (1977) and Hard Landing (1993), his final novel. The first is set on Mars and Earth. Jackson, the central character, finds that he is an outsider in the societies created and abandoned on Mars, and also in the rather pointless society remaining on Earth.
Laurent Michaelmas and his AI Domino know everything that goes on in the world and have sufficient control of the flow of information to control everything. Then a buncha aliens try to horn in on their action? These are very seriously weird aliens.
More aliens in the third volume. They have a crash rather than just a hard landing and this very short novel (100 pages) charts their attempts to disappear into the landscape as a sequence of documents rather than a continuous narrative.
62 is a rather young age to stop writing novels!
- Clarke, Arthur C.
- Imperial Earth (1975) "No one does it better than Arthur Clarke" from the TLS decorates the cover. And it's true. Duncan Makenzie, a clone of a big noise on Titan, visits Earth to get himself cloned and finds himself in confrontation with Karl Helmer, a former friend. He starts feeling that, like the Titanic (which he visits) he is helpless in the face of forces beyond his control. The novel combines the author's interest in mathematics, marine life and astronomy. end note: no spell checking in 1975 and no proof reader at the publisher who knew any chemistry, hence the misspelling of aliphatic in chapter 10.
- Creasey, John
- Murder, London-South Africa (1966) This is No. 34 of a series featuring DCI Roger 'Handsome' West of the Yard. Fifty years on, it is a historical novel; one which would give a member of the diversity trade hysterics. The plot is about murder (of course), diamond smuggling, interactions between the Press and the police, which are vastly different from those today, communications without the instant quality of those today; the internet, international phone calls on demand, etc.; and, of course, a trip to Sarf Efrica for West. Worth reading to find out what life was like before the looneys took over.
- Knight, Damon
- The Gateway Omnibus (2014) contains 4 volumes of short stories: Far Out (1961), In Deep (1963), Off Centre (1965) and Turning On (1966). There are 39 stories. The first and last collections contain shorter stories, the other 2 contain half a dozen longer stories apiece. This is probably the best way to convey the range of a prolific writer's imagination and a volume which can be revisited again and again.
- Cooper, Edmund
- The Gateway Omnibus (2014) contains The Cloud Walker (1973), All Fools' Day (1966) and A Far Sunset (1967). The first is set in a 3rd age following two collapses of society due to abuse of technology. The church is in charge and burning anyone with an interest in machines. Until a threat from outside makes machines necessary and the church a hindrance.
No. 2 is a quirky take on the end of civilization as we know it. Mysterious radiation from the Sun is increasing the suicide rate, even though the government has made suicide illegal again. Only eccentrics and real nutters are spared.
In No. 3, the sole survivor of the crew of a slowliner finds himself stuck in a primitive society with a savage religion, where life is cheap and extinguished pointlessly. The only person the survivor can relate to is a boy-king, who will be extinguished when he has served his year. The sheer pig-headedness and wilful ignorance of the society give Paul Marlowe a Cloud Walker shove toward enlightenment.
- Ashdown-Hill, John
- The Dublin Kings : The true story of Edward, earl of Warwick, Lambert Simnel and the 'Princes in the Tower' (2015) The book is about the pretenders who challenged the usurper Henry VII; mainly the one who was crowned in Ireland as Edward VI. It is written with an air of great relish as Mr. Hill unpicks every part of the Lambert Simnel myth, with side-swipes at the Princes in the Tower myth. "Forget everything you thought you knew, it's all wrong!" is his message.
- Koontz, Dean
- Sole Survivor (1979) Joe lost his wife and his two daughters when an airliner nose-dived into the ground and exploded like an atomic bomb. A year later, he met a woman who claimed she had been on the flight. She also led him to believe that she was looking after one of his daughters. Joe found himself up against some vast, nebulous bunch of BGs with infinite resources. Opposing them was a cult created by a billionaire. There are far too many words between the initial set-up and the revelation that human monsters had created unhuman creatures to deny everyone contact with an afterlife. Like they do. Not a terrifically wonderful read.
- Rankin, Ian
- Even Dogs In The Wild (2015) The gang's all there: Rebus, Siobhan, Cafferty and even D.I. Fox, formerly of the Complaints. Rebus has been retired for a month but there's no peace for the wicked. In an era when the Nonce-Finder General was roaming England, there's a related blast from the past and Big Ger Cafferty is one of the targets. Back in the real world, Fox starts turning into Rebus; but just a pale imitation of the master. Well, there's more than enough windmills to go around.
- Harrison, M. John
- The Pastel City (1971) is described on the cover as the greatest fantasy novel since Dune. Not the greatest profof reading job. It's a tale of sword and sciencery, of regions battling in a ruined landscape in the wreckage of previous ages, of the usual sorts of human self-interest and treachery. It is told in the regulation stilted style for such sagas.
An RLC author had the title of one of his novels changed, at the publisher's request, to A Rush Of Blood. One to the head seems to have been suffered by the New English Library's cover copywriter, according to RLC authors who remember the relative impacts of both Dune and TPC.
- Benford, Gregory
- The Gateway Omnibus (2014) contains three novels; Artifact (1985), Cosm (1998) and Eater (2000) The first two have female leads; an archaeologist and a physicist; who both stroll off with (separate) mysterious and wonderful objects. Claire finds herself in Greece during a military upheaval and menaced by a local archaeologist who is also a member of the military, who wants to steal all the credit for a discovery made at a site operated jointly with Americans.
Alicia finds herself in much the same position in the United States when the Establishment tries to grab an artifact created unexpectedly as a result of her experiments in a high-energy particle collider. There is a theme of exotic particle physics plus extreme danger in both, with cosmology added to the second novel.
The third awaits a reading after a break to give another author some time. Will the pattern be repeated in No. 3? Oh, the suspense! Eater (2014) Astronomers detect something new approaching the solar system. Lots of speculation, resentment and rivalries. It turns out to be a black hole surrounded by magnetic fields, which can store date and contain a form of artificial intelligence. After a snack at Jupiter, the Eater of All Things heads for Earth, where White House stooges are trying to control interactions with it. Will humanity go the same way as the countless other civilizations swallowed up by the Eater? Things get quite gruesome for the dying female astronomer who can save the day.
- Rankin, Ian
- The Impossible Dead (2011) Not a Rebus in sight. This is an outing for Inspector Fox of the Complaints. He's checking up on a corrupt copper who has connections to an old case which includes a member of Fox's family and the terrorism wing of Scottish nationalism. Fox is portrayed as a human being with lots of family troubles, who treads on the toes of the rich and powerful in the cause of justice. Conspiracy round every corner and pasts to be covered up. There is a touch of the Jack Laidlaw about him. (see William McIllvanney)
- McIllvanney, William
- Strange Loyalties (1991) Laidlaw, the detective central character, is that Scots guy with a chip on both shoulders, who has to manufacture a drama, which no one else can see, to convince everyone that he's the ultimate maverick. He's a guy who would frame Jesus as the Nazareth Night Strangler just to prove to everyone else that they're wrong about him. On the face of it, Laidlaw's thirty-something brother walked into the path of a car. Laidlaw has to build a federal case out of the suicide; at great length, and when the dark truth comes out, it's a product of obsession piled on obsession. Because that's the Laidlaw way. End of the trilogy.
- Houghton, Mick
- I've Always Kept A Unicorn: the Biography of Sandy Denny (2015) This is a fine example of a kitchen sink compilation! Every single pip and squeak that the writer could dig up is here in the 500 pages. The book gives the completest possible picture of the car-crash life of THE female vocalist of the 2nd half of the 20th century, and it does keep telling people who followed her career what they know over and over and could have been edited down to 400 pages without loss. But if you're a fan, do read it. As it says on page 93 of Jon A. Gored's Dreamers of the Day: "when it comes to female vocalists, there's Sandy Denny and there's everyone else."
- Griffiths, Ellie
- The Blood Card (2016) is set back in 1953, the Coronation Year, and stars a copper and a stage magician, who worked together in a mysterious spook outfit during WW II. Possible end-point visible at p. 120, remembering that the author has form for rewriting history; but it turned out to be a pale-pink herring filler. And the actual threat fizzled out. Oh, well. An interesting read, though.
- Lynn, Elizabeth A.
- A Different Light (1978) is, indeed, just that. It's a quest in a future of the author's imagination, in which the people have lives and a history which don't include Terra. The central character is Jimson, an artist, who is offered a way to let his art survive after his failing body croaks. It is an ageless and absorbing tale, and differentas a good SF work should be. 40 years old and still well worth tracking down.
- Holder, Geoff
- 101 Things To Do With A Stone Circle (2009) Dreadful omission, this volume should have been added years ago. It's a grand survey of stone circles around Europe and the reasons behind their construction; some very fancy indeed. UFOs and aliens get a look in, and the work also cites Arthur C. Clarke's Fourth Law.
- Knight, Damon
- Gateway Omnibus (2014) This weighty tome contains Far Out (1961), In Deep (1963), Off Centre (1963) and Turning On (1966); all volumes of short stories. The whole showcases the impressive breadth and depth of the author's imagaination and includes some extremely weird concepts. Best read as individual volumes with something else between them. Highly recommended. Especially if you can get it as a remainder at a quarter of the original price!
- McIlvaney, William
- Laidlaw (1977) My first impression was that the book is written in an annoyingly clumsy, bitty fashion. But the content triumphs over the delivery as I finished it. And there are the odd few pearls in the bucket of sand. The central character is a detective who is one of life's deliberately awkward sods. He can't see someone's nose without wanting to get up it. In this volume, it's in the interests of solving a murder in Glasgow, which is full of hard men and people wanting to look hard. Being Scottish helps with the dialogue.
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- Dana, Richard
- In 1834, at the age of 19, the author had to leave Harvard university due to a problem with his sight, which prevented him from studying. His answer was to get a job as an ordinary seaman on a sailing ship, which travelled from the east to the west coast of North America via Cape Horn. He spent most of 1835 on the Californian coast, which belonged to Mexico then, and he returned home in 1836. He published his account of his experiences under the title Two Years Before The Mast in 1840, 3 years after graduating from Harvard. It's well worth visiting to experience the time scale of people who took half a year to travel from Boston to San Francisco instead of a few hours on an airliner.
- Defoe, Daniel
- Robinson Crusoe is a sobering read. The 18th Century shipwreck victim has all sorts of survival skills, which people of the 20th/21st Century no longer have. I finished this book with a strong sense of admiration for the people of that era.
- Dumas, Alexandre, the elder
- If you're looking for a long read, look no further than the works of this man. The Three Musketeers runs for well over 600 pages, and this is a typical length for the various sequels. The surprise for someone new to the book is how much there is in it. The film industry made a set of three movies out of it in the Seventies. The Man in the Iron Mask and The Count of Monte Cristo receive a similar thorough treatment from the author.
- Melville, Herman
- His story of the hunt for the great white whale has been made in to films and cartoons, and it has passed in to the universal consciousness. Moby Dick the novel, finished in 1851, offers much, much more than any film could deliver. It provides a complete account of the life and times of the men who pursued enormous sea creatures in relatively frail wooden boats and it is highly recommended to the mature reader.
- Poe, Edgar Allan
- Tales of Mystery and Imagination contains horror stories, detective stories, science fiction, humour and much more. There's everything in this collection of short stories, which opens with The Pit and the Pendulum and closes with The Masque of the Red Death. Much filmed, much adapted, much ripped-off, this work should be on everyone's have-read list.
- Stevenson, R.L.
- Best known for Treasure Island, which has been stuck with the label of a book for children even though it wasn't intended as such, Mr. Stevenson is also known for Kidnapped, its sequel Catriona and Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, all of which have been filmed and/or adapted for television a number of times.
- Tyng, Charles (1801-1879)
- Before The Wind describes the author's life from 1808 to 1833 and includes his rise from ship's boy to mate to captain to international trader with a line of credit amounting to $1million. The ms, written in 1878, ends abruptly with the author recovering from cholera in 1833. His handwritten memoirs passed through his family before being edited and published in 1999. Highly recommended as a piece of living history.
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- Adams, Douglas
- The Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy: a trilogy in four parts (1979-86) The thing about taking a journey along a familiar road is that you don't have to wonder about where it leads. You can admire the familiar scenery and enjoy your favourite bits and also new stuff. This is something which is denied to anyone who hasn't followed the saga on the wireless, tV and via films, but that's the way life, the universe and everything goes.
The volume contains: The Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life, the Universe and Everything and So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish. The first two volumes will be familiar to everyone who consumed the original radio and TV versions, the next two won't.
This edition was compiled during the proof-reader's annual holiday.
- Aldiss, Brian W.
- Originally a writer of science fiction, producing short stories for the magazines and novels such as Hothouse, he joined the Speculative Fiction movement of the 70s and became tedious. He has produced anthologies which are histories of science fiction, e.g. Billion Year Spree, and he crossed over to the mainstream with a series of autobiographical novels.
- Asimov, Isaac
- One of the most prolific science and science-fiction writers of all time, he is known for his short stories about robots, in which he provided Asimov's 3 Laws of Robotics, and his Foundation trilogy. Dr. Asimov was a very fountain of information!
- Bagley, Desmond
- Mr. Bagley is out of the same box as Alistair McLean and Hammond Innes. His adventure yarns are extremely readably, full of action and highly recommended. Landslide, for instance, is a story of skullduggery and murder set in the forests of Canada with a guest appearance of the geological phenomenon "quick clay".
- Ballard, J.G.
- The Drought (1965) All the pollution dumped in the oceans forms a monomolecular film around all of the land and blocks evaporation of water. As a result, rivers run dry, most of the people die and most of the rest go crazy. The landscape is what this book is about and the people are incidental; mainly grotesques, both mental and physical; leading pointless lives in a destroyed landscape when they're not killing one another off. It starts raining on the last page after a 10-year drought, but Mr. Ballard doesn't tell us why.
