A.B. probably won't like that I've shelved this under 'literary', but that's what it is, sometimes.
1980 to 1995, Bennett's thoughts on his work, some A.B. probably won't like that I've shelved this under 'literary', but that's what it is, sometimes.
1980 to 1995, Bennett's thoughts on his work, some tidbits of life and musings on how the world works slide next to reviews of books, prefaces to his own works and speeches he has made on close friends at their funerals to bible societies.
I currently have covid brain, my fingers knowing how to spell but deciding against it anyway. It is the first book I've read for several months-over half a year-a year that saw me almost nothing but sad. Very, very sad.
And thus, after experiencing something that stopped the sadness and brought joy and laughter back again, I turned to A.B. for more joy and laughter, and he has not disappointed.
Each of his non-fiction works (compendiums of diaries, speeches, reviews, musings) were added to my eBay basket and bought without second thought. They arrived one after the other and I held my hand over the first chronologically, 'Writing Home', tentatively wondering if I was ready to read again.
Turns out I was and fuck me if I haven't missed it....more
I listened to this on audiobook, mainly because I've always wanted to try out audiobooks and never really gotten around to it, but also because it is I listened to this on audiobook, mainly because I've always wanted to try out audiobooks and never really gotten around to it, but also because it is freely accesible on spotify. Huzzah for spotify.
However, I believe what I listened to was the abridged version, which is slightly upsetting but excites me also: more Chris Barrie doing Scouse and Cockney and every-other accent ever? Yes please.
My rating is partly for the book and partly for the audiobook. I thoroughly enjoyed Chris Barrie: he is an absolutely spectacular character actor and you don't always see that in Red Dwarf. A few moments spring to mind, however: the mechanoid he gets turned into during Mechocracy and the dress-wearing, Mr. Flibble-weilding, holo-virus Rimmer of Quarentine. Have I mentioned I love Red Dwarf? No. Well, I do. More amazing old men that I love.
My childhood was Red Dwarf, Blackadder, Shooting Stars and Bottom. Poor parenting, maybe, but I can't thank them enough for that. Hence this review is probably a little biased and you can take what I say with a pinch of salt.
The story centres around the beginning of the TV programme, but with more canon added. We get a little more backstory of the main characters whilst we pretty much replay many scenes from the show, which for deepnerds is a really nice touch. You get to go beyond what Lister says on telly and find out that he wasn't stupid. Just rather lazy.
The main thing that sold this for me was Chris Barrie. He was superb and at times I forgot it was Chris and not Norman doing Hollie's voice. Even his Cat was impressive, though I notice he didn't attempt any Kochanski which might have been for the best. I think audiobooks are made by the people who read them, so if I ever pick up another it will be based purely on who is reading it....more
Number 23 and I am done. Sadly the final two books in the Peter Rabbit Collection were a little dull: plain rhymes that were often just well-known nurNumber 23 and I am done. Sadly the final two books in the Peter Rabbit Collection were a little dull: plain rhymes that were often just well-known nursery rhymes.
But fortunately, I now consider myself a Beatrix Potter fan. I was always led to believe that Beatrix's tales were twee and somewhat pathetic but I am happy to announce that that is definitely not the case. They are cute, yes, and sometimes a little twee of course (animals on their hindlegs in clothes cannot be anything but twee), but they are so much more.
They are the culmination of a women's life long love with nature and her wonderful imagination. She does not shy from the darker side of nature and believes everyone-including children-should know of this and embrace it, not ignore it. Sometimes this shocked me a little, but only because it came so out of the blue.
The main thing of course are the illustrations and one cannot deny that Beatrix is an accomplished watercolour artist and sketcher. Her tales would be almost nothing without them and that is no bad thing to say. She was an illustrator who wrote little stories to accompany her drawings and, although her longer stories were in my opinion so much better than the shorter ones, it is still the pictures that will forever be ingrained upon my memory. A dog in knickerbockers is no small thing to forget....more
I don't wish to lead you astray, these are quite charming little rhymes, but compared with her other stories and longer tales they're just a little biI don't wish to lead you astray, these are quite charming little rhymes, but compared with her other stories and longer tales they're just a little bit bland and boring. It is nice, however, to see recurring characters from previous tales....more
Unlike the previous story about the naughty little bunny, I wasn't quite feeling this one. Beatrix nails the cruelty of cats quite well, but it doesn'Unlike the previous story about the naughty little bunny, I wasn't quite feeling this one. Beatrix nails the cruelty of cats quite well, but it doesn't have any charm, or much darkness, of any of the cute I've come to expect and love from Beatrix.
Her illustrations remain charming as ever, though....more
I honestly don't know if I love this or am completely horrified. I've spoken at length in my previous reviews of the darkness in BeaHoly shit Beatrix.
I honestly don't know if I love this or am completely horrified. I've spoken at length in my previous reviews of the darkness in Beatrix's stories and how much I love it but I think this might be taking it slightly too far, especially considering this book is written for very, very young children compared with her other stories.
Obviously it is a tale about being nice and kind and if you're a horrible little childbunny you'll get your tail shot off, but it is a little bit missing the metaphor and going straight for the jugular, as it were. I think I love the bluntness but I would absolutely think twice about reading this to a child. Beatrix was an epic badarse no mistake. I believe she did not bear any children herself which probably explains a couple of things......more
Despite this being number nineteen in the little Peter Rabbit World Collection, this story was one of the first Beatrix Potter ever wrote.
