Sunday, August 30, 2015

Alrightreads: August



So am I just going to keep listing every book I ever read from now on, like some kind of Art Garfunkel? Hopefully it's just for the rest of the year. Next year can get its own damn gimmick.

It's not going to quiet down any time soon, as this month my wife got an new phone for her birthday and I inherited the old one, so I now have a portable, fun-size e-reader and audiobook player (I don't know if it has other functions).

Now I can keep reading while pretending to sleep! It's like being eight again. Hopefully I won't ruin my eyes as much this time.

August 2015


127. John A. Keel, Strange Creatures from Time and Space

1975 / Audiobook / 288 pages / USA

***

A classic guide to pretend creatures that's not really aimed at me, but is totally aimed at me when I was 12 and spent lunchtimes scrutinising UFO photos in the school library with Sam. I read this for imaginative escapism and quirky human interest, so it's a bit frustrating that our intrepid investigator never gets over his bitterness for the "so-called 'scientists'" who keep rejecting his barmy notions. Before proceeding to demonstrate exactly why they're doing that in cases of Sasquatches, Mothmen and UFOnauts that almost entirely rely on witness testimonies, sometimes from centuries past. I especially liked the witness who failed the lie detector "on purpose" because Men in Black threatened him on the drive there. He's still in the book.


128. Uwe Scheid and Michael Koetzle, 1000 Nudes: Uwe Scheid Collection

~1835-1950 (1994) / E-art-book / 760 pages / Germany

***

This compendium of 'artistic'/'medical'/let's-just-admit-what-we're-doing snaps from the first century of photography provoked a range of reactions in me. To start with, there's the existential fascination that comes with looking at any vintage images in which the subjects are all but guaranteed to be dead now. Then there's the archaic amusement of favoured props and poses that reveal either what people were into back then (an awful lot of archery) or just that these pioneering photographers were brainstorming all over the place. Then, shamefully late, there's the melancholy you'll get when viewing lewd images generally (unless you're too desensitised) when you remember that these were real women, most of them probably down on their luck and not expecting their long exposures to have this longevity.


129. Amir D. Aczel, The Mystery of the Aleph: Mathematics, the Kabbalah, and the Search for Infinity

2000 / Audiobook / 258 pages / Israel

****

With a title like that, you'd be forgiven for expecting this to be one of those pseudointellectual cheap shots pushing some New Ager's poorly thought out theory, founded on tenuous connections between ancient doctrine and misunderstood proper science. Personally, I was hoping for a non-fiction equivalent of that π film, but the Jewish mysticism only gets a single chapter. The rest is still approachably lightweight, the hard sums being made simpler for struggling GCSE-level mathematicians like me by presenting a concise history of the subject, all the classic thought experiments (tortoise; hotel; barber) and biographies of major ∞ scholars who usually ended up going insane. I don't understand anything any better than before I went in, but I enjoyed the infinite journey.


130. Scott Adams, God's Debris: A Thought Experiment

2001 / Audiobook / 132 pages / USA

***

I've never read Dilbert (has my life been meaningless?), so I didn't have any preconceptions to be shattered by Scott Adams' foray into pop philosophy. The dialogue itself is more of a monologue, with the reader surrogate mainly providing confused responses and being awed by how deep the writer surrogate is, but in spite of this occasional arrogance, flawed logic and patronising self-help deviations, it was another enjoyable ride. In his self-aggrandising introduction, Adams suggests that readers aged 22 will enjoy the full impact of his wisdom. That's fair – I was still reeling from the Hubble Deep Field and dabbling in ancient astronaut theories back then, so this probably would have blown me away.


131. Matthew Capala, SEO Like I'm 5: The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Search Engine Optimization (Second Edition)

2015 / E-book / 240 pages / Poland

****

I knew this wasn't going to be as relevant or potentially handy as a specific writing-focused guide would be, but after several years of blissful, willful ignorance about what's actually going on in the industry beyond my cog, I thought it was about time I caught up (as far as March 2015 anyway). The recent history of Google's algorithm updates was more interesting than the guide itself – I'd wondered why I was asked to produce considerably less worthless and disposable content after 2012, now I get it. I was also impressed that the guide took the stance that Google really was improving things rather than ruining everything by penalising rubbish, spammy results. I may miss the easy buxx from writing 20 desperately differentiated articles per day about car windshield repair or artificial turf, but the world's a better place


132. Ryan North (and George Gipe), B^F: The Novelization of the Feature Film

2012 / E-book / 448 pages / Canada

*****

The only time I've ever spent any considerable time on Tumblr, I remembered being tickled by what little I read at the time of this in-depth commentary on the frankly barmy novelisation of an inferior early draft of one of the objectively greatest films ever made. I wanted to track down George Gipe's original, but fortunately for humanity, that doesn't seem to exist in e-book form. It turned out that North's (longer-than-the-novel) commentary does though, meaning I got to convert pithy internet time into valuable book points (I just read e-books on the desktop anyway, so I stuck with Tumblr). While reading the novel would have had its interesting and funny moments, I wouldn't have extracted as much joy without having every instance of archaic vocabulary, creepy characterisation, inept foreshadowing and obsession with brand names highlighted for my convenience.


133. Various, DC Science Fiction Graphic Novels (#1-7)

1985-87 / E-comics / 336 pages / USA

****



It doesn't look like DC ever reprinted these fairly obscure paperbacks in a bumper collection, so I'll just pretend that collection exists, as the series only ran to seven 50-page volumes anyway. Adapting selected short stories from star authors (Bloch, Bradbury, Ellison, Martin, Niven, Pohl and Silverberg) combined with mostly great art would seem to be a winning combination, but in banking on hard SF&F readers picking up a flimsy comic, and comic fans stomaching ponderous narratives without a cape in sight, it may have been a few years ahead of its time. But delaying it would have meant missing out on that classic 80s comic art, before computers and insane anatomy ruined things.

Faves: Frost and FireSandkings.

Worsties: Merchants of Venus, The Magic Goes Away.


134. Brian Greene, The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos

2010 / Audiobook / 384 pages / USA

*****

Finally, a layman-level cutting-edge science book that doesn't talk down (only as much as I need it to) or annoyingly keep bringing up religion just to smack down the easy target. There's a dedicated genre for that, just concentrate on your proper science please. The subject here is multiple universes (inc. string theory and yer quantum), going off on experimental tangents all over the place while always remaining grounded in the maths rather than waxing philosophical or brainstorming SyFy miniseries ideas. Greene's analogies of Pringles, Swiss cheese and Eric Cartmans are weak jokes, but they're memorable, and weak jokes are welcome as a mind-cleansing sorbet every so often. Most impressive of all, I actually wanted to read this again to try to bring my comprehension up another 10% (from 10%), but he has other books.