Mr. Ballard's obsession with water and grotesques continues in The Crystal World (1966). Collisions of time and anti-time particles mean that time is leaking away and atoms are replicating endlessly in an attempt to increase their foothold on existence. Everything is affected from areas of land to artificial satellites to distant galaxies. In Africa, a growing area of forest is crystallizing and people exposed to the process all go crazy in their own ways. Unlike the catastrophe in The Drought, this one is unstoppable.
- Bayley, J. Barrington
- Empire of Two Worlds (1972) This is gangster SF. A small gang, which has outstayed its welcome on Killibol, uses a stargate-like portal to return to Earth, where one million more years have elapsed. Bicmath thinks that his tiny gang will be able to establish a power base there then return to Killibol to sort out his enemies. He aims to create a vast empire, aided by Klein, his stooge, and the forces of destiny. Nothing like a spot of ambition!
- Blish, James
- A Case of Conscience (1958) A team of 4 scientists is sent to an alien world (inhabited by 12-foot kangaroo-likes) to decide if Earth should put a way-station there. One is a Jesuit priest and biologist. He decides that the locals are the spawn of the Devil. One of the Lithians sends an egg back to Earth with the returning team. It matures, despite an appalling upbringing, in to an adult which makes the underclass on Earth revolt against having to live in underground bomb shelters. The Pope tells the priest to exorcise the Lithians and encourages a weapons programme on Lithia, which blows up the planet. Another of religion's brilliant achievements!
- The Warriors of Day (1961) Conflict out in space, an insane culture threatening a planet where all of the living creatures; people, animals and plants; are in telepathic communication because these sane telepaths are seen as a threat to the insane giants. Tipton Bond, hunter extraordinary, is hurled in to this mixture in the same way that Edgar Rice Burroughs hurled John Carter to Mars. Unlike Carter, however, Bond is a one-hop wonder as Blish intends to complete his circle in a rather off-beat way.
- Bova, Ben
- The Weathermakers (1967) It's the American dream-maker scenario. Rather than busting a gut to get to the Moon, there's a guy, Ted, who's so desperate to control the weather that he's prepared to sacrifice anything and anyone to get his way. The narrator of the tale is Jeremy, the rebel son of a rebel father, who starts a weather forecasting business with Ted. Natch, there are jealous rivals who want Ted to fail. Ted vs the rivals vs the weather; pick a winner.
- Bramah, Ernest
- The Eyes of Max Carrados (1914-1927) is a Wordsworth collection of 27 short stories about the blind private detective. Some of them are well crafted mysteries, some have a frankly ludicrous plot. But it's a big book for not much money and worth a read.
- Brown, Fredric
- Project Jupiter (1954) is set at the end of the 20th century and Mr. Brown thinks 2000 is the first year of the 21st century. His hero is a space travel nut, who is a male chauvinist, and a fanatic as obsessed as any religious nutter with persuading the US government to send a man on a round trip to Jupiter. Unfortunately, Max Andrews is also delusional and while the programme goes ahead, he's rumbled and excluded from it. A rather peculiar book and very dated.
- Brunner, John
- The Dreaming Earth (1963) It's the start of the 21st century, the world's population has soared out of control, everything is in short supply, the UN is running the world and getting the blame for the failures of previous governments. In addition, there's a drug called Happy Dreams in circulation at an impossibly low price, addicts disappear after a year or so and there are stories that they physically vanish rather than just dropping out!
Agent Nicholas Greville of the NY Narcotics Division of the UN starts investigating after his pissed-off wife gives him a shot of HD. He gets one hell of a shock when he gets to the truth. But surely Mr. Brunner doesn't believe you can colonize other worlds just by sending people there with absolutely nothing in the way of supplies, tools, etc.
- Into The Slave Nebula (1968) This is proper SF with spaceships and all. Earth is a rather decadent place, where all work is done by robots (built there) and androids (imported). Derry Horn, whose family builds superior robots, finds the brutally murdered body of a visitor who was made a "Citizen of the Galaxy". Horn himself is almost murdered before he leaves Earth to find out more about Lars Talibrand. He has further brushes with death before he learns the sinister truth (the hard way!) of the android trade.
- Boyer, Richard L.
- Dr. Watson mentioned The Giant Rat of Sumatra in "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire". Luckily, the good doctor set a date after which the tale could be published and Mr. Boyer has delivered a tale of terror, revenge and code-breaking.
- Burgess, Anthony
- A Clockwork Orange is a surprisingly slim volume (the 1972 Penguin paperback is 144 pages), which comes with a 4-page glossary of the Nadsat language. Originally published in 1962, the tale of teenage ultra-violence and Beethoven has a timeless quality and Young Alex's first-person account of this reclamation and release is an excellent read.
- Caine, Michael
- Not Many People Know That! is an 'almanac of amazing information' arranged in date order, two days per page. Lots of fascinating facts and some nice cartoons. Well worth tracking down in a second-hand bookshop [my copy cost a quid].
- Childers, Erskine
- The Riddle of the Sands, published in 1903, was written as both an adventure story and as a warning to the British Government of a way in which Germany could launch a sneak attack against England. Ironically, the author ended his days in front of a firing squad in Dublin in 1922 as a member of an Irish Republican terrorist gang.
- Caidin, Martin
- High Crystal (1974) This is the author's third novel featuring Steve Austin, the $6M man/cyborg. Austin travels to Peru with Dr. Rudi and in to Chariots of the Gods territory to investigate reports of a mysterious energy weapon. The expedition finds fabulous structures built some 17,000 years ago by the Caya people, about whom virtually nothing is known. In addition to the life-threatening climate conditions at high altitude, there is also a homicidal bogus Norwegian on the same mission to recover the Technology of the Gods.
- Carr, Jayge [Margery Krueger]
- Leviathan's Deep (1979) Terrens (sic) have come across a planet with an apparently primitive aquatic culture run by female chauvinists. The men are mere boys/servants/playthings. The Kimassu Lady discovers that the Terrafam have a long history of exploiting what they view as inferior species. In fact, the story is full of treachery and exploitation by both species. Kimassu, who has a bit of a martyr complex, takes it upon herself to create a resistance movement to see off the Terrene guests. I came across a Readers Union edition whilst making 'reread then discard' choices. Rather OTT social commentary.
- Charteris, Leslie
- Meet the Tiger (1928) [a.k.a. The Saint Meets the Tiger] Definitely the first of around forty novels and collections of short stories featuring a hero who has gone one to appear in films and on television. Most of the books have become historical novels set in 1930s, and they can be read and enjoyed as explorations of the customs and attitudes of those far-off days as well as adventure stories.
This Saint adventure is set 3 years before the Enter the Saint collection of short stories. The Tiger is after a million bucks worth of gold lifted from the Confederate Bank of New York. (The South will rise again?) The Saint has done a deal to recover the gold for a commission which will let him retire. (some hopes) He has a faithful retainer called 'Orace and meets lots of bad guys some quite civilized, the rest well beyond the pale. DCI Teal has yet to be invented but our hero does meet Patricia Holm. (and her very weird aunt!)
- The Saint Closes The Case (1930) There's a touch of the science fictions about this adventure. The Saint & Pat stumble across a demonstration of a truly horrible weapon created by a mad scientist. The Saint sees it as an abomination which needs to be wiped off the face of the planet. But his own government, and a gang of Ruritanian Germans, also want it. Chief Inspector Teal also plays his part in an adventure which postpones rather than prevents the next European war.
- The Avenging Saint (1930) carries on from The Saint Closes the Case and the author was already describing it as a quaint historical novel when the Hodder PB was published in the mid-60s. Big business interests are conspiring to start another European war for their own profit, but the Saint and his chums are in their way. And there's a very James Bondesque sequence toward the end long before 007 was invented. And the guy the Saint most wants to kill gets away to fight another day.
- Enter The Saint (1930) Forget the TV versions in the 1960s, this is a collection of the first 3 stories about the popular hero, who was already 8 years in to his career of frustrating criminals and coppers alike to feed his craving for excitement and also his bank balance. The Saint also had a small gang in the good old days, who helped out when he was doing favours for gum-chewing Chief Inspector Claud Eustace Teal of New Scotland Yard whilst tackling drug dealers, crooks with buried treasure and jewel thieves.
- Clarke, Arthur C.
- Inventor of the communication satellite and author of Earthlight and Childhood's End, the source of 2001, A Space Odyssey and its sequels, Dr. Clarke is now a Grand Old Man of science fiction. This means that he is involved in masses of projects but he supplies the ideas and lets others do most of the writing work. But he is someone who has earned the laurels on which he currently rests and a good read.
- Childhood's End (1953) Just as the Americans and Russians, guided by their German experts, are about to blast off for the stars, the Overlords park their spacecraft over cities and announce that the stars are not for Man. What we get instead is an Overlord policed society with no war, no nations and the human race reduced to a gang of frustrated idlers and impotent rebels. Then the humans are told that this is their final generation and the Overlords' Overlords are about to harvest all the children on the planet because they have developed telepathy and other psychic powers. A South African bloke stows away on an Overlord spaceship for a trip to their planet, which last a few months subjective time for him and 80 years for everyone else. He returns in time to witness the (pointless) destruction of the Earth. By then, the children have become mere cells in a monstrous creature, which joins with the Over-Overlords.
- Imperial Earth (1975) What is the book about? Well it's about 280 pp in the 2001 PB edition. It's about how Man might colonize the solar system, and how a dynasty could be created by people who can't breed normally due to lethal genes, and there are chains from the past for the lead character, Duncan Makenzie (sic) to escape from. It's a celebration of Dr. Clarke's love of scuba diving. There's a recipe for spending vast amounts of cash, possibly to no purpose, and a hint of monsters lurking just beyond the horizon. Spit the bones out of that!
- Clement, Hal
- Needle (1949) A police officer and a fugitive crash their respective spacecraft in to the sea on Earth. Both are about 4 lbs of complex jelly, and the creatures rely on a symbiotic relationship with a host animal to get around. The Hunter manages to infiltrate a 15-year-old schoolboy and establish communication without freaking him out. Luckily, both aliens landed near a small Pacific island. But deprived of its equipment when the spaceship crashed, the Hunter is faced with the twin problems of locating and dealing with the fugitive. Originally a 2-part serial in Astounding, the story seems more suited to an as yet undeveloped 'young adult' market, and its presence in a mainstream SF magazine is somewhat astounding.
- Iceworld (1953) Smugglers have found a dangerously addictive drug on a frozen planet; well, frozen compared to the world on which the smugglers evolved. The head of the Narcotics Bureau sends a school science teacher to infiltrate the gang. Mr. Clement seems to like writing family fiction; there's a family with a whole gang of kids trading with the smugglers. The book is full of practical science at a 1950s level, it is based on an interesting idea and there's a neat twist at the end.
- Imagine a discus-shaped world with a polar diameter of 20,000 miles and an equatorial diameter of 48,000 miles. Gravity here tails off from 600g at the poles to a few g at the equator. A probe containing measuring instruments worth $2billion (at 1950s prices) is stuck at a pole. Charles Lackland has struck a bargain with one of the natives, a caterpillar-like creature 15" long and 2" in diameter, who captains a ship which sails on methane oceans. Barlenna and his crew are going to the high-gravity area on a rescue mission. This is the idea behind Mission of Gravity and learning how it all comes out is well worth the journey through the book.
- Condon, Richard
- The 1962 Frank Sinatra film of The Manchurian Candidate is lost in the mists of memory but the book is so much bigger than the film, some 100,000 words, and the story has a depth and breadth which hold the reader's interest from start to finish. A highly recommended saga of the Cold War era, brainwashing and the American way of politics and political influence.
- Conrad, Joseph
- Spies, anarchists, murder and a plot to blow up the Greenwich Observatory all figure in The Secret Agent; and, inevitably, people coming to a bad end. In fact, people coming to a bad end seems to happen quite a lot in this guy's books.
- Cooper, Edmund
- The Slaves of Heaven (1975) The people on Earth are tribal hunter-gatherers, who are subject to having their women stolen by mysterious creatures. A new clan chief is amazed to learn that the women are being taken to an orbiting space station, Heaven Seven, which has annexed everything else in orbit over the 1,700 years since a major nuclear war on the surface. Women from the surface are needed as new breeding stock for a highly structured society because of the radiation in space. Chief Berry has to prove that a dirtside savage is just as smart as any risto to create a new future for mankind.
Jupiter Laughs and other stories (1979) That's 14 others. As in any SF collection, some of the efforts are outstanding, others quite ordinary, like the theme of the lead story. And some are more than a little silly. The odd one, like The Brain Child, is a classic.
- Deighton, Len
- Mr. Deighton got himself noticed with his Harry Palmer books, The Ipcress File, Horse Under Water and Funeral In Berlin, then he got heavily in to Cold War Stuff and writing books in multiples. Close Up, a novel set in the film industry, is a particularly good read.
- Dick, Philip K.
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) The film Blade Runner might have been inspired by this book, but the film just uses ideas from the book, which tells a different story with a broader scope. The Earth has been devastated by a war, the people are encouraged to leave and the only ones left are cling-ons and people too genetically screwed up by the dust to qualify as human enough to emigrate.
Bounty hunter Rick Deckard has an electronic sheep and everyone is obsessed with owning animals, which are in short supply. Rick is a free-lance exterminator of escaped androids and when Dave, the force's chief bounter hunter is taken out, Rick sees a chance to make some quick cash and buy a live animal. Unfortunately for Rick, the andys are at least as clever as he is and he has to work, and suffer, for his money.
