I always enjoy seeing what people are reading and suspect the same is true for others but I do so hate doing book reviews. It must be a holdover from my school days. However, here's a brief rundown on the books I read during May. I also read Mark Terry's The Valley of Shadows
, but I will have more to say about that excellent book next week when Mark will be guest blogging here.
Mainspring -- Jay Lake
The universe is a clockwork put into motion by God. The earth revolves on a brass track. Unfortunately the mechnism is running down. Clockmaker's apprentice Hethor is instructed by the Angel Gabriel to seek the Key Perilous, travel to the Earth's workings, and wind the mainspring, I enjoyed the book but it didn't give me the jolt of that old sensawunder I'd expected, given the premise. Why, I'm not sure. Was it that a lot of the description I found hard to follow? Or that none of the characters leapt out and grabbed my attention? Maybe I was just in a bad mood.
A clockwork world must be the work of an actual creator, and a man-like creator at that, rather than merely the laws of the universe, but Lake doesn't seem to come to grips with this. Perhaps in the sequel?
Aether and Gravitation -- Williame George Hooper
In this 1903 book a scientist (or crank?) attempts to come up with a unified field theory based on the aether. Following lengthy descriptions of outmoded Victorian scientific theories, he concludes that the aether consists of almost indescribably small electrical vortices, characterized essentially by their motion and electrical charge, which combined in various ways form the basis of everything from matter to gravitation. What with the omnipresent aether coalescing most densely around larger bodies the theory begins to sound almost like the more modern idea of distortions in the space/time continuum..
My Favorite SF Stories -- ed. Martin Greenberg
Modern sf authors choose and write brief intros to their favorite sf stories. Some I had read, some I had missed. I reread with great pleasue Howard Waldrop's The Ugly Chickens which postulates that Dodos did not become extinct as early as thought and might still exist. A simple concept but maybe my favorite sf story of all time. Lester DelRey's Nerves is notable for depicting a meltdown at a nuclear plant in the early forties. Was the FBI in touch with him, I wonder? I admit I wasn't much taken by Cordwainter Smith's The Ballad of Lost C'Mell. My second favorite story was C.M. Kornbluth's The Little Black Bag about what happens when a doctor's medical kit from the futrue is mistakenly transported to the present.
Blackbird House -- Alice Hoffman
A dozen stories, all taking place in the same Cape Cod farmhouse over the course of generations. The time line ranges from British Colonial days to the present. It's hard to say much about the content without ruining some of the stories. Suffice it to say that the people who live in or come into contact with the house are all fascinating, and often as not, tragic characters, for the house is haunted, it would seem, by the tragedy of its builder. Brilliant writing. Clear, concise, realistic but with a hint of something beyond.
Brighton Rock -- Graham Greene
I'm sure you know what this is about. What can I say except when I read Graham Greene I wonder why I waste my time trying to write. His descriptions of the sleazy underside of Brighton are harrowing, his characters unforgettable, which in the case of seventeen year old gang leader Pinkie might not be entirely a good thing. Pinkie has got to be one of the most original psychopaths in literature. Although the story revolves around Pinkie's attempts to cover his tracks following a murder, there is also a strong religious theme, which gives the book added depth. This is a bleak work, filled with so much violence and menace, I found parts of it hard to read. A classic.
Black Spring -- Henry Miller
I found this collection of essays/stories a mixed bag. There was some wonderful stuff -- Miller's adventures in Paris; an account of him working for a tailor as a young man in Brooklyn and Manhattan; a hilarious bit about his attempt to paint a watercolor on the spur of the moment. But in places his prose piles up and becomes too wordy to impart any clear meaning to me -- kind of like mixing so many watercolor pigments together that you end up with mud. Many critics, of course, would disagree and, at any rate, it was worth wading through the mud to get to the good parts.