Friday, 18 August 2017

1970 in Music...

There was a lot of good music in 1970 (I suspect in reality there was a lot of good music coming out in just about any year you could mention). The real question is where to start - do you look at bestselling singles, or Albums, UK, USA or elsewhere? What about songs that are considered important and still played today, or should I be listening to those songs that have been all but forgotten?

To start off with, here's the top 10 songs from 1970, per the UK charts.


  1. The Wonder of You by Elvis Presley
  2. In the Summertime by Mungo Jerry
  3. Band of Gold by Freda Payne
  4. Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel
  5. Two Little Boys by Rolf Harris
  6. Wand'rin Star by Lee Marvin
  7. Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum
  8. Back Home by The England World Cup Squad
  9. All Right Now by Free
  10. Yellow River by Christie
There are some good songs on here, The Wonder of You is a really nice Elvis song that I don't remember hearing before (it wasn't originally an Elvis song though, it was written by Baker Knight in 1959, and recorded by various artists before Elvis including the Platters and The Sandpipers). I really like Band of Gold and Bridge Over Troubled Water, and I also enjoyed the dry, rasping voice of Lee Marvin singing Wand'rin Star. Lee Marvin is actually an actor of the 1960s and 1970s, and he sung this song in the 1969 film Paint Your Wagon. The film was a flop, but the song was a big success - Marvin never followed it up with another song, so is a definite one hit wonder.

The US chart has some of the same songs but mostly different ones, including:

(They Long to Be) Close to You - by the Carpenters
Aint No Mountain High Enough by Diana Ross
Let It Be by The Beatles
I'll Be There by the Jackson Five
Raindrops Keep Fallin' on my Head by B J Thomas

I have made a playlist on Spotify of some of bestselling songs of 1970, and a few other songs that came out in that year that are notable, or just ones that I like :)

Sources

UK Top 100 1970 - http://www.uk-charts.top-source.info/top-100-1970.shtml
US chart 1970 - http://www.bobborst.com/popculture/top-100-songs-of-the-year/?year=1970


Saturday, 12 August 2017

1970 in Books

So what were the bestselling books of 1970? Well number one will be familiar to anyone who has read my 1970 at the Movies article - Love Story by Erich Segal. It must be one hell of a good story to make it to number one in books and the movies! Other books in the top 10 include:

The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles (no. 2)
Islands in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway (no. 3)
Travels with my Aunt by Graham Green (no. 8)

It's not all about bestsellers however (plus this is taken from the US bestsellers, as that's all I could find), what other good books were published in 1970? Well for that I turned to Goodreads, which helpfully does a 'most popular books published in 1970' according to its members. You can find the list here, but here's a selection of books that I picked out:

Buy from Amazon

Ringworld by Larry Niven

This is one of those big concept sci-fi novels that I love. An alien artifact is discovered in a distant, unexplored corner of the galaxy, and a motley team of aliens and humans are assembled to go and explore, and seek out the artifact's creators. The Ringworld of the title is a huge ribbon like structure that encircles a star, providing a vast amount of living space.

I read this a long time ago and remember enjoying it. Ringworld is the first in a series of books by prolific science fiction author Larry Niven and rightly takes its place in the science fiction hall of fame. I was surprised it was written as long ago as 1970, but then I think that far future science fiction ages surprisingly well, certainly when compared to near future science fiction which quicky becomes very dated. Worth a read.


Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl

(Available on Amazon)

Roald Dahl has been a favourite author for several generations of children now, I was no exception and now my daughter really enjoys his books. This one though was always one of my favourites but I don't think it is one of his best known books. Maybe because the main characters are a family of foxes, and the bad guys are three farmers - Boggis, Bunce and Bean. Mr Fox is always taking their food to feed his family, so the three farmers hatch a plan to shoot and kill him. They trap in him in his underground home and wait for him to be so desperate that he tries to come out. They hadn't reckoned on him coming up with a cunning plan however.


Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown

(Available on Amazon)

This is a history of the American West, told from the perspective of the Native Americans. It tells a story of inexorable expansion of the USA into the American West, and the devastating effect it had on the native peoples. This is an important book, as it was the first really popular book to show the history of the West from the other side. It chronicles the dealings of the American government, and the wars that were effectively to try and eradicate American Indians from the Great Plains. It was a very popular book, received critical acclaim, and has remained in print ever since.

There are plenty more great books published in 1970, including a few classic science fiction novels.

Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny - the first book in the author's Amber Chronicles that stretch to 10 books. I've read the first, which is a short, easy read and am looking forward to reading more.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Dale Wasserman

The White Mountains by John Christopher - first book of his Tripods series.

The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer - International bestseller that became an important text in the feminist movement.

Passenger to Frankfurt by Agatha Christie - Yep, she was still around and writing in 1970

A Clubbable Woman by Reginald Hill - The first book in his popular Dalziel & Pascoe series that later was turned into a popular TV series starring Warren Clarke and Colin Buchanan.





Friday, 11 August 2017

TV in 1970 - Part 2: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, UFO & more

Following on from a look at what was on TV on a particular day - 6th August 1970 - in this post I'm looking at some popular television shows that first aired in 1970. For this year, there doesn't appear to be many major shows that started up, though do tell me if I'm missing any of your favourites.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Available on Amazon
This is a US comedy, and one of the most popular TV shows of the 1970s in America. It ran for seven seasons from 1970 to 1977, picking up a staggering 29 Emmy awards, a record at the time that was not broken until Frasier received its 30th award in 2002.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show was unusually named for its leading actress, with her character on screen being called Mary Richards. At thirty years old, she leaves her fiance of two years and moves to Minneapolis, getting a job as an associate producer at a television station. It was apparently the first never married, independent career woman as its main character.

I've just watched the first episode (you can buy individual episodes on Amazon video)and I've got to say, it grabbed me right from the off! Considering it is nearly 50 years old it has aged really well. It is a smart, savvy and very funny show with a very likeable and yet quirky main character. Only the first couple of seasons made it to the UK in the 1970s before the BBC stopped showing it, which seems a shame. I really want to watch more episodes and think I will - even at £1.89 an episode! You can definitely see the influence it has had on many newer American comedy series.

The Goodies

The Goodies was a comedy TV show produced by the BBC from 1970 to 1982. It was a cross between comedy sketches and a sitcom, and featured three British comedians - Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie. The premise of the show is that three friends are always short of money, so offer themselves up for hire, willing to do anything. Their tagline is "We can do anything, anytime, anywhere". It's not difficult to imagine the myriad opportunities for comedy in such a concept. In different episodes, the Goodies do anything from babysitting to starting a pirate radio station, trying their hand at lighthouse keeping to going prospecting.

The Partridge Family

The Partridge Family is an American sitcom featuring a widowed mother and her five kids who form a band, get a hit record and the tour the country in a funky bus. It captured the hearts and minds of Americans, the show went to the top of the TV charts, and their hit songs to the top of the music charts. It lasted for four years, and is noted particularly for launching the career of 1970s teen heartthrob, singer and actor David Cassidy.