Valis (1981) The drug-ravaged central character, the laboriously named Horselover Fat, has a God obsession and he associates with seriously weird people in the seriously weird parts of the United States. No wonder he's not right in the head. There is a lot of blah in these 230-some pages. Some of the stuff between the blah is readable. This is probably a book about which people are pretentious or precious because it looks like it might mean something. But it's mostly blah, if not horse feathers, and it is definitely not one the serious student of science fiction would read twice; assuming he or she gets through it once.
- Dickinson, Peter
- It's unusual to come across a really original setting and an original type of character who's investigating a murder on a fairly unofficial basis. Mr. Dickinson manages both in The Poison Oracle [Hodder & Stoughton, 1974] and it's well worth tracking down a copy of this interesting book. In fact, Mr. Dickinson has a talent for the original/peculiar. Sometimes it works, sometimes it needs a lot of patience on the part of the reader.
- Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan
- The Lost World & Other Stories (1912-1929) contains 3 novels and 2 short stories about Professor Challenger. The first is the classic story about dinosaurs and primitive ape-men on a plateau in South America. The Poison Belt is an end-of-the-world romance with a "with one bound" finish. The Land of Mist reflects Doyle's obsession with spiritualism and makes the poor old professor subscribe to a load of tripe. The two stories are a bit of daft sci-fi and really demented sciffy stuff respectively.
- Durbridge, Francis
- Bat Out of Hell (1972) is a rather odd fish in the 2012 Arcturus Crime Classics PB edition. It has the look of a 1930s effort featuring The Saint or one of his detective contemporaries. In fact, it's the book of the pilot of a 1966 BBC TV series. I know the author's name but I've never heard of the TV series. The story is about murder and a complex series of blackmails, and there's a lot of smoking in it, which dates it rather. John Thaw played Detective Inspector Clay in the TV version before he became Jack Regan in The Sweeney.
- Fast, Howard
- A Touch of Infinity: 13 new stories of fantasy & science fiction (1972/73) Some of them are good, some aren't, some have a good basic idea but fizzle out through lack of inspiration. There's quite a lot of religious stuff in the collection as the author is American.
- Gardner, John
- The creator of Boysie Oakes, lecherous and blundering secret agent, and the author of a number of Bond books borrowed another character in the 1970s. The Return of Moriarty and The Revenge of Moriarty chronicle the evil Professor's life of crime and the extent of his influence on Victorian London in the 1890s. An interesting read and well worth tracking down.
- Gibbons, Stella
- The collision between Flora Post and the totally weird Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm has to be on any must-read list.
- Gilchrist, John
- Lifeline (1976) This is a work of political satire set in 1998. Britain is a tiny part of a vast Soviet empire in Europe and Asia run by the usual privileged grabbers and traitors. Along comes an infernal machine, which throws a whole gang of cats among the stooge pigeons, forcing them to make choices between things they value. The bad guys obligingly reveal all to the central character and narrator, a traitor turned grabber, who has a personal Valkyrie episode at the end. A very neat plot idea.
- Gordon, Richard
- Famous for his humorous books with a medical background, e.g. Doctor In The House and at least nine others in the same "Doctor" series. The Doctor books were much filmed - the films still appear on TV occasionally - and they spawned stage plays and radio and TV series before going out of fashion.
- Grey, Zane
- Riders of the Purple Sage is a classic Western adventure full of Mormon-bashing; which was quite popular once.
- Goulart, Ron
- Hawkshaw (1972) This is a quest SF novel. America has gone seriously wonky and Noah Kraft, a reporter for 13 Colonies Affiliated News, is sent to investigate a werewolf and the Robin Hood Foundation (which robs the poor to give to the rich) and all sorts of other weirdness, including underground concentration camps, in which disappeared liberals are stashed. Oh, dear! the unfortunate side effect of that pacifier gas! [could be taken as a Hawkmoon (Moorcock) parody if you squint a bit]
- Heller, Joseph
- Catch 22 was Catch 18 when it came off the author's typewriter. But the name had to be changed and it eclipsed Mr. Heller's subsequent writing career. The book is set in World War II and the central character is Yossarian, whose CO want his men to fly more missions than any other squadron for no sound military reason. So Yossarian decides that he's going to say 'NO!' to the system. 'War is insanity', is the message.
- Picture This (1988), in the original Macmillan HB edition, has very annoying page numbers. The heart of the matter is Rembrandt in the process of painting "Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer". A contemporary reviewer, Anne Smith of The Listener, calls it a boring book. It appears to be a combination of a history lesson and Mr. Heller's invented conversations between historical figures plus the thoughts which he attributes to them.
It is a construct which might have had some significance to the author. Its appeal is strictly limited. And the holes in the scholarship leave the reader wondering how much is documented history and how much Mr. Heller made up or glossed over in order to make an invalid point, as on page 99 (the first page of chapter 11).
Is it boring? Yes, it does become increasingly tedious the more the reader lets himself wonder "What is this book for?" In the author's own words: "Don't ask me. I don't know what this means and I don't want to find out." 1/10. But he did write Catch 22.
- Harris, John Wyndham Beynon
- Stowaway To Mars (1972) [originally Planet Plane (1935)] starts off as a social satire aimed at the newspapers of the day and develops in to a rocket flight to Mars. The stowaway is Joan, who claims her father found a robot from Mars but it self-destructed. Mars has deserts and miles-wide canals with vegetation along them, and the mad, cannibalistic machines are hostile. Russians land, Americans crash. Joan meets a Martian, who tells the humans to go home and never come back. The Russians don't make it off Mars, Joan dies giving birth to a half-Martian baby on Earth and the hero who built the rocket goes to Venus next and is never seen again.
The Kraken Wakes (1953) Mysterious red fireballs start to plunge in to the deepest parts of the Earth's oceans. Ships sent with diving equipment are lost and the human race responds with random atom bombs. The establishment refuses to buy Dr. Bocker's alien colonization explanation until the invaders start coming ashore to grab people, melting polar ice to raise the sea level and creating freezing fogs along shore lines. Society drops to bits but the boffins keep beavering away behind the scenes and come up with a way to kill the invaders in the oceans deeps. As usual with Mr. Harris, the mindless Soviet system comes in for a good thumping.
- Harrison, Harry
- Deathworld (1960) this is rightly rated as one of the classics of the period. It tells the story of a chancer who ends up on a planet where the animal and plant evolves just to kill off the humans who are mining heavy metals there. Jason dinAlt's psionic powers are the key to discovering why other humans can live at peace with the planet elsewhere and giving the people of Pyrrus a better future.
- The Stainless Steel Rat Saves The World (1972) It's tough being Jim di Griz because that nasty Harrison bloke keeps dropping him in it when a chapter ends. There's a monster attacking the Special Corps by messing with the time-line, causing everyone in the Corp (except Jim but including Mrs. Jim) to vanish because they never existed. Which means that Slippery Jim has to do a lot of whizzing about in pursuit of the bad guy, who has a habit of sneaking away because he knows, from his messing about with time, that Jim is about to get close.
- The QE2 Is Missing (1980) The author is better known for his large canon of SF (Deathworld, The Stainless Steel Rat, etc.) but he comes back to Earth for a mystery involving the most famous liner in the world, Nazis, South American dictators, terrorist groups and collaborators of various sorts. Lots of twists and turns along the way.
- The Men from P.I.G. And R.O.B.O.T. (1967 & 74) Space is really big, which means that policing Earth's zone of influence is a really difficult, if not impossible, task. This collection of two long stories suggests how animals and machines may be used; with a humorous Harrison touch.
- Hasek, Jaroslav
- A totally disreputable character, he managed to complete only 4 volumes of a 6-part sequence begun with The Good Soldier Svejk. The Svejk saga in a riotous account of confrontations between authority figures and a ruthlessly cunning, if dim, Czech old soldier, who wants to go off to war when the Great War breaks out. Svejk manages to do a marvellous job of destroying the morale of the Austrian officer corps and the English translations of the stories are very highly recommended.
- Herbert, Brian
- Sidney's Comet (1988) It's 2605 and aliens from outer space are fed up with being the recipients of garbage fired into their part of the void from the Earth. Thus they have created an immense garbage comet and set it on a collision course with their tormentors' homeworld. The bureaucratic government there is too obsessed with committees to be able to do anything in time. But can Sidney Molloy, a delusional cappy, save the day? There is also a commentary from a subsequent point in time running through the book, so the answer has to be some sort of a yes.
- Herbert, Frank
- Eye (1985) This swansong, published in the year before the author's death, covers the 30 years of his career and is described as "a stunning collection of short fiction" and "not to be missed" on the back cover. The 32-page extract from a novel, Dragon In The Sea was a bad choice. The Tactful Saboteur provides redemption and the rest of the book leaves the reader with a good idea of the writer's ability to create strange and exotic people and places. Yes, not to be missed.
- Heyerdahl, Thor
- First, come up with your theory. Then prove it's possible by doing it. That's exactly what the author and his equally intrepid companions did on The Kon-Tiki Expedition, when they travelled across the Pacific Ocean from Peru toward Tahiti on a raft made of balsa wood.
- Hilton, John Buxton
- Hangman's Tide (1975) features the murder of an eccentric lady historian, the secrets of a divided family, which has lived in the East Anglian Fens for ages, and a copper, who thinks that he can solve cases by annoying everyone by telling silly stories. A fine collection of weird people.
- Hope, Anthony
- Both The Prisoner of Zenda and its sequel Rupert of Hentzau are tales of plots and counter-plots in Ruritania, a land of castles and dirty dealing somewhere in Europe. The Prisoner, at least, has been filmed and is probably due for a remake.
- Hornung, E.W.
- Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman starts off as jolly fun but it's all aimed at showing that anyone who goes off the rails and starts nicking stuff from people who appear to have too much is bound to come to a bad end.
- Innes, Hammond
- Author of The Mary Deare, Campbell's Kingdom and The Land God Gave To Cain, in the 40s and 50s, and North Star in the 70s, Hammond Innes was someone who travelled all over the world and then wrote best-sellers set in the places that he had visited. A quality author.
- Air Bridge (1951) is set against the background of the Berlin Airlift of 1948/49, when the Russians tried to blag the whole of the former German capital by cutting the road corridor, but the Allies supplied their sectors by air to frustrate them. A ruthless ex-RAF pilot has engine designs stolen from the Germans, which will revolutionize the economics of air transport and make him a fortune if he can join the airlift. He has a "likeable Cockney" under this thumb and he blackmails another pilot, who's on the run from the police, in to joining the team. Tension all the way to the violent ending. A good read.
- The Strange Land (1954) This is an adventure set in North Africa in the 1950s, when France was still a significant colonial power, which had yet to be booted out of Vietnam. The Europeans do a lot of sneaking about with a variety of motives, good and sinister, Nature boots everyone in the teeth and the natives are a simple people who can turn murderous at the drop of a hat. Not so much a who-dunnit? as a what-are-they-up-to-and-why?
- The Land God Gave To Cain (Collins, 1958, 15s.) This is a tale of life and death and mystery in Labrador, a vast wilderness in Canada produced by the last ice age. Ian Ferguson wants to vindicate his late father, not realizing that he is about to travel to the place where his grandfather met his end at the hands of the grandfather of one of his travelling companions. He does a fair amount of suffering surrounded by people who would rather see the truth remain lost in the wilderness for a range of reasons.
- Johns, Captain W.E.
- Biggles In France (1935) It has always struck me as strange that collections of WW I stories like these are sold as children's books, because they contain aerial warfare red in tooth and claw, with advice such as Baron von Richthofen's maxim: 'When attacking two-seaters, kill the gunner first'. This and the other books in the series tell it like it is around the jolly japes and light relief, and they are well worth exploration by adults.
- Keel, John A.
- The Fickle Finger of Fate: A Camp Classic For Adults Only (1966, 3/6, 6/- Australia) Given that this Hodder Fawcett paperback is 50 years old, it's entirely probably that this is the only copy left in existence. Which is rather a shame as our hero, the superhero Satyr-Man, the alter ego of impoverished playboy Parker Potter III, does battle with the BGs of G.Y.P. for 160 pages (with full-page illustrations), and then he's left heading for the Moon in a stolen Apollo capsule with TO BE CONTINUED... as the last words of this volume. What are the chances of getting hold of a copy of the 50-year-old sequel to find out what happens to our hero? Slim to none, at a guess.
- Lem, Stanislaw
- Solaris (1961) is a weird planet which can regulate its own orbit around 2 stars, and has a vast ocean, which is a life-form. Humans have been studying the planet for years and getting nowhere in understanding, explaining and communicating with the ocean. The narrator, Kelvin, a psychologist, goes to a research station, which hovers over the ocean, and finds the 3 surviving scientists freaked out and hiding away in their quarters.
He discovers that each has a companion created by the ocean when a version of Rheya, a girlfriend who committed suicide, appears in his quarters. When Rheya realizes she's not the genuine article, she tried to kill herself. But the constructs are restored by the ocean. Kelvin wants to leave the station with her but Rheya manages to disintegrate herself. Kelvin is left wondering whether to stay on Solaris in the hope that Rheya returns or move on.
- Lange, John (alias Michael Crichton)
- Scratch One (1967) What does a writer do when he's still learning his trade? He writes books like this under a pen name. It's all about a guy who's dragged in to a major international bad guy event because they think he's a hit-man because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Roger Carr gets a bit banged, and shot up a bit, but he comes out of it in one piece.
- Binary (1972) There's a crazy billionnaire planning to murder vast numbers of Americans in this prototype of the TV series 24. There's a prologue and epilogue around chapters, each devoted to 1 hour of the Day of Action. Federal Agent John Graves has to unravel the plot to find out what exactly the nutter his planning and how to frustrate his knavish tricks. The bad guy has set the whole thing up as a puzzle with Graves' official psychological profile as the key.
