OVERDUE BOOKS
critiquing tomes from the bibliothèque of the damned
homein progress

 
finished in 2010
19/2/2010
Thomas Tessier, Finishing Touches

1986
fiction
horror
paperback
website
14/2/2010
Various Artists and Writers, Harlan Ellison's Dream Corridor: Volume II

2007
graphic novel
softcover
13/2/2010
Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Word-of-mouth and e-mail and SMS and Twitter and cover blurbs have carried this Scando crime series onto the bestseller lists. Are we here at Toxic Waste above following populist trends? No bloody way! Luckily, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an excellent read – perfect nourishment for The Endless Commute. Now, the best part of the book is the set-up, which is usually the dullest section. This does mean that the middle and closing chapters suffer in comparison, but only because nothing could really payoff the profound mystery and intrigue established by Herr Larsson (RIP) up front. Nevertheless, the novel is a bona fide page-turner, even when the clichéd plot elements are trundled out. To be fair, Larsson's target audience was the mainstream readership. As such, they are less likely to be annoyed by the kinds of genre staples exploited by every direct-to-DVD horror thriller released in the last ten years. What you won't find in such dreck are characters as lively and entertaining as journalist Mikael Blomkvist and emo Internet hacker Lisbeth Salander. Larsson himself was a journalist, a point that makes itself apparent in his unpretentious prose. Like a Sunday supplement article, Larsson tells this convoluted tale with details and action: mostly nouns and verbs. Yes, there's the occasional infodump or two. These enhance the backdrop of the story (corporate machinations, personal vendettas) rather than install needless padding. With that in mind, it's curious to note that this is only the first entry in the so-called Millennium trilogy. One hopes that future events take Larsson's engaging protagonists into more interesting territory.

2005
fiction
crime
trade paperback
1/2/2010
Alastair Reynolds, Absolution Gap
Instead of being a smashing climax to the Revelation Space trilogy, Absolution Gap smacks too much of dry-cleaning the carpet before vacating the tenancy. The saga picks up where Redemption Ark left off, 25 years later on the enigmatic planet of Ararat, with 100,000+ survivors of the Resurgam holocaust needing a new home. The main players – Scorpio, Antoinette Bax, Clavain, and others – do their best to babysit the colonists on atolls surrounded by oceans teeming with Juggler organisms. The lighthugger Nostalgia for Infinity, still parked vertically in one kilometre of water, stands like a beacon of hope three kilometres above the waves. Meanwhile, religious nutters on the distant ice moon of Hela anticipate the culmination of 100 years of split-second vanishings by the gas giant Haldora. What part can a child prodigy conceived in the Hades megacomputer play in these and other unfolding events that include Inhibitors, Conjoiners, Scuttlers, Shadows, Nestbuilders, Ultras, Jugglers, Quaichists, hyperpigs, and baseline humans? Well, the end result is equally compelling and underwhelming. The sect based on Haldora disappearing was hard to swallow, even though stupider cults exist today. On the positive side, Reynolds makes good on his promise to flesh out his characters more. Absolution Gap holds your attention thanks to its methodical rendering of several protagonists. As a bonus, Captain Brannigan redeems his bipolar turn in Redemption Ark to wring sympathy from his rebooted supporting role. And yet, after 662 pages, the conclusion to Absolution Gap felt rushed and compressed. Worse than that, two more threats to humanity are introduced; one made its debut in 'Galactic North'. I reckon it's time to drop this narrative device, eh? Weaving solutions to the Fermi Paradox into your speculative future is ballsy, but here it just leads to a storytelling deadend. Memo to budding writers: don't confuse exposition for plot!!!

2003
fiction
science fiction
paperback
website

 
finished in 2009
29/12/2009
Robert E. Howard, The Shadow Kingdom
Review pending.

2008
fantasy
graphic novel
8/11/2009
Larry Niven, Ringworld +
Review pending.

1971
fiction
science fiction
paperback
website
1/11/2009
Tom LaPointe, Modern Sport Cars
Review pending.

2009
non-fiction
supercars
hardcover
15/10/2009
Jonathan Wood, The Ultimate History of Fast Cars
Review pending.

2008
non-fiction
supercars
hardcover
revised edition
27/9/2009
Peter F. Hamilton, The Reality Dysfunction
Warning: I'm down four glasses of J&B whiskey and chair-moshing to the new Slayer album. If you're reading this capsule review a week later, all mistakes should have been fixed. Onward. Code Monkey told me of his reservations about Pete Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy. Secondly, Melbourne's own genre bofin Ian Mond was afraid of even starting this 3400-page space opera, and he reads Dr Who novels...on purpose. Shit. One volume in, I can say that unsuspecting hard SF addicts must proceed with caution. There is hard SF aplenty in The Reality Dysfunction, although it's not has rigorous as SF by Alastair Reynolds, a bona fide physicist. In contrast, Pete Hamilton's first publication was a horror tale in Fear magazine (UK), no doubt cheesily illustrated by Oliver Frey. (John Gilbert, where are you now?) Yes, Hamilton tap dances around ideas that don't hold up to speculative scrutiny. An example is the affinity phenomenon, which works like telepathy between space hippies and space hippy habitats. But that's cool; affinity alone didn't turn me off The Reality Dysfunction. Later events did. Gooshy concepts like resurrection and souls and afterlife fucked it for me. Code Monkey, you were right (again). We at Toxic Waste enjoy supernatural flummery in the service of trashtainment. In hard SF, it's not welcome. Sorry to be close-minded...that's the way I feel. As a consolation, there's space gore, and interstellar empires, and space sex, and realistic terraforming (i.e. it's a long tough slog), and intrigue, and warfare in hard vacuum, and abandoned subplots, and beauty, and horror, and Satanic cults, and faster-than-light travel via wormholes, and exotic space beer, and organic starships that bond with their captains, and much more in The Reality Dysfunction. Is it enough to sustain interest for two more books? Having read 180 pages of volume two, The Neutronium Alchemist, probably not for this reader. We'll see...

1996
fiction
science fiction
paperback
website
6/7/2009
Harlan Ellison, Strange Wine
After being let down by Shatterday, the hope was that Strange Wine would recover some lost ground. While it is an improvement, this earlier collection falls short of expectations. And it lags way behind Ellison's 1975 collection Deathbird Stories. Highlights include the lead tale 'Croatoan' (serial polygamist learns responsibility down in the sewers), 'Killing Bernstein' (a murder plot turns bizarre for the killer), 'Hitler Painted Roses' (the door to Hell opens briefly and lets out sinners great and small), 'From A to Z, in the Chocolate Alphabet' (26 fantasy vignettes), 'Lonely Women Are the Vessels of Time' (another serial polygamist gets a dose of his own medicine), and 'Seeing' (an agreeable SF yarn reminiscent of X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes). The strong delivery of most entries in Strange Wine derives from better-conceived ideas compared to those in Shatterday. That said, there's a few wretched titles that must be avoided. One is 'The New York Review of Bird' (esoteric, self-indulgent, unreadable fannish bullshit) and another is 'In Fear of K' (an allegorical piece about married couples facing up to their fears of...karma). Cringe x1000. Is Strange Wine still worth owning? I think so, at least for fans. There's more hits than misses, and the introduction contains Ellison's now legendary essay about (against?) television, 'Revealed at Last! What Killed the Dinosaurs! And You Don't Look So Great Yourself'.

