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Childhood’s End – Arthur C. Clarke

AdulthoodBlotting out the light from the stars they have linked so effortlessly, the silent ships hang suspended over the great cities of Earth…

Armed with a staggering power and an infinite wisdom the invaders from outer space shock Earth into submission – but what is their purpose?

To mention any more of the story would be to give away key plot points and like film trailers, books are sadly not immune from giving things away before you even get to the main feature.  Even my 1956 Pan edition gave some important things away but the newer copies are even worse. It’s a risky business this book buying.

I love this cover, it’s wonderfully dramatic and of its time and being one of those annoying fault picking people I can’t help but imagine the cost of the repair bill from the sonic boom that that ship appears to be causing.

There is something quaint about this book, with a familiar Cold War beginning and then the imagined future in which people are starting to watch three hours of TV a day!  Clarke may be celebrated for preempting technological advances and such but he was pretty up on the social aspect as well. It doesn’t feel too archaic though, it’s a pleasant jaunt, a B-movie in a book or B-lit as I term it.

Once into the book, the familiar Clarke theme of our place in the universe, our journey through the stars and time if you will is explored.  The scale of the notion is impressive, for most of the book these bigger scale concepts are largely played down in favour of the more human side of things, unlike the Rama series and the Odyssey books where the big ideas were the major focus.  This difference in focussing makes for a more subtle approach to the stories of our civilisation and its adaptation to the new and the abstract.

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21 Comments

Posted by on 02/08/2015 in Sci Fi

 

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A Love Affair

Image found at www.fromoldbooks.org which shows a dictionary of thieving slang from 1736

Image found at http://www.fromoldbooks.org which shows a dictionary of thieving slang from 1736

A Love Affair

Lilting, coruscating, amorphous

The simple serendipity of a thesaurus,
The nebulous wonder of infinite word combinations, linked together like the great constellations.

Sultry, dulcet, ebullient

Words. Sometimes a harbinger, at times a denouement but always a panoply of reverence in one’s own demesne.
Whether the susurrus of turned pages or the sonorous language contained within,
The full flow of expression written and imbibed, is mine to cherish and cultivate.

mellifluous, sumptuous, tranquil

A pure rhapsody of ever-changing felicity,
suffuse with redolent comprehension.
The zenith of my love surrounds me always, infused within, now and for tomorrow.

 
36 Comments

Posted by on 29/07/2015 in My Writings, Poetry

 

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Germinal – Émile Zola

GerminatingThoughtsÉtienne Lantier, an unemployed railway worker, is a clever but uneducated young man with a dangerous temper. Forced to take a back-breaking job at Le Voreux mine when he cannot get other work, he discovers that his fellow miners are ill, hungry, and in debt, unable to feed and clothe their families. When conditions in the mining community deteriorate even further, Lantier finds himself leading a strike that could mean starvation or salvation for all.

I can safely say that this book fits into the great tradition of journalistic classics.  It complements Dickens’ portrayal of the poverty and struggles of the working class and also reminded me of the depiction of English mines in Orwell’s harrowing but ultimately rewarding The Road to Wigan Pier.  The mention of the Davy lamp in the text also brought to mind Sir Humphrey Davy’s selfless experiences during research for his life saving Davy lamp.

Although Germinal is book 13 in the 20 volume Les Rougon-Macquart series, the earlier books aren’t required reading as this one stands alone perfectly well, this was my introduction to Zola and from the outset it pulled me straight in.

From the beginning we are introduced to a brutal work life of the pit workers, the place where they reside is a blight on a denuded landscape and the mine is depicted variously as gorging on human flesh and is also likened to the Greek underworld of Tartarus showing the nature of our relationship with the earth or at least our imagination’s interpretation.  Zola’s almost hellish imagery doesn’t shy away from the struggles and the horrors that people struggled through and sets the scene for a book story in which life is changed for all in harrowing and profound ways.

Buried like moles beneath the crushing weight of the earth, and without a breath of fresh air in their burning lungs, they simply went on tapping.

The vivid depictions of mining encourages that feeling of pity for the workers in their terrible conditions which aren’t overstated in their treacherous nature, in fact Zola’s depictions of all classes are accurate and even-handed, his considerable cast show many facets of bravery, love and hate across the board, yet strangely some of the minor characters get storylines that are more interesting than the main plot. The continued changing of my feelings for the characters as they grew or revealed their true colours, throughout the book kept me just off-balance enough to not fully like any of them but appreciate their motivations all the same. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 26/07/2015 in Classics, Journalism

 

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New Roads

Left to my own devices on a day off, it usually follows that I find myself pootling around Nottingham or its outlying areas attempting to amuse myself before meeting friends. As regular readers will know, when out and about I usually try to find some ideas, words or reflections to improve my writing and thought processes on these jaunts and today was no different, so much so that it distracted me from my new book.

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It was after enjoying a meal and a pint whilst  finishing one book (Childhood’s End) and starting another (Lost Horizon), that I decided to go and actually look for something to write about rather as opposed to either hiding in a book all afternoon or just hoping something falls into my lap, which it usually does. I like to think of my days out as a series of happy accidents.