- Laumer, Keith
- A Trace of Memory (1963) a no-hoper called Legion joins an immensely rich guy called Foster on a quest to find Foster's lost memory; which extends across many lifetimes, if his diary is to be believed. They arrive at Stonehenge and the next thing you know, they're off in to the void on an alien spaceship, which has been in orbit for millennia. Real SF with aliens and a spaceship and advanced technology.
- Lucas, George
- Star Wars (1976) A novel lets the author put lots more flesh on the story than a film (released in 1977, later retitled as Episode 4 of the series), and the droids have much bigger parts in the early events than I remember from the film. "The ship that made the Kessel run in less than 12 standard time parts" is the original quote. And there's mention of an imperial battle station the size of a moon, which is attacked and wrecked, but nothing about a Death Star. Pointless fact: George Lucas can't spell 'minuscule' and neither can his editor. Not a bad read.
- Martin, George R.R.
- Tuf Voyaging (1987) is a collection of stories from Analog about Haviland Tuff, a traders who acquires a 30 km long, 1,000 year old EEC seed ship by outliving the other claimants. The Arc was sent to bring plagues down on a troublesome alien planet and it contains a wealth of genetic material and cloning facilities. Tuff sets himself up as a jobbing planetary ecologist, and makes several trips to S'uthlam, a planet where the natives believe they have a divine right to breed recklessly and unchecked, and invade their neighbours when their home planet is no longer able to support their zillions.
- Mason, A.E.W.
- The Four Feathers (1902) is out of the same box as Beau Geste. The hero is accused of cowardice and sets out to prove to his accusers that he's an okay bloke.
- Mason, Douglas
- The Phaeton Condition (1973) Society and the world are a mess, and the police are jumping on anyone who points this out. Accountant Tom Lockhart spots that cash is disappearing stealthily from a corporate account. His bosses find out that he knows that they have been spending billions on the ultimate escape plan from a world which they have polluted past what would be called a 'tipping point' by global warming fraudsters. The bosses turn nasty. Lockhart has to come up with a way to survive or die. The slogan of the book is TWIG Toxic Waste Is Gaining.
- Monsarrat, Nicholas
- The author is known for his books with a nautical background and The Cruel Sea is the most well-known of them. Set in World War Two, the book follows the fortunes of the crew of an escort vessel on Atlantic convoy duty, running the U-Boat gauntlet and struggling to bring supplies from the United States to the British Isles.
- Moorcock, Michael
- Hawkmoon (1967-69/1992) An incredible amount of BS has been written by reviewers who were seeking to make themselves look learned by finding wonderful contemporary allegories in what was mainly hack work. But for all that, Moorcock's sword 'n' sorcery does have readability and its very lack of anchors to when it was written gives it a lasting quality.
This is Volume 3 of the saga of the Eternal Champion. On the down side, there is a hell of a lot of repetition in the four novels that make up the collection. But on the up side, the tale is endlessly inventive and when the author finds himself in a tight corner, there are endless possibilities for hurling in to play, a deus ex machina from science lost 1,000 years before in a global catastrophe as well as the Runestaff's weirdness.
- MacDonnell, A.G.
- The Factory on the Cliff (1928) Done out of a golfing holiday in Scotland by a dislocated thumb, our hero stumbles across a band of mad anarchists. The leader is unable to kill his enemies fast enough with bombs and bullets, so he's moving in to germ warfare. Our hero falls for the mad bad guy's daughter, even though she's a cold-hearted psychopath, and he and his buddies help to protect the anarchist from his enemies. And it's only the timely intervention of the police that keeps the stoopid hero alive. People were very weird in the early 20th century!
- McLean, Alistair
- The author started his career with a best-seller - HMS Ulysses, which was filmed, and went on to write a whole string of block-busters, including The Guns of Navarone and Fear Is The Key, and he provided the film industry with a whole lot of material. The early books tend to be better but most of them are worth a read. Some of them, such as Goodbye, California contains masses of statistics about the theme of the book - the nuclear industry in the United States in this case - and they can get a bit tedious.
- O'Brien, Tim
- Going After Cacciato (1975-78) The 2015 PB edition is unusual in that the text is printed in bold. As someone who has read thousands of bux, I have no memory of another done like that. Maybe the reason is that this is a dense book in the sense that the author is big on describing what it was like in Vietnam and what happened to some of the people sent there during the unpleasantness of the 1960s and 70s. He does not stint on words; in support of a rather ludicrous plot device.
This is not so much a novel as a collection of bitz bolted together with lapses in to the super-ludicrous when the plot gets extra silly. Toward the end, I began to wonder if it was so silly that it would all turn out to be the fantasy life flashing before a dying soldier's eyes right after the VC blew him up. But that's one trick the author forgot to use, and it all just fizzles out.
- Orwell, George
- Down & Out In Paris & London is probably his best book and shines a spotlight on life behind the scenes in posh hotels and doss-houses for down and outs in the Twenties. Homage to Catalonia, set in the Spanish Civil War, and The Road To Wigan Pier are also worth reading. Orwell's non-fiction tends to be better than his fiction - e.g. 1984, Animal Farm - and full of fascinating bits and pieces.
- Priest, Christopher
- Inverted World (1974) This is one of the most original science fiction stories you will find. The central character lives in a city called Earth, which has to be hauled painfully across the landscape on tracks, crossing plains, swamps and river gorges. Helward Mann is allowed to discover the extraordinary reason for the city's relentless progress, and there's a real surprise twist at the end. Highly recommended.
- Remarque, Erich Maria
- This author wrote only eight novels, so a complete collection doesn't take up much bookshelf space but it will take some assembling. His first and only famous novel is All Quiet on the Western Front. Set in the First World War, the tone is so anti-war that it was banned in Germany during the militarist period pre-1945. His other works include The Way Back, a sequel to All Quiet, and The Black Obelisk, which contains unexpected humour among his output of general doom and gloom.
- Reynolds, Mack
- Looking Backward, From The Year 2000 is set in 2002 and it's quite amusing to read the book, published in 1973, in the real-life 2002. Science fiction author Mr. Reynolds presents a society with no cities, no spirits and no alcoholics, no farms producing livestock for meat, no wars and no money. And every home is an office if the occupant so wishes. Amazing how far off the beam someone can be when he looks forward just 30 years. Pity about the silly ending.
- Russell, Eric Frank
- One of the masters of science fiction. Wasp (1957) is the story of a secret service man, who is sent out to cause panic on an alien planet - singlehanded! In Next of Kin, the hero takes a piece of bent copper wire ... and conquers the universe! Anything by this author is well worth reading, e.g.: Far Stars (1961) a collection of stories. Scouts flit among the stars, looking for inhabited planets and sending back an unhelpful and brief message when they find one. Earthers are the dominant species but they sometimes run in to a species which can't be dominated. The Great Explosion (1962) There was a mass exodus of minorities from Earth after the Blieder Drive was perfected. A century later, Earth would like the deserters back under its thumb. Only the military expedition sent to sort out the defectors runs in to severe problems. Three To Conquer (1955) A classic SF story set in 1980 featuring Wade Harper, a telepath. He has helped the police and the FBI bring criminals to justice and he keeps digging when he comes across a dying policeman. But things go really pear-shaped when he makes contact with another mind; and finds it belongs to an alien from Venus!
- Schulz, Charles
- Snoopy: drôles d'osieaux! (1975, no translation credit) The things you find when discovering just what you have on your bookshelves. This volume, in French, features mainly Snoopy's encounters with Woodstock.
- Shaw, Bob
- Ship of Strangers (1978) is a sequence of stories about one of the survey teams sent to uninhabited planets in "The Bubble", the territory occupied by the expanding human race. The book is loosely based on stories which appeared in SF mags. Dave Surgenor is the connecting thread in a set of very readable adventures, which get a bit too fantastical at the end.
- Shirer, William L.
- At over 1,200 pages long, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is considered to be the definitive study of the 12-year history of Nazi Germany. And at £1.00 from a book club as an incentive to join, it was a dead bargain. Berlin Diary by the same author gives a much more personal view of what life was like under the Nazis from 1934 until the United States got involved in World War Two at the end of 1941.
- Sheckley, Robert
- Mindswap (1966) This is a bit of proper science fiction set off-Earth and it's not something which can date. Marvin Flynn has an urge to travel and swaps minds with a Martian; who turns out to be a crook. Marvin has a series of adventures in various other bodies, which gets rather bogged down towards the end. But the book is rescued somewhat by a sudden plot twist. And there's another tweak at the end.
- Shute, Nevil
- Prolific Australian author of No Highway, On The Beach, Round The Bend, The Chequer Board, A Town Like Alice, etc. Seeing his name on the spine of a book is generally a guarantee of a good read. Some of his books are works of speculative fiction. In The Wet, for instance, was published in 1953, the Coronation Year, but it includes a sequence set in the 1980s. Britain is in decline with all the get-up-and-go people emigrating to Australia and Canada, leaving less ambitious people at the mercy of a Socialist-envy government led by Trade Union non-entities. And Prince Charles has two sons.
- Simenon, Georges
- Mainly Maigret This 1946 Readers' Union collection contains 3 novels from the early days, before Maigret and the gang became established in Paris. It contains translations of Le Locataire (1934), Un Crime en Holland (1931) and Au Rendez-Vous des Terre Nuevas (1931). In all of them, Inspector Maigret runs in to uncommunicative people, and in the middle novel, his problems are compounded by investigating in a country where he doesn't speak the language. The last one, in which he takes Madame Maigret on holiday whilst he investigates the death of a trawler captain, is probably the best of them.
- Smith, Thorne
- The Stray Lamb (1930) Like those of the Canadian Stephen Leacock, the American Mr. Smith's humorous books were HUGE in the early part of the 20th century. The copy of this book just read is an 11th edition published in a cheap form in 1942 for a wartime audience in Britain. Mr. Smith indulges in flights of fancy and fantasy set among everyday life in urban and suburban America. In this one, a Mr. Lamb encounters an ear then a strange little man, who turns him in to a shape-shifter with startling consequences for those around him, including Hebe, his daughter, Sapho, his reluctant wife and Sandra, the owner of the ear.
- Spillane, Mickey
- The Mike Hammer series has become historical novels now. The series starts in the period just after World War Two. It charts a time when men were men, who had a gun in one hand and a drink or cigarette in the other, and a stunning blonde in tow. A great antidote to the wishy-washy politically correct era of the 1990s/2000s. Probably to be found only as browning paperbacks with 2/6 or 3/6 as the price tag.
- I, The Jury (1947) Hammer's best mate is done in. Lt. Chambers of Homicide wants to put the killer before a jury. Hammer wants to be judge, jury and executioner. He encounters a nymphomaniac along the way, and a lady psychiatrist, who explains the other lady. At the rate Hammer smokes and puts away booze, he'll never be rich. Will he die of lung cancer and/or alcoholic liver failure? Will he win his bet with Det. Chambers and get to the killer first? Well, he is the hero of the epic.
- Vengeance Is Mine (1950) Mike Hammer, Private I, the toughest SoB on the planet, can have all the dames that throw themselves at him but he can't have the one his wants, his office assistant, Velda, because when he gets close to a dame, she's croaked. Hammer loses his licence, thanks to his enemy, the DA. But he carries on rampaging with the help of his ally, Homicide Captain Pat Chambers. Hammer gets his clock cleaned. Bad guys get dead. And there's a big, shock ending which rocks Hammer to his foundations. The first of a long series.
- The Big Kill (1951) Oh, dear, Hammer goes all soft & mushy over a case which starts with a guy parking his kid in a bar and going out to be done in by his accomplices. Oh, dear, Hammer is supposed to be engaged to Zelda but he's still drooling up close & personal over other women. Gambling and corruption are the themes, and blackmail, and Hammer gets real lucky at the end.
- One Lonely Night (1951) In the 4th Mike Hammer epic, he comes up against dirty, stinking rotten Commies, who were a very big part of the under-the-bed scene in the immediate post-war years in the US. They're plotting no good right out in the open in New York and engaged in espionage. But Mike Hammer has a gun, and lots of front, and he knows how to use them to frustrate knavish tricks. And he's exactly the crazy killer a dotty old judge called him in the opening pages. And when Hammer runs in to twins; well, the outcome of the previous book pressed the 'suspicion' button and kept it pressed!
- My Gun Is Quick (1950) Hammer has a brief encounter and the dame gets dead, like anyone who gets close to him. Then a dame falls for him. Hmm. Don't give her much of a chance. Meanwhile, there are clues to a call-girl racket, which is paying off the rich and respectable, and the political movers and shakers. They have lots of juice but Mike Hammer has a gun, tenacity, some juice via his pal Pat, and a charmed life.
- Smith, Henry T.
- Death In Small Corners is the first episode of a pentalogy, in which the central character is Johnny Royle, 'a man born without a conscience'. Royle has a talent for strolling casually in to trouble, expecting to come out in one piece on the other side. His part-time job as a cocaine smuggler brings him to the attention of a boss with lethal sporting instincts. His assassin friend Lenny Suskin's plans to recreate himself bring Royle to the attention of his local police force. Extraordinary things happening as everyday life goes on around them, that's the theme of the series.
- Sohl, Jerry
- Costigan's Needle (1953) is a highly original work of science fiction with religious nutters as the BGs. It develops in to a modern version of the Robinson Crusoe story, and it is well worth a read.
- Stasheff, Christopher
- The Warlock In Spite Of Himself (1969) First read when it came out in paperback in 1974, revisited in 2010. "Rod Gallowglass" lands on a lost planet to bring it back in to the galactic civilization but he finds himself in a mock mediaeval society with knights in armour, a stroppy young queen called Catharine, witches, elves, gnomes, ghosts and sinister time-travellers from the future, who provoke a civil war. Everyone thinks that Gallowglass is a warlock because he has a mechanical horse and some modern technology. He repairs the damage done by the bad guys because Gramarye has telepaths, who are needed to keep the galactic civilization's lines of communication open and prevent a slide in to totalitarianism. A comedy and one that works.
