Thursday, August 27, 2009

A portrait of the Grey Mouser as a young man

Three quick book reviews, and a test of thrown in for free.
A couple of weeks ago we visited some friends on the other side of the city. On the Sunday we had lunch in a little village called Woodend, strolled around and visited a little secondhand bookshop. I spent a lot of money on some old SF classics, as well as a few other books. Then we went to the Holgate Brewhouse for a couple of pints of rather delicious chocolate porter.
So, the first of the classics of pulp fantasy I read from the pile was the awkwardly titled "Swords and Deviltry". Try saying deviltry out loud. See? Awkward. This is the first outing in a long series for Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, two rogues with hearts of gold that thieve and charm their way around their world. This is low fantasy, filled with muck, grime, seediness and populated by prostitutes, beggars and thieves. The dynamic duo provide plenty of witty banter, quaff ale and fight bad guys. It is easy to see why this series is remembered fondly by a lot of readers. Great stuff, and I'll be looking for the others in the series.
Next was Vernor Vinge's "A Fire Upon The Deep". I never did work out the meaning of the title, but this is a cracking space opera. Children trapped on a primitive world, with a spaceship that contains a defence against a superintelligent force that is enslaving the rest of the galaxy. Cue rescue team, while kids make friends with doglike aliens that can only think as packs. The packs are the most interesting characters in the story, and I found the rescue team plot a bit distracting. Overall this is a good read, with some awesome SF ideas.
Next was a bit of culture: "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man". This is James Joyce's semi-autobiographical story of a catholic boy growing up in Ireland at the beginning of the 20th century. I picked it up because I'd heard writers refer to him as one of their influences. I just didn't get into it at all. It started off pretty dull, started to pick up when he goes off the rails and starts visiting prostitutes but then quickly reverted to lengthy tracts discussing the nature of hell and damnation that were mostly incomprehensible to me. The final third of the book covers his time as a poncey art student, discussing the nature of beauty and pining over some girl he never appears to talk to and pretends to hate. It's like a really well written version of Adrian Mole, without the jokes. I must confess to having nodded off a couple of times trying to finish this on the train.

Posted via email from Gareth's posterous

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