Festive Reading

I haven’t posted much over the last couple of weeks; I’ve have been (as always) been doing plenty of reading. Not reviews as such, just a wee run-down of the books I’ve enjoyed over the festive period.

The Body Snatchers – Jack Finney

I’d seen both the 1956 film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, directed by Don Siegel and the 1978 version, starring Donald Sutherland and Spock, but had never read Jack Finney’s original novel. Gollancz reissued it as part of the SF Masterworks earlier this year.

While it’s not going to trouble any run down of the greatest literature ever produced, it is an effective and enjoyable SF thriller. One could read it as the usual cold war paranoia (plenty of SF from that period features this), though Graham Sleight in his introduction raises the interesting notion that the text could also be considered to have a nostalgic bent. The 1970s filmed version sets the film in a large city (San Francisco), whereas the town of Santa Mira in the original novel is a small US town. Sleight asks if things were ever so simple?

Good to see it easily available. I enjoyed this.

Arslan – M. J. Engh

Another recent addition to the SF Masterworks series, M.J. Engh’s Arslan is a novel which features the invasion of small town US (well, actually, the whole world, but the novel is set in Kraftsville, Illinois: a small town). The invasions are worlds apart; in The Body Snatchers the alien beings are covert and initially do little to disturb the status quo, whereas Arslan’s armies are disruptive and he is incredibly open about his wish to subvert the progress of the world. Though published 20 years apart some, at least, of the background seems to me to be similar, although Ms Engh’s novel is the deeper and more philosophical work.

As pointed out in a number of places the opening of the novel is somewhat shocking. It’s not gratuitously so, however. It certainly does not fetishise the events of the first chapter, they are genuinely key to the progress of the novel.

If you’re reading this looking for a piece of military SF, you’ll be disappointed. However, if you’re interested in a complex and subtle interrogation of power and tyranny, you could do far worse than

Incidentally, ignore the 1 star review on Amazon, it’s catastrophically wrong. Well, unless you wanted a blow by blow account of how Arslan succeeded in bending the whole world to his will. But that would make for a pointless and tedious military fantasy.

Grass – Sherri S. Tepper

What’s this? Another novel from the SF Masterworks series? Indeed. An ambitious novel, this is an imaginative exploration of many themes (including feminism and the nature of religious belief). It is certainly complex, covering so many things as it does; this does make it lengthy, however. Despite this (and the length of the novel), there is the feeling that some of the themes covered aren’t given the justice that they perhaps deserve. That’s a minor quibble, however.

My first Tepper, and not the last, I think.

Deathworld 1, 2 and 3 – Harry Harrison

I’d read Make Room! Make Room! a few months back and been slightly disappointed by it. Sadly this (admittedly reasonable value) omnibus edition of Harry Harrison’s Deathworld novels did little to rescue Harrison in my eyes. Make Room! Make Room! was at least interesting in intent if not quite successful in execution, whereas I struggled a bit to get through the Deathworld novels. Ho-hum.

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

Well, it’s Christmas, isn’t it? Been meaning to read this for a long time now. Partly because the story is so familiar to everyone because A Christmas Carol has become so key to our Christmas culture (the introduction also speaks of the way that Dickens has done much to inform our view of what Christmas is).

It is clearly a Victorian piece of writing, but it is still well worth reading.

Christmas With the Dead – Joe R. Lansdale

This was the Christmas chapbook from PS for 2010. It’s got Christmas and zombies… what else do you need to know?

The Penguin History of Modern China: The Fall and Rise of a Great Power 1850 – 2009 – Jonathan Fenby

I’ve been reading the odd chapter here and there between novels over the past couple of weeks. Not finishedyet, but it’s clearly a fascinating history of China from the 1850s onwards.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Seventh Annual Collection – Gardner Dozois (editor)

Again, about half-way through this one, but I have to say that the standards this year are pretty good. Very few stories that I haven’t enjoyed on some level at least. Excellent stuff.

Coming Soon!

I’ve Harbinger of the Storm to read (follow up to the disappointing Servant of the Underworld); hopefully that will be a little better. And, more excitingly (perhaps not), I’m going to break my Heinlein duck! For some unfathomable reason, I’ve never read any Robert Heinlein novels. I’m starting with The Moon is a Harsh Mistress as – and I might be massively wrong here – it’s my impression that it’s not quite so horrible and cranky as, say, Starship Troopers. Wish me luck! These two will certainly be getting write-ups here (from what I know of Heinlein even if, as I suspect, there are aspects of his writing that I may not like, I think he’ll be at least thought-provoking).

Having finally read some Joyce last year (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) I’m going to make good on my promise to myself to actually read Ulysses. It’s a little daunting, but I’m looking forward to it.

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3 Responses to Festive Reading

  1. Joachim Boaz says:

    I loved The Moon is a Harsh Mistress — my favorite Heinlein novel (not always thrilled with his works, at all).

    I didn’t mind Starship Troopers — although the extraordinary jingoism did bother me. I disliked Double Star and virtually drilled a hole in my brain after reading The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (absolutely crap). I’ve read a good twenty of his other novels — but, none are terribly memorable (well, Stranger in a Strange Land).

    • Richard says:

      Heinlein’s a funny one: I’m not sure why it should be that I’ve never read any of his novels. He seems to be considered by some to to pretty canonical when it comes to SF (though certainly not by all: and plenty of people have suggested, as have you, that some novels are stinking crapola and not all – espaecially his later stuff – is even that memorable). My early SF education came from Cumbernauld library, which had a decent amount of classic SF (and Larry Niven. Actually, that’s unfair; I read a couple of things by him that were decent. It’s just his politics got in the way, as I recall).

      I wonder if my not really encountering him before might be something to do with the differences (which I think there are) between UK (possibly European – though I’ve not read enough SF by continental authors to be sure) and US SF?

      Re: Starship Troopers I do recall someone else saying something similar (ie, that it’s pretty cranky and jingoistic, but not unreadable and it is, at least, interesting). I may yet try that one out…

  2. Joachim Boaz says:

    Maybe I said that on another post of yours about Starship Troopers — since that’s my opinion completely… haha

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