- Sturgeon, Theodore
- More Than Human (1953) This is a novel-length collection of three short stories. The middle story appeared in Galaxy in 1952 and the others are set before and after it. The author explores the concept of homo gestalt as the next evolutionary step; a group of highly dysfunctional individuals who can combine their talents to form something special. I did not find Mr. Sturgeon's characters terribly engaging and it was not until the latter half of episode 3 that the story started to become interesting but it was a bit too late by then.
- Turner, Harry
- Triad Optical Illusions and how to design them is a large format Dover Publications softback which explores the theory and practice of drawing objects which are physically impossible to construct in our 3-dimensional world. The book contains ideas galore, templates for impossible object building blocks and 32 sample designs to admire and colour. A tour de force by an internationally acknowledged expert in the field.
NOTE: ISBN 0486235491 is still available from amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com [Feb/2002].
- van Vogt, A.E.
- Slan (1940 Astounding serial, 1946 novel) "Having read this book in paper back in the early 1960s, I was surprised to find in 2010 that the main characters start off as children and that the plot is Oliver Twist and the Princess in the Tower meet Big Brother with overtones of Things To Come and Doc. Smith. Jommy Cross is a slan, a telepath who is faster and stronger than normal humans, who is liable to be killed on capture by the humans and whose mutation is supposed to have been created by human experiments. But he finds out that this last is rubbish and there are two sorts of slans, true slans like himself and a non-telepathic sort, who have world domination ambitions, space travel and a plan to wipe out all humans and true slans. The book lends rather abruptly after revealing that the slans are natural mutations of the human strain and none of the inter-slan and slan-human conflicts are resolved."
- Vonnegut, Kurt
- The Sirens of Titan (1959) can best be described as tosh with a God obsession. Mr. V. doesn't do reality, he offers an alternative universe, where an odd individual screws with the lives of everyone else, wiping out large numbers of them (in what is probably a merciful release) and leaving the rest wallowing in craziness. The guy responsible for the mayhem has the cheek to blame everything on aliens living 150,000 light years away. The book is now published as part of a series of SF Masterworks, which is grounds for action under the Trades Descriptions Act.
Cat's Cradle (1963) proves that Mr. V. can put together a (fairly) coherent story if he makes an effort. But he was unable to resist tossing in the usual suspects of religion and human grotesques. This story also contains a McGuffin Ice 9, a contagious form of water which turns liquid water in to a solid at a good 20 degF. above the normal human body temperature. And the McGuffin is deployed at the end to kill the planet by freezing the oceans and any humans who touch Ice 9. So Mr. Vonnegut's down on the entire human race continues.
- Wolfe, Bernard.
- Limbo '90 (1952) is set in 1990 after a nuclear war directed by machines devastated most of the world. The response was self-mutilation; removal of perfectly good arms & legs; and the growth of an Immobilization cult based on the notes of Dr. Martine as twisted by his scumbag acquaintance Helder. Amputees acquire atomic powered prosthetic limbs, which leads to a columbium race as this element is needed for the artificial limbs. Martine returns to what's left of the USA as the Eastern Blok's plan to launch an assault come to fruition and all the leaders are taken out by the Assassination Clause. Unusually, a book written 60 years ago still works in the 21st century.
- Wren, P.C.
- Much filmed and borrowed from, Beau Geste is the classic tale of the French Foreign Legion, refuge of the disgraced and those seeking to regain lost honour. There are mysterious goings on in England over the Blue Water, a sapphire which disappears, and out in the African desert at Fort Zinderneuf.
- Wyndham, John
- The Day of the Triffids (1951) Forget the film. The book holds up well 60 years on, and there are explanations in there for the reader to find about the origin of the triffids and the green lights in the sky. This is a classic survival tale in a post-apocalyptic world, it is well written and it is well worth visiting and re-visiting.
- Zoshchenko, Michael
- The Woman Who Could Not Read and other tales (1940) Living and writing in the truly awful Communist state, with World War II about to break out and the dictator and mass murderer Stalin still in place, Mr. Z. can still describe life in this jobsworth world entertainingly and with humour. A very good read.
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- Anderson, Kevin J.
- The Martian War (2012) Things are happening on Mars and the immensely rich Percival Lowell and the infamous Dr. Moreau create a vast signal to attract a Martian visitor's attention. Meanwhile, the eminent T.H. Huxley, the ailing H.G. Wells and his girlfriend, Jane, have an encounter with the Invisible Man, a notorious spy, and take trips to the Moon and Mars. They learn that the dying Martians have kidnapped inhabitants of the Moon to use as food and slaves, and Earth is next. Huxley and Moreau reach the same conclusion. Luckily, the invisible spy has provided the travellers with the means to frustrate the Martians' knavish tricks.
- Billingham, Mark
- Scardey Cat (2002) is got up like a blockbuster in the paperback edition. It's a cop story featuring DI Tom Thorne, who doesn't get on with his bosses and who's looking for a killer with a dangerous talent for making other join in his murderous escapades. The red herrings are artfully hurled.
- Time of Death (2015) DI Tom Thorne is a maverick, like Rebus and all the rest, and his ladyfriend, DS Helen Weeks, has a terrible secret. She goes back to where she grew up to support a school friend, whose husband has been arrested for abducting two teenagers, one of whom is chained up somewhere. The local DI is a tosser, so it's up to Thorne and Weeks to work out who did what, unravel the cute forensics and nail the killer. This is about a 350 page novel bloated to 538 pp by overzealous line spacing. But it is set in Plantin.
- Booth, Stephen
- If you want to know about policing in Derbyshire, Black Dog (2000) is the book for you. It's all either very well researched or, if Mr. Booth is anything like most of the Romiley Literary Circle authors, it's all made up in a very convincing fashion. Rural Derbyshire is full of angst, jealousy, hostility and resentment. Oh, yes, and criminals and totally awkward sods. Among the ranks of the coppers, everyone is either on the make or being overlooked when they're not boozing like mad. And when it comes to solving the rather bizzarely motivated murder, well, they just trip over the solution when it drops dead in front of them. Bit weird but not a bad read.
- The Corpse Bridge (2014) is set in Plantin, which is good, but about 14/17 point, which is big, baby type with lots of space to bulk the paperback out to 469 pages when maybe 280 would have been more than enuf. What's the book about? A police investigation of a death where Derbyshire meets Staffordshire, where change collides with traditional weirdness and murder results, some of it for motives that make little sense. DS Ben Cooper has to unravel the mystery under the gaze of the robotic DS Diane Fry, a cop who is as weird as any of the customers.
- The Murder Road (2015) starts with a mysterious and bloody disappearance of a lorry driver in Derbyshire; a case for DI Ben Cooper, in to which is weird pal DS Diane Fry is bound to intrude. The author paints a lengthy word picture of New Mills some 70 pages in to the PB edition; and shoots himself in the foot. Having walked through the town thousands of times over two decades, I can confirm that there's a huge sweet factory there, but I have never, ever been assaulted by a sickly, overpowering smell from it. Oh, dear? What else has he got wrong? As for the plot, there's a murder and a suicide, and everything goes back to misconceptions from an RTA 8 years before, DI Cooper reckons.
- Braben, Eddie
- The Book What I Wrote (2004) comes from the man who wrote scripts for Morcame & Wise after Sid & Dick jacked it in. He has constructed a very readable story of his own life around this main theme. As well as writing for TV; Mr. Braben includes Ken Dodd in his client list; he also wrote for radio and starred in his own show. An excellent read and trip down memory lane.
- Clarke, Arthur C.
- Profiles of the Future [Millennium Edition] (1999) Originally published in 1962, and reissued revised in 1985 and again in 1999, this is a series of essays containing the science & SF author's views on how he expects the human race to progress in fields such as communications, transport, space travel, etc. Most of the prophecies worked out, although the detail and time scales originally offered can fall short of actual development in some areas. A man who knows what he's talking about presents his thoughts in a very readable fashion.
- Astounding Days (1989) charts his acquaintance with the US SF magazine from the pulp issues of the 1930s until he gave it up in the 1960s to pursue other interests. His observations and notes are inset in autobiography, and it helps to have the early, 1930s issues on your tablet to appreciate fully his comments about the artwork. Very readable.
- Clark, Simon
- The Mammoth Book of Sherlock Holmes Abroad (2015), edited by Simon Clark, is stories commissioned from 14 authors other than the editor, plus one from him, of course. At 472 pp of variable quality, there's quite a lot of reading for your money. (£9.99 cover price, I got it for four quid from BibliophileBooks.com) Some of the stories are expected and predictable, some of the treatments aren't. The editor's is certainly ingenious, and congrats to him on getting a publisher to commission the book so that he could get his own story in to print.
- Cornwell, Patricia
- Dust (2013) is a BIG book: 160 x 242 x 42 mm in the HB edition I got for 6 quid instead of the £18.99 on the jacket. And the reason why it goes to 500 pages is that it is well padded. First, by using generous line spacing to bloat the 140,000 words, and then by shoving in masses of police and forensic procedural stuff, and vast amounts of history about the characters. Doing this is fine in theory but here, it acts like treacle on the plot and removes all sense of drama from it.
Oh, the serial killer was caught in the end? Oh, how spiffing!
The author uses the limitations and advantages of a first-person narrative to avoid the need to step away from the central character, pathologist Kay Scarpetta and obtain a measure of excuse for the padding. If that padding is there to insulate the reader from the horror of the murders so that he/she can stroll through the pages without a hint of concern, it certainly works.
- Crispin, A.C.
- V (1984) The book of the TV mini-series charts the arrival of huge alien spaceships and Visitors with promises to do wonders for the people of Earth. But the aliens turn all scientists in to enemies of the state, set up their own versions of the Stasi and the Hitler Youth, and get busy stealing Earth's water and putting the people in suspended animation as food. Because they're rat-eating lizards under their masks. But there are dissenters in their ranks and the human resistance movement eventually creates a bio-weapon to see off the lizards.
- Edric, Robert
- Salvage (2010) It's 100 years in the future, and there have been plagues and mass slaughters of farm animals and Britain is flooding from the south toward the north. A civil servant called Quinn is sent on an audit to a new construction project Up North as it descends in to chaos, and an attempt to burn the contents of plague pits proves completely inadequate. There is a flavour of Jim Ballard's disaster novels of the 1960s here; the same sense of futility and things happening with no explanation. Similar grotesque characters do irrational things and the whole pointless charade just fizzles out at the end in floods and a freeze.
- Martin Edwards
- Waterloo Sunset (2008) Written by a real Liverpool solicitor, this airport-length adventure features Harry Devlin, a fictional Liverpool solicitor, who doesn't have much soliciting to do. He gets a fake death notice about himself, saying he'll be dead in a week's time. Then his business partner is battered and put in hospital. Harry is a noted investigator since being a suspect for his wife's murder, and he knows a lot of seriously weird people, and some dangerous ones. This is a well-written, attention holding voyage of exploration through the week.
- Foley, Mick
- Have A Nice Day by Mankind [one of Mick Foley's characters] gives an insiders view of life in the television wrestling industry in the United States. Written entirely by the man himself on trans-continental flights, the book confirms that everything that happens in and around the wrestling ring is scripted; but the injuries are real. Anyone watching WWF's output today and wondering what happened to Commissioner Foley's right ear will find out in this book. Mick has a real talent for telling his story.
- Forsyth, Frederick
- The Deceiver (1991) is a novel consisting of 4 long stories with linking text wrapped round them. The stories are episodes in the career of a Cold War warrior, Sam McCready, who is being ditched by an SIS run by dickheads, who think electronic information gathering can replace agents on the ground, and who failed to anticipate Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. The author's body of work began with The Day of the Jackal (1971) and The Odessa File (1972).
- Gored, Jon A.
- Dreamers of the Day is a stunning collision of the rock music industry; lots and lots and lots of cash; a weird being from... well, somewhere; people out to cause trouble just for fun and lots, lots more. Five hundred pages of pure delight. His next offering, Prey is 650 pages of more delight. A police officer undergoes a life-changing event by being on the fringes of a spot of industrial counter-espionage. Detective Sergeant Robson Alkan finds himself better equipped to do his job of spotting predators - but in a way which would cost him his career if he revealed it. More info in The Works section of the RLC website.
- Richard Grant
- Crazy River: a plunge in to Africa (2012) Richard Grant is very much the equivalent of Tony Robinson on Time Team; eternally exploding with frustration at the lack of things happening and experts not doing things his way. He goes to Africa for adventure and finds himself surrounded by people who are annonying scroungers at best and murdering thieves at worst. Most of them are mindlessly wrecking their environment, expecting the rest of the world to pick up the pieces. The whole place is corrupted by idleness and foreign aid, no one does their job without a bribe and examples of enterprise are few and far between. But Mr. Grant does explain evicted prime minister G. Broon's announced "passion for Africa"; it's a place where you can buy a lot of friends very cheaply with other people's money.
- Griffiths, Elly
- A Room Full of Bones (2012) This is a murder mystery centred on Ruth, a forensic anthropologist and police consultant, who has a daughter by Nelson, a copper she works with, who's married and staying with his wife. Ruth has some really weird friends, which include Cathcart, a druid, who knows whole gangs of weirdos. The excavation of the tomb of an ancient bishop leads to 340 pages of murder and twists and turns and weirdness. One snag: the book is written in the present tense, which I find intrusive unless it's a first-person narrative.