1978
fiction
fantasy
paperback
website
18/6/2009
Harlan Ellison, Shatterday
There's something off about this clutch of short stories, written in the late 1970s. The prose itself is up to Ellison's usual high standard: impeccable grammar, explosive passages of pure style, raw emotional sensitivity, metaphors and turns of phrase to die for, and word-perfect dialogue. The problem is a paucity of strong ideas. Even an acknowledged classic like 'Jeffty is Five' – a nostalgia piece about cultural amnesia, one of many recurring themes in Ellison's work – is a stretch at 25 pages. Other entries include a personal tribute dressed up as fantasy ('Django'), ho-hum burlesques ('How's the Night Life on Cissalda?', 'Would You do it for a Penny?') and tedious morality plays ('Count the Clock that Tells the Time', 'The Man Who was Heavily into Revenge', 'The Other Eye of Polyphemus'). For me, standouts you could call vintage Ellison are 'Flop Sweat' and 'Shoppe Keeper'. The rest occupy the intervening pages and leave no lasting impression – Shatterday does not show Harlan Ellison in top form. For fans and completists, the book provides a transition between his 1970s output and later collections such as Angry Candy and Slippage. Curiously, my Granada UK paperback of Shatterday is missing the story introductions. This title was reissued by Tachyon Publications in 2007.

1982
fiction
fantasy
paperback
website
2/6/2009
Harry Adam Knight, Bedlam
As Harry Adam Knight, John Brosnan (RIP) penned the most excellent The Fungus (see below) and a slew of other pulp horror paperbacks which are now collector's items. Compared to The Fungus, Bedlam is a waste of paper that never trumps its six-page prologue. That's pretty sad. The story concerns serial killer Marc Gilmore, alias the Bone Man, who's been caught after dispatching about two dozen British citizens in various ghastly ways. Scientists at Hillview House mental hospital, who're testing a new drug on Gilmore, trigger a paranormal schism that allows Gilmore's mind to seize control of the neighbourhood, turning it into a deadly sicko fantasyland for the residents. Bedlam starts off okay, but once it betrays its A Nightmare on Elm Street trappings, it never recovers. From the way he plows ahead through ever more tedious situations with his long-suffering protagonists (the Resourceful/Sexy Female Doctor and the Haunted Policeman with Baggage) one gets the impression that Brosnan just didn't care. There are some memorable shocks to enjoy, such as the rain of foetuses and an attempted undead rape. These trashy bright spots don't make up for a premise that's completely underused. It should have stayed in the real world and given us a berserk manhunt across London as the Bone Man – becoming ever more bold and sadistic – stays one step ahead of the cops. Where's Shaun Hutson when you need him?

1992
fiction
horror
paperback
25/5/2009
Iain M. Banks, Consider Phlebas
I read The Wasp Factory back in the 1980s. Twenty years later, here I am again with another Banks novel. Iain Em Dot Banks, actually. Mustn't forget the Em Bloody Dot, because this is his science fiction output, and Consider Phlebas is the first of his Culture series. Not knowing what to expect, I was pleasantly assaulted by a vibrant universe set ten thousand years into the future. The Milky Way galaxy is in a state of war between The Culture, an alliance of machines and rational humans, and the Idirans, a tripedal warrior species waging a religious crusade. As you read Consider Phlebas, references to other SF fare bubble to the surface: everything from the gung-ho marines in Aliens (1986) to elements from Larry Niven's novel Ringworld (1971). But any incidental similarities are swept up in Banks' narrative juggernaut. This is a book about which you can't say "nothing much happens". Given the author's literary sensibility, Consider Phlebas shocks you with its action-orientated, episodal, cliffhanger storytelling. It would almost pass for pulp SF except for the lyrical prose etched onto every page, albeit with a few poorly realised sequences here and there, e.g. the approach to Vavatch Orbital. All up, Consider Phlebas is a remarkable 'grunge SF' debut that has been followed by ten more spacey titles, many of which involve the Culture civilisation, although his latest entry Matter received mixed reviews from genre pundits.

1987
fiction
science fiction
trade paperback
29/4/2009
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
Yeah, Oscar Wilde. The mincing biatch poof playwright and gossip-monger from the 19th Century. What am I talking about? I have no idea. But here is his one and only novel under the critical gaze of the Toxic Waste literary judging panel, and...it's okay. Not great, mind you. At around the halfway mark, you sense that Wilde was making it all up as he went along. Long form is not his forté. The novel sizzles when upper-crust toffs exchange zingers at ten paces. Art, artists, culture, Americans, common people, rich people, women, men, love, hate, and the institution of marriage all get nine colours of shit kicked out of them. If Wilde had a weblog it'd be a phenomenon. Lord Henry Wotton is the chief agent of said vitriol and deserves a spin-off sitcom of his own. As for Dorian Gray, a peculiar tragedy befalls our sensitive anti-hero, whose sins are projected onto an enigmatic painting of himself that morphs supernaturally and presciently into a sardonic grotesque, while Dorian himself retains the outward glow of youth. Essentially the novel is an uneven read, lurching from cutting social commentary in one chapter, to windy introspection in another, followed by witty dialogue in the next. Repeat. Wilde was not so much interested in telling a story as conveying his thesis about life, with a heavy note of bitterness and despair for humanity. It's not surprising that his sentiments strike you as valid more than 100 years hence. This is the real power of the book. Approach The Picture of Dorian Gray as a curious thought experiment by Oscar Wilde that ends with the expected and satisfying denouement, and any modern reader should enjoy it.

1890
fiction
general
paperback
10/4/2009
Jack McDevitt, Slow Lightning / Infinity Beach
Amateur sleuthing, a central mystery, starship larceny (in more ways than one), ghosts, a sassy heroine, first contact, speedy maglev trains (no sign of Connex), the belt of Orion, bonking in hyperspace, and so on. The first half of Slow Lightning aka Infinity Beach (US title) is terribly ponderous. This is when Kim Brandywine (!) begins her quest to discover what happened to her cloned sister Emily 30 years ago. Sis was a passenger on the starship Hunter, crewed by day-dreamers looking for aliens, of which no evidence had been found to date. However, the crew then disappears under weird circumstances. The last half of the novel picks up the pace as characters leave behind the ultra-boring planet of Greenway (one of nine inhabited worlds 1000 years hence) and blast off into space, following the trail of the Hunter. Look, there are contrivances galore in Slow Lightning. McDevitt is a self-confessed Sherlock Holmes fan, and I think he indulged himself here with a bit of, umm, one-handed typing. Therefore, the numerous head-scratching moments are necessary evils in the service of weaving together this cockeyed genre hybrid. The driven and resourceful protagonist Kim Brandywine might be unrealistic, but detective yarns depend on such characters to power the story, otherwise the mystery would remain exactly that. For hard SF fans, there's not much super science here to enjoy. In fact, it's almost retro SF. Then again, mystery readers might want to try Slow Lightning for its novel use of familiar staples.

2000
fiction
science fiction
paperback
17/3/2009
Alan Moore (writer) and Dave Gibbons (artist), Watchmen +
Seeing the movie adaptation prompted a re-reading of the original graphic novel. Naturally there's more detail and nuances to mull over, particularly with Rorschach's disturbing journal, backstory interludes, and the Black Freighter yarn, which was released on DVD recently ahead of the director's cut package. After seeing the movie's ending, the book's ruse doesn't work as well – it never convinced me the first time through.

1986-1987
graphic novel
softcover
23/2/2009
Alastair Reynolds, Pushing Ice
Like Stephen King, Reynolds has admitted that he doesn't plot his novels in advance. This may explain why half of Pushing Ice is a mess. It starts off in 2057, with comet miners downing tools to chase Janus, the Saturn moon which has broken from its monotonous orbit and begun accelerating out of the solar system – obviously it's an alien craft. Onboard the miner's ship, a rift develops between those who want to pursue Janus and those who think the mining company is sending them on a one-way trip. However, politics gives way to the fate that awaits the crew 260 light years from Earth and 18,000 years into the future. For all its miraculous technology and deep space wonderment, Pushing Ice has serious problems. These range from contrived character motivations, B-movie dialogue ("Janus is not big enough for the both of us"), simplistic Dr Who alien psychology, confusingly described environments, disjointed action scenes, numerous characters known by name only, the silly premise, a rushed climax, etc. The fact that the book was still a compelling read came down to the usual strengths of Reynolds' writing, as mentioned in my other reviews. This author should rethink his annual novel publishing schedule and spend another six months per book on story development. The potential's there for him to forge some killer SF.

