Monthly Archives: December 2016

The Weapon Shops Of Isher

The Weapon Shops of Isherby A.E. van Vogt

As a lifelong reader of science fiction I can’t believe that I have never read any A E Van Vogt until now. Regarded by many as one of the most influential science fiction writers of the mid twentieth century, he was still writing into the 1980s. The Weapon Shops of Isher was published in 1951, and with the exception of a few references to “atomic energy” typical of the era, it stands up pretty well. 

Like most good science fiction, the technology and scientific projections are only a small part of the whole. In this book, set on Earth several thousand years in the future, Van Vogt has created a world in which corruption and greed have become endemic and the power of the empire not necessarily where it should be. 

In the world ruled by the house of Isher, there is an uneasy balance between the ruling dictatorship and the Weapon Shops, who offer freedom in the shape of firearms. Thrust into this unstable world is Chris McAllister, a news reporter from the twentieth century, who becomes pivotal in the conflict to come, in more ways than one. 

Whilst Empress Innelda rules with absolute authority, she is uneasy about the level of corruption within her government. But changing a system that has become embedded over generations will not be easy. Alongside the political shenanigans is the story of Cayle Clarke, a young man from a poor background who finds himself shifting through time. In a plot linked to the twentieth century journalist, Cayle becomes close to the Empress and central to the shifting balances of power. 

Despite being just over 120 pages long, The Weapon Shops of Isher has great depth of plot and characterisation. The book has great pace and is extremely well written; it is a great example of the best if mid-twentieth century science fiction. I just wish I hadn’t waited so long before reading Van Vogt.

Tropic of Ruislip

Tropic of Ruislipby Leslie Thomas

There is always a danger that when you revisit something from the past that you loved it will disappoint. Films look cheap, games are tacky, food doesn’t taste the same and books can leaving you wondering “what was I thinking..” Nevertheless I have recently bought a couple of books that I felt deserved another look, one of them this old Leslie Thomas classic from 1974.

One thing re-reading this book has made me realise is just how much of his time Leslie Thomas was. Whilst much of the humour is timeless, and just as funny now as it was the first time around, the social commentary at the heart of the book wouldn’t make much sense to a new generation.

Tropic of Ruislip, which was also made into a TV drama, centres around the residents of a new housing estate, Plummers Park, somewhere on the outskirts of London. On one side of the railway track there is the council estate with its church, shops and launderette; on the other side is the executive housing populated by the aspiring middle class professionals.

The story centres around Andrew Maiby and his wife and daughter. Andrew is a journalist on the local newspaper who’s life is in a bit of a rut. The spark has gone from his marriage and his career is going nowhere. It is whilst reporting on events at the local magistrates court that he meets Bessie White, the 18-year old grand-daughter of one of the defendant. It is at this point that Andrew’s life begins to get a little complicated. Add into the mix a flasher, a proposal for a school for maladjusted children, affairs, frustrated ambitions and a vicar determined to add “Flat Roof Man” top his flock and you have all the ingredients for another suburban romp.

Tropic of Ruislip is one of Leslie Thomas’s better works, capturing the middle class England and all its values, failings and aspirations. Told with great humour and more than a touch of cynicism, I loved the interplay between the characters, particularly when residents from the different sides of the track came together. For me, it was not so much the thrust of the story itself that kept me interested but the smaller events and witty asides that kept me chuckling.

Leslie Thomas was one of the most popular writers of the time. Whilst I enjoyed reading this book again, I did feel it was dated. But that said, it is a great story and one that would be a good introduction for anyone who has not read his books before.

A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire #2)

A clash of kingsby George R R Martin

The second book of the Song of Fire and Ice series picks up were the first book left off and plunges the reader ever deeper into the intrigues, incest, murder and deception of Westeros.

With the Seven Kingdoms descending into war, the young King Joffrey finds himself surrounded by contenders to the Iron Throne. From the far north comes Robb Stark, the new Lord of Winterfell, intent on avenging the death of his father at the hands of the new King. Meanwhile, brothers Renly and Stanis Baratheon contend with each other over who has the best claim to their elder brother’s crown. 

And let’s not forget young Daenerys Stormborn, mother of dragons and last of the Targaryen line, determined to take back the crown that she believes is hers by right.

Throw in trouble from beyond The Wall, where something dark and mysterious is beginning to move, and you have the makings of a fantasy classic.

R R Martin has created a world in which magic and dragons are not only possible and very real. The multi layered plots and political shenanigans, coupled with a create story telling style and relentless pace, make these books a must read for anyone with the slightest interest in fantasy. 

Westeros is a cruel place, and many of the characters reflect that. There is no shortage of battles and blood, but there is also a touch of innocence. The story unfolds from the perspectives of several of the key players, but not from any of the main contenders for the throne. The focus of the books is the Stark family, who find themselves separated from each other, each facing personal tragedy and danger, but also finding themselves embroiled in the war to take to Iron Throne.

If you have already read the first book, then don’t hesitate to get stuck into this one. Any for anyone who has seen the TV adaptation but not read the books, you need to buy yourself a copy of the books and get on with it. Although the plot remains the same, there is so much more depth to the characters and the plot. 

Five stars all the way.

Sons and Lovers

Sons and Loversby D H Lawrence

Sitting down to write a review of what is often heralded as a classic of English literature is always a little daunting, particularly when you feel unable to give it the praise everyone else seems to think it deserves.

As a piece of literature, it is very much of its time. Depicting the grim lives of typical mining community at the turn of the twentieth century, the story, although well written, has a plodding feel to it. I also felt that the characters, who may well be a true reflection of the period were difficult to feel any empathy for.

The two central characters are Mrs Morel and her son Paul. Whilst I felt some sympathy for Mrs Morel’s plight, I felt no such thing for her son who I found to be selfish, egotistical and, at times, infuriating. The way he behaves towards the two loves of his life – Miriam and Clara – make him impossible to like. It is almost as if he refuses to be happy and does everything he can to keep everyone at arms length, Except his mother that is.

You get the feeling that no woman would ever be good enough for her precious son. And it would be her influence that keeps Paul from committing to the one woman who probably could make him happy. 

What I did enjoy about the book was the insight it gives into the lives of these often-forgotten small communities centred around the mines. And so it should as it is in many ways autobiographical; Lawrence himself was brought up in just such a community. I suppose that from this we might gather that the characters he has created are also typical. 

Whilst I can see why many people would want to rate this book as a classic, for me it is interesting but dull. I found the style long winded and not always easy to follow. I am glad I have read it, but I shan’t be going out of my way to read any more.