Dying Fall (2013) It takes a couple of books to get the MacGuffin: messing about with history. In the previous book, the target was mediaeval history. This one rewrites post-Roman history and the King Arthur myth. There are more bones for Ruth, more crooks for Nelson to watch his old Blackpool buddy tackle and more weirdos, including a return visit by Cathcart. And some neo-Nazis as incidental #88 stuff. 390 pages: as with the last one, topped off with a chapter from another book. Something I never read.
The Outcast Dead (2014) The usual cast assembles for another dose of rewriting history; this time, a woman hanged for child murder turns out to have been a bit of a saint despite her unfortunate appearance. The alleged archaeologist, Ruth, commits a major sin at the dig, and there's a crazed kidnapper of children to give the cops something to do.
- Harris, Robert
- The Ghost is an extremely readable story told by a ghost-writer, who is called in to complete the memoirs of an ex-prime minister, who's about to be indicted for war crimes. The previous ghost, a long-term party hack, was murdered, the new ghost discovers. Which is the fate of a lot of characters courtesy of the CIA. The paperback has a 1" spine and looks like a blockbuster; but that's only because of large type, very generous line spacing and a mere 28 lines per page. Like the former prime minister, it's hyped up. Around page 300, the reader came up with a possible ending. On finishing the book, he decided that his ending was rather more diabolical and satisfying, in a reader-frustrating way, than Mr. Harris's rather conventional conspiracy.
- Harris, Thomas
- Red Dragon: The Hannibal Lecter Story (1981) The Ludicrous Lector does appear in the book, but it's hardly his story. If there was ever someone who needed to be hurled in to the Sacred Volcano to propitiate its god, it's Hannibal the Cannibal with his ludicrous pretence that his senses are so much more acute than anyone else's. This story, in fact, is about the hunt by FBI consultant Will Graham for the Demented Dolarhyde (another candidate for the volcano). The pace tends to drag at times and the 310 pages could have been trimmed to about 250.
- "James Henry"
- Fatal Frost (2012) Just one of the original pair of writers continues the story of Sergeant Frost and his even more invisible wife. There are more murders in Denton, a whiff of racialism which turns out to be a red herring, and Frost devotes even more of his time to the job at the expense of those around him. We are still in the early days, when Frost is a slob at work but making a bit of an effort with his paperwork, and R.D. Wingfield's habitual thread of deliberate child abduction and murder remains absent and not terribly missed. This is a complex web of events, which I found a more satisfying read than the earlier book -- either it is better or I am more used to the new Frost, who unpicks things with a lot more help from his CID colleagues than the original Frost ever got! An absorbing tale and well worth reading.
First Frost (2011) This looks like a big book of length comparable to the final Wingfield novels but it's really 250 pages padded out to 450 by using larger type and lots of spacing between the lines. That said, it starts off just like a classic Frost but it's not written about the 21st century Frost, which is a good way for a new writer to play himself in. Back in the 1980s, Frost was still a DS and his wife was alive, so the foul-mouthed grittiness of Wingfield's Frost is absent and the book tends to have the feel of a story about people who are not the same as the familiar characters, but have the same names. But one thing remains the same -- the bad people of Denton are still getting up to all sorts of nastiness and the chaotic Frost gets there in the end. This is Frost in a new direction, which is worth pursuing.
- Higgins, Jack
- The Eagle Has Flown (1991) The author himself is the star of the first and last chapters, which surround the sequel to the Eagle Has Landed. Some of the principal characters are mixed in with usual suspects and new convenient bad guys, and they form unlikely alliances, plot treachery and bamboozle the reader whilst "playing the game or being played by it". Good read.
Cold Harbour (1990) is more wartime stuff with secret agents in the run-up to D-Day. The spy-masters on the British side of the Channel have no qualms about betraying their own agents to the Germans as part of their strategy. But there are a few good guys who defy them.
Thunder Point (1993) Nearly 40 years after WW II, but we're still doing a war-end Nazi sub on a secret mission, Martin Borman's escape from Berlin and secret documents exposing Nazi sympathizers in the British and American establishments. Throw in a sinister South American, who's after the documents for his own devious purposes, and an IRA terrorist as the "hero", and you've got a Higgins adventure.
- Holt, A.J.
- Watch Me (1995) is the ultimate crime-fighter's fantasy and features FBI agent Jay Fletcher, who becomes disillusioned through official restrictions on searching databases. She has the computer skills to track down serial killers but her bosses and the system won't let her. And when she finds a whole gang of them sharing experiences under the cover of an on-line game, she feels obliged to go on leave become a free-lance exterminator.
- Hogan, Chuck
- The Standoff (1995) Enuf f-words to turn a censor in to a steaming puddle on the floor. It's the story of a siege in Montana beween a weirdo and the FBI. The negotiator is severely damaged goods and the locals all think the weirdo is a great guy. A well-told story but the dust jacket brags that the film rights were sold for a million bucks. I've not been able to find any indication that a film was ever made. Possibly because the book doesn't have a happy, Hollywood ending.
- Horowitz, Anthony
- Moriarty (2014) Holmes and Moriarty have been Reichenbached. An American master criminal, who proposed an alliance with Moriarty, looks like amalgamating their criminal empires. But in his way are an ailing Scotland Yard detective, who tries to be as smart as Sherlock Holmes, and an American Pinkerton agent, who serves as his Watson. So we have the old team back again, sort of, with a rather big twist at the end. Plus a bonus story from Dr. Watson's secret archive (allegedly) at the end: The Three Monarchs.
- Trigger Mortis (2015) is an extension of the James Bond franchise set in the early days of the space race and it includes ideas and a bit of text by Ian Fleming from a TV series which never happened. Bond gets to do a bit of Grand Prix racing to thwart a Smersh agent, then he and Jeopardy Lane go against a crazed Korean, who calls himself Jason Sin. He has a huge grudge against the Yanks and his aim is to knock them out of the space race so that the Russians can win it.
- Idle, Eric
- The Road To Mars could be described as a sci-fi crime/terrorism novel with androids. It's also a thesis on the nature of comedy. The book is well crafted and well written, and even if the plot is a bit strung-out and incidental, the story is well worth reading. But anyone who gets the paperback should be aware that it is printed with a miserable little type size.
- James, Russell
- Painting In The Dark is set in 1997 in the run-up to New Labour's landslide election victory. The book is in part a crime story and in part a warning against charismatic political leaders. One of the main characters is Sidonie Keene, whose sister Naomi knew and admired the Nazi Party leaders in the 1930s and whose portraits of them became highly collectable after the war. The action of the book centres around the paintings. Its deeper message is an explanation of what went wrong in Germany in the Thirties and a suggestion that charismatic politicians like Tony Blair are bound to come unstuck and get their country in to a war.
- Katuryan, Merrik
- Too Boldly Gone (2002) This is a proper SF novel with spaceships. Star Dancer, an exploration vessel, gets too close to an unstable region near a newly formed black hole and it is thrown a long way from home. This relatively short novel charts the journey back to home space and has the mathematicians in the crew as the unlikely heroes.
- Kostova, Elizabeth
- The Historian (2005) is a monumental work (700 pages for 7 quid in paperback!), which charts the involvement of Dracula, a.k.a. the Walachian hero Vlad Tepes III, with a young woman's parents, both of whom have disappeared. She finds an ancient books and a cache of old letters in her father's library, and they set her off on her adventure.
The story is told from the viewpoint of the daughter and both parents, and the reader has to pay attention to keep hold of the threads. The author has done a good job of researching the history of Vlad, according to Romiley Literary Circle's resident expert on him, and this is a long and good read.
- La Plante, Lynda
- A Face in the Crowd (1993) This is the book of one of the Prime Suspect TV series featuring Jane Tennison. The victim is young, black and female, there are racialist coppers and civilians, there's a racialist MP on the make, and when it comes to nasty bastards, there's not much to choose between the perps and the senior coppers. And guess what? DCI Jane gets stitched up and passed over good and proper.
- Silent Victims (1994) Passed over for promotion in A Face in the Crowd, DCI Tennyson has moved to Vice, where she finds herself in a case involving underage rent boys and paedophiles, with a murder thrown in. As an added complication, the paedophiles include members of the Establishment and a senior copper. But DCI Jane will never stand aside when the bosses try to put the kybosh on one of her cases.
- Leather, Stephen
- Cold Kill (2006)
A 500-page study of the effects of counter-terrorism work on British people doing it. The hero is an undercover cop, a widower and guilty about neglecting his son. His department goes through an upsetting change of command and he has little confidence in the new female boss.
The background is world-wide terrorist attacks by Al Qaida and attempts to stop an atrocity in Britain. The Americans are painted as black as the Islamic terrorists because they have adopted robust tactics against them. The hero doesn't want to be a killer, which he is obliged to become. And the terrorists are unstoppable. Kill off one operation and another succeeds. A long read which moves along very nicely.
- Malkin, Lawrence
- Krueger's Men (2006) is an account of the Nazi plot, run by Major Bernhard Krueger of the SS, to flood the world with counterfeit British currency as a way to win World War II. Concentration camp prisoners were used to manufacture notes, which could fool Bank of England officials. The original plan to drop planeloads of the notes over England was abandoned in favour of a much more cunning alternative. Great stuff.
- May, Peter
- Extraordinary People (2006) Enzo McLeod, an academic forensic expert, takes a bet to solve the 7 most notorious French murders. He upsets the French justice system by proving that a 10-year-old missing person case, which the French cops failed miserably to solve, was a murder by finding parts of the missing university professor's body and clues to more bits. He also upsets the murderers, who thought they'd got away with it. They take increasingly desperate steps to stop the relentless McLeod. This is a 300-page novel bulked up to 440 pp and a 17 mm blockbuster spine width by excessive line spacing and a chapter from another book.
- Mortimer, John
- Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders (2004) Horace Rumpole, the Old Bailey Hack, has referred throughout his long career to winning this case 'alone and without a leader'. Finally, Rumpole fans have a chance to find out how he did it. The story is presented as sections of memoirs within a contemporary setting, and it keeps the reader wanting to go on and on until he/she reaches the last of the 215 pages. Highly recommended.
- Mosley, Walter
- All I Did Was Shoot My Man (2012) is a lengthy tale of robbery, guilt about a frame up, and murder and mayhem as Leonid McGill, the private eye responsible for the frame-up, gets his victim out of gaol and starts to unravel the whole puzzle surrounding a much bigger robbery than anyone suspected. He's a dysfunctional guy with a ditto family and ditto relationship with the cops and authority figures. At the end, as in real life, it all tends to fizzle out instead of coming to a nice, neat conclusion.
- Ed McBain (Evan Hunter)
- Fat Ollie's Book (2002) is billed as an 87th Precinct novel but it's mainly about Olly Weeks, who at the 88th. But Trade Descriptions Act and accuracy are out of the window now, yeah? That said, this is an involved stroll around the city of Isola, which is full of weird people, with an opening murder. And 300 pages worth exploring, if only for the mockery of police-procedure novels, which were Mr. Hunter's bread and butter.
- McDevitt, Jack
- An amateur astronomer spots a new comet during a total solar eclipse. It's coming at the Solar System at an unusually high speed after travelling through the cosmos for billions of years. And it's going to smash right in to the Moon! Moonfallis a big book (464 pages) with a big story to tell.
- Patterson, James
- Pop Goes The Weasel (1999) is a touchy, feely DC homicide detective and psychologist, Alex Cross, who has had lots of tragedy in his life, versus a totally whacked out British guy, who works for MI6, spends most of his time zonked on a whole list of pharmaceuticals, exploits his diplomatic immunity recklessly and kills lots of people as part of a game he plays with three other spy types. Geoffrey Shafer, of course, is one of those zombie killers who never go away, which saves the writer the bother of inventing a new villain if he gets stuck for one. 4/10
- Patterson, James + Ledwidge, Michael
- Step On A Crack (2007) is an established writer providing the name you can see on the cover and, probably, an assistant doing most of the work in what is a rattling good yarn. Bad guys kill the former First Lady to hold rich people to ransom at her funeral, and they run rings round the New York cops, the FBI and the Secret Service. Our hero is the negotiator cop, who has 10 adopted kids and a wife dying of cancer. The bad guys get away with it, the wife croaks, but Det. Bennett works out who the bad guys are and they end up busted along with their inside man.
- Patterson, James [Maxine Paetro doesn't get her name on the spine]
- 14th Deadly Sin (2015) This is part of a series about 4 ladies in the law business, who have formed a Women's Murder Club. One of the main themes is about a gang which is robbing and killing ruthlessly in police uniforms and cute masks. The style is rather cloying-feelly and the PB edition is one of those books got up to look like a 450 page blockbuster by large type and lots of line spacing. It's Mr. Patterson cashing in.
- Patterson, James & Paetro, Maxine
- 15th Affair (2016) This WMC novel has a much better script than the wibbly no. 14 with conspiracy, murder, treachery and lots and lots of bodies such that some of the pages drip blood. It's still girly but someone clearly told the authors to nitty the gritty. As usual, the volume is padded out with 30 pages of plugs for other books. Like no. 14, this one is now destined for the local charity shop.
- Pearson, John
- James Bond, the authorized biography (2008) Surprise! Ian Fleming based his character on a real Secret Service agent, and then he had to convince the Russians that they'd been fooled when they started busting a gut to kill Bond. This is an excellent account of the fictional spy's life presented as the product of interviews with him while he champs at the bit, waiting in vain to get back in to the action. Highly recommended.
- Preston, Richard
- If you're looking for thoroughness, check out The Cobra Event by this author. Mr. Preston seems to specialize in novels about biological terrorism, building on a lot of research by introducing gadgets of his own, which don't exist yet but which ought to. He can put together a strong action thriller and he includes explanations in the text, which can be a bit off-putting at times. This book also includes a glossary of biological warfare terms to give it an even stronger textbook flavour. But it's a good read.