2007
fiction
science fiction
paperback
website
5/2/2009
Angela Challis (editor), Australian Dark Fantasy & Horror 2007
Ostensibly a best-of anthology for short stories published by Aussie writers in 2006 online or in print, Australian Dark Fantasy and Horror: 2007 Edition (to use its full title) is a Lucky Dip selection of good and average tales, with few standouts. Terry Dowling spoils his engaging mystery story 'Cheat Light' with a weak ending. Stephen Dedman's award winning 'Dead of Winter' is an okay contemporary ghost yarn, in other words it contains no horror. Robert Hood contributes an amusingly meaty zombie story with 'In the Service of the Flesh'. 'Empties' by Jay Caselberg is a disturbing urban fantasy in which the protagonist finds random members of the public frozen in a kind of unliving stasis. David Witeveen's Cthulhu mythos entry 'Ache' is an enjoyably economical tale that leads to the inevitable otherworldly climax. 'Hieronymous Boche' also impresses with its vivid evocation of trench life in World War I, although horror of a different kind ensues when the soldiers are led to question their reality. Compared to 2003's Southern Blood, not to mention the countless fanzines that preceded it, this recent survey of local macabre fiction shows a gratifying degree of literacy, as well as some real storytelling talent that promises good things for the scene. However, this late in the game, one wonders how long writers can keep dreaming up fresh ideas. Are there really no new tales? Hmmm, it's a tough gig. I'll have to keep reading to find out.

2008
fiction
horror
trade paperback
website
28/1/2009
Joe R. Lansdale, Dead in the West
Zombies are all the rage with publishers. Like vampires, they're the perfect literary device, at least in terms of providing an on-going threat to protagonists, ironic subtext on any number of levels, and justifying messy gore set-pieces every ten pages. OK, well, it's not art. But many a Nobel prize winner could have been improved with a few shambling undead, yes? Which brings us to Dead in the West, an old fashioned drive-in movie set down on paper by Joe "Hisownself" Lansdale, the author of many brilliant short stories and several gutsy novels that mix fantasy, horror, and crime in unequal measures. As its name implies, Dead in the West features zombies running amuck in the frontier town of Mud Creek, which is being visited by Reverend Jeb Mercer, a sharp-shooting preacher who drowns his sorrows in cheap whiskey every night. However, he sobers up fast when an Indian curse blights the town and eventually precipitates an orgy of bloodshed and resurrection. Twists include demonic possession and zombies that turn into smouldering porridge when exposed to sunlight – a gimmick borrowed from vampire lore. Lansdale's signature blend of humour, violence, and deft characterisation are present in this, his third novel after Act of Love and The Magic Wagon (another weird western). Also grab By Bizarre Hands, as well as the Hap Collins and Leonard Pine adventures Savage Season, Mucho Mojo, Two-Bear Mambo, and Bad Chili.

1986
fiction
horror
trade paperback
website
18/1/2009
Alastair Reynolds, Chasm City
Weighing in at 616 pages, Reynolds' second book is actually a prequel to Revelation Space (2000). Chasm City explores the ruins of said festering metropolis on the planet of Yellowstone, and how events such as The Melding Plague and the war on Sky's Edge came into being. The main story is told as a 'future noir' detective yarn from the viewpoint of Tanner Mirabel, a bodyguard and ex-soldier from Sky's Edge, who's trying to kill an elusive bloke called Argent Reivich after a military skirmish turned to shit. Suffering amnesia after 15 years in reefersleep onboard a starship, Mirabel is plagued by memories both from life under the employ of ruthless magnate Cahuella, and also from Sky Haussmann, the homicidal cult leader descended from colonists who traveled to Sky's Edge from Earth in five generation ships centuries earlier. Yep, Tanner's one seriously confused fella! Alastair Reynolds literally cuts to the chase on page one of Chasm City and never slackens the pace. The use of some dubious plot points can be forgiven as three compelling narrative threads careen toward resolution. Apart from the beautiful writing style, some grotesque elements, and welcome spots of dry humour, this novel particularly shows Reynolds sustaining tension on different levels to keep the reader engaged right to the very end. Chasm City is a vastly entertaining SF romp, assuming you're not too critical and just go with the flow.

2001
fiction
science fiction
paperback
website
7/1/2009
Charles Bukowski, Factotum

1978
fiction
general
trade paperback
5/1/2009
Charles Bukowski, Post Office
(Note: Reading back on this review the next day, most of it makes no frigging sense. However, I'll leave it this way as a tribute to Buk – RW) It is only fitting that Your Humble Narrator review – albeit in capsule form – Charles Bukowski's first novel Post Office after having a few glasses of the good stuff. By his own admission, Mr C. Bukowski was a drunk, a bum, a womaniser, and a low-life. He died from a fatal case of leukemia in the mid-1990s and never recovered. It wasn't the booze that got him in the end. One must stress that point, at least for Herr Bukowski's sake. And, judging by this 'novel', 12 years working for the US Post Office didn't kill him either, as much as he may imply that conclusion (initially) in this book. No. Bukowski wrote this, and subsequent 'novels', based on real-life experiences, few that many of us Gen X and Gen Y folks have lived through without signing up for a volunteer's ticket to hell in some 4th-world country. Looking at Post Office in 2009, it lacks sophistication. But then again, maybe that's it's strong point. Cast your mind back to 1970, with 12 years of servitude to The Man under your broken belt, and you may feel the same way Chinaski did. Post Office is an American classic, though clumsy and ill-conceived and arbitrary it may be. What's the narrative here? The plot? There is none. Rather, a singular voice calls to us from the scummy lane-ways of 1960s Los Angeles. The novel, the words, the structure are unpure, but the character of Henry Chinaski lives – despite his faults – to battle on. That's why we come back to Post Office. Plus Bukowski and I are genuine leg-men. There's no separating us.

1971
fiction
general
trade paperback
4/1/2009
Jack McDevitt, Moonfall
The year is 2024. An amateur astronomer surveying the sky from her verandah notices a new speck of light after a solar eclipse passes. The object turns out to be a rogue comet: 180 kilometres in diameter and traveling at 1.6 million km/h. It also seems to be on a collision course with the Moon. This is sobering news for the 130 inhabitants of Moonbase, which has just been opened by visiting US vice president, Charlie Haskell. What, exactly, will happen when the comet arrives? That question had me glued to the pages of this HarperPrism paperback for two and a half feverish days. With an eye toward mainstream readers, Moonfall is a near-perfect example of the disaster novel. The scientific aspects are kept to a minimum as this white-knuckle doomsday drama unfolds. McDevitt frequently cuts between events happening on the Moon, planet Earth, aboard space stations, and in various spacecraft. What McDevitt lacks in originality and florid prose he makes up for with cliffhanger situations and lively main characters forced to make soul-crushing decisions under the most difficult circumstances imaginable. Although perhaps inspired by the Shoemaker-Levy comet fragments striking Jupiter at 200,000 km/h in 1994, McDevitt anticipated the chaos cyclone Katrina caused in New Orleans, the Boxing Day tsunamis, a black US president, and the global financial crisis. That aside, Moonfall is just a cracking good yarn.