UFO

UFO Boxset - Available on Amazon
Gerry Anderson had made his name as the creator of hit children's sci-fi shows such as Thunderbirds, Stingray and Captain Scarlet. UFO was his first live action science fiction show. American actor Ed Bishop plays Commander Straker who leads the secret organisation SHADO in its mission to counter an alien invasion. Apart from its American born lead actor, this show is British to the core, from the locations to the posh British accents.

I watched the first episode of this one (it's available on You Tube though I wouldn't try and watch it on a big screen). This show has clearly aged rather a lot and it's portrayal of the 'future' 1980 a tad off(!) but actually it is actually rather endearing and I really feel like I am watching a slice of TV history. A highlight for me is the female officers on the Moonbase - they have really posh upper class British accents, are wearing silver jumpsuits with super shiny mirror skirts, and have bright purple hair -they're a hoot!

So my first foray into retro TV was rather enjoyable. I don't have time to watch everything, so picked The Mary Tyler Moore Show and UFO, both good choices for different reasons. Will I watch any more episodes? Possibly, yes. I might choose to carry on watching UFO because I do like my sci-fi, but if I could only pick one of the series to watch more of it would be The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

1970 - What's on the box?

Following on from my look at 1970 in the movies, it's now time to see what was on TV in 1970. I'll take a look at popular TV series that started in 1970 in the next few days, but first, what were people watching on television today in 1970? Today as I'm writing this it is 6th August, so what was on TV on 6th August 1970? Apologies to people from other countries, but I'm looking at what people in the UK were watching, and specifically what was shown on the BBC (i.e. two of the three available channels, the other being ITV), as this is what I have information for.

It's also worth bearing in mind that while in the UK colour TV had started being regularly broadcast the previous year, a majority of viewers would still have been watching on black & white television - at the start of 1970 only 200,000 colour TVs were in use, and it wouldn't be until 1976 that colour TVs outnumbered black & white sets. Britain was at least a decade behind America in this, as any Back to the Future fans will know (Marty's mum has an early colour TV in 1955).

So back to Thursday 6th August 1970. Here's some of the highlights of the day from BBC1.

12.35 - National Eisteddfod of Wales, annual music event (also at 14.30)

13.30 - Watch with Mother The Herbs - good wholesome educational programme. I wonder how many kids would watch a programme about herbs with their mum today?
16.20 - Playschool - a programme for under 5's.
16.40 - Jackanory
16.55 - Adventure Weekly, a kids show about five budding young journalists who set up a junior newspaper.
17.15 - Wild World - animals close up in action, with Tony Soper. This episode is about bees
19.15 - Top of the Pops, with Jimmy Saville
20.00 - The Expert - part two of a crime drama
22.30 - A daily look at the news, presented each day this week by David Dimbleby. Wow, he's been going a long time, and still going strong today!
23.27 - The Expanding Classroom - presumably an educational programme, this is episode 1, Elizabethan Village. I'd like to watch this now!

The day's programming only began at 12.35 and there were several 'closedown' periods throughout the day when there was nothing on - 13.53-14.30 and 15.00 to 16.20, unthinkable today!

BBC Two has far fewer programmes, with nothing before 7.30pm except 20 minutes of Playschool in the morning. There's a word game, 'Not a Word', The Money Programme, and a recording of the play Edward II.


TV Listings courtesy of the BBC Genome project

More information about colour television in Britain from the science museum website 

Thursday, 3 August 2017

1970 - At the movies


In 1970, there were only 3 television channels in the UK, and consumer video players/recorders had yet to put in an appearance so to watch movies, apart from the occasional film on television going to the cinema was the only real option for movie lovers. 1970 may be an arbitrary place to start this retro journey, but I don't think it is a bad one - while some films will have dated and special effects have come on leaps and bounds, many films in the 1970's could just as easily have been filmed in the 1990's or after - hairstyles and fashions not withstanding of course!

Buy from Amazon
Box Office Smashes

Here's the top 10 grossing films at the US box office in 1970, according to the Internet Movie Database.
  1. Love Story - starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal. This is a romantic film about a boy and a girl who fall in love at college, but then tragedy strikes.
  2. Airport - starring Burt Lancaster and Dean Martin. This is an action thriller come disaster move, with Burt Lancaster playing an airport manager having to contend with lots of problems including someone trying to blow up a plane.
  3. M.A.S.H. - starring Donald Sutherland. A war comedy based in a field hospital in the Korean war.
  4.  Joe - starring Peter Boyle, Dennis Patrick and Susan Sarandon. It is a thriller about a man who accidentally kills his junkie daughter's drug dealing boyfriend.
  5. Anybody's - "An erotic drama about a youthful bride-to-be who takes a holiday to Yugoslavia with a cynical and evil lesbian film critic (and murderess) that leads to debauchery, degradation with a dwarf, a dinner with naked entertainers and other highlights..." (taken straight from IMDB, I couldn't beat that description.
  6. Tora! Tora! Tora! - A historical film about the days leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Habour.
  7. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls - A satirical musical drama about three girls who go to Hollywood to find fame and fortune, but instead find sex, sleaze and drugs. A satirical take on Valley of the Dolls.
  8. Chisum - Western starring John Wayne and Forrest Tucker, and featuring legendary figures Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett.
  9. Darling Lili - a comedy musical drama starring Julie Andrews, which is a cute spin on the legend of Mata Hari.
  10. Myra Breckinridge - a comedy starring Mae West and John Huston about a man who has a sex change operation. 
Other notables

An interesting mix of films there. Other notable films include The Only Game in Town (a romantic comedy starring Elizabeth Taylor and Warren Beaty), Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Five Easy Pieces (see below), The Aristocats, Patton (a biopic of American WW2 general George Patten), Kelly's Heroes (a war comedy adventure starring Clint Eastwood) and Little Big Man, a comedy adventure film starring Dustin Hoffman and Faye Dunaway about a man who looks back on his early life being raised by Native Americans and then fighting General Custer.

Most of these films are American, but one notable British film is The Railway Children, a lovely family drama that came out on Boxing Day 1970, about a family who move to a small Yorkshire town after their father's enforced absence. I've seen this many times, and would recommend it, particularly if watching with children.

What I'm Watching

There's a lot of good films here, I'm spoiled for choice but wanted to start off by watching at least one film from 1970. I started off with Five Easy Pieces. It focuses on an upper class American drop out who leaves his family and takes up a succession of dead end working class jobs on oil rigs. It wasn't a major box office success, but is notable for being Jack Nicholson's first major film and he does a good job in it. This film is a real slice of Americana, and has a good soundtrack, featuring songs country music legend by Tammy Wynette. A good film 4/5.