- Rankin, Ian
- The Flood (1986) is a story set in a mining town in Scotland which went in to a state of decay when the mine became unprofitable. The central characters are Mary Miller and her son, Sandy, whose father could be Mary's brother. The family is cursed by what happened to Mary and the guilt and superstition of the vindictive neighbours. Very dull going to the last couple of pages. The book was a set text for Edinburgh university's Scottish Literature department at one time. Let us hope the other set works were a bit cheerier and more interesting.
White text on very pale orange on the back cover of the latest paperback? Orion Books has a crap designer and the people running the company are too dim to realize this.
- Fleshmarket Close (2004) is a long, involved and absorbing tale of murder, migration, corruption and bad guys like Big Ger Cafferty still getting away with it. DI Rebus and DS Clarke have been booted out of their former cop shop after the CID there was abolished. They have to reestablish themselves at overcrowded Gayfield Square with new colleagues. And it's on with the boozing, annoying people who have it coming and getting the job done for Rebus. Good book.
- Exit Music (2007) Read it slowly because it's the last Rebus, and he's less than a couple of weeks from retirement with new murders to solve and old cases to pass on to DS Siobhan Clarke. Then it's the Old Cops' Home with Inspector Frost et al. Siobhan is put in charge of the two new murders and Rebus runs riot. About half-way through, the useless Chief Constable James Corbyn (well, he would be useless with a name like that!) tries to kick Rebus in to the long grass prematurely with a suspension. Which fails to stop the wee man. Will he be able to stick it to Big Ger? No, Rebus cracks the murders but someone else sorts out Cafferty. Oh, well. That's life.
- The Complaints (2009) Not Rebus, this is about a cop who investigates other cops. Malcolm Fox is set after Jamie Breck, who's supposed to be dirty. But he ain't. And both Fox and Breck find themselves suspended and having to pick their way through a conspiracy between dirty crooks and dirty cops. Well worth a read.
- Standing In Another Man's Grave (2012) Is a missing girl a victim of a serial killer, who has been operating unnoticed for a decade? Rebus is dead as well; sort of. He's retired but working for a cold case unit, which gives him lots of opportunities to hook up with DI Clarke again, harass serving coppers, associate with villains and be persecuted by a guy from The Complaints, who has it in for him. The case develops a big hole but rattles on. Working to his own agenda under the threat of getting the chop; that's where Rebus belongs. Being right all along and arranging justice by other means is his destiny.
- Saints of the Shadow Bible (2013) Like Dracula, Rebus is risen from the dead. He retired as a DI but he managed to sneak back onto the force as a DS to investigate cold cases. He's teamed with a scumbag of Complaints to investigate the auld coppers from where he started his career as a detective. Did they deliberately botch a case to let a useful snout get away with murder? Past and present collided with lethal effect. Will Rebus get it in the neck for past sins? Really? You're actually asking that? I got a cheap Little Brown HB, and it is a really sloppy editing job. I'd be ashamed to offer the paying public something so carelessly done.
- Reich, Kathy
- Bones Never Lie (2014) Dr. Temperance Brennan is chasing a female killer who got away from her. She is 'aided' by a detective who walked away with emotional burn-out and two others, who would cheerfully kill each other if they thought they could get away with it. Catching the monster is an obsession with Brennan and she thinks there's going to be another killing in the near future. Big surprise on p 239/471 of my PB edition. Oh, dear. What do we do now? Inevitability on p 404.
- Robertson, Michael
- The Baker Street Translation (2013) is set in London (obviously) and has a solicitor occupying offices with an obligation in the lease to respond to letter to Sherlock Holmes. His brother in the US does this, with awkward consequences. The story is a mix of wild-eyed terrorists and equally wild-eyed lawyers, with poor old Reggie Heath stuck in the middle of it. The author tosses around the names of London's places, shops and streets merrily, and keeps falling flat on his face. Clearly, the man who "lives in Southern California", according to the jacket, didn't get a native Briton to read his ms before publication.
- Rendall, Ruth
- Simisola (1995) has a top cop striving to be politically correct, which serves to make him look a right steamer. And he seems to rely on an infinite improbability drive to make connections to solve his case. The author's messages intrude too much and she makes her hero far too lucky.
- Rilley, Matthew
- Scarecrow (2003) is written like an old-fashioned cinema serial with endless desperate cliff-hangers and with-one-bound escapes. And lots and LOTS of italics. A small bunch of good guys is whittled down by the minions of incredibly rich bad guys, who call themselves "Majestic 12". They want to put the world in to a 50-year "War Against Terror" because it will be good for business and make them more money than you can shake a stick at. Worse, one of the 12 is a rogue with his own agenda. So it's up to the agent known as Scarecrow to stop the bad guys and, of course, he does it at break-neck speed. An exhausting read!
- Rhodes, Chloe.
- A Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi (2009) is described as "words pinched from other languages". It's written in a relaxed style, with cartoons (some fairly limp), and achieves entertainment as well as enlightenment. Unfortunately, the relaxed attitude also applies to the scholarship; e.g. the part of the description of kamikaze on p. 100 of the HB edition.
- Seymour, Gerald
- The Untouchable (2001) is around 160,000 words long. The primary story by the former ITN reporter is about the fate of an untouchable London gangster, who heads for the ruins of the former Yugoslavia (a place Mr. Seymour knows well) to set up a staging post for importing Turkish heroin in to the UK. The only flies in his ointment are a lone, and very junior, survivor of a dismal failure to convict the untouchable by the combined forces of the UK police, Customs and intelligence services, and a rathery stroppy, female minder. Threaded through the main narrative are portraits of life during and after the Balkans war of the 1990s, which portray Bosnians, Serbs and Croats as unreconstructable savages, who would quite cheerfully spend the day wiping out members of another ethnic group before going home for their tea -- which would be provided by international aid, of course.
- Simmons, Dan
- The Fifth Heart (2015) It's 1893, Sherlock Holmes has been Reichenbached and he and the writer Henry James investigate the suicide in the USA of the wife of historian Henry Adams. This is a strange SH, who doesn't know basic chemistry and who's not sure if he actually exists. Mr. James is no better; Mr. Simmons keeps taking pops at James' life and career, and the reason why the book is 664 pp is that it's what we in the trade call kitchen-sink writing.
Simmons takes pot-shots at real and created people, and he's bunged in a volume of 19th century American history to pad out his epic and he's not above describing a guy who is still alive and twitching as dead (p 112).
Is anyone impressed by an author who mocks the ineptitude of another author whilst displaying similar ineptitude himself? (See p 126 for a particularly daft example) Stephen King is. "I am in awe of Dan Simmons" is quoted on the back cover of the PB. But is that admiration of his writing talent or the fact that he sold to the publisher, a 200-page story bloated out to 664?
- Stevens, Gordon
- Kennedy's Ghost (1994) Frankly, the start of this big paperback is a mess. The author hurls a mass of words at the poor old reader, who has no idea what the hell is going on. It takes patience to get through the initial rapids to calmer waters, when the threads of a novel involving kidnapping of the wealthy for ransom on an industrial basis, US politics and and the dirty deeds of spies start to emerge, interconnect and make sense. The book gets a lot better as it goes along, so perseverance pays dividends. See page 440 for the Kennedy connection and p 511 for the cute ending.
- Stoker, Dacre & Holt, Ian
- Dracula The Un-Dead (2009) This is an extremely absorbing sequel to the book written by Mr. Stoker's great-grand-uncle. The authors take a few liberties with the original to include the Whitechapel murders of 1888 and set the the story in 1912 for a Titanic connection. This is Dracula The Next Generation 25 years on. Dracula is identified as the Romanian hero Vlad Tepes, and his role is appropriately misunderstood and heroic, and the bad guy (gal) is the much maligned Elizabeth Bathory. Highly recommended.
- Watson, Mark
- “A Light-Hearted Look At Murder” (2008) is told from the points of view of the screwed-up Alexandra and Andreas. Alex is pushed in to writing to Andreas, who was gaoled for murder 10 years before, and he sends her his memoirs, which are in German. Alex gets a flatmate to translate them and episodes from her rotten life are intercut with sections of Andreas' memoirs. Sounds an unpromising concept but it is extremely well done.
- Wahlöö, Per
- MURDER on the thirty-first floor (1964) Inspector Jensen lives in a Scandinavian socialist-fascist society in some unspecified time period. It's a place where vast numbers of people either kill themselves, or get hopelessly drunk - which qualifies them for persecution by the police then the State. Every day, Jensen gets up, goes to work, says as little as possible, stitches up subordinates and investigates crimes in ways calculated to annoy everyone he meets. He avoids eating as much as possible and he always gets indigestion, no matter how bland the slop he eventually consumes. At the end of the day, Jensen goes home and goes to bed, usually with indigestion, sometimes with a slug of booze, and goes straight to sleep. He has solved every one of his cases. The author's style, as translated by Sarah Death, reflects the dull life of his detective and the book is very much a journey across a flat landscape populated by dull and frequently rather nasty people. Anyone who comes to a sticky end deserves it. Apart from the poor sods on the 31st floor, of course. If the book is intended to drive the reader to drink and/or suicide, it does a grand job.
The Steel Spring (1968) Inspector Jensen is sent abroad for a liver transplant. He is not expected to survive but 3 months later, a government minister sends him back home to find out why all communication with their country has ceased. Jensen finds that the socialist paradise, in which everything is run for the benefit of the ruling elite and the birth rate is dropping alarmingly, has collapsed in to greater insanity. It happened as a result of the deliberate use of a biological control agent, which the elite thought would help them to fix the next election result in their favour. But the s.o.b.s wrecked everything.
- Winspear, Jacqueline
- A Lesson In Secrets (2011) This is a tale of murder and mystery set in 1932 at a minor Cambridge college run by a peacnik. Maisie Dobbs, the investigator, is working for both Scotland Yard's Special Branch and the Secret Service as she worries about the way the rise of Nazism is being ignored by the British Establishment and uncovers the feet of clay of the murdered college principal. The author has spun an admirably tangled web but it soon becomes clear that she isn't going to manage an authentic English setting because she didn't grow up here (she's a New Yorker).
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- Ambrus, Attila
- The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber by Julian Rubinstein is the life story of an ethnic Hungarian, who left his native Romania feeling persecuted but found himself an outcast in Hungary because he spoke an ancient dialect of Magyar (rather like someone speaking Classical Greek in modern Greece). He became a janitor and (unpaid) goalie for an ice hockey team, and made a living any way he could. When his smuggling scheme was put out of business by grabbing border guards, he turned to bank robbery, well fortified with whiskey.
He made a success of his new trade in the shambolic post-communist Hungarian society of the 1990s, and the Whiskey Robber became very famous, but Mr. Ambrus is currently in gaol and due for release in 2016 (or earlier if he gets time off for good behaviour).
- Fabian, Robert
- London After Dark is the 2nd volume of memories and case notes from the ex-Superintendent of Scotland Yard. He opens it with sermons about things like London's night clubs, prostitutes, dope trade and the 'Problem of the Perverts', and finishes things off with 14 cases involving murder and lesser crimes. A fascinating piece of 20th Century history in the period from the late Twenties to the early Fifties.
- Galland, Adolf
- General Galland's account of his war, The First and The Last, has a foreword by Douglas Bader and describes World War II from the perspective of a fighter pilot and an administrator, who had to deal with Goering and Hitler.
David Baker's Authorized Biography of 'the most famous German fighter pilot of World War II' devotes 6 chapters to his life from 1912 to September, 1939, 14 chapters to WW2 and just one chapter to the 50 years up to his death in 1996. It is an interesting companion work to Galland's own book but somewhat bottom-heavy in its focus for a biography.
- Ernst Hanfstaengl
- Hitler's Piano Player by Conradi, Peter delves in to the life and times of 'Putzi' Hanfstaengl, who used to be part of Adolf Hitler's inner circle, and played the piano to calm the Fuehrer's jangled nerves, until he came unstuck. He fled Nazi Germany when others in Hitler's circle tried to have him done in and ended up working for the Americans. A fascinating insight in to the early days of the Third Reich.
- Lawrence, T.E.
- Seven Pillars of Wisdom is a lengthy (600+ pages) account of the author's adventures in Arabia during World War I, where he worked to oust the Turks and help the Arabs take over, knowing that the British and French governments were up to no good behind the scenes. Lawrence provides a geologist's tour of Arabia and descriptions of the way of life in the desert in the early years of the 20th Century. There is practically nothing about taking Akaba but he does include attacks on trains after going all round the houses to get there. Not a book for anyone in a hurry.
- Manzarek, Ray
- Light My Fire - My Life With The Doors starts with the death of Jim Morrison and the lack of concrete facts about this event. The account then goes back to when Manzarek met Jim Morrison and travels on to Miami and its aftermath. The book is well worth reading but the further one gets, the more the reader comes to think that author is presenting too much of a naive, hippy image for someone who's approaching 60. Life should have knocked a bit more sense in to him. An interesting thing to do is read the author's descriptions of the recording sessions, play the album concerned and experience the credibility gap. Still, if Ray was a part of the Doors and he helped to create all that great music, good luck to him.
- Riefenstahl, Leni
- A Portrait of Leni Riefenstahl by Audrey Salkeld devotes the first 220 pages to the dancer/ film-maker/ photographer's life up to the end of World War Two, then just 60 pages to the remaining 60 of Frau Riefenstahl's 101 years. There is a similar imbalance in the photographs; just 2 of them are post war. That said, this is a very readable, well researched work with lots of context, and highly recommended.
- Simpson, Professor Keith
- In Forty Years of Murder, Professor Simpson gives an account of his work as a Home Office Pathologist from the Thirties to the disappearance of Lord Lucan in 1974. One to read after Sir Sydney Smith's book and the biography of Sir Bernard Spilsbury.
