David Stevens

Posts Tagged ‘books’

Hutchinson’s Europe continues to expand …

In Uncategorized on October 14, 2018 at 2:41 am

Europe at Dawn

Just came across the latest / last volume of Dave Hutchinson’s “Fractured Europe sequence” – well, that’s how they describe it on The Book Depository, where it is available for pre-order. The timing is perfect – a big chunk of my book collection returns home on Wednesday, including the previous volumes of this series, so I will get to re-read them before the latest / last volume arrives in the post, I hope.

As I say, I don’t do reviews, so here is the link to my comments about the first two volumes of the series.

 

 

 

 

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John Purcell on books

In Uncategorized on October 14, 2018 at 1:06 am

This from the SMH last weekend (the Saturday SMH is the only newspaper I buy anymore, for the occasional nugget like this, but their review section is becoming so dire I may give up on newspapers altogether):

“My memory bank is not my brain: its my book collection. I can’t do without it. When I had my books in packaging for six months, I got dumber. I wasn’t running up against them, I wasn’t exposed to them, I forgot things. As soon as I saw them on the shelf I remembered them; it comes flooding back and I will often go to my collection and hold them.”

John Purcell, director of books (what a title) at Booktopia. SMH 6/10/18 p28

Not precisely accurate, but it rings so true. A chunk of my personal collection is about to arrive home, and I have been making space for it afresh, ready for my old friends to be reunited with each other, and with me.

I am extremely privileged that I grew up a two minute walk from a public library. I read so many of the books there. My life would have been far poorer for its absence, and even these decades removed, would have remained irreparably impoverished. But when I started to earn money, I started to buy books, and have never stopped. I maintain, despite my culture (my words are chosen carefully here), that it is a vice superior to tobacco and alcohol. The public library, a very important institution, will never be my own collection, my own cultivated “set”. My books reflect me, the times I have lived through, my changing tastes and interests, my growth, my passions, my follies. Though I have in (very) recent years learned to part with books, I will never have the ruthless instinct required of the public librarian, to shed and dispose.

It is now possible for me to sometimes walk out of a book store without a purchase tucked under my arm. This is a new stage of development, and a welcome one for my wife, who has after some decades decreed an absolute limit on bookshelf space in our home. But I cannot promise my wife (a librarian!) that under cover of darkness, while the house sleeps, that I won’t creep online. Having snuck onto the internet, I confess there is the chance that I may enter into my browser the names of the very titles I lingered over that afternoon in the shop, that I so unwillingly replaced onto the shelves. And perhaps a week or two later, a brown cardboard parcel will arrive, and if I don’t get to the letterbox first, eyebrows will be raised. It is a testament to the ability of the human mind to hold onto vast inconsistencies in thought and behaviour that I am able to continue to wander the world, somehow convinced that my virtue is intact.

A Small Town in Germany

In Uncategorized on May 25, 2018 at 5:43 pm

John le Carre’s 5th novel is 50 years old, but the world it describes is only yesterday, a modern world with the only discrepancies the make of cars, or whether everyone has a boilerman enter their home to start the morning. In their concerns and the way they live their lives, the folk described don’t seem much different from people today, except for the lack of references to smartphones, I suppose. And that sort of difference is equally true for novels written in 2005. The filing systems it turns on are not computerised, but then friends of mine who work in archives are still dealing with pre-digitalised material. Perhaps the UK is not as class-ridden, but I am sure there are still officers made to feel out of place because they wear the wrong shoes or have the wrong accent, as occurs in the novel.  Not that I was reading any novels in 1968, but I suspect that if I was, I would have felt a greater difference with the characters and setting of novels written in 1918.

The novel describes a world where the UK is desperate to enter the European common market, seeking German support against French opposition. It is interesting to read that in a world of Brexit, but as a main character points out towards the end, it is not the detail of the cause célèbre that matters, but just that there is one.

Wait! Brussels … the Market … all this. Next week it’s gold, the week after it’s the Warsaw pact. We’d join the bloody Salvation Army if it pleased the Americans. What does it matter about the names?

And the rejoinder:

Crises are academic. Scandals are not.

There is always something, and the something will change. However, it is human beings and lives that are damaged along the way, the causes and the victims of scandal who are ultimately disposable. All of our running around, all of the work of days, that a year or a decade or half a century later are reversed, by people who are also running around and who can proclaim that they are doing the right thing. What does any of it matter in the end?

Every night, as I go to sleep, I say to myself: another day achieved. Another day added to the unnatural life of a world on its deathbed. And if I never relax, if I never lift my eye, we may run on for another hundred years.

Well, we are half-way there. 50 years on from the crises and scandals of 1968, a year famous for many things, many events. And not that I want to bring the end of the world one second closer, but personally, I need to relax!

I enjoyed this book so, so much!

