Recently in Reading Notes Category

What I Read in 2013 #1: Way Station by Clifford D. Simak

| No TrackBacks

There are number of books I keep coming back to, books that made an impression on me at some time in my life and to which I return every five or ten years or so.  Way Station by Clifford Simak is one of them.

First published back in 1963 this novel is representative of a type of science fiction story that would struggle to find a publisher these days.  It tells the story of a lonely man in the mid-west of the United States who returns to his family farm at the end of the American Civil War.  Following the death of his parents he is recruited by an alien to become the custodian of Earth's way station which is hooked into a galaxy-wide teleportation network.  The farmer, Enoch Wallace, is the only man on Earth who is aware of the station or of the existence of other intelligent life-forms in the galaxy.

A hundred years after he has taken on his caretaker role he is being watched by a clandestine Government agency which has picked up rumours of a man who doesn't age or die.   The agency representatives steal the body of an alien who died while on a layover in Enoch's station and the secret that Enoch has kept for so long is threatened with exposure.  Add to this the political intrigues amongst factions of the galactic federation who want to shut down the station, as well as the loss of an artefact that connects the various alien races to the "spirit" of the galaxy and you have a classic mixture of conflicts at numerous levels: the personal, the local, planet-wide and galaxy-wide.  

The resolution of all those conflicts provides the basic thrust of the novel and in lesser hands would generally have involved a lot of action set-pieces.  Simak doesn't follow that route and instead follows a more measured and quieter approach.  The novel is much better for it.

Way Station won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1964 and has always been very highly regarded within the genre.  I think I first read the book back in the late sixties or early seventies; it made an impression on me then that still lingers.  It's quiet and unassuming, with an intriguing set-up and a steady narrative drive.  Don't be fooled by the fact that a lot of the elements of this novel have become sf standards (think of the Stargate franchise on television), this harks back to a time when such ideas were new and fresh.  In the hands of a writer like Simak they still seem to be just that.

Reading Notes: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

| 3 Comments | No TrackBacks

I won't say a lot about the Harry Potter novel I'm been reading, mainly because it doesn't fit my self-imposed boundaries on this weblog, but it does raise some interesting thoughts about the modern reading experience.

You'll be aware by now, hopefully, that the series of Harry Potter novels was completed by Deathly Hallows in 2007, and that the film adaptations of the books are still rolling out.  The sixth of them, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was released only a few months ago - there are two more to come, both based on the last book in the series.

It was probably the fact that I took my ten-year-old along to the latest film that reminded me that I still had book number 7 to finish, and as he was desperate to read the sixth and seventh books in order I decided I'd better get to it as soon as I could.

It's probably been three or four years since I dipped into the literary HP universe, but the films occasionally turn up on the home TV and I watch a bit of them with the kids, marvelling at some parts and cringing at others.  This acts as a visual reminder about the intricacies of Harry's life, his friends and his enemies, so I didn't really need a lot of back-story in the novel to get back into the flow of the novel.  And to Rowling's credit she doesn't go in for the "And as you will recall, Harry,..." infodump technique, she's got too much ground to cover for that, and she can safely presume a high level of back-story familiarity on the part of her readers. 

Film adaptations of novels are quite common and there have been times when I've read the book before I watched the film, and vice versa.  So that experience is familiar enough, but Harry Potter moves into something a little different.  I'm fully aware of some film adaptations that I will not see on the basis that I enjoyed the book so much I don't want my vision of the work affected by someone else's: The French Lieutenant's Woman is one that comes immediately to mind. 

But I'm wondering if this is the first time I've read a series of books, while at the same time watching a sequence of films based on the earlier books in the series? 

Since these films started to be produced in 2001 we've had the Twilight series on film falling into this same category, Dexter and True Blood on television, and probably a number of others.  I haven't read the books these TV and film series are based on, so Harry Potter is the only one of its type that actively affects me.  And I'm wondering if my reading experience has been significantly changed by this juxtaposition of film and book?  And, if it has, is there any way to quantify the amount? 