1998
fiction
science fiction
paperback

 
16 finished in 2008
31/12/2008
Sarah Langan, Virus / The Missing

2007
fiction
horror
paperback
27/12/2008
Stephen Gallagher, Journeyman: The Art of Chris Moore

2000
non-fiction
art
hardcover
3/11/2008
Fredrick Raphael and Ray Monk (editors), The Great Philosophers

2004
non-fiction
philosophy
trade paperback
6/10/2008
Brett McBean, The Mother

2006
fiction
thriller
paperback
website
28/9/2008
Harlan Ellison, Harlan Ellison's Watching +
A sampler from page 293: "Legend [1986] is a film made by an astute adult who, when turned loose, when given the power to create any film he desired, fled into a throwaway universe of childish irrelevance. Legend is, at final resolve, a husk. A lovely, eye-popping vacuum from which a sad breeze blows." This book compiles film essays written for publications such as The Magazine of SF&F and Cinema between 1973 and 1989. Those familiar with his TV criticism (see The Glass Teat and The Other Glass Teat) know that Ellison never pulls punches. But with the insider knowledge, clever wordplay, and keen observations, you also get long personal anecdotes that violate the basic tenet of reviewing: skip the autobiography and discuss the work. Conformity has never been Ellison's working method, and it's well to keep that in mind as he savages the likes of Star Wars, Star Trek, Gremlins and Back to the Future. Then again, he praises Brazil, Alien, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Return to Oz with equal gusto. The core messages repeated throughout these pages are: (a) the scenarist is the creative force behind any movie, thereby debunking so-called auteur theory, and (b) movies that lie to audiences or exhibit a low moral base have utterly no artistic value. While it tests your patience at times, Harlan Ellison's Watching is a relentless slab of film criticism that any serious student of the medium should devour. The 2008 edition was reviewed here.

1989
non-fiction
film criticism
trade paperback
website
16/9/2008
Albert Camus, The Plague / La Peste
True, I am teaching myself French. I did not, however, read the original French version of The Plague, mainly because it takes me freakin' long enough to read English. Ahem. Before starting this novel I knew nothing about Nobel laureate Albert Camus. The premise of The Plague just intrigued me. As things turned out, the story delivered what I'd hoped. An outbreak of bubonic plague hits the harbour town of Oran. How do its citizens deal with the scourge? How would you? Camus relates this tragedy through a narrator who witnesses the physical, mental, and spiritual torments of a modern populace isolated from the rest of the world. By and large, the mode is documentary, though punctuated with philosophical asides that examine the human condition in extremis. Of course, with a publication date of 1947, the German occupation of France in World War II – which Camus no doubt experienced first hand – adds a metaphorical layer to the book. Literary considerations aside, The Plague also works as straight storytelling. Camus obviously researched the phenomenon in-depth and exploits it to the nth degree. At times I felt as trapped as the despondent and dying Oran townsfolk. And you'll be pleased to know there is a sting in the tail, albeit a small one. Better still is the prose. There are enough jaw-dropping lines in this 1948 translation by Stuart Gilbert to justify Albert Camus' legend status.

1947
fiction
general
paperback
28/8/2008
George Alec Effinger, When Gravity Fails
Here's a trenchant science fiction classic from the halcyon days of cyberpunk. The basic paradigm is the traditional hardboiled detective murder mystery, so there's very little originality in that regard. It even starts in a seedy dive bar, as did William Gibson's Neuromancer (1982). Key departures include the strip club milieu, and a detective who is actually a street-smart junkie with a reputation for doing dirty work. The action takes place in an Arab precinct called the Budayeen, which also lends When Gravity Fails an exotic tang, with its Muslim rituals and Arabic turns of phrase. The late George Alec Effinger was a premier wordsmith: his prose is dense and laced with sardonic humour, while his characterisations are lucid and dead-on. Recurring images of torture and bloody homicide blend with worldly-weary cynicism, vices of all kinds, and a scary criminal underworld, making When Gravity Fails a tense, feverish read. But as often happens with these kinds of books, the core mystery is wrapped up rather too quickly. The title is a reference to how life and a sense of security, even in a chaotic amoral society, can be turned upside down by external forces. Effinger managed to pen two sequels featuring anti-hero Marîd Audran before the author died in 2004.

1986
fiction
science fiction
paperback
11/8/2008
Alastair Reynolds, Redemption Ark
This sequel to Revelation Space (2000) returns us to the same dystopia 50 years later. Motivated by the encroachment of Inhibitors into human space, two factions race each other to recover the hell-class weapons left around Delta Parvonis that were stolen centuries earlier by a crew of Ultras. Sounds exciting, doesn't it? Reynolds in his third novel delivers a tighter narrative, with interesting sub-plots and human characters who are motivated by unerring self-conviction, making the story bounce easily between each thread. What crippled Redemption Ark, however, was the growing suspicion that the climax would be a fizzer, despite the fabulous build-up. Having finished the book twenty minutes ago, I can confirm this to be true. Reyonlds even had the cheek to recount half of what happened secondhand to a groggy protagonist via an eyewitness. How bloody lazy, especially considering the book is 646 pages long. Mind you, whenever someone cycled through an airlock – and it happened dozens of times – no detail was spared in the telling. Other annoying aspects include the retarded captain of Nostalgia for Infinity, the piss-weak handling of the cache weapons vs Inhibitors interplanetary smackdown, tedious political subterfuge on Resurgam (yawn), and the inevitable set-up for another sequel, which I will buy and read like the mindless consumer zombie that I am. What made Redemption Ark a great ride just the same was Reyonlds' flow of invention and his commitment to writing polished prose. Well, that, and the hope that Resurgam would be turned to slag by the Inhibitor's doomsday device.

2002
fiction
science fiction
paperback
website
27/7/2008
Robert Reed, Marrow
Marrow is compelling SF let down by minor writing problems. Set in the distant future, the story features a colossal spacecraft with a mass six times that of planet Earth. Simply called the "Great Ship" by its crew, the derelict was boarded and commandeered by immortal humans, who discovered countless empty habitats inside ready for use. And so for the last 100,000 years this space ark operated as a galactic cruise liner of sorts, picking up and dropping off human and alien passengers as it coasted along at one third of lightspeed. However, when an artefact is discovered within its iron core (a BDO inside a BDO, you might say) the mystery behind who built the Ship and why deepens. Compared to SF writers like Larry Niven and Alastair Reynolds, Robert Reed takes a more lyrical approach to hard SF. His narrative style is more right-brained than left, preferring to drop hints rather than explain everything in meticulous detail. There's no infodumps here. But often, particularly when describing action scenes, his prose is way too terse. Many times I literally lost the plot and had to reverse back a paragraph or two. Some characters and alien races also needed more development, plus there's a degree of television sci-fi to the melodramas that had me on edge. I suspect this book was much longer in rough drafts, which could explain why it's a page-turner even at 502 pages. In summary, the visionary concepts, barqoue weirdness, and basic premise should please fans of alien artefact SF. A sequel was published in 2004, with most reviewers giving it the thumbs down.

2000
fiction
science fiction
paperback
website
14/7/2008
Alastair Reynolds, Galactic North
Oooh yeah, this was a treat. None of that 'digging in the dirt for 100 pages' nonsense. Instead, here's eight short SF works set in the Revelation Space universe, written between 1989 and 2006, with three stories original to this collection. 'Great Wall of Mars' takes us inside a Conjoiner nest on the red planet and explains more about how these upgraded humans think. Fascinating stuff. 'Glacial' follows the same characters to an ice planet as they solve a gruesome puzzle involving dead colonists and...worms. 'A Spy in Europa' keeps the grue factor high with a dark little tale set in the oceans under Europa's frozen methane crust. 'Weather' is the name of a Conjoiner passenger held by space pirates in the next story, while a passenger on another starship is a victim of the Melding Plague in 'Dilation Sleep'. Private alien zoos are the subject of 'Grafenwalder's Bestiary', although you would not want to bring your children to view these monsters. 'Nightingale' has mercenaries hunting down a notorious war criminal, who is supposedly hiding on a hospital ship thought to be lost in battle. Finally, 'Galactic North' is the destination of a remarkable interstellar car chase, with the pirates being the prey this time. Having gotten a taste of Reynolds in short fiction mode by reading 'Minla's Flowers' in The New Space Opera, my expectations for Galactic North were high, and the Welshman delivered the goods. A pleasant surprise was the horror elements and level of space gore in many of these SF tales. Best story? I'd say 'Great Wall of Mars'. The worst would have to be 'Galactic North', mainly because the conclusion is unsatisfying. That said, the plotting, characters, science and prose are all of a high standard. An interesting afterword is also included. Recommended.