135. Marc Weidenbaum, Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II

2014 / E-book / 144 pages / USA

***

The 33⅓ series has given a few of my favourite albums the indulgent commentary treatment, but since I already know about those, I was more interested in finally getting to grips with a willfully elusive one. These unhelpfully untitled pieces have been in rotation as non-distracting background music for years – so non-distracting, I couldn't recall a single note, only a hazy sense of sine waves. This overview is as dry and analytical as I needed, skipping around tracks and time indexes to highlight themes and prove there is some variety after all, along with a dollop of historical context. I still don't love it, but I get it now.


136. Roger Dean, Dominy Hamilton and Carla Capalbo, Roger Dean: Views

1975 / E-art-book / 134 pages / UK

***

This is not the definitive Roger Dean collection, capturing the young artist when he was still just a few years out of art school and thus highlighting some charmingly mediocre filler that would have been pushed out of a fuller retrospective. His best-known album covers were already behind him, but it's a shame it can't include any of his misleadingly brilliant box art for rubbish computer games from later decades. There's slightly too much focus on Dean's impractical architecture visions and gloopy furniture that seemed like a great idea in the 1970s, but on the plus side there are plenty of double-page spreads for you to rip out and put on your wall.


137. Peter Ackroyd, Hawksmoor

1985 / Audiobook / 217 pages / UK

****

I won't have been alone in expecting this novel by an esteemed historian to present a speculative biography of London's renowned architect as he builds his rumoured occult churches on pentagram points around a tangibly authentic post-Fire London. It started out that way, convincing cursing and all, but I was a bit disoriented when successive chapters shifted to the present day and started following lonely children and depressing vagrants around. At the half-way point, it suddenly becomes a police procedural. I still enjoyed the disjointed style and spotting all the century-spanning parallels, but I'd rather have had the dingy historical. The Hawksmoor character isn't even called Hawksmoor; that name goes to someone completely different. There's postmodern and then there's just messing about.


138. Nick Davies, Flat Earth News: An Award-Winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media

2008 / Audiobook / 408 pages / UK

***

Well, almost exclusively the British media, but it was still a noble project. When I lived there, I wasn't interested enough in the real world to read a book like this. It took moving to a country where politics and the media are sarcastically corrupt, inept and inhumane for me to start caring about things that matter, and when you're living in a place where tens of thousands of people die unnecessarily in natural disasters due to embezzled infrastructure funds, relief vessels are mercilessly taxed on arrival, Red Cross packages plastered with the local politician's mug and budding presidential candidates helicopter in and out to get their photo opportunity, it's a bit hard to care about your phones being tapped and other civil liberties chipped away. You've still got some libraries left, haven't you? It's really not that bad.


139. John Arcudi and Doug Mahnke, The Mask

1991 (collected 1993) / E-comics / 150 pages / USA

*

This was my first encounter with "mature" comics (really not the appropriate term), when I first discovered the graphic novel section of Crewe Library a few years before I really should have. Nestled between all those enigmatic spines (I found the notion of Preacher amusing. What kind of superhero is that?) was this familiar typeface, and I eagerly flicked through what I realised must be the source material for that funny film I liked. It was quite different, and even though I wouldn't relish sitting through 90 minutes of Jim Carrey rubberface today, the original take is much worse. I stared at some of those ghoulish, ultraviolent images long enough for them to be burned into my memory, but I didn't actually hire it out or read it until now. I probably got out the next Narnia book instead. Smart kid.


140. Richard Corben, Den 1: Neverwhere

1975-78 (collected 1978) / E-comics / 111 pages / USA

**

Unrelated to the Neil Gaiman/Lenny Henry project of the same name – I'm fairly sure those characters kept their kits on – this is about as absurd as nerdy wish fulfillment escapism gets. I was going to read something else from Corben, but when I learned about this swords, sorcery and sex "epic" in which well-endowed and politely shaved characters go around naked, bashing lizardmens' skulls in and getting sweaty together, I couldn't exactly resist. I was hoping for at least a little knowing irony or self-deprecating asides, but it seems we're supposed to treat the whole thing with reverence, which is difficult when the story's so rubbish. Corben's art is nice at least, if a little on the Claymation side. Den looks like Morph on steroids and Viagra.


141. Michael Tennesen, The Next Species: The Future of Evolution in the Aftermath of Man

2015 / Audiobook / 336 pages / USA

***

That's either a misleading title or I was being too optimistic in hoping for an assortment of sci-fi speculations that could give the post-human historians a good chuckle in a few million years' time. Really, this is predominantly scene-setting, reminding us about things like how evolution works and what a mess we've made of the place before it finally puts forward some candidates for the next dominant species in the latter chapters. No need to be too depressed about the prospect of oceans swarming with jellyfish and exponentially growing squids, it's not like you'll be around to see it.


142. Agatha Christie, Death on the Nile

1937 / Audiobook/e-book / 214 pages / UK

***

I've only read one Poirot book before, and never watched him on TV, so I can't say whether this is archetypal or even an especially good example of the bilingual-apart-from-the-easiest-words Belgian sleuth. But I'll guess yes and no, respectively. I was trying to pay attention to who was who(m?), and who(m?) might have dunnit, but I didn't spot any of the clues and there's a satisfying dénouement (that means last bit). Less satisfying was how long it took for the promised death to arrive, about half way into the book, and the Egyptian setting only adds a superficial backdrop. Though Christie's irritated descriptions of the "infantile riff-raff" and "human cluster of flies" aggressively flogging worthless tat at every port do add a level of authenticity and are, unfortunately, timeless. I know that looks a teeny bit racist, but you just go there.


143. Mickey Spillane, I, the Jury

1947 / Audiobook / 246 pages / USA

*

That's that decided  I definitely prefer the largely asexual Holmes/Poirot/Creek mould to Mike Hammer and his sleazy ilk. He's not even a very good detective, getting distracted from obvious clues by a seemingly endless conveyor belt of beautiful femme fatales he can sleep with (he does have lots of naps) before finally putting a bullet into their naked, heaving breasts. There's definitely an audience for that, but it's not me. I like John Zorn's musical take, but even a flimsy pulp paperback is too much.


144. Luigi Serafini, Codex Seraphinianus

1981 / E-book / 365 pages / Italy

****

I only did the minimal background reading before plunging into this, leaving me free to draw my own conclusions. If this only included the illustrations, it would be a funny and creative curiosity. But when half the pages are filled with lengthy hand-written paragraphs, charts and diagrams seemingly explaining this alien flora, fauna, architecture and technology in a made-up cipher language, it transcends fantasy art to become either an inspired pet project or a journal of genuine insanity (I'd argue that the third option  prophetic visions beamed from another world  is undermined by all the joke entries such as scissor plants and corkscrew fish). It's a mesmerising trip either way, but I'm not going to spend my life trying to decipher it. See what you make of it.


