Saturday, August 31, 2013

Second Stage Lensman - E.E 'Doc' Smith

This is the Forty-sixth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

The three book cycle that forms the core of the larger lensman series, continues in this work, dominated by Kimball Kinnison.

One of the traps that a writer can fall into is to create an internal arms race as the story escalates with larger and more catastrophic consequences and more powerful and evil villains and the plots can spiral out of control, losing credibility and leaving the writer no where to go and the reader jaded and disinterested. One of the defining features of the lensman series is that Smith manages an ever increasing escalation without ever losing control of the plot. Admirable.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Gray Lensman - E.E 'Doc' Smith

This is the Forty-fifth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

The story continues apace in this middle book of the trilogy within a series.The persistent threat of the evil masterminds of the Boskone drive the heroic Kimball Kinnison to the brink of disaster. Can our hero survive? Will the truth be revealed?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Galactic Patrol - E.E 'Doc' Smith

This is the Forty-forth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

This book and the next two are dominated by the legendary lensman Kimball Kinnison. We follow his extraordinary heroic doings, within the unfolding larger story, which is revealed layer by layer like a reverse galactic onion.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

First Lensman - E.E 'Doc' Smith

This is the Forty-third in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

The Lensman series starts to gather momentum with the first lensman setting the tone for those who would follow. There are the small battles within the larger battle and the introduction of non-human lensmen.

The Lensman series has been compared to Asimov's Foundation series and there are many points of similarity, especially with the large canvas of space and time and the deterministic nature of the universe, but Asimov tends to be cool and intellectual, while Smith is emotive with lots of rough and tumble.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Triplanetary - E.E 'Doc' Smith

This is the Forty-second in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

The Lensman series, in a manner reminiscent of Dickens, Conan Doyle and others, was mostly first published in a serial form in magazines and later collected together as a series of novels. I am adding them to the bookshelf in reading order though I believe the original stories were written and published in a different sequence, re-written for internal consistency etc etc. This is the type of series that defines 'space opera' and can still be enjoyed nearly 60 years after it was written.

This first book sets the scene for a battle that spans galaxies and eons, but is played out on a small stage with very human and likable, slightly larger than life, characters.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Last Battle - C.S. Lewis

This is the Forty-first in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

I've really enjoyed sharing the Narnia books on my bookshelf. Just thinking about each one has been a pleasure, like looking at photos from a holiday in Paris, and I look forward to visiting that place again.

There is a darkness in this book beyond that of the other books, but also an uplifting sense of the wonder of life and striving for something more. Bringing a book to a satisfying conclusion is difficult and ending a series is even harder but once again Lewis shows his exceptional skills as a writer.

As chance would have it a quote from Lewis was circulating this week and I couldn't agree more -

A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Magician's Nephew - C.S. Lewis

This is the Fortieth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

I know that this second last book in the series has a story that takes place at the beginning, but this is the point where you should read it, in my opinion. In many ways this book and the next are bookends, but bookends that were created after the rest of the books had developed and evolved.

Anyway, this has a great title, a wicked uncle, a Victorian house, a world in decay and a flying horse. Need I say more?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Horse and His Boy - C.S. Lewis

This is the Thirty-ninth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

I started reading this book for the first time, in the clueless way of young boys, without realising that it was part of the Narnia series. My surprise and delight once I realised was priceless and remains part of the charm of the book for me.

I'm not sure in what order I read it, and despite my advice about reading in strict chronological order, this could be read at anytime after reading the first book. There are element in this story that connect the first book in the series with the last, but the story stands on its own feet. Lewis could have written a dozen such tangential stories and they would all have been fabulous. However he only wrote the one 'side story' and you will have to enjoy it for what it is, terrific.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Silver Chair - C.S. Lewis

This is the Thirty-eight in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

This is the third in the Prince Caspian cycle (a mini-series within a series) and whilst he isn't the central character he continues to be the thread that holds the series together.

I am particularly fond of the character Puddleglum (a marsh-wiggle) who sits along Eeyore and Marvin the Paranoid Android as an inspired doleful character to provide contrast and edification to the other characters.