2006
fiction
science fiction
paperback
website
7/7/2008
Bill Congreve (editor), Southern Blood
Hailing from 2003, this collection of pro-am horror and dark fantasy fiction by local writers reflects the best of the fanzine and small press scene up to that time. Since then, Aussie horror fiction has galvanised its beastly self and published literary chills in books, magazines, and online on a regular basis. I'm planning to catch up with some key titles when time permits, perhaps starting with the interesting best-of releases from Brimstone Press. The tales in Southern Blood range from fine to bloody awful, with most falling somewhere in the middle. Stand-outs include 'Basic Black' by Terry Dowling, 'Hunting Ground' by Sean Williams, and 'Madly' by Stephen Dedman. Black and white illustrations accompany each tale – like the fiction, they also vary in quality. An unfortunate and amusing feature of this book concerns its subtitle, "New Australian Tales of the Supernatural". A good number of the chosen stories have nothing supernatural going on in them. Last minute marketing concession to avoid the H-word? Ultimately, the problem I have with anthologies like Southern Blood is that too many of the stories are just not horrific, terrifying, or disturbing enough. As with SF, a strong idea is vital for success in this genre.

2003
fiction
horror
paperback
11/6/2008
Jack Williamson, Darker Than You Think
An intriguing failure. Supernatural fiction doyen Jack Williamson posits a rational, scientific explanation for the hoary legends of lycanthropy and shape-shifting. Mind you, this is six years before Richard Matheson took the same approach to vampirism in his classic novel I Am Legend. After a promising start, though, Darker Than You Think turns into a dog's breakfast. In other words, it just becomes silly – that's the best way to put it. A cabal of archaeologists return from outer Mongolia with a mysterious crate. Their discovery, an ancient artifact, has these academics scared shitless, because it portends a great threat to humankind from hidden forces of darkness. Specifically, from beings who can change from human form to animal by tapping into latent occult energies. They can also walk through walls by manipulating atoms at the quantum probability level. This yarn is told from the viewpoint of hard-drinking journalist Will Barbee, who finds his inner werewolf with the help of a beautiful she-beast called April. Too much of the plot involves this pair's campaign to thwart the protectors of the talisman, which has the power to disrupt the shape-shifter's plans for world domination. Full credit to Williamson for his concise, descriptive prose, some bravura set-pieces, and for his earnest approach to the subject matter. In 1948 Darker Than You Think would have made quite a statement. Sixty years later, it comes across as naïve and ponderous.

1948
fiction
horror
paperback
5/6/2008
Clark Ashton Smith, The Abominations of Yondo
A rating of 7/10 for this collection of weird tales does not reflect how enjoyable Clark Ashton Smith's writing is. The Abominations of Yondo is let down by a lengthy and quite boring collaboration with William Beckford called 'The Third Episode of Vathek'. Even the name of this story sucks – never a good sign. The remaining entries run the full spectrum of 1930s pulp horror and fantasy. There's the obligatory H.P. Lovecraft homages, haunting romances with immortal beings, maritime expeditions to strange lands populated by improbable beasts, treks across wastelands in which monsters dwell, space explorers encountering ghastly creatures in bottomless chasms on Mars, inquisitive scientists crossing the threshold from our world into one of pure evil, cautionary tales of thieves who let greed cloud their common sense judgment, and so forth. As entertaining as the stories are, any devotee of Smith will tell you that they are a small step down from his acknowledged classics, many of which are contained in Out of Space and Time, as well as retrospectives published more recently. For example, I can recommend the Masterworks UK paperback compilation, as well as the beautiful Arkham House hardcover of A Rendezvous in Averoigne. Still, fans of CAS will want to have The Abominations of Yondo on their shelves regardless, since no complete collected works volume exists that I know of.

1932-1937
fiction
horror
paperback
20/5/2008
Stephen King, The Tommyknockers
At 693 pages, this book is too big for its own good. Here, King tackles science fiction with a poorly conceived first contact story in the manner of John Wyndham. Now, Stephen King has actually written SF in the past, with creepy tales such as 'I Am the Doorway'. However, the quick one-punch effect of short fiction leaves no time to ponder scientific gaffes. Not so with The Tommyknockers, in which a buried flying saucer takes over the minds and bodies of residents living in the small town of Haven, Maine. The agency takes the form of contaminated air wafting from the metal surface of the ship slowly being unearthed by Bobbi Anderson, a writer of western novels, and drunk poet Jim Gardener, her one-time lecturer and itinerant lover. This basic premise takes 200 pages to establish. Next, we're introduced to the townsfolk of Haven who, over time, develop telepathy and enhanced intellects. And yet, having metal inside the skull or anywhere on the body provides immunity from this alien influence? How fucking ridiculous. Other annoyances include endless narrative asides describing local history and character trivia, none of which have any bearing on the plot, as well as the overuse of the "Tommyknocker" alias for the dormant aliens. Pure agony. There's also precious little action, scares, or violent death until the last 150 pages, when King finally disengages the handbrake and cuts loose. Of course, the ending is pure bullshit: you just know King had no idea how to finish things off properly. One curious aspect of the novel was the use of human beings as power sources ten years before The Matrix. It's a silly idea anyway, because on balance, the human body absorbs energy. Now, I don't mind rubber science in the service of a decent story – it can be rather quaint and charming. Stephen King just happens to suspend most of The Tommyknockers' tonnage on a series of preposterous conceits. Needless to say, it all collapses into a heap.

1988
fiction
horror
paperback
5/5/2008
Allan and Barbara Pease, The Definitive Guide to Body Language
Review pending.

2005
non-fiction
psychology
trade paperback
10/2/2008
Neil Strauss, The Rules of the Game
Review pending.

2008
non-fiction
motivation
trade paperback

 
25 finished in 2007
17/12/2007
Robert B. Cialdini, PhD, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
Review pending.

1984-1993
revised edition
non-fiction
psychology
trade paperback
8/12/2007
Alastair Reynolds, Revelation Space
It's been way too long since I read my last space opera. They're so enjoyable that I could read them exclusively, if not for all the other genres and non-fiction out there. Code Monkey lent me this 545-page house brick by a Welshman based in Holland. Revelation Space is Reynolds' first novel – it has a freshness and vibrancy that major new SF talents tend to demonstrate. The story occurs 500 years into the future. Humans have colonised many local systems, but are still traveling between the stars at sub-light velocities in ships called lighthuggers that are four kilometres long. The lives of an archeologist (Sylveste), an assassin (Khouri), and a crew of interstellar spacefarers (who all need personality upgrades) share common ground with some recently discovered alien artefacts. Revelation Space does start off slowly, because there's nothing too exciting or unique about the characters and what they're all doing. Fragmented timelines don't help, either. But once the plot threads begin to mesh, the narrative kicks into progressively higher gears; the last 200 pages were riveting. Note however that if you prefer your SF to be loaded with the full spectrum of human drama, Revelation Space is not for you. The main characters here are self-absorbed and lack a sense of humour, apart from Sylveste's crotchety simulated father, Calvin. Basically none of these personalities are all that likeable, at least initially. What Reynolds does provide is hard science fiction that contains lots of space travel, exotic weapons, cybernetics, bizarre alien cultures, and the usual grandiose revelations that span billions of years of galactic history. Even though I couldn't read Revelation Space again, I'll be tracking down more SF titles by Mr Reynolds. For instance, Chasm City is a prequel to Revelation Space, Redepmtion Ark is a "rough sequel", and Galactic North is a collection of stories set in the same universe – plenty to upload into my unaugmented brain right there.

2000
fiction
science fiction
paperback
website
18/10/2007
Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment
Review pending.

1866
fiction
general
trade paperback
5/9/2007
Paul Allen Nelson, Kubrick: Inside a Film Artist's Maze (Expanded)
Review pending.

2000
non-fiction
film criticism
trade paperback
4/9/2007
Algis Budrys, Rogue Moon
Review pending.

1960
fiction
science fiction
paperback
23/8/2007
David Ray Griffin and Peter Dale Scott (editors), 9/11 and American Empire: Intellectuals Speak Out
Review pending.