Available on Amazon
I also watched the top film at the box office in 1970, Love Story. This is a film that would probably come across as cliched today, but it no doubt was a lot fresher a story in 1970. It was a very moving film, with a beautiful soundtrack and was impressive for really featuring ups and downs in the relationship of the two main characters, not portraying everything as perfect (as a lot of films today would). It also features Tommy Lee Jones in his first (brief) big screen appearance - he plays a student housemate of main character Oliver. This film was based on a book of the same name by Erich Segal, and there's also recently been a musical.  5/5.

Also on my list to watch is Kelly's Heroes and Little Big Man.


Thursday, 27 July 2017

A Retro Project

This is a little project I've had in my mind for a while. I do like my history but this can get a bit heavy, and I wanted something a little lighter and more fun. So I thought I'd start a bit of a cultural history project. Rather than politicians and soldiers, kings and explorers, I'd look at movies and music, books and games. So that's what I'm gonna do.

Next I wondered where to start. I thought about the 1980s, I was born in 1980 so that would be a good place to start, but that seemed to be a bit too late, and would be missing a lot. I thought about the 50's or 60's but a part of my idea was to explore early computer games and the rise of personal computers and other technology, and there wouldn't be much to cover in the early years. So I settled on 1970 as a good place to start. I thought I'd work my way through year by year, but some topics I might look at for the whole decade rather than each year.

I'm from the UK and lived my whole life in Britain, so some things will be from a British perspective, but for a lot of things place will be irrelevant.

The only rule to this little project is that there is no rule - it wouldn't be fun if there were rules. I will look at some things sometimes, other things other times, whatever I feel like!

First up, 1970...

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Review of 'My Antonia' by Willa Cather

'My Antonia' by Willa Cather is a story set in the early years of the 20th century in the prairie plains of Nebraska. The book is notionally the third in the author's Prairie Trilogy, but as far as I can tell the only connection is they share a theme and general setting and were written one after another within a few short years. There doesn't appear to be common characters or storyline, but I could be wrong about this as I haven't read the other two yet.

'My Antonia' is the story of Antonia Shimerda a Bohemian girl who moved from her European home to a farm on the prairie in Nebraska. The book is told by the narrator Jim Burden, and so it is also a story about him (some sections of the book don't even have Antonia in). The book follows them, and their family, friends and neighbours, from their homes on the farm to living in the nearby town of Black Hawk, and then to Jim's life away from Nebraska as he goes to study at Harvard. Other characters include the vivacious Lena Lingard, the shady Black Hawk moneylender Wick Cutter, and the Harling family who live next door to Jim while he is growing up.

The story starts with Jim, meeting an unnamed friend. "Do you remember Antonia?" one asks the other. Jim decides to write Antonia's story down, and this forms the main part of the book. Inside that story, are the stories of the individual characters what they are like growing up and what they make of their lives. Many of the characters are immigrants, including Antonia, Lena, Otto Fuchs, Tiny Soderball and Cuzak. They come from all over Europe - Austria, Bohemia, Norway, Sweden - and the story partly of an earlier generation of immigrants integrating in American society. The children of many of these characters would still be alive today, and their children and grandchildren would have spread across the country, American born and bred. Worth thinking about as much anti-immigrant feeling is alive today.

I loved this book. The rich descriptions of the Nebraska prairie was beautiful and sublime. It is not a long book - only about 230 pages - but by the end you feel at home there, and the characters feel like old friends. All the stories in the book are interesting, they draw you in and create a wonderful tapestry of life on the great plains of the mid-west a century ago. It also has quite a bit to think about in it, and the author skillfully compares the differing ways of life and philosophies on living as we find out what the characters make of their lives. The end of the story, wraps things up wonderfully too, and I went away with a warm, happy feeling and something of a "wish I was there" emotion. I really do like books that do that!

This was the second book I've read by Willa Cather, the first one being her later work 'Death Comes for the Archbishop'. I loved that one too and wasn't sure which I was going to prefer, but the last couple of chapters edged it in favour of My Antonia. My edition of the book had a relatively recent introduction which gave some biographical information on the author. She obviously put a lot of her own experiences into this book as her early life followed a similar path to the narrator, Jim Burden. Both moved from Virginia to Nebraska when they were around 9 or 10, spent a year or two living on a farm before moving into a town, and both left for good in their early twenties. Willa Cather clearly knew well what she was writing about, and this authenticity, and her love for the landscape, really comes through in this book.

A truly great book, 5/5 from me.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

US States Reading Challenge

Some of the books to read soon...
I do like my reading challenges, and when I came across an article called The Most Famous Book Set in Every State (of America) I thought this would be the basis for a really fun challenge. I'm not American, I do like the country though and have visited a few of the US states on holiday (and hope to visit many more in future). This challenge would allow me, through the pages of books, to visit every state. I wasn't sure about it as it would be a big challenge, but then my wonderful wife, Kate, decided we should do a joint challenge and read all the books on the list between us. We can each choose the books we most fancy. So we decided to go for it. We'd probably read about 5 or 6 between us in the past, which still left quite a few. I've just finished the first book I've read for the challenge, 'My Antonia' by Willa Cather, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Anyway, here's the list. Those highlighted in red are read (pun intended!), those in blue/purple are books we are currently reading. I'll update this post as and when we read the books on the list, and include links to the review where we've done them.

ALABAMA - To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Steve - pre-challenge)
ALASKA - Into the Wild by Jon Kraukauer
ARIZONA - The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
ARKANSAS - A Painted House by John Grisham
CALIFORNIA - East of Eden by John Steinbeck
COLORADO - The Shining by Stephen King
CONNECTICUT - Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates (Steve currently reading)
DELAWARE - The Saint of Lost Things by Christopher Castellani
FLORIDA - To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway
GEORGIA - Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
HAWAII - Hawaii by James Michener
IDAHO - Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
ILLINOIS - The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
INDIANA - The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington
IOWA - A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
KANSAS - The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum (Kate - pre-challenge)
KENTUCKY - Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
LOUISIANA - Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice (Kate - pre-challenge
MAINE - Carrie by Stephen King
MARYLAND - Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant
MASSACHUSETTS - Walden by Henry David Thoreau
MICHIGAN - The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides (Kate - pre-challenge)
MINNESOTA - Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
MISSISSIPPI - The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
MISSOURI - The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
MONTANA - A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean
NEBRASKA - My Antonia by Willa Cather (Steve - April 2017)
NEVADA - Fear and Loathing in Law Vegas by Hunter S Thompson
NEW HAMPSHIRE - The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving
NEW JERSEY - Drown by Junot Diaz
NEW MEXICO - Red Sky at Morning by Richard Bradford
NEW YORK - The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Kate/Steve - pre-challenge)
NORTH CAROLINA - A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks
NORTH DAKOTA - The Round House - Louise Erdich
OHIO - The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace
OKLAHOMA - Paradise by Toni Morrison
OREGON - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
PENNSYLVANNIA - The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (Kate - pre-challenge)
RHODE ISLAND - My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult (Kate - pre-challenge)
SOUTH CAROLINA - The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (Kate -pre-challenge)
SOUTH DAKOTA - A Long Way From Home by Tom Brokaw
TENNESSEE - The Client by John Grisham
TEXAS - No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
UTAH - The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
VERMONT - Pollyanna by Eleanor H Porter
VIRGINIA - Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson
WASHINGTON - Twilight by Stephanie Meyer - read previously by Kate
WASHINGTON D.C. - The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown (Kate currently reading)
WEST VIRGINIA - Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
WISCONSIN - Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
WYOMING - The Laramie Project by Moses Kaufman

So that's the list. I've set no specific deadline, but will just see how we go. I'm hoping that most of these books really give a good flavour of the state they are set in, historic or current, rather than just being a plain vanilla setting. If any don't, I might find another book about that state to read in addition.