The title is also inspired, though I can't tell you why. There is something profound about it and its use, if you wish to look for deeper meaning in the story, or you can just enjoy the book for the great story that it is.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Mindful and Arty

We visited the Van Gogh, DalĂ­ and Beyond: The World Reimagined exhibition at the Art Gallery of WA last weekend.

A few years ago when we were visiting the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh an elderly attendant asked my son, on the way in, to come back at the end of the visit and tell him what he had liked - which he did. It was a great tip for helping a youngster enjoy the gallery. We've done that ever since - told each other our best couple of works - and this has proved a good technique for avoiding the overload that you can get in a gallery. It makes you focus more on a couple of works and not let them all merge into a big blur. A kind of mindful artiness.

Let me share my favourites from this exhibition.

From 75 Varick to the Holland Tunnel Entrance - Rackstraw Downes

Violin and Grapes - Pablo Picasso

Meadowland - Gerhard Richter

I've shown a picture of the card for the best titled painting. You will have to imagine the painting, but the detail is all there in the title! I think Dali had a sense of humour.

Debris of an Automobile Giving Birth to a Blind Horse Biting a Telephone - Salvador Dali

The snaps from my camera don't do any of these works justice, and are not meant to, but they are a visual 'note' for me to remind myself about them and a way of sharing. I may never get to see these particular works again but I had a good long look and have fond memories of the exhibition to treasure.

The photo of the card reminds me of a visit to the National Museum of Cardiff (which is also an art gallery). I took a photo of a painting and then its card and the kind attendant pointed out to me that the card I'd just photographed had a large "no photos" logo on it. Embarrass, but she was very kind about it.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - C.S. Lewis

This is the Thirty-seventh in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

I'm not sure how to describe this book but I do know how I feel about it. For many years it was my favourite (don't tell the children) but it lacks the "save the world" story line so common in fantasy books. The story is driven by the engaging characters and what happens to them in the passing lands and seas. Sounds rather pedestrian, yet the book is as gripping as any other in the series.

One of the characteristics of Lewis' writing is his vivid imagery, helped along a little by Pauline Baynes' illustrations. There are scenes that remain, like an afterimage, for years after the plot has faded. I can see Lucy walking down the corridor or Prince Caspian having the Mayor discomfited or the weeping dragon.

Perhaps it is the prospect of being drawn into a painting, escaping the dreary mundane life of the drawing room that sparks the magic of this third volume. Enjoy.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Prince Caspian - C.S. Lewis

This is the Thirty-sixth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

In writing this second book Lewis had mused about what it would be like for the genii who is summoned - drawn from his own world to do the bidding of the holder of the lamp. From this kernel of an idea he created a memorable and gripping sequel to his first adventure in Narnia.

Lewis tells the story, seamlessly using different points of view, introducing new and old characters, drawing the threads together at the right time, letting the title character grow and develop along with the story. The technique isn't uncommon but it is rarely done so well. A masterclass.

Friday, August 09, 2013

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis

This is the Thirty-fifth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

I'm not exactly sure when I first read this book, but I know that it was borrowed from the public library, that it was in the early '70s, that the book was a hard cover and a bit well worn, and that I didn't realise that there was a series. I may have missed the cover note or more likely was just clueless. More on that in another post. In any case it was good, very very good.

The illustrations by Pauline Baynes were an added pleasure - not so much 'the icing on the cake' as seasoning in the stew - and I'm sad when I see covers (like this one) that are not her original cover illustrations. However I can live with that as long as the inside is untouched!

I had a boxed paperback set which I would have bought in the late '70s and which I gave away to a much younger cousin who I thought needed them more than me. It was only years later that another set was bought for me as a gift and while I didn't read them for about 3 years I got pleasure by knowing they were on my bookcase waiting for me. They have since been read by my children who enjoyed them immensely. I recall them asking me which was my favourite and I'd always reply with a different one.

I have a strong opinion about the reading order of the series, and this is the order in which I will add them to my bookshelf. I know that you will see 'reading order' advice but I consider that fallacious and insist, when I can, that one must start with this book and progress in the order of publication. If at all possible read them first at the age of 10 and revisit periodically until you can recite them by heart.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Footfall - Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

This is the Thirty-fourth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

This is my other favourite book with two authors.

This 1985 work has all the structure of a disaster novel of that era, but has all the bloodlines of science fiction class. It has a large cast, a sprawling story line, cultural references and aliens.


Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Needle in the haystack - the role of a library

I was prompted to write a few words the other day in response to this article in the Financial Review "Last hurrah for the traditional university library" by Geoff Hanmer.

Today I wanted to comment on something else that nettled me from the article.

"I believe that nearly all books or journal articles will eventually be available online"

I don't dispute this, indeed I'd say - is this news? However the point that is missing, and one that is often missed, is that a library isn't just a storehouse of materials. Whether they are in print or online a large collection doesn't a library make. If you have a dozen books at home you can find the one you want. If you have several hundred then finding becomes a problem. The larger the haystack the more difficult it becomes to find the needle. 

Finding the needle is what separates a library from a haystack, and why I don't believe that libraries, or librarians, are in immediate danger of extinction. Indeed, once all books and journal articles are online (not to mention tweets, videos and maps) then finding will not be easier. And this doesn't even begin to cover discovery!

The Mote in God's Eye - Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

This is the Thirty-third in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

I am almost always disappointed by collaborations. I can't recall more than one other favourite book that has two authors, both respected in their own right.

The work is thought provoking, engrossing and essential reading, in my opinion, for those who like science fiction. One of the benchmarks for science fiction is to create a truly alien alien, and this hits that mark.

It also has cover endorsements from Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert and Theodore Sturgeon, but lacks a comparison with Dune or Lord of the Rings :-)

Monday, August 05, 2013

Not dead yet - the University Library

I was prompted to write a few words in response to this article in the Financial Review "Last hurrah for the traditional university library" by Geoff Hanmer.

I am tempted to walk through the article doing fact checking but I'd rather focus on one of the underlying assumptions than be sidetracked by the sweeping, inaccurate 'the internet has everything' generalizations.

The university library of today isn't simply the library building and the books, journals and study spaces within (though these have ongoing value) but also a vibrant virtual space. I've presented my thinking about the physical and virtual library elsewhere and posted about it. The physical library space is being transformed but much of the heavy lifting of the university library is now being done in the online, virtual space. When I hear 'I haven't been to the library for years' I feel like responding with 'I haven't been to the bank for years' - but I use the bank all the time, I'm just not going into the physical branch. For an academic at a university the library comes to them, when and where they need it. Like the bank. And like the bank this virtual service doesn't happen by magic, there is an industry of effort required to make a virtual space work.

I guess Geoff Hanmer can be excused for focusing on the physical library, he does have an architectural background, but he is only seeing half the scene and that makes all the difference.

University Library - not dead yet!

Space Family Stone - Robert Heinlein

This is the Thirty-second in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

Another early Heinlein, this time from 1952. I love the way there are paper books and film spools, with the family preferring paper but having to put up with film spools because of the weight. Prescient.


Saturday, August 03, 2013

Have space suit - will travel - Robert Heinlein

This is the Thirty-first in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

I guess my thirty-first entry is a good time to return to the author of my first bookshelf entry. This will not be the last entry for Robert Heinlein.

This 1958 book is an enigma. It has so many holes in the plot that it resembles Swiss cheese, getting more and more outlandish as it progresses, straining any reasonable suspension of disbelief well past breaking point, at the same time challenging the reader with rigorous maths and science, yet it is so engaging that when I re-read it recently I couldn't put it down and finished it in the same day. I guess that it has, with less polish, all the elements that made Heinlein a science fiction rock star.

This quote from the book illustrates what a perceptive person Heinlein was and why we must treasure his works.

"...library science is the foundation of all sciences just as math is the key - and that we will survive or founder, depending on how well the librarians do their jobs."

Friday, August 02, 2013

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - L. Frank Baum

This is the Thirtieth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

I discovered the original The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the many other wonderful stories by Baum many years ago. As with other classic children's books that are still in print and have been much re-imagined on stage and screen, there is something powerful about the original work. I encourage you to read the original which can be a little jarring because it was written so long ago and differs in some respects to the very familiar 1939 film version.

I only have a copy of the first book on my bookshelf and I couldn't take a snap for this post as it was being read by the boy so I've illustrated the post with a screen shot from my Kindle. Being published in 1911 The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is now in the public domain and so my Kindle holds all fourteen books under one cover! However I still like having a paperback copy on the bookshelf.