In Uncategorized on April 30, 2018 at 2:31 pm

Heart on my sleeve when it comes to this book review …

Just read this on Tor.com, and I get it completely:

Lately, it’s really difficult to be enthusiastic about books. Perhaps I’ve read too many of them. Perhaps—though less likely—I haven’t read enough, and if I read a few more, the enthusiasm will come back.

I have been like this numerous times in my reading life, reading in all sorts of genres (including that genre called literary fiction). My mate Stephen and I would swap books and lists of writers, trying to find that special something that makes that great experience known as reading, exceptional.

The recommendation I am about to give originally came, I think, from my wife’s octogenarian uncle, who never leads me astray. Still, I do not trust enough. It starts in the First World War, and I have read so many so serious so earnest books about the Great War.

But dear friend, how fortunate that I did doubt, for a pleasure deferred is a … something. Of course, you could say that about anything, but then, how much pleasure is left to me? I may never enjoy another book.

Now I worry that you have read it already, and after this build up, that you will be cross with me. It is no obscure tome I refer to, it is a prize winner and something of a best seller.

“The Great Swindle” (Au revoir la-haut) by Pierre Lemaitre was a pure delight. It grabbed me and dragged me in, and I was off on an adventure that I did not want to finish. I cared about everybody so much, and the trick is, the novel made me think that this came from some quality of my own, some inner sympathy indicative of my nature as a sensitive being, when of course, it is a result of pure craft.

There is no hiding the horror of the Great War, it is simply that the horror is not unrelieved. But then, even when it is relieved, when it is covered to protect us, the mask (and I use the term deliberately) is always ready to fall, to remind us of the horrors within us all, we who are used to our flesh covering up all sorts of monstrosities. The plumage is extravagant indeed, as wondrous as that of any peacock, a pleasure to behold.

I worried for these characters, I urged them on in their cynical exploits. I wanted them to succeed at

Lemaitre makes it all personal. When a character dies, we die with them, we are taken to the point of final darkness. We are shown that no act of heroism goes unpunished. We go into the hell of the battlefield, we descend into the grave, we are there with individuals and their own personal wounds, each suffering in their own way. Only after that are we taken on a tour that lasts the whole book of the industrial nature of the war, the huge machine that swallows men and lives and chews them up. A machine designed to produce a crop – corpses – that need transplanting. And if reading my words you think too dark, too dark, then I have failed, because of course it is, but it is also very, very funny. The extravagance is wonderful. There are plots and escapades and villains and at least one genuine (if stinking and misanthropic) hero, and lots of failures. The tension experienced by one of our main protagonists made me put the book down for a while, only to pick it up again almost instantly, because I needed to know what happened next. The great relief I felt at his small pleasures, the little release he found in his life of scurrying and caring and keeping just ahead of the … not wolves, but sabre toothed tigers at his door.

If you want to read a proper review, look here, and also here. I like how the reviewers pick up on M. Lemaitre’s experience as a crime writer, and his use of pace and craft and great readable works of the 19th century. I also like very much that M. Lemaitre’s first novel was published when he was 55 – he spent his life teaching and sharing his love of literature, and then went on to do another thing, something that he is good at and loves. (Great news for those of us terrified by a line from Stephen King, “And of course I’d lie to myself, telling myself there was still time, it wasn’t too late, there were novelists who didn’t get started until they were fifty, hell, even sixty”.)

Dear reader, I am at rubbish at reviews. But perhaps a little of my enthusiasm for this book comes through, and perhaps you will trust me more than I trusted Uncle Terry (with far less reason, I add and admit immediately). I can only hope and pray, for I had a wonderful time.

My joy only rose when I found (hinted at late in the book) that there are two volumes to follow, perhaps with none of the main characters, but if they are full of the same spirit and demonstrate such ability with craft, then dear reader, I am in. A film is now in release, but I shall wait a little while before seeing it. Of course a film cannot convey the main sense of the novel – smell; no, stench. And if you think a book cannot convey it either, you are very wrong.

Doors

In Uncategorized on January 29, 2018 at 6:39 pm

“Kostaki looked up at the church door. While they were paying attention to Kichijiro, it had been pulled inward.

“In ghost stories, doors creak. A door opening silently is more sinister.”

Anno Dracula 1899: One Thousand Monsters by Kim Newman

Notes to writers what I do not Know

In Uncategorized on August 12, 2017 at 5:32 pm

Dear Mr Kim Newman,

I am very glad at all the Anno Dracula books, even though years ago I had to work hard to track down the original so now I have two, and I keep telling myself no, you don’t have to have the paperback of Johnny Alucard to go with the others just because the hardback doesn’t fit in. But how come I keep thinking of you each morning at breakfast?

IMG_20170812_175204 (1)

…..

Dear Mr Jonathan l Howard,

Is Carter and Lovecraft ever going to be released in paperback, please, so I will buy it?