2007
non-fiction
history
trade paperback
13/8/2007
David Ray Griffin, Debunking 9/11 Debunking
Review pending.

2007
non-fiction
history
trade paperback
27/6/2007
John Jude Palencar, Origins
Review pending.

2007
art
commercial
hardcover
27/6/2007
BeinArt Collective, Metamorphosis
Review pending.

2007
art
surrealism
hardcover
9/6/2007
Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything
One day Bill Bryson realised that his general knowledge of planet Earth, outer space, biology, chemistry, oceanography and meteorology – among other topics – had gaping holes in it. He spent the next three years catching up and distilling that knowledge into A Short History of Nearly Everything. If you're across the science disciplines, you may want to skip this book, because presenting low level detail was not Bryson's intent. However, he still digs right into the fundamentals, which are themselves beyond the grasp of most people's comprehension and common experience. Bryson's genius is his ability to both demystify and personalise Science without trivialising it or subtracting the sense of wonder. He does the former with a cultivated and friendly narrative voice. He does the latter by describing the scientists and intellectuals who struggled to answer big questions such as: How old is the Earth? How did the universe begin? What is the true nature of time and space? What killed the dinosaurs? When did human beings first walk the planet? What is DNA? And so on. In fact, at a guess, the book contains 40% hard science and 60% background information about the scientists and their respective journeys of discovery. Now, I knew about 50% of the science and 10% of the biographical detail. Therefore I gained a lot from A Short History, which is consistently well written, frequently hilarious, and just an absolute page-turner.

2003
non-fiction
popular science
trade paperback
6/6/2007
Philip K. Dick, A Handful of Darkness
Review pending.

1955
fiction
science fiction
paperback
28/5/2007
Dr Brett Tate, The Professional Bachelor
Review pending.

2007
non-fiction
self help
trade paperback
10/5/2007
Steve Carter and Antoinette Rydyr, Fantastique
Review pending.

2006
graphic novel
3/5/2007
Michael Shea, The A'Rak
Here's another monstrous fantasy yarn spun from the vital imagination and weighty thesaurus of Michael Shea. The A'Rak is the third book in Shea's trinity of Nifft the Lean adventures, and like its brothers, this one delivers the goods. While sniffing around the gold-laden vaults of the fearsome spidergod A'Rak, our esteemed prince of thieves is hired to ride shotgun over a nuncio's contract to deliver a coffin and its inhabitant to one of A'Rak's outlying temples. However, the expedition morphs into something quite different: a conspiracy first hinted at by the incomplete verses of a poem Nifft chanced upon in a market stall. Rather than breaching the subworlds and encountering their many demons, this story remains above ground and sunlit. That hardly stops Shea from infusing this narrative with tendrils of creeping terror that gradually multiply – literally to bursting point. At first, the suspense runs high, since the giant arachnids are only cut loose past the halfway mark. Later plot developments should keep horror fans ripping through subsequent chapters as complete bedlam ensues. Apart from the distractingly ebullient prose, Nifft's lack of sardonic humour (perhaps because he's travelling with unfamiliar company), and the shifting narrative voice, The A'Rak is nightmare quest fantasy at its finest. Be sure, though, to read Nifft the Lean and The Mines of Behemoth first.

2000
fiction
dark fantasy
paperback
website
26/4/2007
Webster Griffin Tarpley, 9/11 Synthetic Terror: Made in USA
The two leading voices in the 9/11 truth movement are David Ray Griffin and Webster Tarpley. Griffin has written books on many subjects, while Tarpley co-authored an unofficial biography of George Bush, Snr. David Ray Griffin has a smooth delivery, like a congenial cooking show host who assumes you've never made the recipe before. In contrast, Webster Tarpley assaults you with dates, names, acronyms, events, and big words – he presumes you know the terminology and basic facts from page one. This can be daunting for 9/11 proselytes. That said, anyone wanting to absorb the political and historical complexities surrounding the 9/11 disaster will devour 9/11 Synthetic Terror, because the constant references to unknown entities are easy to put into context and give the commentary weight. Also, to explain each one would require double the 478 page count. As the title suggests, Tarpley's main agenda is to illustrate how 9/11 could only have been perpetrated by criminals within the US oligarchy given: (a) past examples of false flag or 'synthetic terror' conspiracies, (b) the nature of organisations such as the CIA, FBI, NSA, Department of Defence, FAA, FEMA, the Neo-conservative cabal, MI5, MI6, et cetera, (c) shadow organisations extant around the world, and (d) other factors such as global economics and the roots of Islamic fundamentalism. Nothing is as it seems. Coverage of 9/11 itself is generous but limited to five chapters, perhaps to avoid repeating what other books and websites have documented. Among other things, one key fact I learned was the plot to assassinate President Bush: "Angel is next", meaning Air Force One. This book, and others like it, continue to shatter my ignorance of the political landscape and how the world really works. A third edition is now available and contains 40 extra pages. Since Australian book shops rarely stock this title, order it via the Internet.

2005
non-fiction
trade paperback
first edition
23/4/2007
Tony Clink, The Layguide
Review pending.

2005
non-fiction
trade paperback
16/4/2007
Frank Miller, 300
Review pending.

1998
graphic novel
hardcover
28/2/2007
Charles Bukowski, Women
Review pending.

1978
fiction
general
trade paperback
19/2/2007
Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion
Outspoken evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins takes a stand against the existence of God, creationism, intelligent design, and the legitimacy of religion. Each chapter uses logic, Biblical quotations, science, and history to dispute the "sky fairy" belief systems held by most people on the planet. Author of several books on science and related issues, atheist Dawkins articulates his arguments persuasively, with liberal doses of passion and humour. No surprises there. For me, also a career atheist, he presents many trains of thought I had never considered, such as non-religious origins of basic morality. If the book has a flaw, it is that Dawkins is perhaps too intellectual with some of his cases. Up front he states that the book was designed to convert a believer into a atheist. Even with 50% of the material he would succeed. However, about 10% is too convoluted and over-wrought to be effective, most glaringly in the final chapter, which attempts to show alternative, natural sources of inspiration and awe in place of spiritual options. Instead, what ensues is a disjointed muddle of wonders and gushy language, all delivered with the best of intentions. A more measured, linear approach would have been better. No matter, because I believe Dawkins realised his goal long before then. Thank God for Richard Dawkins? The shame is that such a valuable thinker has to waste his time on this topic. We're all capable of figuring out this shit for ourselves and seeing The Light...of reason.

2006
non-fiction
trade paperback
6/2/2007
Jim Marrs, The Terror Conspiracy
Review pending.

trade paperback
4/2/2007
Thomas Harris, Hannibal Rising
I devoured it in two days to prepare for reviewing the movie, which opens February 8th. Mentioning film is appropriate, because the plot of Hannibal Rising has been used in many Hollywood crime and vigilante melodramas. In terms of the writing, Thomas Harris remains a master wordsmith, delivering the detail, depth, nuance, and bloodthirsty violence fans expect. He also delivers nouns by the bucketful: new writers take note. The story covers Hannibal's World War II childhood in Lithuania that led him to become a psychopath, albeit one with a twisted moral code. Of course, Hannibal's genius-level IQ was evident early on. The perversion of such a stunning and cultured intellect, caused by horrific events out of his control, turns this prequel into a tragedy. Fear not, though. Harris carefully paints this portrait of Doc Lecter so that knowing his backstory doesn't humanise the shrike that features in 'later' adventures too much. Of the Lecter books, Hannibal Rising is the least significant, falling behind the explosive Hannibal and, naturally, both Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon. It's still a fabulous read, but wait for the paperback.

