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In 1972 I was nine years old and my Mum bought me a copy of "Trillions" by Nicholas Fisk. We lived on a farm six kilometres from the town of Canowindra in NSW, Australia. I had enjoyed picture books and Australian classics like "Snugglepot and Cuddlepie", "Blinky Bill" and "The Magic Pudding", but somehow "Trillions" seemed like a REAL book, with ideas and characters to relate to.

Farm life makes you receptive to the universal gateway of books. I can remember being so engaged in a book, that when I had to do a chore like feed the horses, I'd work as fast as I can, as if I was missing out on the book the way I would be if I had to interrupt a TV show.

That was the start. I have logged all my reading for the last 15 years or so, and I've now added most of those books here. That can tell you the rest of the story.

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AvonVilla's books

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John Christopher, John Christopher: Wild Jack (Paperback, 1991, Simon Pulse) 4 stars

Clive Anderson is falsely accused of questioning the status quo and must escape from a …

Dystopia for pre-teens

4 stars

This is the sort of book I loved to devour when I was nine or ten years old. Authors like John Christopher and Nicholas Fisk had a big influence on me and I still enjoy catching up with their work today.

This one is set in a post-apocalypse future where a privileged minority live in high-tech cities. The underclass (called "savages" by the gentry) are banished to the wildlands beyond the city walls, except for a few who are kept as a servant class, effectively slaves.

The protagonist falls foul of the vicious politics of the city leaders and gradually learns how brutal the system is. He finds that life among the rebellious "savages" is better than the comfortable tyranny within the city walls. It's like an inversion of Christopher's earlier novel "The Guardians", where a working class city kid learns about the elite gentry of the English countryside. Both …

Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger: The Rediscovery of Man: The Complete Short Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith (1993) 4 stars

Sort of psychedelic? Very hard to pin it down.

4 stars

Cordwainer Smith's slim body of work has been packaged and repackaged in many different ways. The first collection I read titled "The Rediscovery of Man" was a paperback, and the first story in it was "Scanners Live in Vain". The SF Masterworks edition seems to be the same as that collection.

A later edition is subtitled "The Complete Short Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith", and it is this more substantial book which I am reviewing here. It's worth seeking out. There could be some confusion about which one you have, possibly exacerbated by the "incomplete" SF Masterworks cover being used for the "complete" edition in some online entries. You can quickly tell if you have the longer one because the first story in it is "No No, Not Rogov", one of four stories detailing the early stages of Smith's so-called future history of the "Instrumentality of Mankind". It also has …

Clifford D. Simak: City (Paperback, 1982, Magnum) 4 stars

[Comment by John Clute][1]:

> We know better now, of course. But they still entrance …

Strange and compelling, brimming with goodness and compassion

4 stars

A strange future history of life on earth and beyond, explicitly presented as a collection of myths. One of them is titled "Aesop", tempting you to think of it as a fable. But that's a deception. There is no simple moral to these stories. Although it's a short book, there's a lot to digest, and I will probably need a bit of time to order my thoughts about it.

A consistent line running through the tales is the way technological progress ends up being a dead end. First it's the demise of the city. Then there's the emergence of a promising new philosophy, Juwainism. It promotes empathy, but the goal of humanity is to harness it to accelerate development and progress. That goal fails, and when Juwainism finally takes hold, it has the opposite effect.

After humans have deserted the earth, or forsaken their own cursed humanity, a super-evolved society …

reviewed Way Station by Clifford D. Simak

Clifford D. Simak: Way Station (Hardcover, 2004, Old Earth Books) 4 stars

Peace, Love and Understanding Under Threat in the Whole Galaxy

4 stars

The premise is that a single human has been chosen as the manager of a galactic teleportation station. He is the only person on earth who is in contact with the broader community of interstellar life. On the outside, he lives a peaceful existence walking through the countryside and chatting with his best friend the postman, but secretly he is in daily contact with strange creatures from all over the galaxy.

The book was written at the height of the cold war, and Simak portrays an earth society on a seemingly inevitable course to nuclear annihilation. The protagonist, Enoch Wallace, discovers that the galactic community of which he is the sole human participant is also on the brink of a destructive crisis.

Simak portrays a universe where god exists as a sort of higher lifeform, and is somehow made accessible by technology. The nature of that technology, in keeping with …

reviewed Titus alone by Mervyn Peake (The Titus trilogy -- 3)

Mervyn Peake: Titus alone (1989, Mandarin) 3 stars

Titus 3 - All Groan Up

4 stars

There are are some fantastic concepts in the third Titus book - the modern setting is the first surprise, but it's nothing like our real world. Peake had illustrated an edition of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland", and here we have a sort of urban dreamscape which Titus has entered mysteriously and can't quite wake from. It never feels like science fiction, although from habit I imagined it to be a sort of alternative future of the sort you might get from a SF writer.

Unfortunately, Peake's florid descriptive power from the previous two books is not quite working here. Having fled Gormenghast, the adult Titus is a bit of a self-obsessed arsehole, and not at all like Alice. Her commentary about the way things become curioser and curioser is not the sort of thing Titus offers us as we follow him on his sojourn of discontent. In fact he's generally …

reviewed Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake (Gormenghast, #2)

Mervyn Peake: Gormenghast (Paperback, 2005, VINTAGE (RAND)) 4 stars


Titus Groan is seven. Heir to the crumbling …

Everything comes to Gormenghast

5 stars

You approach the second novel in the Gormenghast series as a journeyman or a veteran, thanks to your tour of duty during which you read the first. As a result you are ready to digest the richness of Peake's language, and to savour the growing power and clarity of his themes, characters and story. NOW we know what Gormenghast is all about!

Consistent with Peaks's unique and complex style, the book titled "Gormenghast" is much more about the character Titus Groan than the preceding novel which carries his name. In that first book Titus was a baby with no agency, but the second in the series begins with Titus as a seven year old schoolboy. A key part of the story is his growing independence and rebellion against the strictures placed on him by virtue, or more appropriately by the CURSE of his noble birth.

Gormenghast is a society where …

Mervyn Peake: Titus Groan (Gormenghast, #1) (1991) 3 stars

Titus Groan is a novel by Mervyn Peake, first published in 1946. It is the …

Abandon expectations to learn Gormenghast is grotesque and superb

5 stars

Before I started reading 'Titus Groan', I'd been aware of the status of the 'Gormenghast' books of which it is the first. There was a sense that it's the hipster 'Lord of the Rings'. Tolkien is MAINSTREAM, man. If you have your finger on the pulse then you know that Mervyn Peake is hot shit, not John too-many-middle-names Tolkien.

This is not the best way to approach "Gormenghast". It is still OK to count yourself as a chosen one of alternative culture after you get into Mervyn Peake, but Tolkien/Peake not a good comparison because they are travelling on different roads.

Middle Earth is in the broad magisterium of myths and legends. In saying that, remember that that kind of story, past and present, can be part of a religious tradition. That's Tolkien's thing. It's all about the big picture of good and evil, gods and devils, and how their …