Thursday 16 September 2010

Reading Roundup

Being on internet-less holiday a few weeks back gave me a good chance to make inroads into a book backlog I’ve been steadily building up, so a few quick reviewlets:

Michael Palin – Halfway to Hollywood (Diaries 1980 – 1988) The second volume of Michael Palin’s diaries feel a little like Python’s Meaning of Life which falls within its purview; a jumble of stuff, some which works really well, but a bit directionless. There’s plenty of interest, though, with Palin writing, acting and presenting in various projects (including the tail end of Python, Time Bandits, Brazil, The Missionary and A Fish Called Wanda), and from my point of view as it hits the mid-80s it starts to overlap with events I remember first hand for added nostalgia value. As well as the international fame and stardom there’s a more prosaic stint as chairman of Transport 2000, and far more personal entries about his family, especially his sister who suffered from depression and committed suicide, though there are lighter moments such as taking his mother to New York for her 80th birthday and co-presenting Saturday Night Live with her. The book concludes as he’s about to head off Around the World in 80 Days, which promise an interesting third volume.

Eoin Colfer – And Another Thing… The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is, of course, the greatest combination of radio series, book, game and towel ever produced, though the books did tail off somewhat as they went on, particularly the fifth (Mostly Harmless). A sixth book, written by Eoin Colfer after the death of Douglas Adams, seemed a bit unnecessary; not outrageous corpse desecration (heck, I quite like the film, even if they ditched some of the best dialogue for no apparent reason), but not one for the “instant buy on publication” pile. After picking up a cheap copy, “a bit unnecessary” seems like a fair assessment; it’s not awful, there are some nice scenes here and there, but it felt hampered by picking up from Mostly Harmless and the resulting baggage, particularly bogging down when dealing with previous elements from the series (Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged was a fantastic throwaway gag, not so good as a main character). And there’s no Marvin. Give the game another go instead, unless you like your sanity.

Anthony Price – A Prospect of Vengeance. Anthony Price writes Cold War espionage thrillers in the vein of Len Deighton or John Le Carre; slow paced, lots of talking, not so many gunfights, multiple layers of intrigue (the British are usually engaged in assorted intra- and inter-departmental wranglings even before the rest of the world get involved). Price wrote 19 books in a series with a couple of common threads, the character of David Audley (though each book is written from a different point-of-view), and an element of military history. After finding one in a jumble sale I’d only managed to pick a few others up as they’re mostly out of print, but I recently discovered AbeBooks, a big old database/marketplace for secondhand books, and managed to complete the set at an average of 50p per book (though postage & packing racks the overall price up a bit). A Prospect of Vengeance, the penultimate book of the series, wasn’t my favourite of his, but still a very solid and enjoyable read; if you’re interested, I’d suggest starting with either The Labyrinth Makers or Other Paths to Glory.

Charles Stross – The Fuller Memorandum Charlie Stross’ Laundry series combine Unix-hacking BOFHism, a Dilbertian civil service, espionage and Lovecraftian horror in a potent geek cocktail. The first (The Atrocity Archives) was a pastiche of/tribute to Len Deighton, the second (The Jennifer Morgue) invoked Ian Fleming, which I didn’t get on with quite as well, though there’s a neat in-world explanation for the Bond behaviour and a nice twist. Hearing the inspiration behind The Fuller Memorandum was Anthony Price put it straight on my wishlist, though as the author says the series has acquired more of an identity of its own now. Lots of good stuff here including Concorde variants flown by 666 Squadron (the one formed after this one), a JesusPhone to combat unimaginable horror (there’s an app for that) and cultists aplenty. Thumb-shaped tentacles up.

Paul Cornell – British Summertime Another out of print find from AbeBooks, British Summertime combines Judas Iscariot, time travel, Bath, a Dan Dare inspired space force where disembodied heads pilot ships, a girl who can always find chip shops and angels. Inventive undoubtedly, but it didn’t entirely click for me, there was just a bit too much in the mix.

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