2006
fiction
thriller
hardcover
22/1/2007
A. Norman Jeffares (editor), W.B. Yeats Selected Poetry
Review pending.

paperback
21/1/2007
Ramsey Campbell, The Overnight
While his short stories are superb bite-sized excursions into psychological and supernatural terror, Campbell's horror novels tend to drag on a bit. At 390 pages, The Overnight falls prey to this syndrome. Set in a fictional retail outlet called Texts (modeled on Borders), the narrative aggrieves the sales staff with internal squabbling and fiendish disturbances from the fog bank lurking outside the shop. The first third of the book sets up the dramas, the second escalates various grudges and reveals more signs of evil pervasion, and the third plunges the staff into an all-night shift that leaves them at the mercy of the fog and its faceless inhabitants. Things only start to pick up after the halfway point when the hauntings appear to be sending everyone mad. Campbell's droll sense of humour also comes out in a number of scenes that had me chuckling on the train. Shamelessly padded, The Overnight shines when characters are either shooting retorts at each other or being subsumed by repugnant blobs. Often, though, I was too exhausted from decoding Campbell's convoluted syntax to get scared.

2005
fiction
horror
paperback
website
15/1/2007
Dan Richter, Moonwatcher's Memoir – A Diary of 2001: A Space Odyssey
Review pending.

trade paperback
12/1/2007
Leil Lowndes, How to Make Anyone Like You
Review pending.

trade paperback

 
14 finished in 2006
27/12/2006
Leil Lowndes, How to Talk to Anyone
Review pending.

trade paperback
3/12/2006
John Skipp, Craig Spector, The Cleanup
Review pending.

paperback
25/11/2006
CSIRO, The Total Well Being Diet
Review pending.

softcover
2/10/2006
Men, Women and Chainsaws
Review pending.

trade paperback
29/8/2006
David DeAngelo, Double Your Dating
Review pending.

e-book
23/8/2006
James Herbert, The Survivor
Review pending.

paperback
16/8/2006
Chuck Palahniuk, Choke
Review pending.

trade paperback
18/7/2006
Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Review pending.

trade paperback
10/6/2006
Jack McDevitt, A Talent for War
Review pending.

paperback
23/5/2006
Charles Bukowski, Ham on Rye
Review pending.

trade paperback
14/5/2006
Neil Strauss, The Game
Review pending.

trade paperback
14/5/2006
Alan Moore (writer) and David Lloyd (artist), V for Vendetta
Review pending.

graphic novel
8/5/2006
Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea
Review pending.

trade paperback
3/3/2006
Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes
Review pending.

paperback

 
13 finished in 2005
23/11/2005
Jim Schutze, Bully: A True Story of High School Revenge
Review pending.

paperback
15/11/2005
Clark Ashton Smith, The Monster of the Prophecy
Review pending.

paperback
05/11/2005
Alan Moore (writer) and Dave Gibbons (artist), Watchmen
Review pending.

1986-1987
graphic novel
softcover
30/8/2005
Clark Ashton Smith, The Last Oblivion
Review pending.

trade paperback
19/8/2005
George Orwell, Animal Farm
Review pending.

paperback
15/8/2005
Tara Moss, Fetish
If an eye-popping nude pictorial in Black & White prompted me to borrow this debut novel by Tara Moss, then maybe all aspiring writers should try getting their gear off? Well, perhaps not...and note that I said borrow, not buy. Another client of 'literary' agent Selwa Anthony, Tara Moss has loaded her serial killer thriller with cliché after cliché, ad nauseum. There is absolutely nothing new here for fans of crime fiction, while gorehounds and sex fiends should just skip to the last 30 pages. That's right, prurient details about the sadistic "Stiletto Murders" (oh please) are merely implied. In addition, the titular fetish elements are limited to foot worship by the psychopath whose psychosis is centred on his mother and brief S&M detours that establish two obvious red herrings. Granted, the prose scans quickly, but this is more indicative of the author's love of writing than any real talent for it. If Moss strips off again, I might be tempted to borrow Split to see if she has improved and/or included more exploitation. As things stand, she is getting her arse whupped by the likes of CSI on the telly.

fiction
crime
paperback
8/8/2005
Allan and Barbara Pease, Why Women Can't Read Maps...and Won't Stop Talking
Review pending.

paperback
7/8/2005
Stephen King, Different Seasons
Review pending.

paperback
7/6/2005
Thomas and Elizabeth Monteleone, From the Borderlands
Also known as Borderlands V.

paperback
16/5/2005
Nicholas Whittaker, Blue Period
Review pending.

trade paperback
26/4/2005
Peter Bagge, Buddy Does Seattle
Review pending.

graphic novel
14/2/2005
Belle de Jour, The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl
Review pending.

trade paperback
2/2/2005
Vincent LoBrutto, Stanley Kubrick
Review pending.

trade paperback

 
20 finished in 2004
29/10/2004
Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea
Review pending.

paperback
7/10/2004
Dylan Thomas, Everyman's Poetry
Review pending.

trade paperback
28/9/2004
Richard Matheson, Hell House
Review pending.

paperback
25/9/2004
Peter Bagge, Hey, Buddy!
Review pending.

graphic novel
20/9/2004
Daniel Clowes, Ghost World
Review pending.

graphic novel
6/9/2004
Peter Phillips & Project Censored, Censored 2001
Review pending.

trade paperback
5/8/2004
Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House
Review pending.

trade paperback
1/8/2004
Fritz Leiber, Night Monsters
Review pending.

paperback
19/7/2004
Peter Straub, Mystery
Review pending.

paperback
21/5/2004
Shaun Hutson, The Terminator (novelisation)
Review pending.

paperback
6/5/2004
Frances Stillman, The Poet's Manual (and Rhyming Dictionary)
Review pending.

trade paperback
17/4/2004
Richard Morgan, Altered Carbon
Review pending.

paperback
11/4/2004
Pauline Kael, State of the Art
Review pending.

trade paperback
4/4/2004
PL/SQL Fundamentals (Oracle course notes)
Review pending.

manual
28/3/2004
Harlan Ellison, The Glass Teat
Review pending.

paperback
22/2/2004
Coop (Chris Cooper), Devil's Advocate: The Art of Coop
Review pending.

hardcover
21/2/2004
Kami, Bunk Beds & Chilli Vodka
Review pending.

chapbook
29/1/2004
Greg Emmanuel, Extreme Encounters
Review pending.

trade paperback
26/1/2004
Thomas M. Disch, The Business Man
Groan. I never knew The Business Man was a 'horror comedy' until I started reading it. Now, for those who don't know me that well, let me say that I detest horror comedy in novel form. Not keen on it at any length, really. Life is just too fucken short, you know? Even typing out this capsule review may require regular doses of morphine to dull the pain. The story features the malefic spirit of a young woman called Giselle who was killed wrongfully. More than a little confused, she returns from the grave to exact revenge on various living persons, although her main target is her selfish husband Bob Glandier, the eponymous business man. This all pans out in a string of funny/horrible set pieces, wrought with consummate skill by Disch, who is better known as a renowned science fiction scribe. Disch has also produced volumes of poetry, and a serious horror tale called The MD: A Horror Story, among others publication credits. You might enjoy The Business Man if gruesome black comedy within a fantasy context sounds appealing. I found it tedious going, despite Disch's obvious intelligence and expert prose working behind the scenes.

1993
fiction
horror
paperback
25/1/2004
Larry Niven, Ringworld +
Forget Lord of the Rings. This is my hymen-breaker, the first book of fiction I ever selected and read for my own enjoyment. Educated in maths with a minor in psychology, US author Larry Niven has an accessible style – light on lyrical touches, heavy on story and colossal action set pieces. Ringworld is also hard SF, therefore some knowledge of science is helpful. If you were nursed on cyberpunk, be warned that Niven writes old skool science fiction. Luckily, while computers may have changed since 1970, basic physics has remained the same. This tale follows a motley crew of two humans and two aliens who explore a puzzling artefact: a synthetic hoop that encircles a star and is terraformed on the inner surface. Who made it, and when? What lives there now? Why is it falling out of the Milky Way galaxy? The memorable characters, audacious plotting, frank sexuality, fascinating space hardware, inter-species melodrama, and humorous situations make this something special, so much so that Niven penned three sequels of diminishing freshness. Tanj! Could someone please break the man's fingers? Niven's other novels and stories of 'Known Space' are also highly recommended, but Ringworld reigns supreme for this reader. Subtle hint: a flat-signed, first edition hardcover – fine in fine DJ – would make a great gift for someone.