It isn't a competition, but if it was then counting books previously read it is 8 - 3 to my wife, so I've got a bit of catching up to do!

Sunday, 16 April 2017

What Do You Look For in a Book?

As any keen reader will know, far more than other mediums such as film or TV, books are a highly personal, subjective thing. Why does your best friend love a book, and you think it is a worthless piece of trash? How can one of you get it so wrong? The answer is of course that they don’t. Yes, some books can objectively be said to bad, according to some easily defined measure – most readers can agree that anything with lots of spelling mistakes, poor grammar, contradictory plotlines and other mistakes is not a good book. But beyond that? I think it is impossible to say. You often see this with fans of literary fiction who bash genre fiction such as crime/thrillers or SF & Fantasy. But you also see it the other way round too with fans of genre fiction saying how terrible literary fiction is (I know, I used to be one of them).

So what makes one person rate a book so differently from someone else? I think the answer is that they are looking for different things in a book. Most readers don’t actively think much about what they are looking for in a book but it can be worthwhile considering this. It can help you make better choices about what books to read, and get more enjoyment out of reading. Here are just a few things people look for in a book and reasons why they read.

Escapism – This is where you are looking for books to take you away from your life for a time while you are reading, to forget the cares, worries and stresses of modern life. It is a very common thing to look for in a book. Fantasy and science fiction or historical fiction are popular escapist books, but most genres can be escapist too.

Visit new places – Most people experience a wanderlust, the urge to travel to see new places, at some point in their lives. Few people have the time, money or sometimes the ability to visit all the places they want to. Books allow you to cheaply and easily visit new places, and you don’t need to take two weeks off work to do it! Travelogues are obviously good for this, but so are novels.

Get New Experiences – This is a little bit similar to visiting new places. Books can allow you to experience so many new things – climb Mount Everest, dive into the deepest ocean, sail around the world, live alone in the woods – all from the comfort of your armchair. Books can also give you experience of growing up in a different country, doing a different job, even being an animal!

Empathy and understanding – reading books can help you better understand your fellow human beings, appreciate their drives and motivations. Literary and character driven fiction is best at this. It can even help you get on better with other people.

Indulge in Personal Fantasies – People can look to books to act out their personal fantasies, to do things they could never or would never do in real life. Take revenge on people who have slighted you, have passionate love affairs with billionaires, movie stars etc. With books, the world really is your oyster.

Adrenaline Rush – Many people like the gripping plots, the edge of the seat action, the compulsion to keep reading. This is most common in thrillers and adventure novels, but can be in any type of book.

To relax – If you are anything like me, to relax with a good book is one of the great pleasures in life. Reading can be one of the most relaxing of activities, and many people read to relax at the end of the busy day before going to sleep.

Beautiful writing – Some books seem to rise above the rest, their authors showing a such a mastery of language that it is a joy to read them for the sheer joy of the words on the page, irrespective of plot or characters. When beautiful writing is linked to wonderful characters and a great story, you have something really special.

To learn new things – Many books are read simply for the information in them, because the reader needs the knowledge they contain, but even more than that many people read not because they have to, but for the joy of learning new things and acquiring knowledge.

To help yourself – Self help books are very popular, as people try to improve themselves – mindfulness, dieting, getting on at work, finding happiness, the list is endless. Beyond that though, by reading the right kind of novels people can find help, and therapy through reading is starting to even be prescribed by doctors!

To be challenged – Perhaps you want to pit your wits against the author, solve a mystery or a puzzle. This is particularly common with crime novels and the mystery genre.

These are just some of things people look for in books, and a few of the reasons why people read. There are many more. Next time you are choosing what to read, think about what you want from your next book. It will help you choose a great book, perfect for you right then.

What do you look for in a book? Let us know in the comments.


Monday, 10 April 2017

Top 10 Books to Read From my Kindle

While I prefer reading a physical paperback copy of a book, I do quite a bit of reading on my Kindle too, for the sheer convenience (I can read in the lunchtime sandwich queue, waiting at the bus stop and even while walking home from work although that takes some skill). I'm a addictive buyer of books, physical and e-books. For real books I'm constantly reminded what they are as I see my bookshelves every day. For e-books though it is easy to forget what I've got on there, especially impulse 99p deals or free books. I have 236 books on my Kindle currently, and between half and three quarters of them I haven't read. So I decided to do a Top 10 list of the books from my Kindle that I most want to read. This isn't my Top 10 must read books by any stretch of the imagination, that is for another post, if anything it's my Top 10 Forgotten About Should Reads!

  1. 'The Sins of the Father' by Jeffrey Archer. This is Book Two in his Clifton Chronicles, following the life of Harry Clifton through most of the 20th century. I really enjoyed book 1, Only Time Will Tell. Archer gets a bad rep for being too commercial, formulaic etc and that may be true, but I enjoy them!
  2. 'Emperor: The Gates of Rome' by Conn Iggulden. I enjoyed his series about Ghengis Khan, and I really like Roman history, so this first book in his Roman historical fiction series should be good.
  3. 'The Last Grain Race' by Eric Newby. The author went on to become one of the best travel writers of the 20th century, but before all that as an 18 year old he signed on for a sailing round trip from Europe to Australia on one of the last voyages of its kind. I really enjoyed his book 'Love and War in the Appenines' so hoping this will be good too.
  4. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson. A short story cycle, all the stories in this anthology link together and portray the life and people of a small town in Ohio.
  5. 'Raven Black' by Ann Cleeves. The first in her crime series set in the Scottish Shetland islands, now a popular TV series. I've heard a lot of good things about her books but never read any.
  6. The Time Machine by H G Wells - a short sci-fi classic I'm almost ashamed I've not read yet.
  7. 'Dark Star Safari' by Paul Theroux - Travel writer Paul Theroux journeys across the length of Africa.
  8. We Need to Talk About Kelvin by Marcus Chown - A science book about what the everyday can teach us about the universe (not to be mistaken with 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' which is about a kid who shoots loads of people at his school'!)
  9. 'The Card' by Arnold Bennett - a humorous classic about a confidence man/con artist. Set in the area my wife grew up in, so a - tenuous - personal connection!
  10. 'The Rain' by Joseph A Turkot - A post apocalypse novel, first in a series. Two-a-penny but this one looks really good.
So this is a bit of an eclectic mix, but some gems here for sure.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Getting Back into Reading

I'm always interested in asking people about books and reading. Do you like reading? What are you reading? How books do you read in a year? What can I say, I'm bookishly curious. A large proportion of the people I come across don't read much. Out of those, some never read, but a common story is that they loved reading as a child, and then at some point probably in their teens, they stopped reading. Now there's nothing wrong with that, growing up is a fun and challenging time, but in many cases they never go back to reading. It would be interesting to see if this pattern existed in the past, or if it is because of computer games, the internet, Netflix and all the other distractions of modern life. The result though is the same. Other people used to be really keen readers and then 'burned out' and don't enjoy it any more.