This is muchDespite this being number nineteen in the little Peter Rabbit World Collection, this story was one of the first Beatrix Potter ever wrote.
This is much in evidence, it being very unlike a lot of her other works, both in length and subject matter. It is heavily influenced by Robinson Crusoe and The Owl and the Pussycat and tells the tale of the pig from the latter poem by Edward Lear.
The illustrations are predominantly black-and-white, with a few little watercolours thrown in. Whilst I prefer Beatrix's longer stories, this one felt a little off. There were too many humans mixing with animals and, although wanting to eat Little Pig Robinson is a little on the dark side, it doesn't quite hold up to the better of her stories.
It is, however, written nicely and tells an interesting if quite plain story compared to her other tales. Perhaps a little too long and I'm thankful she decided upon the shorter format....more
This is one of the more bizarre Beatrix Potter stories. It seems to have the same themes as previous, but the tone was decidedly different and each paThis is one of the more bizarre Beatrix Potter stories. It seems to have the same themes as previous, but the tone was decidedly different and each paragraph was rather sharp and blunt. There was not as much of the darkness of nature here, either.
It is worth noting, also, that there are far fewer watercolour illustrations and many more of the black-and-white drawings than in previous books.
Whilst the illustrations are on point as ever, they didn't particularly evoke anything except a nostalgia for the previous tales, as we see a lot of the old characters making cameos in this little story.
Despite these, I actually enjoyed the bizarre experience of this book. It was quite a stark difference but still ultimately Beatrix through and through....more
At first I wasn't sure if I liked the mix of black-and-white illustrations alongside Beatrix's gorgeous watercolours, but I have been turned completelAt first I wasn't sure if I liked the mix of black-and-white illustrations alongside Beatrix's gorgeous watercolours, but I have been turned completely: they add another dimension, especially to the longer stories, of which I am more fond of. Her shorter stories are fine, but you don't get her enthusiasm for nature quite as much as you do in her longer ones.
My favourite thing about Beatrix's stories is she doesn't shy away from the darker side of nature: here it is less so, as a cat and a dog are personified almost to the point of them being human. Usually I dislike personified animals; in particular I dislike anthropomorphied animals intensely, but Beatrix seems to do it really well. Maybe it's the cute little outfits, I don't know. Probably helps.
I have no reason other than the beautiful watercolours of Duchess the dog surrounded by flowers in her garden for giving this 4 stars. The story was a little bit meh and not Beatrix's best, but that picture will stay with me forever. I love it to pieces....more
Beatrix's longer tales are so much better than her short forays in to the little worlds of animals. They have a darker side that the first book never Beatrix's longer tales are so much better than her short forays in to the little worlds of animals. They have a darker side that the first book never seemed to have, though since it was her first we can allow her that.
At first, I wasn't keen on the black-and-white illsutrations that have accompanied the last few of Beatrix's books, but actually, in a longer story like this one, they fit in so well because you don't have pages and pages of texts without the magic that her watercolours usual bring. They also add another interesting dimension to Beatrix as an artist, as it's not only watercolours she was proficient in, but could convey the personfications of animals really well through any medium.
The story itself appealed to my cat-dislike side, but it was not her best. It seemed to be a little bit about nothing, and the ending faded away a little too dully. Not her best, but not her worst....more
Beatrix Potter is a much better storyteller when her tales are longer. She delves deeper in to the nature of animals-the darker side of their nature-aBeatrix Potter is a much better storyteller when her tales are longer. She delves deeper in to the nature of animals-the darker side of their nature-and her stories are better for it.
There are two more dangerous animals in this tale-a fox and a badger-and rather than being calm gentlemen who smoke pipes and natter, they are portrayed here almost true to form. They're rather vicious and vindictive if one takes their personified forms too literally. In truth, they are just the animals we know them as, albeit with the standard Beatrix waistcoat and walking cane.
The illustrations are a little different here: we have the darling watercolours that bring so much life to the stories, and we also have black and white engravings that add another dimension: perhaps not so much to the story but to the Beatrix Potter Legend overall.
Peter Rabbit also makes an appearance here, and I much prefer him as an adult than as a rather tiresome little bunny. Like all of her stories there are darker natural elements to all of them, and most include some form of eating, whether it be Mr McGregor putting rabbits in pies or Badgers putting rabbits in pies; whatever the case may be, we all know that pies are the best. Long live pies....more
"One place suits one person, another place suits another person. For my part, I prefer to live in the country, like Timmy Willie."
Much like Timmy and "One place suits one person, another place suits another person. For my part, I prefer to live in the country, like Timmy Willie."
Much like Timmy and Beatrix, I am country through and through. This little tale is probably the most developed in terms of saying something, which is that some people just like different things to you, get over it.
The illustrations didn't seem to add as much as usual with this one, though I cannot get over mice in waistcoats. Whilst before, it always felt like the story came after the illustrations, with this it felt more like the other way around and that the illustrations were forced to fit....more
Grey squirrels have nothing on Red Squirrels, as is evident in this tale of greedy little squirrels.
Beatrix Potter certainly knew her stuff, and at a Grey squirrels have nothing on Red Squirrels, as is evident in this tale of greedy little squirrels.