145. Fritz Leiber, The Big Time

1958 / Audiobook / 130 pages / USA

**

Explaining the mechanics of a time war, e.g. how that can possibly work at all, can be a challenge for the writer and the reader. This first-hand chronicle from the pages of Galaxy Magazine largely avoids that by setting the non-action entirely in a chill-out lounge away from the front. This deliberate dullness is then made artificially exciting when a bomb is discovered. It skirts on the fringe of almost being a glimmer of something great, but it's mainly boring.


146. Robert Sheckley, Dimension of Miracles

1968 / Audiobook / 214 pages / USA

*****

Unless you're trying to look clever, it's not really possible to discuss this comedy sci-fi classic without pointing out its many technical and spiritual similarities to Hitchhiker's Guide. This isn't fair on Sheckley's less famous book, since it was written more than a decade before the first radio series, but if you found Adams' later sequels in the trilogy a bit excruciating, this is the perfect substitute. There are some overly daft bits, but on the whole this space-time odyssey hits that elusive sweet spot between inspired SF and great LOL. The whole thing's powered by brilliant, mad logic and the conclusion is both depressing and inspiring.


147. Robert Shearman, Remember Why You Fear Me: The Best Dark Fiction of Robert Shearman

2006-12 (collected 2012) / E-book / 400 pages / UK

*****

I knew Shearman could write smart, suspenseful and hilarious because of the handful of Doctor Who audio dramas he wrote in the early 2000s, which rank among the best of that entire canon. But until now, I didn't know he could be so brilliantly twisted too. In most of these terror tales he can't help himself from softening the blow with black humour, but a few of them go without. Those are the ones that are going to lurk in the memory. All the leading phobias are accounted for – theoretically, some of these stories could kill.

Faves: 'Damned If You Don’t,' 'Featherweight,' 'Granny’s Grinning.'

Worsties: 'So Proud,' 'One More Bloody Miracle After Another,' 'The Bathtub.'


148. Kristen Fischer, When Talent Isn't Enough: Business Basics for the Creatively Inclined

2013 / E-book / 224 pages / USA

***

Another quick side trip from cosy escapism back to the real world, this book answered some of the questions I had about what it would take to be a completely independent freelancer who doesn't rely exclusively on the seasonal whims of agencies, and confirmed I'm better off where I am. Anything that means I don't have to deal with the clients. Some of this might be useful for my wife's independent projects, though it would have been more useful if the specifics weren't exclusively written for Americans.


149. Piggyback, Final Fantasy VIII: The Official Strategy Guide

1999 / E-book / 196 pages / UK

***

I wondered what kind of person sits through a 'Let's Play' YouTube playlist, and here I am working through the paperback. I basically fancied a nostalgia trip, revisiting the action, landscapes and beasties of a game that probably occupied a month or two (more?) of my adolescence, but which I remembered surprisingly little about. It turns out that's because it's all so bland and unmemorable. Even the menus are grey. I always much preferred this game's colourful, quirky, better predecessor, but I don't need a refresher for that one as I replayed it to optimised tedium. I could write the guide! But I doubt many people would read that, since it's not 1997.


150. Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes

1988 / Audiobook / 212 pages / UK

***

I mainly knew this book as a cheap target that 90s comedians liked to poke fun at, presumably for being a popular book with some complicated ideas in. It certainly is drier than you'd hope from an astrophysics book for non-scientists  I didn't spot a crap joke until chapter nine!  but it's no more challenging than the other mainstream books I've read dealing with similar matters. Still quite challenging then, but the stuff about spaghettification is pretty exciting. The worst part about this was the audiobook narrator, who mispronounces terms that even I know, doesn't say "quark" correctly even when he's saying the sentence that explains how it should be said, and takes a worried pause before attempting every hard word or foreign name. Next time I read a Hawking book, I'll just copy the text into a computer speech... great, Dave, you went there.


151. Edwin A. Abbott, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions

1884 / Audiobook / 96 pages / UK

**

It's the maths-fi book that someone was bound to write sooner or later, but I'm not sure that mixing in a weak satire of the class system was the best way to go about it. Abbott (the 'A' is for another Abbott) clearly put a lot of thought into what the 2D and 1D experience might look like (4D would have to wait for Heinlein), but I'm not really convinced. I'm not sure the extreme sexism can be fully excused as "satire" either. A kid's story would have been a better way to go about it – like Mr. Men or The Shoe People, but with polygons rather than temperaments or footwear.


152. Robert Llewelyn, The Man in the Rubber Mask

1994/2013 / Audiobook/e-book / 352 pages / UK

****

Now you too can experience the vicarious thrills of being encased in plaster and sweaty rubber for 12 hour periods! This is really two volumes in one, as our eponymous masked hero wrote a hefty update to his 20-year-old memoir that doubled its length to bring us up to the present day. In true Red Dwarf fashion, the older stuff's the best, especially for offering the only really detailed account of what went on with the failed American pilot. But the sudden shift in tone as the writer ages 20 years between chapters adds another interesting element, as erection anecdotes morph into Prius preoccupation. There you go  it is possible to write about 'Dwarf without clumsily forcing a "smeg" in there. Oh, smeg.


153. Malaclypse the Younger with Lord Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst, Principia Discordia or How I Found Goddess and What I Did to Her When I Found Her (Combined Fourth and Fifth Edition)

1965/69/79 / E-book / 120 pages / USA

***

"Discordianism is not just a religion; it is a mental illness."

The counter-culture/flower-power era must have spawned plenty of attractive new religions in retaliation against the stuffy establishment, but Discordianism takes the space cake as the most effective rebellion of them all. I'd seen extracts from this shambolically xeroxed core text quoted by like-minded authors over the years, but this is the first time I've read the thing. It's as funny, sharp, immature and pointless as I'd hoped. I felt like I'd wasted my time just reading it – how about the people who actually live by it? They know it's a joke, but that doesn't dampen their enthusiasm. That's to be commended. Is it?


154. E. Nesbit, The Phoenix and the Carpet

1904 / Audiobook / 289 pages / UK

**

I enjoyed the book and BBC version of Five Children and It as a child, but never read/saw this sequel, something I thought I should remedy. Not sure why. I can't remember what happened in the previous book, but I'm sure it was better than this. It starts out well enough with exotic adventures, mild peril and compulsory mild racism, but then the kids with a magic, wish-granting carpet choose to spend the rest of the story being boring around London and relying entirely on wishes to get them out of scrapes rather than showing any resourcefulness. Spoiled, unimaginative, helpless brats. Hope you're looking forward to the war.