…..

Dear Ms Emma Cline,

Re: The Girls,

No there is no review here because – well, you don’t need it, but plus, I stopped reading. Not because it is bad, but because it hurt. You reach a certain age and you are trying out your coffin for size, and you think you have left things far behind. Not that I was ever a teenage girl, or an American, or a member of a Manson type cult, but my goodness, your descriptions of adolescence – the longing, the not understanding, trying to fit in, the ugliness, the smells, the skin, the rawness, the whole chemical bath your brain is swimming in – the description hurt bad. Flashbacks. Thoughts best left buried. Triggers. I’ll be coming back to it, but just for now Ms Cline I am sorry but I have to give The Girls a rest.

…..

Dear Mr HG Wells,

How are you? Here’s an admission. Until recently, I had never read you. Don’t get me wrong, I thought you were very good as Malcolm McDowell in Time after Time, and I read John Christopher’s Tripods books when I was a boy (which I thought of as the sequel to War of the Worlds once the Martians raided a pharmacy and popped some penicillin), but I had never read The War of the Worlds. Just read it, and loved it. You created a great retro feel (much better than Cowboys & Aliens. I mean, James Bond, really, what were you thinking? Not even one chest burster!). OK, I knew the ending, but so what, how many endings are surprises these days? I loved the country scenes, the connectedness to nature, and then the move to urban horror as the enemy advanced on London. The essay attached to the Penguin edition harped on about light and sunsets, but it was the clinical imagery that I was most intrigued with. All these sf classics still unread, when I should be being measured for my shroud. Perhaps not yet.

…..

Dear Mr Don Winslow,

Thanks, just got around to reading The Cartel, so glad I did. I think the first book of yours I read was The Winter of Frankie Machine, then The Power of the Dog, leading me to your back catalogue. Such different styles and different approaches, a great range from humour to horror and back again. I found The Cartel very powerful and horrifying, the savagery (yes, read Savages as well) unleashed by the uncontrollable desire of North Americans for recreational drugs. You worked me up, Mr Winslow, especially with the inevitable end of one character – his screams and cries and attempts at oblivion did not take away from his courage one bit.

……

Yours most sincerely,

Your obedient servant,

David Stevens

 

 

 

 

 

The scariest day of the year

In Uncategorized on February 11, 2016 at 7:27 am

The scariest day of the year is approaching fast. Will he…? Won’t she … ? Don’t they …? Should I …? is it legal to … ?

I’d remove Valentine’s day from the calendar, except my powers don’t extend quite that far … yet. The gifts are tacky and / or market forced upon us, everybody feels a little squeamish, and desperation hits town like a tsunami.

Here is the perfect solution. We are of course all literary types. What better gift then than an entire volume dedicated to lerve? And not just lerve, but lerve in all its strangeness. Weird love, Alien love. Impossible love. Deadly love. Buy it for yourself. Buy it for someone else, and if they respond weirdly, its ok, you were just being like, all ironic and post-modern.

But buy it you should, post-haste. “Love Hurts.” You know it does, and you know you want it. Its speculative fiction, and its about love. What’s not to like?

Love Hurts

Love Hurts

For the lover’s month of February, there is a promotion over at Goodreads which you can check out just by left clicking on this strangely highlighted text right here.

And in advance, here is a poem (for want of a better word) for Valentine’s Day:

 

Cute girl at the Indian take-away

She doesn’t just have eyes for me,

the girl who serves me Tandoori.

Her quizzical glance and little smile,

is not an exchange of irony,

though I do react,

I cannot resist,

when she swallows me in

with big dark eyes

and the world shrinks down to size,

a planet built for two.

I sip on my mango lassi

while I wait for my curry,

and I watch while she does it again,

one after the other,

with all the men.

At last I comprehend.

She finds us hard to understand,

she speaks English but is not fluent

in Australian.

She stares straight at me

with huge eyes like an owl’s,

trying to comprehend

my flattened vowels.

Totally absorbed,

in the groove,

concentrating on how my lips move.

The tremble of her little duck pout

is just her working out

the words I said

by whispering them again

in her head.

“Tandoori chicken roll

on plain naan.”

“With mint sauce?”

“Of course.”

Smile.  Yearn.

So Excitement

In Uncategorized on February 2, 2016 at 12:15 am

So excitement is right. There must just be something wonderful about being a ‘Tim’. I’ve raved before about Tim Powers, and of course there is Tim Brooke-Taylor, and, er, I suppose, Tiny Tim. But Australian Tims are in another category altogether – and I am not (just) talking about Tim Tams.

Tim Winton releases a book (for adults – not ‘The Bugalug Bum Thief’, for example, despite the intriguing title), and I’m there. Tim Flannery, (almost) ditto – ‘The Future Eaters’ remains amongst my favourite books. Hell, I even liked Tim from Big Brother a few years ago.