Beatrix Potter certainly knew her stuff, and at a time before Sir David Attenborough and his dulcet tones, she knew all about the wonders of nature. And indeed that squirrels are stupid and can't remember where they buried their nuts. And the they very much often steal from one another, as well.
The illustrations are not as cute as some others, though his orly umbrella was kind of ridiculous. And they're not Red Squirrels, so it's only fair that it's not as good a story....more
For some bizarre reason I have stopped trying to figure out, I found this book on my kindle.
Honestly? It's quite good, when you consider whom it is aiFor some bizarre reason I have stopped trying to figure out, I found this book on my kindle.
Honestly? It's quite good, when you consider whom it is aimed at. It's written really well in the kind of way most kids books that aren't meant to be also read by adults, and it has some nice scenarios that most little boys and girls will find very funny.
It might get a tad boring after a while. Horrid people are funny if they're on TV or in a book (i.e. not real and you can turn them off at any moment) but eventually they will seep in to your soul and darken your mood. Eventually....more
An excellent, beautiful, wonderful, superbly written, dry, witty, sad and melancholy collection of short stories written from the perspective of thoseAn excellent, beautiful, wonderful, superbly written, dry, witty, sad and melancholy collection of short stories written from the perspective of those left behind during World War Two: housewives, mothers and sisters, girlfriends and mistresses, men too old or important to be thrown away in the trenches...
"Adrian's mother welcomed them as though this were just an ordinary visit, with nothing particular about it."
The main thing to note with these stories is that they are unashamedly about the British middle-class household, tucked away in big country houses that usually are only reserved for hot, summer days away from London. And "unashamedly" they definitely are, and they wouldn't work any other way. They are witty in a way you couldn't be with the working-class, because there would only be despair and melancholy, without any opportunity to laugh at the imbecilic upper classes whose only worry is the Chippendale underneath their covers.
And the stories are so real as to be almost non-fiction, which in a way they are, much like when you tell a story that really happened but change the name of the person, and where it took place, to save their embarrassment.
They dwell on the mundane, with only hints of the war, and that is where the magic arrives. It's all very well to read the poetry of those serving to get the horror of the minute, but the war lasted for years and not every minute was core-shaking terror. It was mundane and boring, sometimes almost normal, like before the war. For some-and many in these stories-it was a mere inconvenience. It wasn't war, it was just something happening somewhere else.
"Oh, you British, you British!"
Yet, these stories were considered "too English" for the English, but not for any anglophile living in America, where these stories were published. They speak of a world far, far away from the war in truth: of cosy homes and nighttime revelries, where only a dropped bomb can untie the social lives of the upper classes, and even then it is just a minor inconvenience, not a terrible, terrible act of war.
Mollie Panter-Downes wrote for The New Yorker for most of her life, with some virtually unknown novels splattered here and there. First and foremost, she was a journalist, which in the world of books, fiction and non-fiction, and even short stories, they are a different species altogether.
Following are mini reviews of each story.
'Letter from London: 3 September 1939': A bit of non-fiction to begin with, this is the first letter Mollie wrote for The New Yorker, and it paints an incredible and evocative picture of the Second World War from the point of view of a normal, middle-class woman observing London and those living there.
'Date With Romance, (14 October 1939)', 3 Stars: A great start to the collection, with a lovely and very short story of an older woman meeting a past flame with what begins as nervous excitement about what to wear, and ends with joyous triumph that she looks good, whereas he...
Written so well and so very evocative of the time. Too short to really comment on other aspects, but it definitely did enough to keep me reading Mollie's work.
'Meeting At the Pringles', (6 January 1940)', 3 Stars: A group of women who have had nothing to do except be wives and mothers indoors all their lives, relish the opportunity to be more when the war breaks out.
Again, well-written and evocative, but I'm not quite feeling the feeling for these yet. They enjoyable and such amazing social history, but as writing they don't have that... Certain Thing. You know what I mean. Still very enjoyable.
"A room never looks like home without flowers, don't you agree, dear?"
'Mrs. Ramsay's War (27 January 1940)', 4 Stars: A countryside woman takes in distant relations to save them from the bombing, whom-along with half their possessions and yapping canines-take it upon themselves to make Mrs. Ramsay's home feel more like a home (their home).
Definitely starting to get The Feels (though one feels the need to stress these are not the same The Feels as most users on here tend to get when Hot Broody Man and Headstrong Main Sassy Bitch Queen get it on /finally/) with this story.
The humour was so dry and witty and you could feel the loathing from every word; I loved it.
"A cup of tea does so pull one together, don't you think?"
'In Clover (13 April 1940)', 3 Stars: A middle-class woman kindly takes a pregnant Londoner and her children during the worst of the Blitz, obviously vying for Sainthood.
A very good look at the differences of Country and Town, Middle and Working Class during WWII. I have to say it doesn't seem like much has changed in 70 years, because I defy you to find a single English person that doesn't think a good cup of tea will solve everything, even desolate, despondent, poor and filthy Londoners. Even them.
'It's the Real Thing This Time (15 June 1940)', 5 Stars: A too-old soldier tends his cabbages with his sister, but longs for the battles of his youth.
This one really pulled at me for a variety of reasons. It wasn't just women who were left at home during the war, it was those who had previously fought for King and Country but were now denied the chance because their knees weren't quite as lubricated as they once were.