155. Various Artists, Buster Book 1992

1991 / E-book / 96 pages / UK

*

- "I'll have to think of something quick."
- "Instant coffee?"

Somewhere between my loyal following of Turtles and Sonic comics (and probably parallel with Dinosaurs! magazine  who's the spoiled brat now?), Buster was my inexplicable comic of choice. Yeah, not your successful, mainstream Beano – a second-rate rip-off with less memorable characters, many of them based entirely on weak pun names that I didn't even get because I didn't grow up in the 60s. I don't remember any of these stories from the comics I had around this time, but they surely can't be the best of the year. And where the hell's Odd Ball? He was the only good one.

Faves: I always appreciated Chalky because he draws.

Worsties: Most of 'em.


156. Richard Wiseman, Night School: Wake Up to the Power of Sleep

2013 / Audiobook / 352 pages / UK

****

I read most of the Prof's books when I lived in Edinburgh and he turned up as a guest speaker everywhere I went, but I didn't bother with this one until now – I assumed it was targeted at insomniacs, and I haven't really suffered with that since I forced myself to stop drinking nothing but Coke at age 20 and miraculously calmed down. It is largely a self-help guide, and Wiseman has that patter down pat by now, but it's also got plenty of fascinating, real science in it about sleep and dreaming, as well as less firm parapsychology and flim-flam to be taken with a cellar of salt. He can't help himself.


157. Declan May ed, Seasons of War: Tales from a Time War

2015 / E-book / 397 pages / Various

***

This unofficial charity anthology of Doctor Who stories takes the interesting approach/gimmick of focussing entirely on the little-seen John Hurt incarnation of the Doctor and his almost-entirely-unseen, metaphorically-alluded-to machinations in the unfilmable Time War. When it comes to extracurricular Who excursions, it's these obscure recesses of the canon that have the most appeal for me, rather than sub-par adventures with familiar characters who annoyingly don't sound like they do on TV, and I commend the gaggle of 30-ish amateur and established writers for having a crack at it. There are a few good 'uns, and as it's for a good cause, there's no point being too harsh on the rest.

Faves: 'The Holdover,' 'The Thief of All Ways.'

Worsties: 'Everything in Its Right Place,' 'Climbing the Mountain.'


158. Christopher Manson, Maze: Solve the World's Most Challenging Puzzle

1985 / E-book / 48 pages / USA

*****

I often come across books I wish I'd owned as a child, but this one takes the biscuit. If I ever have a child of my own, I'll make a point of locking them in a room with just this sinister book, a torch, a pen and paper for company, and only let them out when they slide the correct 16-step route under the door. They'll get all the chances I never had. The perfect desert island book to keep you occupied, even if it would fail spectacularly at keeping you sane.


159. Bram Stoker, The Jewel of Seven Stars

1903 / Audiobook / 304 pages / Ireland

**

I finally read Mr. Stoker's classic rip-off vampire tale last year and loved it. Did he write something similarly definitive for the mummy genre? If he had, it probably wouldn't have taken lazy public domain horror browsing for me to learn about it. There are suggestions that it's going in interesting directions – a mummified queen rather than a king prompting discussions of early feminism, anxiety about the waning British Empire – but then it doesn't really go there. They don't even go to Egypt! They barely make it out of the bedroom.


160. William Hope Hodgson, The House on the Borderland

1908 / Audiobook / 156 pages / UK

****

I knew this was supposed to be a massively influential work of uncanny cosmic weirdness, but it wasn't doing much for me with its pig men and overly detailed journals within overly detailed journals. Until time went into flux and the chronicler found himself trapped on a dizzying astral voyage around the dying sun into the post-solar system. Then it hit the spot. Mm, yeah, that's good.


161. Lord Dunsany, A Dreamer's Tales

1910 / Audiobook / 82 pages / Ireland

***

I don't know whether these tales, fables and vignettes actually came to the good Lord in his sleep, but some of them are dull and pointless enough for me to believe it. And there are suggestions that his recreational activities might have lent the imagination a helping hand here and there. The more dynamic episodes about battles and quests are set in pre-Tolkienesque fantasy worlds that are much like our world but with odder names. My favourites are the more atmospheric and distressing ones, naturally, taking us on guided tours of decaying cities and fretting about the afterlife.

Faves: 'The Madness of Andelsprutz,' 'Where the Tides Ebb and Flow.'

Worsties: 'Poor Old Bill,' 'The Day of the Poll.'


162. Arthur Edward Waite, The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, Being Fragments of a Secret Tradition under the Veil of Divination

1910 / E-book / 352 pages / UK

***

I don't feel compelled to give disclaimers when I read up on Jewish mysticism, demon lore or alien abduction encounters for entertainment and human interest, but I feel I have to do it here: I don't believe in this. But that doesn't mean I'm not allowed to appreciate some classic symbolic art and have the parts that don't conflict with Christian ideas explained to me in archaic-even-for-the-time vocabulary by a blustering authorial voice that I had to keep reminding myself wasn't a parody. This edition cheats a bit by including full colour prints like they wouldn't have been able to do back then. It doesn't smell authentically like a 105-year-old book either, unless your e-reader device happens to smell like that anyway.

Faves: The Hermit, naturally, and Death, predictably. Just keep telling yourself it means "change." That's what the woman said when she saw the look on your face. You only went in there for a laugh, it's not like you believe in this rubbish. I mean, it's the 21st century, right? Ha ha. Come on! Gulp.


163. Clark Ashton Smith, The Star-Treader and Other Poems

1912 / E-book / 100 pages / USA

***

Generally considered to be the bronze medallist of Weird Tales after Lovecraft and Howard, I was looking forward to another unchallenging collection of sinister stories from C. A. Smith, but then the only complete audiobook I could find was this poetry collection published when he was 19. Eugh, right? I'll still have to check out his proper stuff some time, but this turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable experience outside of my comfort zone. It's juvenile and completely infatuated with Keats, but he finds his own way occasionally by mixing some celestial phenomena and infinity angst in with the mythology and nature reverence. I ended up switching to the e-book anyway, when I remembered dramatic amateur poetry readers are the worst of all.

Faves: 'Ode to the Abyss,' 'The Song of a Comet.'

Worsties: 'The Price,' 'Saturn.'


164. Thomas Seltzer ed, Best Russian Short Stories

1834-1916 (collected 1917) / Audiobook / 279 pages / Russia/Ukraine

****

I'm not sufficiently experienced to argue with the American editor's selections, but he admits that some of these got in for the sake of diversity. The philosophical debates and futile struggles of the disenfranchised might have got a bit heavy without the rom-coms to break things up, but I wouldn't have minded, that's what I was here for.  I feel inexplicable affinity with pre-Soviet Russia, even though I hardly know anything about it. I suppose that means I was a frozen peasant in a past life then? We can't all be Cleopatra.

