It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible


Look what the postie brought

Book haul time again. It’s been a month since the last one, so once more you get to see what new items I’ve added to my already-groaning bookshelves. Instead of a single photo, I’ve broken it down this time into several pictures.

First up is a trio of non-fiction books: Personal Landscapes by Jonathan Bolton, a study of British poets in Egypt during the Second World War (poets such as Lawrence Durrell, Keith Douglas, John Jarmain, Terence Tiller, Bernard Spencer, and others); a signed copy of A Short History of Lyme Regis by John Fowles, for the collection (see here); and Seven Miles Down by Jacques Piccard & Robert S Dietz, the only book written about the bathyscaphe Trieste‘s descent to the floor of Challenger Deep fifty years ago (see here).

Next up is four first edition genre novels. On the right is a signed and numbered slipcased edition from Kerosina Books of DG Compton’s Scudder’s Game, which also includes Radio Plays. In front of it is A Usual Lunacy, also by DG Compton and signed, and published by Borgo Press. Next is Colonel Rutherfords’ Colt by Lucius Shepard, for the Shepard collection (see here). Finally, Phillip Mann’s The Eye of the Queen, which completes my Mann collection (expect a book porn post on his novels soon).

Here are a couple of old British sf novels which were listed on my British SF Masterworks list (see here). No Man Friday by Rex Gordon I’ve had for a couple of months, but A Man of Double Deed by Leonard Daventry is a recent purchase. Expect reviews of both to appear on this blog soon. In fact, I intend to review most of the books on my British SF Masterworks list, the hard-to-find old and obscure ones almost certainly.

This is In Arcadia, a signed and numbered chapbook published in 1968 by Turret Books. It contains the eponymous poem by Lawrence Durrell, and music by Wallace Southam. The pair did two such chapbooks – I’ve had the other one, Nothing is Lost, Sweet Self, for a while (see this Lawrence Durrell collection post here).

And finally, here are four books for the Space Books collection. Sky Walking is astronaut’s Tom Jones’ memoir (no, not that Tom Jones, another one; the name, well, it’s not unusual). First Landing is a sf novel about the, er, first landing on Mars, by Robert Zubrin, an expert on the topic. Mars Underground by William K Hartmann is also about settling the Red Planet but is non-fiction. And last of all, Reflections from Earth Orbit by Winston E Scott is another astronaut autobiography. All four books are signed.

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John Fowles

I came late to John Fowles’ novels – the first novel of his I read was A Maggot, which I started on the train journey to alt.fiction in 2006. I seem to recall buying it because it’s actually a sf novel. Whatever the reason, I thought it very good indeed and decided to read the rest of Fowles’ books. And from there it was a short step to collecting first editions of them.

Fowles had a deceptively readable prose-style. He managed to make complex ideas and situations – and not a few completely nonsensical ones – simple to parse and follow. His post-modernism also appeals to me, something he has in common with Lawrence Durrell. Having said that,  some of his books are better than others. The French Lieutenant’s Woman is justifiably a classic, and A Maggot is almost as good. The Magus I suspect would have impressed me more if I’d read it in my teens or twenties. Mantissa is a bit of a dirty old man’s book, but some of the stories in the collection The Ebony Tower are superb (although the title story also has a whiff of dirty old man about it). I’ve yet to read The Collector or Daniel Martin.

My collection is not complete. Fowles wrote seven novels and a number of non-fiction books. First editions of The Magus and The French Lieutenant’s Woman are a bit out of my budget. I have some of the non-fiction, and I have his one collection of poems. Some of the books I owned are also signed.

four paperbacks: The Collector, The Magus, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, The Ebony Tower

three hardbacks: Daniel Martin, Mantissa, A Maggot

Cinderella, Poems

non-fiction: Islands, Wormholes, Journals Vol 1 and Vol 2

about Fowles: A Life in Two Worlds, A Reference Companion, The Romances of…, Writers & their Works


Best Books of 2010 (the first half)

We’re halfway through the year (give or take a day or two) and I have, as usual, read a lot of books. Some of them impressed me more than others. The following five impressed me the most. I will, of course, do my usual best of the year post in December, and I suspect one or two of the books below might make that post.

Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land, John Crowley (2005). I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this makes the final best of the year list – it’s one of those novels which leaves you with an itch to reread it. Not only is it a cleverly-plotted historical detective novel, but Crowley performs an astonishing piece of literary impersonation (not, I hasten to add, that I’m an expert on Byron; but Crowley certainly convinced me).

The Magus, John Fowles (1977). Fowles’ sheer readability always surprises me when I read his books. This one is no different. Fowles’ own characterisation of it as a “novel of adolescence written by a retarded adolescent” is unnecessarily harsh, although I suspect I would have appreciated the book a great deal more if I’d read it in my twenties. I’ve a feeling this one won’t make the final cut.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover, DH Lawrence (1928). I certainly hadn’t expected to like Lawrence’s prose as much as I did on reading this. My previous experiences with 1920s writers had not been entirely encouraging. But I’ve since gone on to read three of Lawrence’s novellas, and I have The Rainbow and Women in Love lined up on the TBR.

The Turing Test, Chris Beckett (2008). This collection won the Edge Hill Prize last year, and Chris’ first novel, The Holy Machine, has just been republished by Corvus Press, so he’s finally getting the recognition he deserves. I wrote back in February that “his fiction feels more like it’s touching the edges of genre than actively engaging with it”, which is not a criticism.

Troy, Simon Brown (2006). Another collection of genre-ish short stories. The book’s title is descriptive: each of the ten stories is inspired by a character from the Trojan Wars. They are literary fantasy and science fiction, and very well-written. I wouldn’t mind reading more by Brown. Most of the stories in Troy originally appeared in Eidolon, an Australian sf magazine, and the collection was published by Ticonderoga Publications, an Australian small press.

Oops. No science fiction. Well, yes, the Beckett and the Brown are sf, but not entirely and certainly not heartland sf. And they’re collections, not novels. I did actually read a lot of sf novels during the first half of this year, but I seem to have lost the knack of privileging sensawunda over writing chops, so no matter how mind-blowing their gosh-wow special effects they seem to lack a certain something. I can no longer read sf as adventure stories. I’ve yet to work out if that’s good or bad…