I found it really interesting that I hadn’t considered this idea before in any great depth, especially as I tend towards the curious wherever possible. Buoyed by a pint and a full stomach I thought I may as well make the most of the opportunity and do something.  Straightaway I found myself somehow drawn to the Beer Dock, a place that has been open for three months but had singularly failed to capture my attention on account of its unassuming frontage and my attempts to avoid the woman who always sits at the bus stop asking everybody who passersby for 12 pence.

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51 Comments

Posted by on 24/07/2015 in Blogging, Life

 

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Concrete Island – J. G. Ballard

BaddardA chilling novel that pays twisted homage to Defoe’s ‘Robinson Crusoe’.

Robert Maitland, a 35 year-old architect, is driving home from his London offices when a blow-out sends his speeding Jaguar hurtling out of control. Smashing through a temporary barrier he finds himself, dazed and disoriented, on a traffic island below three converging motorways. But when he tries to climb the embankment or flag-down a passing car for help it proves impossible – and he finds himself imprisoned on the concrete island. Maitland must survive using only what he can find in his crashed car.

There is something mysterious about the setting of Concrete Island, those dead spaces that we all glimpse without a passing thought as we journey somewhere, places where nobody is meant to set foot any more, places hidden, forgotten in plain sight.

When the unfortunate Maitland finds himself accidentally encroaching on this bleak micro world, marooned with just his thoughts and whatever happens to be in his car,  it gives him a chance to examine his life from the outside, amongst all the dereliction of his new home and realise just out how lacking his life has been in terms of actual warmth and fulfilment.

The unfortunate Maitland is not a particularly likeable character, whilst the reader can sympathise with his predicament, his thoughts and attitudes meant that although I wanted to see where the story went, I didn’t mind how much the author put him through in the process.  Sadism aside, it is interesting to see how the isolation affects Mr M. and how quickly he regresses to a primitive state and he struggles with delirium, injury and his own inner voice questioning whether he has the will or indeed the wish to escape his prison.  Beyond that what sort of life is waiting back for him, perhaps not the rich life he led himself to believe he had. Read the rest of this entry »

 
37 Comments

Posted by on 19/07/2015 in Fiction

 

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Astonishing the Gods – Ben Okri

AsttheGodsFrom the Booker prize-winning author of The Famished Road comes this bewitching novel. It is a modern fable about the relationship between love, suffering and creativity. Set on an enchanted island, Astonishing the Gods is shot through with the gentle magic of Ben Okri’s imaginative prose.

Okri’s fifth novel is an interesting challenge to review, being as it is, a short novel with huge scope. It’s about a nameless man who sees himself as invisible and after much travelling finds himself at a strange port, which is the start of a journey into the meaning of his own experience of life.

To add any more plot would ruin the very point of the book which is the road to self understanding.  The protagonist and reader are taken on a journey of discovery and contemplation about life, how we experience it and what we really learn, or hope to learn and perhaps even how to transcend it.

It’s a very visual story, opulent in both language and imagery.  Set in an enigmatic dreamlike state, it becomes a timeless spiritual quest, which has a complex grandeur about its metaphysical nature.  The created world sparkles and although at first appearing to be a utopian place, there is an underlying cruel current which seems oddly apt.

There is plenty of symbolism in the prose and its abstract feel – the meandering of the story, the often flowery language loaded with arcane subtext – means there is a presence of the intangible, the spiritual.  Those philosophical questions are something that has always haunted our race and the world changes, keeping it in grandeur which mirrors our further understandings and maturity. Read the rest of this entry »

 
44 Comments

Posted by on 13/07/2015 in Fiction

 

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Q&A at StetotheJ

Despite being elusive around here of late, I was very kindly nominated for an award by Irena over at Books and Hot Tea and whilst I’m not one for awards these days I thought it would be nice to mix up my usual posts with a little Q&A with some pleasingly eclectic questions.

If you could choose your theme song, which song would it be?Sunshine_poster

John Murphy’s Surface of the Sun is something I very much like, not exactly a song but it is a mighty fine tune with just the right amount of epic in it and if it gets more people to watch the underrated film Sunshine then that is all to the good.

People often ask about favourite characters, but I would like to know who are your favourite villains?

There are plenty of great villains, the list is almost too long, villains always seem to have more depth about their motives than the good guys ever do so I would have to pick The Phantom (from that opera), Kurtz from Heart of Darkness, Claude Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Randall Flagg from The Stand amongst other Stephen King books is also a good choice but does Gollum count?  He was a victim of circumstance after all.

What would be your dream trip?

I would love to do a whistle-stop tour of bloggers in their home countries, it would take in a lot of the world and would involve lots of new foods and blog posts which is always a bonus as well.  My interests aren’t in the popular spots so much as meeting people in real settings and seeing a country without its clichéd tourist trappings is always more preferable to mine eyes.

If you could own a fictional/fairy tale/fantasy pet, what would it be? Why?

Kiki the parrot from Enid Blyton’s Adventure series would be awesome, she was really clever and could mimic loads of voices to scare away criminals.  Whilst neither of these next two are strictly pets, Shinto the donkey from the travel book Spanish Steps was a great pilgrimage companion and provided plenty of comedy relief as did The Luggage, a wooden chest with hundreds of little legs – once described as half suitcase, half homicidal maniac – that was bodyguard to Rincewind the wizard,  if that counts? Read the rest of this entry »

 
48 Comments

Posted by on 11/07/2015 in Blogging, Life

 

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