Faves: Gogol's 'The Cloak,' Chekhov's 'The Bet.'

Worsties: Pushkin's 'The Queen of Spades,' Turgenev's 'The District Doctor.'


165. Charles Fort, The Book of the Damned

1919 / Audiobook / 228 pages / USA

**

It's all well and scientific to point out UFOs in Renaissance paintings centuries later, but here's actual evidence (evidence will not hereafter be a concern) that people were discussing mysterious flying objects before 1947. In this founding text for Forteans and Fox Mulders, Fort lays out his mad, grand explanation for why strange sightings and disappearances may occur, which requires even more suspension of disbelief than the phenomena themselves. He makes a few good points about the limits of traditional scientific approaches and arbitrary categorisation, but mainly it's a cautionary tale about what can happen if you lock yourself in a room with too many books for too long. What?


166. Tom Gill and George Wilson, The Time Tunnel: The Complete Series

1966-67 (collected 2009) / E-comics / 78 pages / USA

*

Another mediocre TV tie-in from the good people who brought you genocidal Kirk and emotional Spock, this time I haven't even seen the parent series. That's to be expected, as it apparently didn't last much longer than this comic, both issues of which are reprinted for undeserved posterity along with some much nicer promotional art and misguided publicity materials for the show. As I followed these two hapless "scientists" on their tumbles through invariably massively significant moments in time, running, shouting and punching folks all over the place as they try to interfere with the course of history on a whim regardless of the consequences, I was gradually able to find it funny. It's the only way to make it through. Does not feature dinosaurs.


167. Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty

2012 / Audiobook / 544 pages / Turkey/UK

**

It's something you often find yourself wondering when you live in one of these places. Why was this allowed to happen and why aren't things getting any better? You know the answers really, and I can't say I found any revelations here beyond the bleeding obvious. They could have written an essay, but in their economic shrewdness, they realised that bulking it out with detailed analyses of various regimes across history would be more profitable. It's less harsh than I expected, laying the blame squarely on inept and corrupt governance rather than problematic cultures, which I'm not so sure about. At least they admit that a hot climate isn't an excuse.


168. Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and a whole bunch of artists, Son of Origins of Marvel Comics

1963-69 (collected 1975) / E-comics / 249 pages / USA

***

I don't think I've read a Marvel Comic before (excepting licensed stuff like Count Duckula and Beavis and Butt-Head). They just didn't seem as fond of letting British writers create dark metafictional shit as D.C. did, which is the sole reason I'll be drafted to that side in the inevitable war. Stan Lee seems like a fun guy though, and while there's not much to enjoy in the early-60s tales beyond an appreciation of vintage art, non-ironic cliches and bigotry, things take a welcome turn later in the decade when the psychedelic space age arrives. I don't know if I've embarked on any life-long friendships here, but it was inevitable that I'd be drawn to the intergalactic weirdos at the back rather than the blander mainstream of caucasian males differentiated mainly by hair colour (that's not fair, Tony Stark also has a moustache).

Faves: 'The Wonder of the Watcher,' 'The Origin of the Silver Surfer.'

Worsties: 'X-Men,' 'Iron Man is Born.'


169. Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses

1988 / Audiobook / 561 pages / India

***

He's hardly even in it! And it's not even technically him, except it is, because otherwise it would be a satire of nothing. It's only a small sub-story or dream sequence or something anyway (I drifted in and out). Absolute pricks. As for the actual novel, it's the type of urban fantasy, magic realism or whatever you call it when mythical beings start showing up in the humdrum world and things keep threatening to get interesting but are then interrupted to see how people's affairs and media careers are getting on, All marinated in a sensitive post-colonial/immigration theme too. It's a bit dense, and in hindsight, probably not the best book to listen to while playing Pokémon.


170. Bernie Wrightson, Bruce Jones and a couple of others, Creepy Presents: Bernie Wrightson

1966-82 (collected 2011) / E-comics / 139 pages / USA

****

The evidence keeps mounting that I was born a generation late. I know, I can still find all these things today – with much greater ease than a kid in pre-internet rural Cheshire would have had to track down obscure imports like Creepy! and Eerie! – but it's not the same. These ghoulish black and white nightmares should have been part of my life when they could really have affected me. Like the philistine I'm on an unending mission not to be, I hadn't heard this writer/artist's name before, but even if I hadn't seen his actual work I'd certainly seen plenty of imitations. This isn't charmingly archaic Tales from the Crypt horror – it's intense, exquisite and a pleasure to linger in Bernie's dingy manors and spooky woods.

Faves: 'Jenifer,' 'Cool Air.'

Worsties: 'Clarice,' 'Reuben Youngblood: Private Eye!'


171. Mark Shaw, Copywriting: Successful Writing for Design, Advertising, and Marketing (Second Edition)

2009/12 / E-book / 240 pages / USA

**

"If you're explaining the benefits of a back-to-work scheme for 16-year-olds who've left school with no qualifications, you're not expected to use hip-hop street language."

This is by far the least useful and dreariest writing guide I've read this year, disregarding the advice of those other experts as well as its own. It's not entirely relevant to me, to be fair – he only gets around to online writing in the final chapter, but isn't that a bit of an oversight in the 2010s anyway? The focus is more on style and audience than presentation, which probably explains why it's so annoying to read, with densely clumped paragraphs and key points scattered all over the place at various angles. There are plenty of full-page examples from successful brands, but whereas Redish and Capala's books stated that they weren't paid to include their favourite examples, there's no such disclaimer here. Not a bad strategy – get people to take a really good look at your ads under the pretence that it's good for them. I'm off to buy a Land Rover.


172. The Gang, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The 7 Secrets of Awakening the Highly Effective Four-Hour Giant, Today – The Gang Writes a Self-Help Book

2014 / E-book / 256 pages / USA

**

TV books are generally about squeezing money out of fans with lazy or recycled material, but this one's at least up-front about it. The contrived premise for its in-universe existence – a publishing agent with a substance abuse problem leaves a sensitive contract in a bar run by vain psychopaths who jump at the chance to make a quick buck and explain why they're so great – is plausible as an average episode. More plausible than the Red Dwarf crew or the Local Shopkeepers keeping a diary filled with catchphrases and publicity stills anyway. It's only when you get past the apologetic preface from HarperCollins (the best part) that this starts to break down. They wouldn't actually bother to do the work. Even Charlie's illiterate hieroglyphics are more legible than they have a right to be.