This would all be fine, I think everyone should do what makes them happy, but I think a lot of people would like to read more, and a lot more people would enjoy reading if they gave it a good go. Reading is a really rewarding experience, but sometimes you just have to work at it. Here are a few suggestions for how to get back into reading and enjoy it.

Make time to read - I'm starting off with possibly my most important suggestion. You've got to make time to read, without distractions if you can. I love reading and I generally read every day, but it is so easy to just have an extra few minutes on the internet, watching tv, or some other distraction. I still have to make the conscious decision to pull myself away from those distractions and saying I'm going to read now for 15 minutes or half an hour. It's harder when I'm not in the middle of a book. I always enjoy it though, and usually a lot more than whatever else I could be doing.

Read regularly - You should read regularly, every day if possible, to maintain your interest in a book. For every day that goes by without reading your book, you forget a little bit and lose interest in the book. Obviously the more infrequently you read, the longer it takes to read a book which in itself will make you fed up with it.

Choose the right book for you - A lot of people that have lost interest in reading or think they don't enjoy reading are probably reading the wrong type of book for them. If you don't read much or haven't read for a long time, then you shouldn't start off reading Dickens or Tolstoy. People that don't read much probably aren't that aware of what books are out there, and when they do read they read a book that someone else told them "you should really read this book", when that isn't necessarily the best thing for you. There's a perception some people have that if you are reading you *should* be reading classics or literary fiction. If you try these and find them difficult or boring, it's easy to think you just don't enjoy reading. Instead, you should perhaps be trying a fast paced crime or thriller, a young adult book, chick lit or even a graphic novel, whatever takes your fancy.

Life's too short for bad books - by that I mean books you aren't enjoying. Don't feel you have to finish every book you read. Give it more than a couple of pages - my rule of thumb is read the first 10%, or maybe a bit more if it is a short book - as a lot of books take a bit of getting into, but after the first couple of chapters if you aren't enjoying it, give up and try something else. If you don't you'll just get bogged down for weeks or months and get fed up with reading generally. Even if you find yourself halfway through and suddenly find you aren't enjoying it anymore, don't persevere, give it up. Some people have the idea that they're invested too much time in it not to finish, but why? That's dead time you can't do anything about, but you can stop yourself having to put up with any more.

Be Mindful - Mindfulness is something of a buzzword these days, the idea is if you concentrate all your attention on what you are doing at that moment, you will get more out of it, find it more useful, enjoy it more. This is true in all sorts of activities, including reading. Try and clear your mind of anything else as you read, fully immerse yourself in the story, try not to let your mind wander. You'll enjoy the reading experience much more because of it.

Don't Force It, Take a Break - Sometimes life is really busy and stressful. Reading can help that in many cases, providing an escape and a comfort, but not all the time. Don't stress yourself out feeling you've got to read. If you've tried everything else, but you are still not enjoying it then stop for a while. Give yourself a break, and come back in a few weeks or months when things have calmed down. This is also a good idea if you've been reading a lot, perhaps for studying, and are fed up with it. Give it a rest, try again at a later date.

I hope some of these suggestions are useful. Have you got any other ideas for how to get back into reading or how to enjoy it more? If so, post them in the comments below and share with everyone!

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Michael Connelly Author Guide

About Michael Connelly

Michael Connelly is a US crime writer, most well known for being the creator of the Harry Bosch crime novels. Connelly started out as a crime reporter for the Los Angeles Times, during which he wrote his first published novel, The Black Echo featuring Harry Bosch. While at the Los Angeles Times he wrote three more Bosch novels before quitting his job to be a full time novelist. 
Because of his time as a reporter covering crime in the Los Angeles area, he has a lot of experience of real crimes, and he has good relationships with the LAPD.
I really like Michael Connelly's books, they're really good, solid crime fiction. If I'm after reading a crime novel he's one of my go to authors.

Harry Bosch Books

As mentioned above, the first Harry Bosch book, The Black Echo, was also Connelly's first published novel. In all there are 16 published Harry Bosch books, listed here in order:
The Black Echo (1992)
The Black Ice (1993)
The Concrete Blonde (1994)
The Last Coyote (1995)
Trunk Music (1997)
Angels Flight (1999)
A Darkness More Than Night (2001)
City of Bones (2002)
Lost Light (2003)
The Narrows (2004)
The Closers (2005)
Echo Park (2006)
The Overlook (2007)
The Brass Verdict (2008) - also featuring Mickey Haller
9 Dragons (2009) - also featuring Mickey Haller
The Reversal (2010) - also featuring Mickey Haller
The Drop (2011)
The Black Box (2012)
The Burning Room (2014)
The Crossing (2015)
The Wrong Side of Goodbye (2016)
Other recurring characters who appear in some of these books are Rachel Walling (who first appears in The Poet) and Terry McCaleb (who first appears in A Darkness More Than Night).
The Narrows, while a Harry Bosch novel, is also the sequel to The Poet (which Bosch wasn't in), so makes it quite an interesting linking book.