I doubt it. Whenever I read this latest novel, my mind's eye conjures up the actors from the films in place of any written description of the characters, and I suspect that in the future I won't be able to differentiate the book from the film. I can't help it; it's the way I'm wired.

Reading Notes: Dying Inside by Robert Silverberg

The recent re-issue of Dying Inside, Robert Silverberg's classic sf novel from the early 1970s, and the subsequent excellent reviews it started to garner, prompted me to check my bookshelves to see if I had a copy. I did, and as soon as I dragged it off the shelf I realised I knew next to nothing about it.

The edition I have is a Ballantine Books paperback from October 1973. It's a US edition with a cover price of $1.25, a slight crack in the spine, and a minor 1cm by 1cm water stain (coffee?) on the first four or five pages. And I have no idea of when or where I bought it.

Generally such US editions wouldn't come into my hands unless I had bought them directly from the States (which I did a bit of in the 1970s) or from a second-hand bookstore. Paperbacks of this kind were considered to be fairly disposable by used-book sellers so it would normally have an Australian price in pencil on an inside page, or in ink on the cover. I can find no evidence of either of those.

I have no idea how long the book has been in my possession, but I can safely say I've never read it before. I knew of it but Silverberg was never one of my big favourites back then. Not that I disliked him, it's just that I was interested in other writers at the time.

So this book is a peculiar one: it's possible that I've had this book for over thirty years without reading it. And that leads me to wonder if there are others on the shelves that date from that time, lying lost and forgotten. I wouldn't be at all surprised.

By the way, the reviews linked to above are pretty accurate: it's a damn good read.

The Glugs of Gosh by C. J. Dennis Continued

The Glugs live in the kingdom of Gosh, ruled over by Splosh their King, and Tush his Queen. But the real power lies with Sir Stodge, who oversees the day to day workings of the kingdom through his minions, the Swanks. The Glugs, as a people, are prosaic and tightly bound by tradition: all eating their meals the same way, sleeping with their feet in the same direction and climbing trees when certain weather conditions apply - which is just about all the time.

In a neighbouring country live the Ogs, the very opposite of the Glugs. The Ogs are industrious and business-like who strike a long-term trade deal with the Glugs: "We'll sell you pianers and pickels and spanners/For seventeen shiploads of stones:/Smooth 'uns or nobbly 'uns,/Firm 'uns or wobbly 'uns,/All we ask is stones." The Glugs are eminently stupid, and are soon trading their stones for "eight-day clocks, And hand-painted screens, and sewing machines, And mangles, and scissors, and socks." Until

So the Glugs continued, with greed and glee,
To buy cheap clothing, and pills, and tea;
Till every Glug in the land of Gosh
Owned three clean shirts and a fourth in the wash.
But they all grew idle, and fond of ease,
And easy to swindle, and hard to please;
And the voice of Joi was a lonely voice,
When he railed at Gosh for its foolish choice.
But the great King grinned, and the good Queen gushed,
As the goods of the Ogs were madly rushed.
And the Knight, Sir Stodge, with a wave of his hand,
Declared it a happy and prosperous land.
Which sounds more than a little familiar in this Australia of ours.

One Glug, Joi, gets a bit disgusted with all this behaviour, and says so. Sir Stodge doesn't take too kindly to this and has Joi executed for his behaviour. Joi's son Sym, a tinker with a talent for rhyming poetry, decides he is better off on the road and leaves home rather than get into trouble with the authorities. Some time later the Mayor of Quog, a small suburb of Gosh, becomes peeved that he is being ignored by the King and decides the only way he can get more attention is by getting rid of Sir Stodge. An ancient book carries a prophesy that in times of need a tinker will appear, recite three rhymes and all will be well. Sym is still remembered in Gosh and he is sought and railroaded into the cause. He recites the three required rhymes, but this only incites Sir Stodge to action and, in a public debate in the market place, Sym is ridculed and Sir Stodge holds sway. Sym makes a hasty getaway.