173. Lucy Lidell, The Book of Massage: The Complete Step-by-Step Guide to Eastern and Western Techniques

1984 / E-book / 192 pages / UK

***

I've never been into massage (or "massage"), but my wife requires it to survive, so the least I could do is learn some actual techniques. Most of it's just intuition anyway – unless you really don't like your partner – but this step-by-step guide seems reliable and easy to follow. And it's easy to just ignore the occasional slips into mumbo-jumbo if phrases like "the healing energy" and "an excess of ki" make you consider putting it down. Later it gets into shiatsu, which seems a bit silly, and reflexology (come on!), but the first third should prove handy for the long term. It gets a bonus point on behalf of all those pre-internet 80s/90s teenagers whose parents owned this book and had an acceptable source of boob imagery in the house. Some of them aren't even drawings!


174. Robert J. Sawyer, Flashforward

1999 / Audiobook / 320 pages / USA

****

I enjoyed the brief TV adaptation while it lasted – the first entirely cynical, failed attempt to make The New Lost – so even though I don't normally like to read things I've watched or watch things I've read, I could do with some closure. The book reads like a great 90s miniseries, complete with bland characters whose lives and relationships become artificially fascinating when put in tumult and a sci-fi plot that's extremely well though-out in some ways but still riddled with logical holes that you can have fun spotting. It turns out that answers aren't the most important thing after all, as seeing how the world reacts to future knowledge on the small and large scale is much more interesting. Especially since the 'why' involves the Large Hadron Collider, which has since been proven to not do this. You funny pre-millennials and your techology anxieties!


175. Junji Ito, Uzumaki

1998-99 (collected 2000) / E-comics / 632 pages / Japan

*****

Like Marvel comics, I hadn't read a Manga before either, despite apparently having a reputation as the guy who watched animé in his lunch breaks at the office (it was Battlestar Galactica, philistines!) But this isn't the type of Manga filled with punchable round faces or impractical robots (though there are occasional tentacle-like appendages). Instead, it's a beautifully rendered tale of a creepy coastal town lethally hooked on spirals, and the most unsettling and creatively gruesome horror I've read since 28 books ago. You won't want to flush the toilet again! (What do you mean 'again?') When I watched the original Ring, I pledged to seek out more of this fascinating Japanese horror. I look forward to a third installment in another decade or so.


176. Nintendo Power, Pokémon Crystal Version: The Official Nintendo Player's Guide

2001 / E-book / 160 pages / USA

***

What was I saying about mature Manga? I considered myself too grown-up for Pokemon back when my brothers were into it, but when I realised my belated first smartphone makes a cracking Game Boy emulator, I finally found a worthy successor to Dizzy for mildly challenging audiobook visiontracks. It was fun for a while, but when trying to catch 'em all got boring and annoying, and lacking convenient school playground access to share tips, I got an instruction manual to turn time-wasting entertainment into unpaid labour. It turns out I can't even catch 'em all anyway, because that requires social interaction. Seems like a misunderstanding of the point of Game Boys if you ask me.


177. Haruki Murakami, Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

2013 / Audiobook / 386 pages / Japan

***

I've seen this author's name come up often in relation to pleasing oddness, and was waiting for the inspiration/excuse to bother cracking open a proper novel. This accidental Japanese theme I've got going on was the ticket. This wasn't the best place to get started though, as outside of a few vivid dream sequences and half-hearted musings on demons, it's the most normal thing I've read since... I just scrolled up and it's probably some of those Russian short stories. But proportionally, that's ages. It still kept my interest, and I can't fault it beyond being a bit too humdrum and real, but I was really hoping for some flying cats. I'll try again.


178. Menton J. Matthews III, Kasra Ghanbari and collaborators, Monocyte: In the Land of the Blind the One Eyed Is King

2011-12 (collected 2012) / E-comics / 224 pages / USA

**

As a child, after I'd finished reading the latest Segatastic issue of Sonic the Comic aloud to my youngest brother, I'd go through it again improvising hilarious new captions for the action. I recommend making up your own "Stupid Story" for Monocyte, or seeking out an edition in a foreign language that bears no relation to yours. This has the dual benefit of encouraging you to analyse the excellent painted artwork in detail and not having to read the tedious theolocalyptical narrative that tries and fails so hard at being intellectual that it should be funny. But it's not, it's just irritating. And the text's too small. And seemingly in the Harry Potter font.


179. Alexandra Horowitz, On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes

2013 / Audiobook / 308 pages / USA

*

As someone who used to fill his leisure time with aimless walking back when this blog's title was actually relevant, I admire the intent behind this book, encouraging people to walk and pay attention to their surroundings. But this really is just someone describing their walks around the block, being rapturously amazed by the ordinary (that cover has been misleadingly Photoshopped; there's not one mention of a giant squirrel) and spinning off on tangents to briefly outline various matters of psychology, horticulture and other fields, because this has to stretch to 300 pages. This is a useful exercise to do for yourself as a writer, but not to bore other people with. You'll be telling us about your dreams next, or blogging about every single time you step outside... the... oh.


180. Edward Gorey, Amphigorey: Fifteen Books by Edward Gorey

1953-65 (collected 1972) / E-book / 220 pages / USA

***

A space-saving compendium of short illustrated books, a couple of which are suitable for children, the rest decidedly not. Not because they're always risque, I just can't imagine the duller tales and awkwardly rhymed verse about idle arosticrats holding their interest. I only persevered because of the lovely cross-hatching. And it's worth it, since every once in a while a gleefully morbid or cryptically deranged one comes along.

Faves: The Object-Lesson, The West Wing.

Worsties: The Listing Attic, The Sinking Spell.


181. Woody Allen, Getting Even

1966-71 (collected 1972) / Audiobook / 112 pages / USA

****

One of those legendary figures exalted by comedy writers and thought of a bit less fondly by anyone who knows anything about his weird personal life, this is my first encounter with Woody Allen in any medium (beyond parodies) (that I'm aware of). These short stories, memoirs and miscellanies are mostly funny, in a getting-on-for-historical post-modern 60s way, preoccupied with pompous aesthetes, philosophers and psychologists and having harmless fun with revolutionaries and the Third Reich. Being his first chronological collection rather than a best-of, there's the expected worthless filler that still adds variety.

Faves: 'Death Knocks,' 'Viva Vargas!,' Mr. Big.'

Worsties: 'A Look at Organized Crime,' 'Yes, But Can the Steam Engine Do This?'


182. Mike Mignola, The Amazing Screw-on Head and Other Curious Objects

2002 / E-comics / 104 pages / USA

***

A short feature presentation and five further vignettes from the man behind Hellboy, which I'd never spared a thought for before but will now have to give a try. If I was already into this guy, I probably would have had more fun with this strange side project of steampunk indulgence, but the tales are all too short and sometimes pointless. One of them was seemingly written by his seven-year-old daughter, which is cute.