- Spilsbury, Sir Bernard
- Bernard Spilsbury, the biography by Douglas G. Browne and Tom Tullett, has the sub-title Famous Murder Cases of the Great Pathologist. It gives a well constructed account of the life of a man who made himself the leader in his field, worked himself to death and then ended his life at a moment of his own choosing. Not as technically oriented as Sir Keith Simpson's autobiography but a well-rounded and very readable work.
- Smith, Sir Sydney
- Mostly Murder, the autobiography of the leading authority on forensic medicine of his day, provides an excellent account on how the business of understanding crimes was conducted in the Thirties and Forties. Later editions include a foreword by Professor Keith Simpson, who became the next leading authority in the field.
- Wakeman, Rick
- Grumpy Old Rock Star and Other Wondrous Stories (2008) A man lucky to be alive after almost drinking himself in to oblivion, Rick Wakeman (with help from Martin Roach) paints a picture of a struggling young musician who becomes fabulously rich in the company of a gang of fellow fabulous boozers and does some quite extraordinary things in his career (which is not yet over, by the way). An excellent ready, most highly recommended.
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- Dangerous Visions 1 edited by Harlan Ellison
- There was a lot of pretentious tripe around in the 60s and 70s. This collection contains 30,000 words of it by Philip José Farmer. The editor, a noted tripehound himself, describes the story as the finest in the collection. The unfortunate reader began with clever, went through pointless and tedious and ended at who cares what happens next? about one-third of the way in. The reasonable stuff, by the likes of Miram deFord, Robert Bloch and Brian Aldis, comes after the Farmer story - but the collection is seasoned with more tosh.
- The Domino Men (2009) by Jonathan Barnes
- "Unmatched life and verve" said the Washington Post. "Unmitigated tripe" sez me. We are invited to believe that Queen Victoria made an unspeakable deal with some monstrosity and the long-running war between the House of Windsor and The Directorate is about to come to a head with the release of the monster Leviathan. The story has a certain daft readability but it is tripe all the way.
- The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake
- Titus Groan, Gormenghast and Titus Alone seem to have a built-in progressive unreadability. I got through the first two volumes but I found myself skipping more and more of the third until I decided I didn't care any more and abandoned it.
- Look To Windward by Iain M. Banks
- This is part of a sequence - I've not read any of the others. Lots and lots and LOTS of messing about. Not the sort of book that engages the reader and pulls him/her in to the author's vision. Be prepared to go at least half way before the [dastardly] plot starts to emerge. If you have something else to read which looks more promising, give this one a miss.
- Something Happened by Joseph Heller
- Some people will tell you this book is even better than Catch 22 and Heller is famous for the wrong novel. Don't believe them. This is the lengthy and tedious story of a boring man and his boring family and boring workmates, and I lost the will to live at page 108/569. Go and read something else. This is a real clunker of a book.
- Vlad the Impaler by Gavin Baddeley & Paul Woods
- This would have been quite a short book if the authors had stuck to the subject: the life and times, and accurate history. But they have chosen to compare Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, with every 2-bit and 3-bit conqueror, despot and gangster they could think of. This is done, allegedly, in the name of context but a more likely explanation is that it is a product of the authors' obsessions and their eagerness to trawl through atrocity reports of highly doubtful authenticity. Even Bram Stoker and his creation are roped in despite their negligible connection with the 15th century Romanian hero. An over-egged pudding. (2010)
- War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy
- The creation is over 1,000 pages long, and no wonder! It begins with a grand ball scene which goes on and on and on and bloody on! Until I gave up in disgust and went on to read something more interesting.
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- The Alphabet Abecedarum
- Richard A. Firmage's book is described as "Some Notes on Letters". And that's exactly what you get; notes on the origins and development and typography of the 26 current letters of our alphabet plus a chapter on the ampersand. There are abundant scraps of philosophy and mysticism included in the chapters, which are written with a light hand and proper refusal to take bunk seriously. (1993)
- A is for Armageddon: A catalogue of disasters that may culminate in the end of the world as we know it
- This is an enormously reassuring book in that if you don't buy the Great Global Warming Swindle, then 99.9% of Mr. Richard Horne's Armagedda won't happen. He concludes his title-tag with "Have a nice day". This is actually possible for those who realize that he's just scare-mongering for comic effect and not offering any penetrating insight in to the fate of mankind. (2009)
- Arthur C. Clarke: A Life Remembered
- Fred Clarke, Mark Stewart, Kelvin F. Long and Robert Godwin have assembled an eclectic collection (2013). After introductions and explanations, the volume begins with a long chapter of reminiscences by Sir Arthur's younger brother, which takes the story up to the early years of World War II. Robert Godwin, the publisher, then outlines ACC's life in the period 1934-1954; his transition from SF fan to celebrity. After a chapter of tributes, there are interviews with Fred Clarke and Nalaka Gunawardene, a long-standing ACC friend and colleague in Ceylon. Tributes to Sir Arthur give way to very personal reviews/memoirs based on some of his books and THE film.
- BRIXMIS - The Untold Exploits of Britain's Most Daring Cold War Spy Mission
- Tony Geraghty has written a fascinating book, which engages and holds the reader's interest right from the start. It's the story of how British 'monitors' kept track of what was going on in the Soviet-occupied region of Germany from the end of World War Two up to the collapse of Communism in the 1990s. It was a mission to gather intelligence, despite the many obstacles erected by the Red Menace and its stooges, and to prevent war by accident as the superpowers manoeuvred and tested each other. (1996)
- The Burglar Caught By A Skeleton & other singular tales from the Victorian Press (2013)
- Jeremy Clay takes a romp through British local newspapers, and the notorious Illustrated Police News, between 1837 and 1901. The book is a quest for weird and wonderful stuff, much of it of doubtful veracity, the compiler reckons. Good stuff.
- The Cynic's Dictionary
- Editor Rick Bayan has assembled a fine collection of definitions of common words, e.g [at random] Mugger A benevolent citizen of the streets who frequently spares the lives of total strangers in exchange for any cash and valuables in their possession. (Ed. - see also Gordon Brown). Well worth tracking down, if only as an interesting read.
- Dark Side of the Moon: The Madness of the American Lunar Quest (2007)
- How do you blow a whole lot of money and end up with nothing much to show for it? Get in to a space race with the Russians, which they have no hope of winning, and send men to the moon instead of rovers, is Gerard DeGroot's advice. NASA was born of cynical politics, it was staffed by space nuts and managers with no concept of value for money, who let useless contractors steal billions from the American taxpayer. And the science was conducted at the level of stupidity which cause the Apollo fire and the Challenger disaster. NASA does a half decent job with machines; it goes insane when manned missions are involved.
- The Father of Forensics (2007)
- Colin Evans has created a very readable biography and appreciation of Sir Bernard Spilsbury, the pathologist who "invented modern CSI", with the emphasis on his working life. Spilsbury elevated forensic medicine to a new level, he became the ultimate authority in court, and lots of fellow members of his profession hated him because pathologists are just a bunch of bitchy little girls! Sadly, his life fell apart at the end and he never did write his planned magnum opus.
- Fighting Words From War, Rebellion & Other Combative Capers
- Christine Ammer has assembled an A to Z of words and phrases in common usage which have a military origin; some obvious, others not so. It's a book to be perused from cover to cover or dipped in to at random. The former option means that you don't miss anything. (1989)
- Flying Saucers Have Landed (1953)
- This is, in fact, two books, one by each authorDesmond Leslie & George Adamski. It has lots of UFO pictures in the hardback edition. Mr. Leslie has done a lot of research in archives going back thousands of years and his light touch makes the incredible sound almost commonplace. He has a grand theory of WoMD and flying machines being available to ancient cultures all over the planet. He has created a true Colossus of Cobblers. Mr. Adamski is an enthusiastic amateur astronomer and photographer. He and hundreds of others saw a giant UFO in 1946, and he met a man from Venus, who could talk to him telepathically, in November 1952. Crumbs!
- The Great Rock Discography, 5th Edition
- This monster tome is A4-size and 1,100 pages packed with information on bands and their singles, LPs, CDs, etc. Information on personnel and chart ratings, if anyone cares, is also provided. An interesting thing to do is find the most obscure album in your collection and see if it's in the book. Tonto's Expanding Head Band's album Zero Time is unaccountably absent, for instance.
- Hippo Eats Dwarf!
- Alex Boese, the author, runs the website MuseumOfHoaxes.com and this is a collection of v. entertaining urban myths seasoned with scraps of truth. An excellent read, v. well written and highly recommended. A real page-turner.
- Hitler's Raid To Save Mussolini
- Greg Annussek's book fails on 2 counts. No. 1, in addition to 60 pages of notes, he adds asterisked footnotes to many pages, which disrupts the flow unnecessarily. No. 2, he takes much to long a run up to the events offered in the title. The book proper is 263 pages long. Skorzeny & Co. don't go in to rescue the Duce, who was imprisoned by a new Italian regime when his Fascist government collapsed in a single day in 1943, until page 215, and 20 pages later, the rescue is all over and we're back to the padding. (2005)
- The Insult Dictionary: How to be abusive in FIVE languages
- Was published in 1966 by Anonymous, as there is no author credit. It's a bit of a swiz because one of the languages is English, but the volume does include such essentials as "Go jump in a lake!", "Was this omelette made with pterodactyl eggs?" and one for disappointed World Cup fans: "Shoot that rotten referee!"
- Le Mot Juste The Penguin Dictionary of Foreign Terms and Phrases
- The 1988 revised edition of a work originally published in 1934 contains material from all over the world and there's a 90-page index. One for people who are too mean to buy every English-Other Language dictionary under the sun.
- Lost English: Words & phrases that have vanished from our language
- The sub-title this book by Chris Roberts says it all. Not a single one of the vanished was unfamiliar, and quite a few of them are still being used for dramatic effect. Definitely worth a scan. (2009)
- Never In A Million Years
- Everything about this History of Hopeless Predictions by Ivor Baddeil & Jonny Zucker is good from the jacket design through to the writing style and the content. The authors have great fun when they mock the bunk in very creative and merciless ways. How our lives won't be, when the world won't end, great inventions that won't be made, great inventions which were made after someone predicted they were impossible to achieve, etc. (2011)
- Nil Desperandum
- Eugene Ehrlich has sub-titled his work A Dictionary of Latin Tags and Phrases, and that's what it is. An collection of 1,200 latin phrases, maxims and proverbs of the sort tossed around by people who are trying to impress others with their knowledge, or to exclude the peasants from their circle, and also the bits and pieces of Latin still in everyday use. Well worth dipping in to at random.
- Peter Sellers: The Mask Behind The Mask
- Peter Evans' book, published in 1968, revised in 1981, is a very thorough review of the other Peter's life and career, and the influences on both. The conclusion of this very readable book is that there was no Peter Sellers, just an actor playing an endless series of parts. His life had a lot of miserable times when his career nose-dived and Mr. Sellers became more and more impossible to work with. But he was on top again, riding the Pink Panther tide, when he died of a heart attack at 54, which was the number of films he made; some of them real turkeys thanks to his capacity for screwing around
- A Pig In A Poke
- There is no author credit for this work, which explains Curious, Bizarre and Incomprehensible Expressions; like 'a pig in a poke'. One to dip in to or devour from cover to cover, according to the reader's preferences. Comes from Grange Books (www.grangebooks.co.uk).
- The Science of Jurrasic Park and The Lost World or, How to Build a Dinosaur (1997)
- Bob DeSalle & David Lindsey take a trip through the ideas of writer Michael Crichton and film-maker Steven Spielberg. The authors point out the impossibilities in the fictional method of obtaining and replicating dinosaur DNA, and the practical impossibilities of using it to make viable dinosaur-producing eggs. Then they knock lumps off the notion of creating a zoo crammed with relatively few herbivores and lots of carnivores on a couple of tiny islands. "How Hollywood Got Everything Wrong" would be a good second subtitle for an extremely readable and clearly explained volume.
- They Got It Wrong: Science (2013)
- Graeme Donald's book has the tag: "All the Facts that Turned Out to be Science Fiction". It's 16 chapters pointing out the usually illogical conclusions supposedly intelligent people reached in the past. But spot what the author got wrong, e.g. that the human voice isn't powerful enough to shatter a glass; which was done on Mythbusters.
- Tower: An Epic History of The Tower of London
- This book by Nigel Jones impresses initially as a well-written history, but its repetitiveness becomes a little wearing by the half-way mark. It's the history of England from Norman times on as seen from the Tower. It's a weighty tome; the 20-quid hardback weights some 800 grammes, and I got it for only 3 quid and change from BibliophileBooks.co.uk. Mr. Jones clearly enjoyed writing the book, which is refreshingly footnote-free, but he is prone to lapses. For instance, he is so keen to put the boot in to Richard III that he seems unaware that his account of what every one of the following Tudors did makes Richard look like a bit of an amateur in comparison. Is this a history of the Tower of London or really a history of England? I don't think Mr. Jones is quite sure. But it's a good read. (2011)
- Welcome to Just A Minute by Nicholas Parsons
- This is a weighty 2014 tome: 0.765 Kg for my HB edition. But then, it has to cover the history of a radio programme which has been running since the 1960s; and is still currently on the steam wireless at the time of writing. Lots of snippets from the clever performers who made the programme such a success, like Kenneth Williams and the now unmentionable Clement Freud. The task of going through the source material to mine these gems must have been immense! Mr. Parsons, the eternal chairman, is now in his 90s. Could anyone replace him? The evidence offered here says that the show is certainly worth the effort.
- Wordly Wise
- James McDonald describes his collection as A book about the origins of English words and phrases. The book contains 30 chapters, each devoted to a topic, e.g. magic, law, religion, money, drink, sex. The chapters show how the language associated with the chapter title has evolved over the years and they include 'amusing stories' as well as strictly informative stuff.