The Mickey Haller Novels

Mickey Haller is a lawyer, called a 'Lincoln Lawyer' by some because his office is the stretch limo in which he is driven (by a former client paying off his fees) around Los Angeles, looking for work. Mickey Haller is the half brother of Connelly's main series character, Hieronymous "Harry Bosch". The books featuring Mickey Haller are:
The Lincoln Lawyer (2005)
The Brass Verdict (2008)
The Reversal (2010)
The Fifth Witness (2011)
The Gods of Guilt (2013)
Other Books by Michael Connelly
Blood Work (1998) - This book introduces former FBI agent Terry McCaleb, who is recovering after a heart transplant. When a woman asks him to investigate the murder of her sister he is in for a shock, as the dead woman was the person whose heart now beats in his chest. 
Void Moon (2000) - Cassie Black, and ex-con, gets tempted back into crime whilst on parole. The target is the very casino where she was caught attempting to steal from the last time, it is the place that put her behind bars and her lover in a coffin...
'Chasing the Dime' (2002) - When brilliant scientist and entrepreneur Henry Pierce moves into a new apartment following a breakup, he finds his new telephone number used to belong to a call girl who has now gone missing. As he is drawn into a quest to find the missing girl, he finds himself getting deeper and deeper into trouble.
The Poet (2002) - When crime beat report Jack McEvoy's brother, a homicide detective, kills himself, he decides to write the story about it. But the more he investigates, the more he begins to suspect that his brother's death wasn't suicide... Awesome book, one of the best crime books I've ever read.
Crime Beat (2006) - A non-fiction collection of journalistic crime pieces.
I've read all of Connelly's standalone novels - they are all excellent, at least as good as his better known Harry Bosch novels.
And Finally
Michael Connelly has two books coming out in 2017. There's a new Harry Bosch book coming out in October, Two Kinds of Truth. Before that  (July) there is a thriller, The Late Show, featuring a new main character, a young detective trying to prove himself in the LAPD.
For more information about Michael Connelly, visit his official website at:
Also, watch out for the new film, The Lincoln Lawyer, based on Michael Connelly's bestselling book, coming to a cinema near you.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Books from 1980

There are lots of challenges that you can take part in on the Goodreads groups I'm a member of, but one that particularly interested me recently was 'books from the year you were born. I was born in 1980 so I thought I'd look and see what books were published in 1980 that I fancied reading. It turns out, there are quite a lot - it was either a really good year for books, or more likely there are just lots of books in every year that I'd be up for reading. Here's 10 that stood out for me.

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco - This literary medieval whodunnit has been on my list for a while, it's supposed to be a great book.

Cosmos by Carl Sagan - This is the classic text by Carl Sagan, the Brian Cox/Neil DeGrasse Tyson of the 1970s and 1980s. It's the book that got a lot of famous scientists of today into science and astronomy, a book full of science and full of wonder.

The Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland - Fresh from reading the wonderful Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (you can read my review here), I've been wanting to read some more on this topic, and this is considered by many to be the book on Norse Mythology.

Beyond the Blue Event Horizon by Frederick Pohl - I've been enjoying reading some classic sci-fi recently, and this is the sequel to Pohl's awe-inspiring novel Gateway, so is definitely going to have to go on my list. That said, it's quite a few years since I read Gateway so may have to re-read that first.

Wild Seed by Octavia E Butler - I've only read short stories by her before, but Butler is considered by many one of the best science fiction writers out there. This is the first book in Butler's acclaimed Patternmaster series (but written after Patternmaster for which this is a prequel)

A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn - This is a historical classic that I've been interested in for a while, it tells the whole history of the USA from the perspective of common foot soldiers, farmers, slaves, Native Americans, all those who are usually overlooked in history books.

The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum - The first book in Ludlum's Jason Bourne series, now a popular series of films starring Matt Damon.

The Covenant by James Michener - James Michener wrote huge historical novels often covering hundreds if not thousands of years. His books tend to have a large cast of characters, but often following just a few families through the ages. If you've read Edward Rutherford, you'll know what to expect. This book covers the history of South Africa.

The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe - This is book one of his epic 'Book of the New Sun' fantasy/sci-fi series.

The Ice Dragon by George R R Martin - This is a fantasy story for children, by the writer of Game of Thrones. No, seriously. Who would have thought he had it in him? (If you've read the Game of Thrones books, or watched the TV series you will see the irony in this)

So that's my pick of books from 1980. I'm not sure how many I'll read for this challenge, I'll probably try for 5 first of all, and see how I go on. If you want to look for more books written in 1980, here's a Goodreads list of most popular books from 1980. Which ones stand out for you?


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Saturday, 18 March 2017

Review of Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Genre: Classic/Russian Literature
No. of pages: 964
Date of publication: 1873-77 (originally serialised)
Author: Leo Tolstoy


About the Author

Leo Tolstoy was born in 1828 into an aristocratic Russian family, and went on to become one of the most famous and critically acclaimed novelists ever, writing two especially famous books, War and Peace and then later Anna Karenina. Both are giant tomes, considered the pinnacle of realist fiction and containing more than a few autobiographical elements. The author renounced his aristocratic background, gave away much of his wealth and became an advocate of non-violence, being a major influence on many people including Mahatma Gandhi.

Synopsis

Anna Karenina is the story of a group of aristocratic characters in 19th century Russia, their trials, tribulations and relationships. Central to the book is the eponymous Anna Karenina who is stuck in a loveless marriage (fairly common at the time) and embarks on a passionate affair with a dashing young cavalry officer, Count Vronsky. It is also the story of country gentleman Konstantin Levin and his quest for happiness and fulfilment in life.

Verdict

This book is long first and foremost, like a giant multi-series soap opera. It is not however a difficult book to read at all. I had the impression before that it would be dense and impenetrable, but it flows along very nicely and is much easier to read than, say, much of Charles Dickens' works. It is the story of many different characters, and their intertwining lives. About a quarter of the way through it, if you didn't know better you could think that the book was nearly finished - the plot starts slowly, jumps forward very fast and then slows down again after the first quarter. One way of looking at this book is that there is almost a thousand pages where nothing much happens, at least compared to more plot heavy books. I found myself however getting slowly, inexoraly drawn into the book, invested into the characters and their world, and by the end of the book I felt I'd spent half my life with them.

Some characters in the book I liked, some I found quite annoying, some sections were a bit boring for me, some quite fascinating. As well as the story of the characters, the book was an examination of life, it's meaning and how one can live it well. It does this through examining the characters thoughts and motivations, particularly Levin's, and to me this gave the book added weight and substance and helps me understand some of the book's greatness. This was certainly a very good book, though for me just a little bit too long. I'm giving it a solid 4 stars.

Who Should Read This Book

You should consider reading this if you enjoy reading classics, and like experiencing life in a different place and time through the pages of a book. You should read this book if you are up for a challenge, and what better challenge than this which was voted recently by a poll of writers as being the best novel of all time. It's also, believe it or not, a bit shorter than Tolstoy's other masterpiece, War and Peace. You should only read this if you've got time, and preferably decent chunks of time each day. Just reading 5 or 10 minutes at a time you are probably going to take an age to get through it and will probably get frustrated part way through. Finally, read this if you like, slow, thoughtful character led fiction - if you are a plot junkie that likes a fast paced novel you probably aren't going to enjoy this book.



Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Genre: Non-fiction, mythology
304 pages, 6.5 hours (Audible)

Neil Gaiman is a popular writer of short stories, novels, graphic novels, comics and more. He is particularly known for his novels Stardust, American Gods and Coraline, as well as the Sandman comic book series.

Synopsis

Norse Mythology is exactly what it says on the tin, a book about Norse Mythology. This is not a novel. Technically it is a non-fiction book, depending if you call mythology fiction or not. What it is, is a collection of mythological stories from Norse Mythology, telling tales of Odin, Thor, Loki and a whole host of other gods, giants and men (but mostly gods and giants). The stories are roughly chronological - starting with creation and ending with Ragnarok, the end of the world - and are told in a contemporary style.