183. Christine Rice, Freelance Writing Guide: What to Expect in Your First Year as a Freelance Writer

2012 / E-book / 107 pages / USA

**

Having researched which freelance writing guides are the most admired a few months back, it's not surprising that they've been getting steadily less useful as I go along. This is a beginner's guide written by a beginner, and while it touches on various ways to make money and things that need to be considered, it isn't of much practical use. It isn't even especially inspiring, as Rice's dedication to gritty honesty sets the bar way too low for anyone seriously considering a career change – "500 words for $5.00"; "$1.50 for 1,000 page views"; "from 0.7 cents a word." Bloody hell, if I was on the fence and looking for advice, that might just cause me to climb back down and stop being so silly. Maybe by December.


184. Gustave Doré, The Doré Gallery: His 120 Greatest Illustrations

1854-83 (collected 1978) / E-art-book / 119 pages / France

****

You know when you pick up a classic children's novel and flick through to look at the nice illustrations and intriguing captions of escapades you can look forward to later in the story? This is just those bits. The definitive engraver tasked himself with illustrating the greatest classics of literature, along with other works that didn't turn out to be so classic a century later. I'm not an expert, but a few of the best and best-known ones are weirdly skipped over, plus the one they chose for the cover is one of the least impressive and representative of the lot. This art is public domain and black and white, so I don't know why I assumed they'd care when churning this out for undeserved buxx and adding an introduction not much longer than this paragraph.

Faves: Don Quixote, Paradise Lost, Idylls of the King, The Divine Comedy... I want them all on my wall really.

Worsties: Perrault's Fairy Tales and Fables of La Fontaine. Maybe just because they're not as grimm.


185. Stanisław Lem, Solaris

1961 / Audiobook / 204 pages / Poland

***

I like my aliens alien and unfathomable, and Solaris from Solaris is welcome among the ranks of the aliens from Alien, the 2001s from 2001 and those Lovecraft things. A lot of 60s sci-fi is off-puttingly dated, but I didn't have that problem here at all, largely thanks to it being grounded in philosophy and communication rather than "futuristic" gadgets. Still, it's not something you'd read for a moving character study, as the meddling humans and their solid hallucinations feel like they're mainly there to satisfy the novel criteria and leave the possibility of film rights open. This is primarily Lem's postulations about what sort of weirdness we can expect out there and how we'll never be ready until we stop being so damn sapiens-centric. Presumably there was a heavy-hitting Cold War message at the time too. I don't know, that was ages ago.


186. Bryan Talbot, The Tale of One Bad Rat

1994-95 (collected 1995) / E-comics / 117 pages / UK

****

I'd been meaning to read this for ages, but it's easier to slag off shitty vintage TV tie-in comics than risk not liking something many people hold dear. This is as mainstream as the graphic novel gets, challenging many readers to get over their preconceptions of speech bubbles and nice art. For me, the challenge went in the other direction – do I want to read a cathartic incest survivor's tale? Wouldn't that just be overly depressing and sentimental? Yes, but it's only towards the end that it gets a bit cloying and turns into a pamphlet you might find at your local clinic. Fortunately, there's also some arty-farty intertextuality to see me through, even if this time it's Beatrix Potter rather than obscure scriptures or forgotten recesses of the DC Silver Age. Made me miss the Lake District too.


187. Rob Grant, Fat

2006 / E-book / 329 pages / UK

***

When bitching about how Red Dwarf's never been as good since Rob Grant left the writing partnership, you have to be a fair bastard and recognise that most of Grant's subsequent solo output has been at least as bad. He seemed to find a new calling in novels – I remember liking Incompetence when I read it as a (slightly) less picky teenager – but this next book isn't as good (though not Dark Ages or Strangerers bad). When it comes to satirising the obesity "epidemic" and the misanthropic culture that would come up with terms like that, let's just say Mr. Grant knows whereof he speaks (he made Red Dwarf, you dick! Have some respect). By writing three different stories and weakly tying them together, he's sympathetic to the fat without letting them off too lightly. It's sometimes funny too, but mainly when I imagine Norman Lovett's Holly narrating it.


188. Caleb Scharf, The Copernicus Complex: Our Cosmic Significance in a Universe of Planets and Probabilities

2014 / Audiobook / 288 pages / UK

****

After a good book on parallel universes and an alright one on future possibilities for life on Earth, I just needed some recent stats on extrasolar planets to provide comforting celestial succour and make the vast, cosmic emptiness that little less biting. This book is geared directly towards those feelings, taking a multi-pronged approach to help the non-religious feel at ease with the aid of research and probability rather than over-optimistic guesswork.


189. Robert Gendler ed, Capturing the Stars: Astrophotography by the Masters

2009 / E-book / 160 pages / Various

*****

It's wasted as a PDF, this really belongs on a coffee table or ripped up and stuck on your walls. The history and practicalities of backyard space photography are briefly introduced, each astrartist explains their approach and setup, and there are captions explaining what each of these awe-inspiring, colourful swirls is (along with their less inspiring names), but it's not bogged down in technicalities if you're just here for the pictures. And to spot some of the desktop wallpapers you've had in circulation for years and have been falsely crediting to Hubble.

Faves: Per-Magnus Heden, Russell Croman, R. Jay Gabany, Robert Gendler.

Worsties: Astrophotography pioneers Edward Emerson Barnard and William C. Miller. Just because it was ages ago and your equipment was a bit basic, it's nothing personal.


190. Alfredo and Grace Roces, Culture Shock! Philippines: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette (Eighth Edition)

1985/2013 / E-book / 352 pages / Philippines

**

"When you are offered a boiled duck's egg with a half-incubated chick inside, you will not offend if you decline gently and politely."

I don't enjoy being the moody foreigner. Life would be a lot less stressful if I could acclimatise to this culture that doesn't suit my personality or values at all, but that's not going to happen. It's always useful to know what you're dealing with and how to avoid dealing with it though, but this guide could potentially do more harm than good. I queried my wife on the parts that struck me as especially ridiculous, and she  confirmed that, no, of course that doesn't happen. At least, not any more. It seems the multiple revisions only involved adding email addresses. It's mostly Manila-centric too, which isn't very useful to anyone travelling or living in the rest of this ahomogenous country, and its middle-class authors' sneering tone towards domestic helpers should hopefully be appalling to international readers. If not  mabuhay ang Pilipinas! You'll fit in here just fine.


191. Anthony Horowitz, Mindgame

2001 / E-book / 122 pages / UK

***

I used to read plays sometimes, but not any more. Like film novelisations, you can probably find the ones that are worth watching online without too much trouble. Maybe that's the case here too, but this isn't about how many YouTube hours I can log in a month, is it? That's what this is for. I've felt a strange and unearned affinity for Anthony Horowitz ever since I found out he was responsible for Crime Traveller, the most fascinatingly poor BBC Saturday evening drama ever, and this is similarly flawed but enjoyable. It's set in a mental hospital, so you already know what the shocking twists are going to be. More interesting are the stage directions explaining that props and scenery will be subtly altered over time while our attention is distracted, something that would be interesting to experience live but, of course, is completely lost on the page.