This speaks of so many different levels of social and political change in one simple short story. There is the warrior, who to our modern minds is a baffling creature, almost savage and not what we want our people to be, but they were fighters and it was their job-or even their duty-and the portrayal of one man's devolvement from cavalry officer to air-raid warden is unbelievably saddening. This one really got me.
'This Flower, Safety (6 July 1940)', 3 Stars: One old woman's journey to be as safe as possible, never mind the Chippendale and Silver.
I found this one more cute than anything. Mollie's stories are unapologetically middle-class and I really enjoy that (working-class represent) and this seems to sum up the futile nature of the middle-class hoard of decorative possessions and the human nature to survive, coupled with the fact that a war anywhere in the world impacts the whole world eventually.
'As the Fruitful Vine (31 August 1940)', 4 Stars: A young woman's family and friends are all a little too neutral about the fact that she is expecting a baby, right slap-bang in the middle of the war.
This is a great story showing that, yes the war is terrible and the bombs are dropping and good and bad people alike are being killed needlessly, but Life Still Goes On Regardless, as indeed it must.
'Lunch With Mr. Biddle (7 December 1940)', 3 Stars: Dinner parties must go on, and High Society will not tolerate boisterous conversation or the air-raid siren, as Mr. Biddle finds out.
A delightfully quick, witty and rather tongue-in-cheek story of the higher echelons of English society and how they deal with the war (or indeed, don't deal). Not as amusing as others, nor particularly characterful, but certainly that delectable Social History that lives longer than any ideal that was fought for.
'Battle of the Greeks (8 March 1941)', 3 Stars: The Red Cross sewing party meet to make pyjamas for the Greeks after their triumph over Mussolini and the conversation inevitably turns to war...
I found this more cute than anything else, which probably isn't the correct term but that's how it feels to read.
Middle-class women bickering, a great knowledge of the war and excellent writing is all I can really say about this.
'Fin de Siècle (12 July 1941)', 3 Stars: A bohemian, pacifist couple finally cave in to The War and begin joining in-and enjoying it-much to their own surprise.
As before, written superbly and with such subtle vision that its calm portrayal of how much the war-any war-can affect even the most bloody minded and philosophical.
'Literary Scandal at the Sewing Party (6 September 1941)', 3 Stars: More drama at the Red Cross sewing party, oh my.
As before, middle-class drama, the differences of generations and the subtle suggestion that women should and can do more than sew and make babies.
"Adrian's mother welcomed them as though this were just an ordinary visit, with nothing particular about it."
'Goodbye, My Love (13 December 1941)', 3 Stars: A mother worries for her children and their previous, precisesafety in the US, now that they are at war with Japan.
This one is much of a muchness with a lot of the others, with repeated ideals and metaphors.
Still excellently written, but doesn't have quite the spark as some of the others possess.
'Combined Operations (29 August 1942)', 3 Stars: Less about war, more about what it can do to people away from the fighting and the bombing...
Written really well and so excellently observered, you cannot read this one without the corners of your mouth twitching upward.
The War is barely to be seen here, which is a big a statement as if it had been. Life continues-especially, as we've learnt, for the middle classes-and even the most mundane, the most trivial, the most middle-class, irrelevant, utter nonsense can still prevail, and that is either spectacularly astute or frighteningly awakening.
'Good Evening, Mrs Craven (5 December 1941)', 3 Stars: Sadly, I found this tale of a soldier and his mistress a little boring, but also very saddening. It had its moments certainly, like any story in this collection, but this one felt flat.
'The Hunger of Miss Burton (16th January 1943)', 3 Stars: A quiet school teacher must endure the pangs of hunger during rationing, but can't recognise that they are also the pangs of love.
Trying hard not to define this one as "cute and quick", though it speaks of more than that. It felt a little already done, maybe in these stories, and the metaphor felt flat and dull.
'It's the Reaction (24 July 1943)', 4 Stars: A quick delve in to the lonely life of a woman living alone surrounded by noisy flats.
So sad and melancholy, the odd juxtaposition of the terrible nature of bombing with the joy of comraderie it brings. An excellent foray in to the other side of "coming together" for the war effort.
'Cut Down the Trees (4 September 1943)', 4 Stars: Canadian soldiers overtake a grand English country house, much to the dismay of the maid, but to the general delight of the old lady who owns it.
This is a wonderful story of social change, how things were and how things changed dramatically in English households after WWII. It condenses all social strata in to a few sentences and rolls over it with the inevitable power of change, where a world in which the upper classes dine under chandeliers with maids and butlers to help is to disappear almost entirely.
A smart look at something that hadn't changed completely but would almost as soon as the war ended. Panter-Downes can smell out every essence of the upper classes, their plights and their ways with the utmost detail.
'Year of Decision (29 April 1944)', 4 Stars: A man with a brain and steady job, sitting at his desk doing his own bit for the war effort... But it still isn't quite enough for him.
"What did you do in the Great War of Decision, Daddy? Stood at the sink, my boy, and got the sticky cereal unglued from your spoon."
An excellent look in to the male Psyche during war, a little in contrast with the forgotten major in the previous story 'It's the Real Thing This Time' yet still almost parodying the desire to be in the thick of the war, a left-over relic of the Empire, of the way fighting used to be for thousands of years.
Why be safe at home with those you love when you can be killed in action, parachuting from a moving plane 20,000 feet in the air? What kind of story would that be?
