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The Dead Man’s Story

Told by the Death’s Head: A Romantic Tale

 (Translated by S. E. Boggs)

4 Feb, 2015

Translation

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Mór Jókai’s 1879 Told by the Death’s Head: A Romantic Tale was inspired by an encounter the author was kind enough to describe in his preface: 

In Part II, Vol. 2, of the Rhenish Antiquarius, I once came across a skull that is said — see page 612 — to swing, enclosed in a metal casket, from an iron bar in the foundry of Ehrenbreitstein fortress. Distinction of this order does not fall to an ordinary mortal. Yon empty shell of human wisdom once bore the burden of no less than twenty-one mortal sins — the seven originalia trebled. Each crime is noted. The criminal confessed to the entire three-times-seven, and yet the death sentence was not passed upon him because of the twenty-one crimes. His fate was decided by the transgression of a military regulation.
What if this skull could speak? What if it could defend itself? — relate, with all the grim humor of one on the rack, the many pranks played — the mad follies committed, from the banks of the Weichsel to the delta of the Ganges!
If my highly esteemed readers will promise to give me their credulous attention, I will relate what was told to me by the death’s head. 

And so he does, in a tale that takes us across Europe and beyond, a tale of love, adventure, and casual anti-Semitism. 

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Not quite the Traveller novel I was expecting

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

By Becky Chambers 

1 Feb, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews

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2014’s The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is Becky Chambers debut novel. 

I picked it up because, over on Livejournal, Heron61 said

It’s basically what you’d get if you took Firefly (minus the unfortunate Civil War metaphors) or an average campaign of the Traveller RPG and focused more on interpersonal dynamics and character’s emotional lives, while substantially reducing the level of violence. 

Traveller was the first table top RPG I played extensively and I still remember it fondly. Yes, this book reminds me of Traveller; it even begins with an event that could very well be someone failing their low passage roll [1]. That said, while I see the similarities that Heron61 mentions, I was more strongly reminded of James Tiptree, Jr.‘s short story And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side” … that is, if James Tiptree, Jr. instead of being relentlessly, inexorably depressing, had been a cheerful optimist. The book isn’t quite what I was expecting, but it was a refreshing change of pace.

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a thousand lances of energy intolerable

Grey Lensman  (Lensman, book 4)

By E E Smith 

31 Jan, 2015

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You

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Doc Smith isn’t one of my favourite authors. Recently, someone else’s review led me to wonder why I can ignore archaic writing styles to enjoy other pulp authors, but cannot do so for Doc Smith. One way to answer the question is to reread the very first Smith I ever read, Gray Lensman. This book was originally serialized in Astounding in 1939; I read a 1970s reprint of the 1951 novel version. I now know why I didn’t like Smith. I have to warn you, it’s a pretty stupid reason. 

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I will speak in the bitterness of my soul

Job: A Comedy of Justice

By Robert A. Heinlein 

29 Jan, 2015

Special Requests

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I could tell, even before opening my mass market paperback of 1984’s Job: A Comedy of Justice, that it documented my increasing disenchantment with Heinlein, once one of my favourite authors. (You might not have guessed that from my recent reviews.) Rather than buying the book new, I had purchased a used copy from Mike’s Bookstore [1]. Whoever owned it before me had left it worn and dog-eared before selling it. That person must have liked it more than I did. I don’t think I have reread it once since that first time in the mid-1980s. It’s not that it’s the worst thing Heinlein ever wrote; it’s more of a funny once and by funny once I mean meh.” How the mighty are fallen. 

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Mischief up his sleeve 

The Magic Stone  (Magic Stone, book 1)

By Leonie Kooiker 

28 Jan, 2015

Special Requests

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Leonie Kooiker’s 1974 children’s novel De Heksensteen, offered to Anglophone audiences in 1978 under the title The Magic Stone, makes an interesting palate-cleanser after this week’s snarkfest. I am not familiar with the body of Kooiker’s work and all information available about her seems to be in Dutch … so I would guess that, for some reason, this book and its sequel, Legacy of Magic, weren’t big hits in the English-reading world. Pity. 

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Frontiers of the Mind

Someone to Watch Over Me

By Tricia Sullivan 

27 Jan, 2015

Special Requests

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I find Tricia Sullivan’s work interesting (even if I do not always like it) and collect her books when I can. Unfortunately, only a few of her books have moved to e (and even then they can be difficult to purchase [1]). Her non‑e books aren’t easy to find [2], which is why it took me so long to get around to reviewing a second Sullivan. To my great pleasure, I recently came across a copy of 1997’s Someone To Watch Over Me, a book which had been on my possibles list for the next Sullivan review. So … After an all too long delay, my second Sullivan review. 

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A colossal waste of time

1985

By Anthony Burgess 

26 Jan, 2015

Special Requests

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Yesterday I complained about a novel that was more obscure than it merited. Today’s review features a book that should be more obscure than it is, Anthony Burgess’s 1985 , a thematic sequel of sorts to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four . What this book deserves is 1111 words of me screaming incoherently. That would be a suitable riposte to a book that consists of a book’s worth of an elderly1 conservative moaning on about how the trade unions, women’s lib, gay homosexuals2, and Those Darn Kids ruin everything, leaving poor Britain supine before the virile might of the Islamic world. That might relieve my feelings, but it would not be amusing or instructive to read. So, have a review! A review resentful that I read this crap at all. 

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The anti-Lovecraft

Way Station

By Clifford D. Simak 

25 Jan, 2015

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You

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Clifford D. Simak’s 1963 Hugo-winning novel Way Station in many ways exemplifies the strengths for which Simak was known, as well as some of his characteristic weaknesses. Way Station is also an example of something that is quite rare amongst Hugo-winning novels: it is very much out of print, along with most of Simak’s oeuvre, a development that has left it undeservedly obscure. I may not be able to place the book in your hands but at I least I can remind people it exists.

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