Who Should Read This

You should read this if you are interested in Norse Mythology, particularly if you are not overly familiar with it or want a recap. You should consider reading it if you have struggled with the style of previous books on this topic. Even if you've never been interested in Norse Mythology before, you should consider reading this if you like short, interesting adventure stories. Readers of fantasy particularly will probably enjoy these tales.

My Verdict

I really enjoyed this book. I'm vaguely familiar with Norse Mythology, having come across Odin, Thor and Loki before in other books, but most of the stories I was hearing for the first time. As the author suggests in the introduction, I imagined myself sat warming myself round a campfire on a cold Nordic winter night, listening to these tales. They're all easy to read, fairly simple stories, and none of them are long. The author adopts a fairly colloquial and modern style for these tales, no high blown language but a simple, direct approach. For me it really worked. As one continuous narrative it doesn't work too well, there were some gaps, but you've got to remind yourself that this is real not fiction (again, as far as mythology can be considered real), the stories have been passed down the centuries and not all have survived. I'm not sure to what extent this book covers all the surviving Norse myths, or whether it is just a selection of what still exists, but it has whet my appetite to read more about Norse myths and mythology in general. Which I think is what the author had in mind.

I liked most of the stories a lot so picking favourites is difficult, but I did particularly like the story about how Thor's Hammer and other treasures of the gods came to be made, and also loved the story of Thor and Loki's journey to the land of the giants. Oh and Freya's wedding!

Notes on the Audiobook

I listened to this as an Audiobook, from Audible.co.uk, and as an audiobook I have to say it really worked. The author narrated the book himself, which adds something to it I think, it is more expressive and more real. Listening to the stories on audio is in a funny sort of way listening to them in their original medium - these were oral stories passed down the generations and only written down relatively recently so it is no wonder the audiobook works so well. That said, I'd like to get a paperback copy too when it comes out, to re-read some of the stories and that will help me to remember them. There's a lot of names of people (gods) and places which I can't imagine how they are spelt, and perhaps wouldn't recognise them written down which is a shame, but that can't be helped.

I'm giving this book 9/10.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

An Introduction to Goodreads

If you like books and reading but haven’t heard of Goodreads.com then you are in for a treat. It is the best website on the internet for books, period, and it is completely free. That’s not to say there aren’t other good books sites out there, but Goodreads is so big and covers so much!

What is Goodreads?

I am going to start with what it isn’t. It isn’t a shop. You can’t buy books on it (though it does provide links to places where you can buy books). A couple of years ago it was bought by Amazon, but for the most part Amazon have not interfered with the site except to add a couple of useful features to link to Amazon/Kindle if you want to.

So what is it? Goodreads is all of the following:

  • ·         A social networking site for book lovers
  • ·         A book cataloguing system
  • ·         A huge book club (or thousands of different book clubs to be precise)
  • ·         A book discovery engine
  • ·         A place to get free books


Catalog Your Books

I’ve been using the site for a few years now, and used a couple of similar, smaller book sites before that. A lot of people can’t remember what books they’ve read a few years ago, or remember anything about them. I don’t have that problem. Whenever I read a book, I add it to one of my virtual shelves. Everyone has a currently reading shelf, a digital equivalent of the stack of books on their bedside table perhaps. When you finish a book, you can mark it as complete, give it a rating and write a review if you want to. This way, you can keep track of what books you’ve read and what you thought of them. Other people can see what you’ve read too, and what you thought.


Social Networking

Unlike Facebook, this is Social Networking with purpose! You can add friends like you do on Facebook, but rather than inane updates about your social life they will be able to see what you are reading, read reviews you have posted and compare how you are doing on challenges. They can also suggest books to you that they think you will like, and you can do the same for them. For the most part, friends on Goodreads are only there when you want them though, and their updates are not in your face like they are on Facebook et al.

Book Groups

Groups is one of Goodreads best features. They are part book club, part forum for discussing books. There are hundreds if not thousands of groups on Goodreads, quite a few with many thousands of members. Most groups are thematic based on a particular genre, or based on country or region, and you can be a member of as many groups as you like. I’m a member of the UK Book Group, Sci-fi and Heroic Fantasy, Non Fiction Book Club and Around the World in 80 Books to name but a few. Being a member of a group doesn’t actually come with any obligations, it just allows you to read and post in all the forum discussions. Some people are very involved in one or two groups, posting regularly and even making friends on there, others just post occasionally or even just read the discussions without ever posting. Most groups have one or several books of the month, it is up to you whether the read the book and take part in the discussions.

Discovering New Books

In the days before the internet, people tended to choose the books they read based on browsing the shelves of their local bookshop or library, getting recommendations from friends or maybe reading reviews in the newspaper. Today though, the internet opens up much more opportunity for discovering new books, particularly lesser known gems. Along with Amazon, Goodreads is the best place on the internet for finding new books to read. There’s the discussion groups, book reviews, newsletters, recommendations and Goodreads suggestions, based on books you’ve read recently. Just by using the site, you will find your To Be Read pile growing larger and larger, and the books on them will probably be more to your tastes, with less chance of ending up with books you don’t like.

Get Free Books

Authors and book publishers offer free books all the time to bloggers and journalists to help them get publicity for their books. Goodreads democratizes this, by running loads of giveaways. At any one time there are lots of draws you can enter for free books, just by clicking a button. The site is really up front about how many copies of each book are on offer, and how many have requested them so far, so you have a good idea what your chances are. So if you want to be in with a chance of free books, join Goodreads and get entering the giveaways!


This is just a flavour of some of what Goodreads offers, but there’s lots more besides. The best thing to do is join and then just start exploring the site. You won’t regret it! In the coming weeks I'm intending to write some more articles about Goodreads and how to get the most out of it - so watch this space!

Sunday, 5 March 2017

A Guide to the Books of Peter F Hamilton

I have decided to periodically post a guide to individual authors, starting with some of my favourite authors. First up is Peter F Hamilton, a popular author of science fiction space operas.

About the Author

Peter F Hamilton is a British author, born in 1960 in Rutland, England's smallest county. He began writing in 1987, getting several short stories published before his first novel, Mindstar Rising, came out in 1993. Since then he has published many novels, all in the science fiction genre apart from a recent series of young adult fantasy novels. His novels are usually set across a vast galactic landscape, with space travel, aliens and lots of future technology. The science is plausible and consistent but without loads of detail - this isn't hard sci-fi. His books have a lot of similarities with fellow British authors Iain M Banks and Alastair Reynolds.

Peter F Hamilton's Books

His first three books were a near future science fiction detective series, featuring psychic PI Greg Mandel. Unlike the rest of his books, these are in some respects a bit dated now, but still really interesting, portraying an England recovering from years of an oppressive communist regime. The books are:

Mindstar Rising (1993)
A Quantum Murder (1994)
The Nano Flower (1995)

They are all mid-size books in the 300-400 page spectrum. In contrast to his later books...