The darker moments of a former career can be interesting companions at 3am, but one moment of pure pleasure was when I arranged for Tim Low to speak at a conference. He divided the audience, and that was great. People came up to me afterwards, both pleased and puzzled. ‘Feral Future’ dealt with exotic invaders and pests, at the same time revealing much I never knew about the modern history of Australia, and it was followed by ‘The New Nature’. An important part of both books is how we are dominated by the thinking of our age, an alleged commonsense which often does not stand the test of time, and how important truths may be counterintuitive. I would wish these books on anyone with an interest in nature and/or Australia, and our ecological future. However, very important, read them in order – TNN has a greater degree of (cautious) optimism, and was meant to given the topic of FF. I, of course, being me, read TNN, thought, this is great, and hunted down FF – also great, but man was I bummed out. In the words of the immortal-ish Molly Meldrum, do yourself a favour and read them both (but yes, in order).

But: so excitement – I have in my hands the latest Tim Low. I cannot really comment because I have not read it yet, but it is about one of my favourite things: birds! And plenty of Australian birds! (have I mentioned that I am a birdwatcher, though a very bad one? has my wife told you how hard it is to work through our holiday photos to find a photo of our children, when most photos are of a branch where a bird had been sitting only moments before?) And science! And did I mention birds? – well, birds! And the cover is absolutely gorgeous …

song began

Low is an amazing writer and speaker, a fascinating man. He is a scientist who writes with both passion and where appropriate, dispassion, about such interesting and amazing things, especially on topics dear to my heart. I look forward to diving into this.

 

I am an addict

In Uncategorized on October 23, 2015 at 11:50 pm

Is there a voluntary exclusion program for The Book Depository? Its not my fault … its right there, on my PC … the books, the books … you just press the buttons – yes, just like a poker machine, yes … a package comes in the post … like CHRISTMAS!

For years my wife has told me that I have a problem. It has taken me a long time to come to terms with it. I finally realised that I don’t. My wife has a problem. Me. Oh, and all the books. On the floor. And everywhere.

My father bought me an e-reader. There I am, vapering away in front of everybody, look, he has it under control. Its not as bad as Real Books. He’ll taper off.

Then. When they’re not looking. Paper. In my hands. Heft. Texture. Text. An object.

Books.

More books.

Hi. I’m David, and …

My Gregory gush

In Uncategorized on September 20, 2014 at 1:50 pm

If you are already planning on reading ‘Pandemonium’ by Daryl Gregory, don’t read any further. There are no more spoilers here than on the back cover blurb, but …

I went on a Daryl Gregory binge last weekend. I’d had ‘Raising Stony Mayhall’ on my wishlist at The Book Depository for some time, and received a price drop alert, so I pushed it up the queue and purchased it. While I was doing that, I looked at his other novels and immediately bought ‘Pandemonium’.

‘Pandemonium’ – what’s not to love? The blurb had me by the end of the second sentence: ‘It is a world like our own [except that in] the 1950s, random acts of possession began to occur’. OK, done, sold. If only I hadn’t read the description further, what a great ‘What the … ?’ moment I would have had (and I live for those moments, folks). His ‘quest for help leads him to Valis, an entity possessing the science fiction writer formerly known as Philip K Dick’. BAM! Hit ‘Purchase now’. Two of my favourite books are ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘Valis’, all my buttons were hit and lit up.

I have to confess, I would have preferred a different resolution, that the clues that had been laid led to a different place, but hey, I enjoyed the weird ride, and the ultimate ending was satisfying. The stranger the setting, the odder the world, it is essential, but harder, to create believable characters. The protagonist was believable with his existential struggle and nightmare life, and I cared about him and the crises he faced.

I went straight from that to ‘Raising Stony Mayhall’, also set in a world like our own, except that George Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’ was a documentary of a zombie outbreak that was quickly contained, and now the world lives in fear of a repeat performance.

I know there are people who hate zombies. The official position of Clarkesworld is that there are no good zombie stories. ‘Stony’ is a good story, that happens to be about zombies. Purists might not like them, hell, for those for whom the big debate is fast v slow zombies, the deviations and twists to the standard zombie line here may be too much. Too bad, I enjoyed it, I liked the protagonist and the choices he was faced with, I was intrigued by the world of disappearances and secret prisons, of zombie politics and terrorism.

I was then in a bookstore and saw Gregory’s latest, ‘Afterparty’, and stopped myself. Patience, David, patience, leave yourself something for later.

I’ve said it before, I’m no reviewer (at least I didn’t use the word ‘nice’, bugger, there it is, it slipped in), but I can say I really enjoyed ‘Pandemonium’ and ‘Raising Stony Mayhall’, both rose above so much predictable genre work, satisfying my need for good story and weird shit.