May 2010


Not been online much lately. Just bits here and there.

There was a crack on the screen of one of my laptops. I’d looked into getting it sent off to be repaired but the prices that were being charged would have made it cheaper to buy a new laptop.

Then I started looking into prices of replacement screens alone and it was there that the prices plummeted. Provided I was willing to change the screen myself the cost was a pittence; less than half the price of some ‘repairs’.

So I ordered a replacement screen and looked up some tutorials on YouTube. At first here was a little trepidation: although I’ve built computer systems from scratch for myself and friends laptops are apparently a totally different ballgame.

And they are.

Apart from fiddling around with lots of tiny screws changing the screen involved taking out two plugs and putting in two plugs. Simples. The laptop is better than new, the replacement screen being brighter and with more vibrant colours. To celebrate I even bought extra memory from Amazon. So the laptop wont just look better but work faster too.

I’m still going through books of short stories. I picked up an Ursula Le Guin collection from Amazon for under a fiver. It only has five stories so they’re technically closer to novellas and novelettes than short stories. Still to get into them: going through one I was reminded of why I was a little turned off from le Guin the last time I tried to read her work – which was a big thick book – and that is that there were snippets of music in the stories. Personally I found that distracting. I don’t read music. It’s as annoying as reading through a story to suddenly find a quote in a foreign language that is not explained. It gives the reader a little kick which dislodges them from the narrative; and that defeats the purpose of telling a story to someone.

I bought a Robert E Howard book of short stories about a year or so ago. It was only £2.99. When I got it I saw I had read a lot of the stories in it but there were a few that I hadn’t read so I dipped into it now and then. Recently I chose a couple of stories here and there. One I read again was ‘Pigeons From Hell’. I think I first read this years ago when I got The First (Or it may have been the second) Book of Robert E Howard in American paperback. I don’t care what anyone says, ‘Pigeons From Hell’ is without doubt the best thing Howard ever wrote. It surpasses Conan, Solomon Kane or anything else: his weird fiction, his sword and sorcery, his westerns. It is pure genius. Storytelling, atmosphere, horror. It’s a damn near perfect story, and pretty chilling too.

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I bought Who Goes Here in the Ace paperback edition and enjoyed it immensely when I first read it.  This is a good old fashioned comedy romp through space and alien worlds with funny situations and some inventiveness from Bob Shaw in the form of space travel, aliens and wacky characters.

Who Goes Here was first published in 1977 and was good enough to warrant a sequel, Dimensions, also published as Warren Peace.

Warren Peace, the hero of this book, wakes up to a pretty nurse who asks him if he feels better. He does but he is a little confused. Slowly it is brought to his attention that he has signed up for thirty years* service of the Space Legion. Questioning why he would be stupid enough to sign up to the Space Legion he is answered with another question: Why did people sign up to the French Foreign Legion? To forget he tells Captain Widget.

And that’s the same reason people join the Space Legion; to forget. And the Space Legion has a machine that removes memories so people do forget.

Unfortunately for Warren Peace he seems to have forgotten everything.

Everyone that he subsequently meets responds to this with ‘You must have been a monster!’

Peace doesn’t believe he has signed up for the Space Legion, until he sees himself on video doing exactly that, and he also sees his signature on the contract.

Peace soon finds that there are precautions built into the system to stop recent recruits defaulting on contracts or trying to disobey. Each recruit has a Mark Three command enforcer surgically implanted in them. It adds harmonics to the voice which ensures ‘absolute, unthinking obedience’.

One of the funniest scenes for me was when Peace decided to get out of the situation by getting a hulking great Sergeant mad at him. It’s a great pay off to the situation which I won’t spoil for anyone who hasn’t yet read the book.

Peace finds himself and his new friends in the 203 Regiment, sponsored by Triple Ess; Savoury Shrimp Sauce, and soon they are onto basic training – with some of them still harbouring plots of escape – which consists of pulling the trigger on their weapons and hitting the target. Peace and the rest of the group – the Fort Eccles class of ten am – were then shipped out.

Peace is annoyed at the wait when they are in a long narrow room with benches, waiting for the transfer to the tall ships for space travel to the stars; so much so that to the at first humorous delight of the others he tries to open the door of the room. It is then, with his friends sitting on his chest after having stopped his attempt to open the door, that peace finds out they are in the ship, and that it is hurtling through space as they speak using ‘Non-Elucidean tachyon displacement’. Or instant matter transmission.

Not across vast distances but only a few hundred metres: the ship transmits itself forward a few hundred metres to the receiver at the other end.

They find themselves thrown straight into the action under the command of the youthful Lieutenant Merriman.

Warren finds out his weapon isn’t as effective as he was told it was; however he not only survives but gets himself a prisoner of war. And there is the first mention of the ‘throwrugs and the Oscars’. And no the Oscars aren’t an award. The capture of a prisoner means that Peace and the rest of the unit are considered too good for this battle, and are shipped out to Threlkeld, a planet without intelligent species and where the only job of the Legion is to make the jungles safe for miners

However, Peace wants out, and he wants to rediscover his past, find out who he is and why all his memory was wiped. It’s on Threlkeld that Peace devises his plan to escape from the Legion, and with a little buttering up of Merriman – from whom he gets the broadcast frequency of the voice command enforcer – he can create a device which nullifies the effect of the voice command enforcer.

Finally Peace gets to the planet he wants to, Aspatria. There he uses his four hours leave to escape from the Legion and start to investigate his past, and get back his memories.

This is more of a talky novel than other of Bob Shaw’s work in that there is a lot more dialogue in this novel than normally in a novel by Bob Shaw. It’s very funny in places and moderately funny in other places. There are a few running jokes which crop up throughout the book and these are well used by Shaw: not overused as can happen. A lot of the book is snappy and a lot of the dialogue rolls on, taking the reader further into the story and letting us get closer to Warren and the other characters – even the minor ones. It is a very enjoyable book by Bob Shaw, although its core isn’t as high concept as some of his other work.

* The figure thirty can read as taken to be forty, or even fifty, according to the contract.

I’m surrounded by books at the moment. I’ve got a Sturgeon book sitting on my ‘to be read’ pile and right underneath that there is a Harlan Ellison short story collection. I’m working my way (backwards!) through the last omnibus of Doc Savage adventures. I started with the two ‘afterwards’ and then read Doc’s final adventure, Up From The Earth’s Centre.

And to be honest I was disappointed. It didn’t read like a Doc novel, and Doc behaved a lot differently than in other novels. The other two novels I read in the omnibus are the same; Doc is out of character. And to be frank they are very short, a lot closer to novellas or novelettes than novels, with a couple of them coming in under one hundred pages. The afterword by Will Murray mentions the last editor of Doc Savage magazine and how a lot of changes were asked for and implemented. They were changes too far in my opinion. However it seems that it wasn’t sales that saw off Doc in the end but the Publisher’s decision to get out of pulp magazines; sales of Doc Savage (Science detective) were still quite good.

I bought Foster’s Scottish Oddities as an impulse purchase on Amazon after reading extracts in a daily newspaper during the week. There are some hilarious facts in it and some great stories, one that had me rolling about was the one about someone reporting to the police the fact that there was a live shark thrashing about in a Glasgow street. Only in Glasgow. It’s a good book to dip in and out of and also for reading chunks at a time as it is divided into relevant sections.

Also I got a pretty good three for two at Waterstone’s; two short story collections and a novel with a free book attached. It’s very rare for short story collections to be seen in book shops outside the SF section. So I snapped them up. So, four for two actually, and they were all at the cheap price of £6.99 – a price which is getting a bit scarce in bookshops.