Brian Ruckley's News & Views

Friday, July 18, 2008

Geekgasm for Comic Readers (of a certain age)

Found the Bart Simpson Chalkboard Generator via Antick Musings.

EDIT to add: the youtube clip may get yanked at any time, I guess, so here's a link to the official trailer, which unsurprisingly is vastly better quality and really rather pretty. (Still got slight reservations about how well this is going to work as a movie, though ...)

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A Brief Return to Pre-Web Books

Is it cheating to turn an exchange in the comments on a previous post into a new post? No, I say, and what I say goes around here.

Anyway, some chap/chapess called Anonymous chimed in on the recent post about books that arrived too soon to benefit from online buzz with some welcome additional recommendations. Two in particular caught my eye: one because I very nearly included it in the original post, and have ever since been feeling vaguely guilty about not doing so, as if the book itself now watches me from the shelf with an accusatory and faintly disappointed eye; the other because ... well, just because I think it's interesting really. So here we (briefly) go again:

Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner. This is one of my favourite sf books, and was within a gnat's whisker of appearing on the previous post. A picture of a crowded, complex 21st century Earth, written in a very distinctive non-linear style, with multiple storylines, numerous contextual snippets, oh just a ton of stuff going on. It was written in the 1960s and feels like it: innovative, eruptive, engaged, playful. It's quite long, so you do need a bit of stamina, but that's obviously not a problem if you're enjoying the ride. A lot of its concerns - over-population, corporate power, media saturation, the rise of computers etc. etc. - still strike a chord now that we're actually living in the century Brunner anticipated, even if events haven't followed exactly the course he suggested.

Dracula by Bram Stoker. As it happens, I don't think Dracula is as remarkable as Frankenstein, but I do think it's good. Why do I prefer Frankenstein? Basically, I guess I just find it the more interesting of the two books. Its premise (Man is undone by his Creation) is both more potent and more succinctly and imaginatively explored. Dracula is much, much longer, and I don't think it quite has the narrative or thematic legs to sustain it all the way through. And, for me, Frankenstein has a certain timeless quality: it's a vision complete and coherent and somehow separate in itself, whereas Dracula has always felt to me more clearly rooted in and constrained by its time (the late Victorian era) and context. But I don't want to seem like I'm knocking Dracula too much. I do like it. It's got an interesting and largely successful structure, telling its story through letters and diary extracts, and it definitely has a certain Gothic, melodramatic, power. Worth a try, if you haven't yet read the original, and arguably still the best, vampire tale.


Saturday, July 05, 2008

Stuff Various

So, the great big signed Bloodheir giveaway on Facebook has drawn to a close. To be honest, until I actually signed up for Facebook I was a bit of a sceptic about the whole social networking thing. I still don't think I'm really quite on the right wavelength, but I'm starting to 'get it' a bit more. I'm prepared to concede that they do actually offer a new kind of dynamic and structure to the whole internet thing that nothing else does in quite the same way. Anyway, now that the giveaway's done, I should mention, as I traditionally and predictably do at such moments, that signed and dedicated Bloodheirs are available to all sundry - socially networked or not - from Transreal Fiction. I quite like stopping by to sign them, so don't you worry about putting me to any trouble. It's a pleasure, really. So you're buying yourself a signed book, and me a little bit of pleasure. Everybody wins.

The latest must-read blog for sf/f bibliophiles: Enter the Octopus. Lots of good content, most significantly the huge, more-or-less daily, round ups of book-related links.

Pre-release reviews and rumours about this suggest that something interesting is on the way, and I'm gradually allowing my expectations to get high enough that I'm virtually inviting disappointment to come and stomp all over me:

Rumours abound that this chap is being lined up to be the new Dr. Who. Like him very much indeed as an actor, but Dr. Who? Maybe, so long as they went the not-too-manic route. Guess we'll see in due course. Or not, these being rumours of the plausible but entirely unconfirmed sort.

Strange Maps, which is one of those sites that pretty much justifies the invention of blogging software all by its lonesome if you ask me, has an interesting post on a wildly silly proposal to drain the North Sea, put forward in 1930. It kind of sums up everything I like about the blog: fun maps and loads of semi-obscure geographical and historical info.

Funny/Clever (via SF Signal, which unlike Enter the Octopus is a long-established must-read site for sf bibliophiles):

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Books That Preceded the Web

In my recent interview at A Dribble of Ink, I mentioned that I quite like it when sf/f book bloggers shift their attention away from new releases and try to tempt their audience into giving some older books a try. Figured I might as well put a little of my blogging time where my mouth is, so herewith - selected semi-randomly by staring blankly at the bookshelf nearest my desk and seeing which titles telepathically suggested themselves - some books that first saw the light of day long before 'online buzz' was anything other than what might happen if you trod carelessly while crossing an electrified railway line. They're hardly what you'd call obscure, but there might be one or two readers out there just waiting to be persuaded to try them.

Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock. Was very well known when it first came out (1984, I think), yet over at Neth Space it was recently mentioned as a book that isn't as widely read now as it deserves. I was shocked. Shocked, I was. I would have assumed that everyone had heard of Mythago Wood and its (even better, in some ways, I think) sequels. Shows how much I know. The basic concept is brilliant: a wood in southern England is, to an extent that would shame the Tardis, bigger on the inside than the outside, and has the power to give physical form to the mythic and folkloric concepts lurking in visitors' brains. I'd be willing to cut off my little finger for an idea as good and rich in story potential as that. Well, maybe not cut it off. I'd be prepared to lightly bruise it, though.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Okay, everybody's heard of this one, but not everybody's read it, which is a bit of a shame, I think. Since it's a product of the 19th century, the style and pacing can be a bit off-putting for the modern reader, but I've found that there's a certain unquantifiable proportion of people who, if they can get past that stumbling block, find it an extraordinary book. It might not work for you, but if it is does, there's a good chance it'll really work. Personally, I think it's got a sort of deranged clarity of theme and vision that marks it out as a genre high point (and maybe, as you sometimes hear people say, the beginning of the sf genre too) even after all these years .

Earth Abides by George Stewart. Possibly my favourite post-apocalyptic novel, certainly in the top two or three. Was written around 60 years ago, and its style and attitudes might seem a little dated now, but despite that, I love it. It's an evocative and ultimately rather moving look at what might happen if (in the mid-20th century) you came home from a solo wilderness trip to discover that almost everyone else in the world had died during your absence. There's relatively little action (though I do think there's a certain kind of heroism going on), so it's one for those who like their sf, at least occasionally, thoughtful and cumulative in its effect. It also, as it happens, has one of my favourite endings of any book, which resolves everything and nothing simultaneously.

The Helliconia Trilogy by Brian Aldiss. The fact that I can't immediately find this, or any of its three constituent volumes - Helliconia Spring, Helliconia Summer and Helliconia Winter - in stock at any of the big UK online bookstores leads me to consider the mildly distressing possibility that it might be out of print. I'd be surprised if so, but life's full of surprises. It's got some fantasy trappings but is actually sf through and through. Loads of stuff happens (some of it a bit weird, this being an Aldiss story), but the real star of the series is the planet Helliconia itself, with seasons that last centuries and whole societies and cultures that rise and fall as the climate changes. Visionary stuff, painted on a huge canvas. And it also contains one of my favourite of all non-human races in sf/f: the bipedal, goat-like phagors, who trade dominance of the planet with humans depending on the season.