'The Danger (8 July 1944)', 3 Stars: Finally, Mrs. Dudley had her quiet house back as the Rudds make their way back to London: she had Done Her Bit. But was that really enough?
This story is a nice tongue-in-cheek look at the (hopefully not just but sadly probably) British way of Forced Sociability. Be nice, not because you want to, but because it is expected of you. This is why we're so passive aggressive, because we can't say no. Grin and Bear It, Keep Calm and Carry On: though truly the social divide brings most of the problems, especially during the war when the upper classes want to keep the parties going and the lower classes just want food and shelter.
Quite mesmerising and none of these stories would work if not from the P.O.V. of the middle-class housewife, tucked between their hydrangeas and silver spoons.
'The Waste of It All (16 December 1944)', 5 Stars: A wife left at home with not much to do fills up her home with friends or, when they run out, a young mother who was the victim of billeted soldiers with too much drink in them.
Incredibly apt to end on, a slight despondency in the manner of writing. Dry and witty in some cases, melancholy and a bitter spirit in others. It feels as if all the themes, ideas and metaphors of all the previous stories have been wrapped up neatly inside the thin, papery text of this final story.
'Letter From London (11 June 1944)' The final letter, detailing the sullen Tuesday that was D-day, fades the war from view. It isn't over but it might as well be....more
As soon as I finished Carrie's War I instantly felt a little silly for enjoying it. I'm not entirely sure why, but it is a pure and simple tale that wAs soon as I finished Carrie's War I instantly felt a little silly for enjoying it. I'm not entirely sure why, but it is a pure and simple tale that would take a lot of overthinking and analysis to not enjoy.
We follow Carrie and Nick, two children of London who are evacuated with little labels like parcels to a small mining village in Wales, away from the bombings and the terrors of the war. Immediately they are thrown from the comfort of a family life to a strangers house, where the war might be miles away but they are still living their own kind of war.
I was reminded a little of Swallows and Amazons, for both the innocence of the world and the simplicity of the story telling. We are living in a child's world and seeing it through their eyes, and they are not selfish and boring and self-righteous like a lot of YA protagonists seem to be, but are from a different kind when childhood meant childhood and growing up was done a little bit slower.
Much like Swallows and Amazons (and probably a lot of other books from that time), the plot and writing style are simple yet extremely effective. It is written well as the text flows seamlessly and we follow the lives of these children, not a story. It won't challenge your opinions or make you think too much, but it is a joy to read. Carrie and her brother Nick are wonderful little characters, as are all the other people that create the atmosphere of this book.
The nicest thing of this novel is how we see the world through Carrie's eyes, and the way she must navigate her life away from her parents. Although she is being looked after by two very respectable (if not a little meek or stern) adults, she still must live almost by her own wits. She must think her own thoughts and work things out for herself, which is conveyed very well throughout the story. We also see Carrie being very much an imperfect protagonist: she gets things wrong, and often lets her feelings get in the way of logic, or sees things through a child's eyes rather than the way they should be seen.
I can't say for certain why I felt a little foolish for enjoying this book so much. It was a simple read, but an enjoyable one. Perhaps because I feel there are other books that have greater literary merit that I've never quite been convinced to like. Perhaps because it is a children's tale, but then some of my favourites were written for children but are enjoyed more by adults. Perhaps there is no reason, and it was just a small, little spark of a feeling that passed quickly but felt larger because I was then going to share my feelings with the world. Enjoying a book is one thing, but telling other people about that enjoyment is another, and takes a certain kind of bravery....more
Generally I enjoy the post-war optimism of children's books from either POST-WWI or post-WWII (think Swallows and Amazons or Narnia). Compared to modeGenerally I enjoy the post-war optimism of children's books from either POST-WWI or post-WWII (think Swallows and Amazons or Narnia). Compared to modern day children's books, they tend to be about the adventure, rather than about being relatable and about life. How boring.
Stig of the Dump has that post-war optimism but doesn't quite do it for me. It's a little too closed-off, a little too small. Written nicely, I just feel it had so much more to give and never quite got around to it....more
A collection of nineteen short stories all with one common thread: dragons.
It is a veritable feast of all the different dragon mythologies around theA collection of nineteen short stories all with one common thread: dragons.
It is a veritable feast of all the different dragon mythologies around the world, from Oriental Asian to Mayan, passing through England and Europe to the reddened deserts of Native America. We delve in to Arthurian Legend and rise out of Norse Mythology without the clank of a gear change and it feels a smooth process.
It is a nice, decent collection of differing lengths and vastly differing storytelling prowess.
Below are short reviews for each story, the standout being the one by a certain Ms. Le Guin. Having never read any before, this was an excellent and exciting find and one that has whetted my appetite for more-and more soon and now.
Whilst that was the best, the rest were fairly poor to middling, but each had its own little gem tucked away between the words. Some had plot lines that spark the imagination whilst others had new ways of looking at old tales.
A decent collection if you find this type of thing of interest.
'Age' by Tanith Lee, 2 Stars: The weird comma sentences don't flow too well but the imagery is delightful. Unfortunately, the personification of the dragon is not something I can get behind and can't believe that it is the dragon's thoughts prevailing.
'Tin Lizzies' by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, 3 Stars: A (relatively) contemporary story of dragons, which is something I have never come across. Written really well and the pace of the story was solid, with good suspense throughout.