Confederation Universe Books

After quite small scale, near future science fiction, Hamilton moved onto a far future series written on a huge scale, with his Night's Dawn Trilogy. The first book is also in my all time top 10 reads. It is set 600 years in the future, on a distant world where a group of settlers are literally hacking out a new colony from the virgin forest. Something happens out there however, that throws the whole galaxy into chaos and threatens the continued existence of the human race...

The Reality Dysfunction (1996)
The Neutronium Alchemist (1997)
The Naked God (1999)

There are also a couple of companion books:

A Second Chance at Eden (1998)- A book of short stories set in the Confederation universe.
The Confederation Handbook (2000) - A non fiction guide to the Confederation Universe, compiled from the author's notes.

Commonwealth Universe

After writing  The Night's Dawn Trilogy, the author decided to move on to a completely different, unrelated set of stories. Set in the universe of the 'Commonwealth' several hundred years in the future, faster than light travel may not have been invented, but instead there are wormholes linking hundreds of planets. Humans may fill the galaxy, but there are various alien races which humans co-exist with in the galaxy relatively peacefully. Rejuvenation and memory stores give near immortality, and life is good for many. Then a strange astronomical event is spotted in the night sky, further out than anyone has gone before, and the safe, cossetted world of the Commonwealth is suddenly under threat.

This series is made up of two duologies, a trilogy and a standalone novel. The best place to start is Misspent Youth if you want to (see below), or Pandora's Star. Don't try to read them out of order.

Misspent Youth (2002) - A slim volume, not like his other books. It isn't well regarded - and can be easily skipped - but does set up the universe of the Commonwealth, showing the beginnings of rejuvenation technology and examines some of the implications.

Pandora's Star (2004) -
Judas Unchained (2005)

The Dreaming Void (2007)
The Temporal Void (2008)
The Evolutionary Void (2010)

The Abyss Beyond Dreams (2014)
Night Without Stars (2016)

Other Books

A children's fantasy series, The Queen of Dreams, perfect for 9-11 year olds apparently:

The Secret Throne (2015)
The Hunting of the Princes (2016)
A Voyage Through Air (2017 - forthcoming)

Fallen Dragon (2001) - A standalone space opera adventure, in a similar style to his other books.

Great North Road (2012) - A spectacular single volume novel, it weighs in at nearly a 1000 pages, and is set in a completely separate universe to his other books, but there are many similarities in style and content.

Manhatten in Reverse (2011) - A book of short stories, including a titular novella.

He has also written a young adult sci-fi novel, Lightstorm, and several novellas: Watching Trees Grow, Family Matters and A Window Into Time.

Links

Official website - He occasionally writes blog posts, and it has information about his books. It is a bit out of date though.

The Unisphere - A decent fan site covering the author's works.

2016 interview - A short interview with the author

Facebook page - Peter F Hamilton's Facebook page. He posts on here regularly, so is probably the best place online to find latest news about the author and his books.

So that's it. Definitely worth checking out if you like space based science fiction on an epic scale. My recommendation for a starting point would be either The Reality Dysfunction or Pandora's Star. Or if you want a standalone novel that gives a good flavour of what his books are like, try Fallen Dragon or Great North Road.

Friday, 3 March 2017

A Trio of Classic Science Fiction Novels

I'm steaming ahead with my book challenge at the very least, 10 books so far out of my target of 40. According to Goodreads I am 4 books ahead of schedule, though I feel like I will be losing some ground over the next few weeks as I'm about a quarter of the way through the 950 page Tolstoy opus, Anna Karenina. Anyway back to the science fiction.

The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov


The Caves of Steel is the first book in Asimov's Robot series, which has multiple novels and many short stories in it. This book takes place in the near-ish future, at a time when robots were still in their infancy. Most robots in this book are dumb things, not a great leap from artificial intelligences of today. This book features detective Elijah Baley, and possibly the first of the truly intelligent robots, Daneel Olivaw. An important ambassador has been murdered, and it is Baley and Daneel's job to investigate the crime and discover the culprit, to prevent a greater crisis.

This book has been on my to be read list for a long time now, and I finally got around to it after picking up a cheap paperback copy. The detective story itself is quite a basic one, but it was the world building and the great ideas that really got me hooked on this book. Considering it was written in (checks Wikipedia) 1954, it has aged really, really well. Okay so the computers they are talking about are pretty basic and possibly involved punched cards, and some of the numbers are a bit off (the 8 billion population may be several times that of Asimov's era, but today's population is close to that) but otherwise it is very believable. The political/social system described is bordering on communist, but is still quite believable, and some of the technology was a delight (I loved the idea of the moving walkways where you stepped from lane to lane, which increase in speed each time). Overall, a great, short book, still very relevant and enjoyable today and a good start to his Robot series.


The Space Merchants by Frederick Pohl & C M Kornbluth



This is a 1950's classic science fiction novel by the writing team of Frederick Pohl and C M Kornbluth. Ad man Mitch Courtenay is at the top of his game, and has been given the plum assignment of managing the Venus contract - promoting the new colonisation of Venus to ensure that his agency exclusively controls the spending of the would be colonists. In this imagined future, the world is effectively controlled by three giant advertising companies, the leaders of which are more powerful even than the US president. The ad men are rich, powerful and can have whatever they want, the consumers however are a downtrodden underclass...

This is a short novel, and in keeping with most science fiction of this era, it is desperately short on good characterisation - the characters are quite two dimensional almost just ciphers to move the plot along. The plot itself is also somewhat pedestrian, although with a twist at the end. I have to say however I really enjoyed this book. Although it is really dated, having been written over 60 years ago it has some very interesting technology and even the dated aspects of the novel hold a certain interest - in many ways the future the authors portrayed is already here. A lot of the scary stuff is a lot closer now than it was in the 1950's and even the stuff they got wrong casts light on the present. A great read.


The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison



In the far future, criminal intent, violence and deviousness has been bred out of the human race. Once in a while though someone slips through the genetic net. James Bolivar diGriz a.k.a. Slippery Jim is such a person. He is a master criminal and a brilliant disguise artist with a cunning mind, always staying several steps ahead of the law. Until...

This is the first in a science fiction comedy series, begun in the 1970s by the prolific science fiction author Harry Harrison. It was written, I think, as a spoof of the early space opera series by the likes of E E Doc Smith. I've never been a big fan of comic science fiction, or comic fiction generally, but it gives the author a lot of freedom to disregard the rules of science or sense and just have fun. I really enjoyed this, it was a great fun read. Incidentally, rather than reading this I listened to the audiobook from Brilliance Audio (on Audible.co.uk) and I thought it worked great as an audiobook and the narrator did a really good job.


That's it for now. I've just ordered several of the SF Masterworks so I'll be covering them in a later post. Before that, Hemingway and Tolstoy amongst others!