192. Ian Fleming, From Russia With Love

1957 / Audiobook / 257 pages / UK

**

I've never seen a Bond film all the way through. But I know who he is and stuff, for god's sake. Since this book was voted one of the top 100 crime novels ever, I expected it to be as average as the several others I've read from that list over the last few months, as well as extremely sexist and a tad racist. I was mainly correct, but there were a few surprises in store – Bond being as much a pimped whore as his Russian counterpart is unexpectedly subversive,  and he's quite shockingly bad at the whole spy thing too. I might even have liked him if he hadn't taken nearly half the book to show up.


193. Alan Dean Foster, Splinter of the Mind's Eye

1978 / Audiobook / 297 pages / USA

**

I've seen Star Wars, for god's sake. But I've never felt the urge to explore the expanded universe by picking up a book, until I found this time-bound curiosity. Foster had already ghostwritten the advance film novelisation but presumably hadn't seen the finished product when he was tasked with writing a potential budget-conscious sequel. Had Episode IV not turned out to be a monumental blockbuster, we may have been treated to this Harrison Ford-free tale of an amorous not-siblings-yet Luke and Leia looking for a magic crystal in a polystyrene cave set, running into as few imaginative creatures as possible along the way. Instead, we got The Empire Strikes Back. It was better.


194. Gerry Conway, Gene Colan, Archie Goodwin, Gardner F. Fox and Marv Wolfman The Tomb of Dracula, Vol. 1

1972-73 (collected 2010) / E-comics / 264 pages / USA

***

Superheroes were temporarily out of fashion in the early 70s, at least that's what whoever carried out Marvel's dubious market research seemed to think, leading to a brief era of experimentation. This one isn't in the same league as horror comics from dedicated publishers like EC and Warren, and thanks to the castrating Comics Code it can't ever get too nasty. But it's interesting to see how they stretch the concept into an ongoing series with recurring characters and a (rotting-)fleshed-out world, even if every single confrontation ends with the defeated count moodily flapping away. Like Hammer's Dracula films, these start out atmospheric and sinister and then sharply decline. It only takes until issue four before we're jumping through magic mirrors across space and time.

Faves: 'Dracula,' 'The Hell-Crawlers.'

Worsties: 'Through a Mirror Darkly,' 'Death from the Sea!'


195. Confucius, The Analects

476 BC / Audiobook / 256 pages / China

***

Confucius say many wise and obvious things, but at least it's mainly about being mindful and behaved, so there are no problems here. The Master doesn't waste much time contemplating spiritual matters either, but he does like a good sing-song every now and then. 21st-century gweilo not feeling particularly enlightened however, as Bill & Ted taught him similar values when he was six. When it comes to time-honoured Chinese wisdom, it's a shame that more people prefer to seek out the ruthless lessons of Sun Tzu, based on how much I see his book around. This is, like, the contrasting binary opposite to that. If only there was an appropriate concept in Chinese philosophy for what I'm trying to say.


196. Richard Brown, Richard Elwes, Robert Fathauer, John Haigh, David Perry and Jamie Pommersheim, 30-Second Maths: The 50 Most Mind-Expanding Theories in Mathematics, Each Explained in Half a Minute

2012 / E-book / 188 pages / USA/UK

***

This seemed like a nice, handy and arrogantly titled set of pocket guides (again wasted in e-book form). I contemplated reading their philosophy guide and stressed myself out over their psychology one before making the logical calculation to supplement my GCSE maths and maybe actually learn something useful. The useful bits were boring though, I enjoyed the abstract concepts and weird universal rules a lot more. I'm glad I finally know what words like 'calculus' and 'logarithm' actually mean too, though as expected, in the time since I jotted that note down it's gone again. I don't have to understand it to enjoy it, and it's easier to enjoy it when there's not a stressful exam coming up.

Faves: Infinity (again again et al), game theory, exotic shapes, Pascal's Triangle (making up for his flawed wager).

Worsties: Trigonometry, long division (it's not really in here, but I have bad memories).


197. Daniel Clowes, Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron

1989-93 (collected 1993) / E-comics / 142 pages / USA

**

I've quite enjoyed this self-published auteur's tales of dull peoples' directionless lives over the years, so I was interested to see how this early effort fared, set in a more surreal world of conspiracies, mutants and snuff films. Unfortunately, the story really doesn't pull together, which is probably entirely down to its serialised chapters being made up on the fly over the span of four years. At least he got it out of his system.


198. Philip K. Dick, VALIS

1981 / Audiobook / 242 pages / USA

****

I read a little PKD as a teenager, but I came to the conclusion that, if I preferred what trashy Hollywood did with his stories over the books themselves, there was no point bothering to try out more. (This mainly hinged around the Schwarzenegger Total Recall, which is the pinnacle of Western cultural achievement as far as I'm concerned). When I learned about the heavy shift towards the philosophical in his later works, I decided to give him another go, especially as books like VALIS should technically be unfilmable. The first half is the author's personal research and theories disguised as fiction before the actual story kicks off, and courtesy of mental and chemical get-out clauses it's the sort of multi-faceted omnimusing that can be enjoyed by the specifically religious, wishy-washy and hellbound alike.


199. China Miéville, The City & the City

2009 / Audiobook / 312 pages / UK

*****

I've just discovered a new favourite author, which means I currently lack the burden of experience needed to be ruthlessly critical and you get a rare glimpse of me just enjoying myself. This unnervingly skewed police procedural is set more or less in the world we're used to, with a couple of major differences. I've been so corrupted by fantastical fiction that it took me an embarrassingly long time to realise these two contrasting cities occupying the same geographic space aren't separated by glowing portals or frays in the fabric of space-time, but by an exaggerated form of the same cultural conditioning that makes beggars, garbage and other undesirable sights invisible in our day-to-day lives – feel-bad sci-fi at its best! So far, so great short story, but then political complications and whispers of a third city lurking somewhere in the cracks help to convince me of the value of the long-form tale.


200. Mervyn Peake, Gormenghast

1950 / Audiobook / 505 pages / UK

***

I can't remember exactly how deep I waded into this trilogy a few years back, but I don't think I graduated past Titus Groan, so I skipped to book two. The diminutive Earl is still only a small child at the start, so I probably didn't miss much. It's not the ravaging fires, floods and villainous plots I'm here for anyway, I'd be content just roaming the endless chambers and corridors of this expansive castle. I just hang around the main players so I don't get lost.

No comments:

Post a Comment