The characters were uninteresting to me in the main, however, and the setting could have been explored more, especially the Native Indian people, site and lore. Fairly standard American, then.
'Ulf the Wyrm' by Lois Tilton, 3 Stars: A nice intro with Norse Mythology being the protagonist, dragging little Ulf the servant along with it. A pretty standard tale with quick pace and a nice story. Just long enough to pique my interest for more Norse Mythology.
'Short Straws' by Kevin J. Anderson, 1 Star: A first-person narrative following a band of mercenaries sent to tackle a dragon in exchange for the hand of a princess. I found the narrators voice rather boring and slightly annoying, but the twist in the "do this for my daughter's hand in marriage" was wholly welcome.
Or that is what I thought at first. The annoying narrator continued and with jerky self-flattery stumbled to the end of his story. Not one I enjoyed.
'Pleasantly Pink' by Mike Resnick and Nicholas A. DiChario, 1 Star: A man uses the mystical pink mist of a dragon to make a killing in the restaurant trade, but one should never trust a dragon, awake or asleep...
I... Eh. The imagination and originality was nice at first, but it turned in to some really weird contemporary crap that I can't quite wrap my head around. Pretty awful in truth.
'The Rule of Names' by Ursula K. Le Guin, 5 Stars: Actually my very first Le Guin piece of writing I've ever read. And it was spectacular.
I am no fan of short stories, despite reading them a lot recently. I don't have a lot of time to get in to a big, fat, juicy high fantasy trilogy as much these days, so short stories work really well when I want to complete a story but not take weeks about it.
This was just fantastic. Well written, nicely paced, good characters, great dialogue, decent plot and fun ending. I need to read more Le Guin very soon.
'Sirinita's Dragon' by Lawrence Watt-Evans, 2 Stars: A young girl hatches a dragon in the city from an egg her father brings home and ponders his fate: set him loose or let her parents kill him for the gold his blood will fetch.
Written reasonably well, but lacklustre in all other respects. Quite a nice twist, and would make a good further-developed story exploring the city and world (which possibly already exists?), but really nothing note-worthy.
'Dream Reader' by Jane Yolen, 2 Stars: A short take on the Arthurian Legend of the beginnings of the wizard Merlin.
Written well but I didn't enjoy it. I'm not well-versed enough in Arthurian Legend to comment on the "accuracy" but I found it a little too boring and lacking. I also wasn't a fan of the magic being lessened to parlour tricks and street magic.
'The Dragon on the Bookshelf' by Harlan Ellison and Robert Silverberg, 1 Stars: A contemporary story of a small dragon's love for a human that threatens to bring forth the destruction of the world...
It was written decently well but it did not hold me at all. Rather boring, some imagination but not of interest to me. Contemporary dragon stories are difficult to get right and the ideas in this short story weren't conveyed well.
'The Shedding and the Song' by Ian Hunter, 3 Stars: A decent yarn where the twist to the "kill the dragon, marry the Princess" tale is told by the dragon itself.
Written well with some good humour, but not quite riveting enough for anything higher. The dragon was a little annoying, as most dragons seem to be when given a voice. Much better to have them simply burning things alive.
'The Old, Old Story' by Andrew Lane, 4 Stars: Very well-written story of superstition and religion mixed with mythology in a fairly contemporary setting as a priest is asked to look in on a young boy thought to be possessed.
Enjoyable from the beginning and not at all predictable. The contemporary of these stories (or near as damn it) are generally poor and don't mix well with the fantasy elements that the authors attempt to weave in, but this one was done really well.
'The Mandelbrot Dragon' by Mary A. Turzillo, 1 Star: An attempt to really modernise the myth of the dragon by placing it within a computer, but unfortunately it was a poor attempt at something different. Mercifully short, however.
'Dragonlord's Justice' by Joanne Bertin, 2 Stars: Two stars given for how well-written it is, but really it is a 1 star, run-of-the-mill, clichéd, boring fantasy story full of standard tropes, boorish men, women being raped and gaudy lessons being learnt.
Once upon a time I would have loved this, but fantasy is fiction and I realise now that it need not reflect how our world was once upon a time, even if it is based on it for the most part.
'Grandfather's Briefcase' by Gerald Perkins, 1 Star: Boring contemporary story with an irritating narrator and everything else besides. Nothing else to say.
'Mordred and the Dragon' by Phyllis Ann Karr, 1 Star: A second Arthurian inspired tale, this time concerning Mordred and Lancelot and the ubiquitous dragon.
Again, I am not well-versed in Arthurian Legend to truly rate this, but I found it boring and lacklustre. Written fairly well but there was no characterisation or development and, though I know it is a short story, if you read a very good short story you get those things plus more.
'Falcon and Dragon' by Josepha Sherman, 1 Star: Just awful, unfortunately. A standard fantasy trope that was trying slightly too hard about a young shape-shifting Prince who must rescue someone from the clutches of a dragon.
Not written terribly, but the narrator was annoying and spoke unrealistically, with flat characters and an altogether too boring and simple plot.
Perhaps I am expecting too much from a short story, but I am constantly reminded of the few short stories that have been 5-star reads and this falls far short.
'When the Summons Came from Camelot' by Cynthia Ward, 3 Stars: Another Arthurian Legend tale, though this time we have lesser-known (or completely unknown?) characters with a nice twist to the tale.