About this time the Glugs discover that they have run out of stones, having traded them all for consumer goods from the Ogs. The Ogs also realise this and launch an invasion of Gosh using the stones as missiles. This pretty much destroys Gosh society as they have nothing left with which to defend themselves; Sir Stodge is killed in the process. The King is at a loss for what to do until he remembers Sym, who basically refuses the Kings' request for assistance and retires to the hills with his wife and little red dog. The Glugs continue on as before having learnt no lessons whatsoever, and Sym lives happily in his small house looking down on the Kingdom below.

This is a very strange book: strange in the sense that it comes as a complete style shift from Dennis's earlier work. His The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke was written in clipped phonetic slang about the larrikin push of Melbourne and the romantic tale of Bill and Doreen; Ginger Mick extended that slang and added in the story of the diggers in the trenches of the First World War. Here Dennis has written a verse-novel in a genre that was not to become popular until the 1980s when Terry Pratchett got into stride with his Discworld novels. It wasn't the first political satire that Dennis wrote, but the previous examples tended to be more party political in nature - Dennis at this time was on the centre-left of politics, having worked in Sydney on the Labor Party's newspaper in the lead-up to the 1914 election.

[Further thoughts later.]

The Glugs of Gosh by C.J. Dennis

I'm back reading The Glugs of Gosh by C.J Dennis again in preparation for something coming up later in the week that I'll have to tell you about later. (I'm not trying to be mysterious, just making sure I don't look like a complete dill if it doesn't come off.)

I don't know how long it's been since I last read it - five years maybe - and while I do remember a lot of it some of the finer nuances of the book had escaped me. For those not familiar with the book, it was Dennis's 1917 third verse-novel, following the runaway success of The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke in 1915 which went on to sell some 300,000 copies over the next seventy years, and The Moods of Ginger Mick, published a year later. His two better-known books dealt with, firstly, the larrikin "Push" of Melbourne and the romantic tale of Bill and Doreen, and, with Ginger Mick, the experiences of an ordinary Australian soldier during the first World War.

Glugs is a complete departure from the subject-matter of these two books. It is written as a book for children, but is really a political satire. Margaret Herron, Dennis's wife, wrote in her memoir, Down the Years, that the author considered this his best work. This is also confirmed in a letter written by Dennis in which he states that Glugs, and The Singing Garden - a collection of his nature poems from "The Herald" newspaper - were the works he considered most highly. Which is all rather odd.

The Singing Garden was never reprinted to the best of my knowledge, and Glugs is probably his least-known work. Public opinion, measured by sales and familiarity with the work, would lead us towards The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke as Dennis's best. Two film versions - one silent and one "talkie" - stage adaptations, and an Australian stamp series haven't done the Bloke any major harm. But Dennis's opinion shouldn't be ignored, even if it is a bit hard to follow.

In her memoir, Herron indicates that the book was first started to amuse the ill son of J.G. Roberts. (Roberts was Dennis's mentor in the early to mid-1910s. Dennis camped out on Roberts's property in the Dandenongs in a converted tramway car while writing The Sentimental Bloke, the final book edition of which is dedicated to Roberts and his wife.) The first chapter from Glugs was published in "The Bulletin" magazine in June 1915, and is basically a self-contained portion of the final story. The second excerpt appeared in the same magazine a month later and was again written as a stand-alone story. Some time after that Dennis must have decided that there was a lot more to the tale than he had already told and started work on expanding the two poems into a full-blown verse-novel, and weaving in portions of other, early poems, such as "The Snare" from 1913, which were not originally related to the Glugs story at all. [More to follow.]

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Reading Notes category.

Quotes is the previous category.

Readings is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Monthly Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.23-en