1970
fiction
science fiction
paperback

 
9+ finished in 2003
17/11/2003
Theresa L. Crenshaw, M.D., The Alchemy of Love and Lust
It's all about hormones and how they affect our behaviour around the opposite sex. The research by Dr Crenshaw appears to be scientifically based: this is not your typical fluff piece that dispenses flirting tips and gushes about Ten Ways to Keep Your Partner Horny. Her speculations about the effects of all those chemical messengers coursing through our bodies match common experience. However, she does admit that some of the research is not conclusive. For instance, I knew that there's no hard proof that human pheromones have any influence, but she describes how they tend to work in animals and draws a few parallels. Nice work. Apart from a number of surprising disclosures about estrogen and testosterone, Dr Crenshaw mentions that – due to our lifestyles – many of us lack a 'miracle' growth hormone that works best when it's dark; an intriguing prospect if more investigation can exploit this discovery. An excellent book for those looking for a more grounded examination of love and other related states of being.

1997
non-fiction
hardcover
9/11/2003
Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt
Published after his sudden death from heart attack, this non-fiction book contains essays wirtten by Adams on a number of topics. Because the articles vary in subject matter and quality, The Salmon of Doubt is aimed at Douglas Adams completists, of which there must be millions around the world. Me personally, I've never read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, although it is on my reading list. Here, Adams' great sense of humour and personable nature comes through, making these articles easy and fun to read. Some would be worth purchasing the book for, since they can be re-read and enjoyed.

2001
non-fiction
trade paperback
12/10/2003
Greg Egan, Schild's Ladder
This book hurt my brain...in a good way, of course. Greg Egan is a successful science fiction writer based in Perth, Western Australia. He first received acclaim for various stories he placed in Interzone (UK), such as the classic mind bender 'I Am the Jewel'. His first two novels, Quarantine and Permutation City, are both hard SF yarns that posit small what-if scenarios, then extrapolate them out to cosmic proportions. Egan thinks big and he thinks deep. However, for all its quantum cleverness, his fiction often lacks entertainment value and sympathetic characters. Schild's Ladder, his sixth novel, also suffers in this regard, although more effort has gone into humanising this futuristic hypothetical. Here, Egan comes closest to getting the balance right, at least until the horrendously abstract climax think Escher on LSD via Stephen Hawking undoes the meticulous world building and melodrama. A second pass should be more rewarding; my limited IQ couldn't always keep up the first time through. I think Greg Egan is one of Australia's unsung literary giants. Tim Winton who?

fiction
science fiction
paperback
9/10/2003
Helen Vnuk, Snatched: Sex and Censorship in Australia
Google the name "Helen Vnuk" and you will discover various appointments in the Australian mass media industry, everything from Adelaide TV journalist to editor of Australian Women's Forum. Her husband Dann Lenard also publishes the excellent T&W (tits and wrestling) fanzine Betty Paginated. This background gave Vnuk a bird's eye view of censorship in relation to the sex industry, uncovering violations of common sense occurring at all levels of 'adult' entertainment: magazines, porn videos, comics, computer games, prostitution, and television. Perhaps wisely, Vnuk avoids examining the censorship of horror films and other non-sexual genres. This is a vast topic in itself and deserves its own book-length treatment. Once or twice, Snatched almost endorsed censoring staged violence over pornography, a bankrupt argument used by associates of the Eros Foundation. I gave her the benefit of the doubt on that score. While it may not be an exhaustive academic survey (and no claims are made that it is), Snatched does provide an informative overview of the bullshit that happens on a daily basis in the name of conservatism and religion. Tackling a subject of this nature must have been daunting. Bravo.

non-fiction
trade paperback
26/8/2003
Nick Hornby, How to be Good
Okay. I thought I'd jump the queue and read this Nick Hornby novel before someone made it into a successful mainstream movie, which has not happened as yet. Perhaps one explanation for this might be that the story is, umm, a little bit crap? A dysfunctional middle-class family is rocked by the arrival of a faith healer who causes everyone in the household young and old to take stock of their world views. Individually, the characters are excellent. Hornby's bouncy prose line and wit are fully evident, too. Unfortunately he never integrates the major story elements into a satisfying whole. Was that the point? Also, the notion that the faith healer was 'for real' only made my brain itch. If a narrative is meant to be fantasy, declare as much early in the piece, so readers don't have to suspend their re-evaluation of the story until it's too late and they don't give a toss.

fiction
general
trade paperback
10/8/2003
Frank M. Robinson, Waiting
After being impressed by Mr Robinson's superb science fiction novel The Dark Beyond the Stars, praise for this follow-up book from the likes of Harlan Ellison was largely redundant this reader snapped it up without a second thought (a good thing too, because I rarely have more than three in a row). The story, which is grounded in science fiction but horrific in effect, raises the question of whether a second human-like species survived the natural selection process in prehistoric times, and is now living amongst the general population of present-day Earth. A doctor discovers the Awful Truth when an autopsy reveals the victim of a car accident to have a decidedly inhuman physiology. Trading on B-movie staples such as the 'enemy within' chestnut and themes of lurking paranoia, Waiting is a proverbial page-turner: well written and coldly logical. We may not be alone...

fiction
science fiction
paperback
25/6/2003
Harry Adam Knight, The Fungus
You gotta love pulp horror when it's done this well. Harry Adam Knight (HAK) is actually the pen name for Perth writer John Brosnan. The Fungus is the only novel of his I've read, and comes recommended as a starting point into the realm of eco-horror tales set in Britain, of which there are dozens to choose from. Brosnan is a better writer than Guy N. Smith, who can be dull and short on pay-offs, and The Fungus bears this out. The narrative is fast, with lively characters and gruesome set pieces thrown in to keep things moving along. Naturally, the fungoid invader is an airborn contagion that takes time to make its presence known to the unwitting host, thus creating much conflict and tension between characters. The imagery of London overrun by the virulent weed is quite haunting.

fiction
horror
paperback
2/6/2003
M.R. James, A Warning to the Curious
Selected by Ruth Rendell, these ghost tales from the turn of last century outdo most 'horror' fiction I read in modern anthologies. James writes methodical and richly detailed stories rooted in the crumbling abbeys and musty libraries of hoary old Britian. As one critic put it, M.R. James delivers the goods, although his writing demands unwavering concentration and patience. I admit that I was not always up to the task, due to tiredness or some other distraction, but his scary pay-offs were reward enough. Some of these stories don't work as well as his acknowledged classics, so for best results keep your expections muted. The James collection from Wordsworth boasts more titles than this one. For instance, Ms Rendell omitted 'Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad' from her tome. One explanation is that she had a cap on the word count from the publisher.

fiction
horror
trade paperback
16/4/2003
Brian Greene, The Elegant Universe
Review pending.

non-fiction
science
hardcover

 
in progress – long term commitments
John Keats, The Complete Poems An excellent compendium of beautiful verse, this book collects all of John Keats' poetry into one volume. Because this is not a selection, several pieces are substandard the authenticiy of some are even in doubt but this is still a great escape from the banality of nine-to-five.
J.R.R. Tolkein, Lord of the Rings I only just started Book Two of Six, say about 380 pages into it. The plan was to finish the books before the extended edition DVD comes out, but that obviously came to grief thanks to Tolkein's club-footed writing style. Though more bland, The Hobbit was a better read.
The Human Body by various contributors A layman's reference book about human physiology. It gets into the nitty gritty, which is what I wanted. Indulging in herbal medicine or taking the spiritual path to physical and mental health is all well and good, but to do so without the basic groundwork is folly. It's like trying to fix a car engine by painting the outer body in a different colour.

 
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