Written nicely, with good pacing and a decent plot. Not thoroughly developed characters but enough to show them as different people not just Things That Say Stuff. Sometimes a little too brash but on the whole and enjoyable addition to the Arthurian Mythology.
'Serpent Feather' by Gordon R. Menzies, 2 Stars: A longer tale concerning Mayan Mythology (History?) and the mighty Quetzalcoatl.
Written well, though sometimes a little boring. I find it fascinating that even in a short story an author can write something boring. But it was a nice change from the usual fantasy tropes and gave another side to the mythology of dragons, even if this one is mostly just a snake.
'Dragon's Fin Soup' by S.P. Somtow, 2 Stars: A final dip in to Oriental Mythology about another restaurant taking liberties over a dragon for money.
This one was written well, though I didn't like the voice of the narrator or the characters much. The dragon was quite a joy and it was enjoyable to learn a little more of Asian Dragon Mythology....more
“But I know human nature, my friend, and I tell you that, suddenly confronted with the possibility of being tried for murder, the most innocent person“But I know human nature, my friend, and I tell you that, suddenly confronted with the possibility of being tried for murder, the most innocent person will lose his head and do the most absurd things.”
This was my first ever read of an Agatha Christie novel and my very first formal introduction to Hercule Poirot, the indomitable Belgian detective. It is perhaps the most famous of the Poirot novels and, being English and being a voracious bookwyrm, I was acutely aware of this book. My mind has nothing but David Suchet when anyone mentions Poirot and there is no one that comes to mind quicker when one mentions Agatha Christie. The two are intertwined so perfectly the one could not exist without the other.
However, despite the fame and fortune of the title, I had no idea of any spoilers. I knew the plot, vaguely: a train-the Orient Express no less-trapped in snow; a murder and several suspects; no police, only the egg-shaped cerebral deductions from a peculiar man. I find it quite something that I've never come across the ending to this novel, but then, I have not seen the film and despite my love of David Suchet I have never sat myself down and watched it. Other things seemed more important.
“Hercule Poirot addressed himself to the task of keeping his moustaches out of the soup.”
The plot itself is by this century tired and old, yet Christie's writing keeps it fresh and wonderful. There is no great ingenuity here, no advanced plot devices and no wiley tropes to bulk out the text. It is a pure and simple mystery crime novel that is executed to the highest degree. There are no pointless tangents, nor indeed do we get in to the mind of the killers. We are simply thrust in to the very capable hands of Hercule Poirot, and my did he delight me.
“He went out of the compartment and returned a few moments later with a small spirit stove and a pair of curling tongs. "I use them for the moustaches," he said, referring to the latter.”
It was this quote that endeared me toward Poirot more than anything else. The beginning of the novel did not hold my attention: a murdered American on a stranded train? It is not completely compelling. I put the book down for two weeks whilst my boyfriend visited to gain relief from the 40 degree heat of France. I didn't pick it up again for another couple of weeks for no particular reason.
Happily, and as you can tell, I did. The beginning was nothing particular, but the ending was stellar. Fondly, I guessed the killer correctly, but only after two previous guesses had been dismissed: this was just over half way when the links were just beginning to join. Christie has a wonderful way of wrapping you around her little teases, gently pushing you in to Poirot's mind as he too goes through the possibilities that you are also pondering.
The ending gave me a satisfaction I did not know I needed. The ending of a book is not always what I strive to enjoy: I do not mind spoilers and, though I never actively seek them out, there is no twitter outrage from me about them. The journey is the key to any novel or story, if it were not then we would all be content with the beginning and ending only....more
A spooky linen cupboard in a hotel makes Fliss think there's something not quite right happening in the seaside town of Whitby...
This is really cute lA spooky linen cupboard in a hotel makes Fliss think there's something not quite right happening in the seaside town of Whitby...
This is really cute little book, despite it being a "horror". A horror for children, of course. I wasn't wholly convinced by the dialogue, and I am sadly a bit too old to really care for the storyline, but it was utterly charming to be completely transported. Whitby is almost a second home to me and I was walking down every street and entering every single shop with these children on their little holiday.
It does create a very good atmosphere, but I think there could have been more added to bolster the mysterious element of the story. It seemed quick-paced, but on the wrong side of quick. Still an enjoyable read, though it would never have been picked up if it hadn't been set in Whitby....more
"But it's not just learning things that's important. It's learning what to do with what you learn and learning why you learn things at all that matter"But it's not just learning things that's important. It's learning what to do with what you learn and learning why you learn things at all that matters."
Following Milo through the Phantom Tollbooth in to the Kingdom of Wisdom and places like Dictionopolis and the Castle in the Air felt much like reading a poor man's Alice in Wonderland. It has invention and wit, imagination and fun ways of looking at things, but it all felt incredibly flat.
Most places seemed rushed, the characters felt obvious and the whole story felt like an parable that seems frequent in US children's literature, where they must be taught how to better themselves to live the American Dream, which I'm still not sure the definition of.
Maybe it is purely for that target market, because there felt nothing to take away from it. The imagination was no better than my own, unlike Lewis Carroll's which still amazes me every thing I read that particular collection of stories. The wit was amusing at first but became dry and boring toward the end and the whole adventure felt disingenuous....more
This is the first time I feel let down by PKD. I enjoyed the plot and the ideas, the bitter loneliness of sharing a life wiReview for 'Human Is' only.
