I’ve arrived at another checkpoint in my 2017 reading challenge set by My Reader’s Block blogger Bev, the Mount TBR Challenge. You may remember that this involves reducing the mountain of unread books produced by tsundoku. My task was to achieve the summit of Mont Blanc, that is, to read 24 books from my to-be-read pile. That meant I had to have consumed twelve books by the end of June. Did I achieve this waymarked total?
An unashamed plug for independent bookshops, to be celebrated this coming week in the UK and Ireland. Much of the following comes from the IBW website at https://indiebookshopweek.org.uk/
Independent Bookshop Week (24th June – 1st July 2017) is part of the Books Are My Bag campaign, and seeks to celebrate independent bookshops in the UK and Ireland. They do this with events, celebrations, reading groups, storytelling, author signings, literary lunches, even face painting! Your local bookshop will have their own way of celebrating, and IBW encourages you to visit to celebrate with them.
We’re also told that IndieBound is their umbrella independent campaign, which helps “promote healthy high streets, shopping local and the benefits that a diverse high street — with a bookshop at its heart of course! — can deliver to a community.” IndieBound was started by the American Booksellers Association in 2008 as a “marketing movement” for independent bookstores, part of a campaign for “fiscal localism”.
After you’ve let your fingers do the walking, following the links and so on, it must be time to use Shank’s pony to wend your way to your local bookshop — though that’s assuming you still have one. But hurry! By patronising it you may help to ensure it continues to survive and thrive. Use it or lose it!
Michael Crichton: The Andromeda Strain
Ballantine Books 1993 (1969)
Certainly the Wildfire team was under severe stress, but they were also prepared to make mistakes. They had even predicted that this would occur. What they did not anticipate was the magnitude, the staggering dimensions of their error. They did not expect that their ultimate error would be a compound of a dozen small clues that were missed, a handful of crucial facts that were dismissed.
— From Chapter 24, The Andromeda Strain
Michael Crichton’s 1969 techno-thriller is in some ways an update of H G Wells’ The War of the Worlds, but instead of invading Martians being defeated by a earth-borne microbes (or “putrefactive and disease bacteria” as Wells has it, our “microscopic allies”) here it is the extraterrestrial microscopic organisms that threaten humankind. Brought back to earth by a Project Scoop satellite, they kill human beings by almost instantly clotting their blood. A top secret team codenamed Wildfire is tasked with retrieving, analysing, assessing and counteracting this virulent invader before it spreads to the general population. Holed up in an underground lab, they have a scant few days to come up with solutions; this being a thriller, things do not go smoothly.
Put thus baldly The Andromeda Strain appears to be a fairly humdrum novel, its premise familiar from scores of dystopic novel plotlines and SFF films and TV series. But, bearing in mind the date of its release — at the height of a flurry of manned space missions (though just three years from the last Apollo mission to the moon) and on the crest of a wave of optimism in the march of science and technology in the face of Cold War tensions — its then impact isn’t hard to imagine. The nightmare scenario of an invisible killer chimed in with fears of Russian aggression — remember, the USSR and its Warsaw Pact allies had in 1968 invaded Czechoslovakia, a country at the heart of Europe. While the US became more mired in a disastrous Vietnam conflict, despite opposing a technologically poorer nation, on the other hand it had sent a mission around the moon; and computer sciences seemed to be announcing new advances on a daily basis.
J A Hazeley and J P Morris How It Works: The Husband
Ladybird Books 2015
My guess is that this book is designed for anyone who is not a husband — the wife, the fiancée, the boy in need of a role model, extraterrestrial visitors and the like — but, speaking as a husband, I found much to enlighten me within these pages. Like many practical manuals it describes the subject’s strengths and weaknesses, gives insights into his interior workings and pictures him at work and play, following lone pursuits and attempting to socialise. What it doesn’t do, however, is to suggest ways to improve or maintain the husband; quite the opposite — in its otherwise comprehensive thoroughness it seems to implicitly advise a take-it-or-leave-it approach. It’s a rather fatalistic and bleak picture that’s painted.
Are you wondering what’s happened to Dido Twite, the engaging young heroine of Joan Aiken’s Wolves Chronicles? Yes? Then read on. No? Still, do keep reading, because if you’re a fan of the Brontës you may find the following note of interest!
Kate Atkinson: Case Histories
Black Swan 2005 (2004)
A wonderfully intricate novel — my paperback edition has a gold interlace pattern on the cover, as if to underline to interplay of characters and destinies — Case Histories is the first in a series featuring the brooding figure of ‘investigative consultant’ Jackson Brodie. (I’ve already read the second, One Good Turn — out of order, as it happens — and reviewed it favourably.) The title references detailed notes and records about individuals’ medical or social backgrounds and, true to this description, Atkinson’s novel introduces us to a missing child, a young woman murdered on her first day at work, a husband killed with an axe in his home and, lastly, Jackson’s own tragic family life. How the lives of the surviving relatives intersect is the stuff of Case Histories, and it proves a real page-turner.
Diana Wynne Jones The Tough Guide to Fantasyland
Gollancz 2004 (1996)
Dark Lord (dread lord). There is always one of these in the background of every Tour, attempting to ruin everything and take over the world. He will be so sinister that he will be seen by you only once or twice, probably near the end of the Tour. Generally he will attack you through MINIONS (forces of Terror, bound to his will), of which he will have large numbers. When you do get to see him at last, you will not be surprised to find he is black […] and shadowy and probably not wholly human. He will make you feel very cold and small. […]
In The Tough Guide to Fantasyland Diana Wynne Jones created an imaginary tourist’s guidebook to a generic world where magic is a given — in fact the kind of world conjured up for almost any example of the epic fantasy genre you can name. Think Middle Earth, Narnia, Earthsea or, less familiarly, the Old Kingdom, Prydain, Zimiamvia or Pellinor. Jones imagines them all perhaps as aspects of Fantasyland, though it’s clear that the Disney version is not really what she has in mind. As pretty much all fantasy is predicated on conflict leading to some sort of resolution the nemesis of each world is thus nearly always some incarnation of a Dark Lord. It’s hard to think of any dread adversary who doesn’t conform in some way to Jones’ description, their motivations exactly those of Milton’s Satan:
One who brings
A mind not to be changed by place or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.
But a Dark Lord alone does not a Fantasyland make.