This is the first time I feel let down by PKD. I enjoyed the plot and the ideas, the bitter loneliness of sharing a life with someone who had forgotten how to love, the characters to an extent and the general ambience surrounding the piece.
But my was it written badly. It had nothing. Absolutely nothing. The dialogue, the whole thing. It was a supreme let down. But still much better than 99% of stuff being pushed out these days....more
A good dystopian after-the-tech story of a group of survivors who just want to work the land and forget the past, but are dogged by automatic factorieA good dystopian after-the-tech story of a group of survivors who just want to work the land and forget the past, but are dogged by automatic factories that are continuously ruining the land because it "thinks" the humans need their products.
Pretty similar in taste to his others and the themes are nice to explore. The characters were completely flat, which in short stories is pretty much standard, and the atmosphere was never truly built. I didn't feel the dystopian or ravaged land, it just sort of thudded in to you on occasion.
The enjoyment flows from the devastating effects of tech, especially "auto" tech and how their help is often incredibly limited. It's a nice little parable and, of course, was written well, but was lacking in depth which short stories often do.
One can imagine all these PKD short stories being rifled through, just waiting for that spark to ignite a full, complete story......more
A nice quickie with that lovely dystopian end-of-the-world vibe. It's a nice contrast between two people who just don't know: the boy who wants to be A nice quickie with that lovely dystopian end-of-the-world vibe. It's a nice contrast between two people who just don't know: the boy who wants to be safe and the father who wants cold, hard facts. It has so many little threads of thought to follow, yet it never develops them all within the story itself. How do you protect your family but keep your own morals and beliefs? How do you know when people are telling the truth? What to do, how to do it. Peer pressure, the gap between generations.
Reactionary to the threat of the cold war at the time of writing, yet foreseeing the ridiculous obsession people have of buying shit they don't need.
Torn between three and four stars, mostly because it made me smile-and laugh a little-and I enjoyed the lovely and very lively paranoia that exists inTorn between three and four stars, mostly because it made me smile-and laugh a little-and I enjoyed the lovely and very lively paranoia that exists in this society, but again the problem of too short and not explored more rose its ugly head.
Atmospheric in such a short space of time, and dropped straight in to the chase, it is-I feel I'm almost qualified enough to say-very Dickesque, and I like that a lot.
But there are little things, maybe not enough explanation in some places and maybe too much in others. And maybe dystopian societies are feeling a bit overdone (yeah, I know this was written years ago before it became Netflix's favourite genre-and by extension /yours/)....more
A quick little cautionary tale about the perils of over-consumption of, well, everything. It's a grim premise but not actually that far removed from wA quick little cautionary tale about the perils of over-consumption of, well, everything. It's a grim premise but not actually that far removed from where we appear to be right now.
A good story with an ending I was not expecting, but I felt it was a fiction short story, not a sci-fi short story. Whilst that's a stupid thing to say about a story that features flying cars and plastic clothing, it wasn't a story about that. It was a story about human nature and the state of the world, which is cool y'know, but sometimes I just want hard-core sci-fi.
In the anthology I read it in (Electric Dreams), Dick had a different ending to the one written which I much prefer....more
Oh, I like this one. This one fuels the imagination, makes you feel things and has your questioning the future of earth. Especially these days consideOh, I like this one. This one fuels the imagination, makes you feel things and has your questioning the future of earth. Especially these days considering people like Elon Musk.
It's relatively simple, which seems a hallmark of Dick's short efforts. Simple works sometimes, often doesn't. Here it really does. You can tell from one sentence that Norton is a conniving little layabout, and that Andrews has a romantic streak to him.
What more can be said. Almost perfection but it did not make me feel quite like The Sea and Little Fishes did....more
It's an enjoyable Dick piece but like his other shorts it merely left me wanting more, not satisfied.
Which, I suppose, is actually a better thing in tIt's an enjoyable Dick piece but like his other shorts it merely left me wanting more, not satisfied.
Which, I suppose, is actually a better thing in the grand scheme of things. I am still waiting for Dick to show bad writing, but I'm happy to say I don't think it will ever happen.
It's a good, compelling story that reminds me of the way Lovecraft tells a story without delving in to everything all at once (or at all). Not the high-tech kind of sci-fi that one thinks of, but the human-tech kind of sci-fi that induces thought on society and what humans are, and where we fit in the world-and in all of time and space as well.
I rated low because I have read little but expect better compared to others I've read and enjoyed....more
I still feel like an impostor when writing reviews about sci-fi, and K. Dick in particular. This is a relatively simple sci-fi short story about a futI still feel like an impostor when writing reviews about sci-fi, and K. Dick in particular. This is a relatively simple sci-fi short story about a futuristic 22nd Century man who curates a display of the 20th Century, and is very dedicated to his work.
A lot of sci-fi (or the few bits I've read, at least) is often bombarded with so many scientific explanations and fancy words that it takes a while to get your head around a story. Dick does that in other stories-but does it in such a way that it works, but in this one it's pretty simple. Whilst that's the best way to write sci-fi in my humble opinion, here it didn't seem to work as well. The story is fun, and really thought-provoking as the edges of sci-fi poke their little heads in on the piece, but it felt too simple and more... well, like a short story. Which I suppose was its little problem.
It was good, and written so well that I almost cried (bad grammar really makes you miss the good kind) but it just left me feeling a little meh, unlike the few other Dick I've read....more