Tuesday, September 14, 2010

August, cold and dank and wet

Right again, Flanders and Swann! You're getting good at this meteorology lark.

It's all kicked off this last couple of weeks - I've finally found a recruitment agency who's got me some (temporary) work, and I've volunteered myself as a columnist for our SF group's monthly 'zine. Currently still in the time management adjustment zone. The book blogs are likely to get shorter from here on in.

The Man Who Knew Too Much, GK Chesterton
The Trees of Pride, GK Chesterton
Tales of the Long Bow, GK Chesterton
An omnibus edition of some of Chesterton's less well-known works, brought on by my previous enjoyment of other GKC books. This American small press edition is overtly marketed as a collection of detective stories, but the contents lean much more towards the "mystery" end of the spectrum. In its favour, the proofreading, while not perfect, is much better than that of the Wordsworth editions of GKC books I've read, and it doesn't have an annoying preface that gives away all the endings. Or indeed any kind of preface. Probably better off without.
The Man Who Knew Too Much is not to be confused with the Hitchcock film, and concerns a string of crimes in high places, solved by a well-connected man who isn't able to reveal the ghastly truth to anyone except his naive sidekick. Some good material, but it hasn't particularly stuck in my mind since reading.
The Trees of Pride is actually a single story of roughly novella length, which revolves around the supposedly baleful influence of a trio of exotic trees in a landowner's grounds and the disappearance of the landowner when he tries to prove that the trees are perfectly harmless. This one was really good, with a definite sinister air in the early parts and some brilliant twists at the end. Well worth a re-read at some point.
Tales of the Long Bow is another series of connected stories, much lighter in tone than the other pieces included here, although it does veer into politics towards the end. The title is a reference to a now archaic turn of phrase - to shoot a long bow = to tell a tall tale. Through various bits of trickery, characters literally eat their hat, make pigs fly, set the Thames on fire or otherwise act out figures of speech. They band together as the "Long Bowmen" and campaign for political power on the basis that they deliver on impossible promises, whereas traditional politicians fail even to deliver the possible. Entertaining and more than a little pointed.

The Child Thief, Brom
A dark modern retelling of Peter Pan. Peter, the eponymous Child Thief, haunts the less pleasant neighbourhoods of New York, looking for "lost" children that he can lure away to the Isle of Avalon, where he's building an army to drive out a destructive community of Puritan settlers. This book stubbornly refused to do what I expected it to do, instead serving up a string of plot twists in the final chapters. The only thing I successfully predicted was the revelation about Peter's parentage. A good read.

Doctor Who and the Daleks (formerly Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks), David Whitaker
I've spent the last few months gradually acquiring a select handful of the old DW novelisations, partly because Jo's been buying and reading second-hand copies of her childhood favourites, and partly because I spotted this first item in pristine condition in a local bookshop for a mere five bucks, and it seemed a shame not to. I initially planned to restrict myself to the original three novelisations - Daleks, Zarbi and Crusaders - and Donald Cotton's trio of historical romps, but seized by nostalgia, I ended up getting twenty or so. They're a mix of the very early titles - quite a few Pertwees - a number of Hartnell stories that were among the first DW books I owned, and a few later worthies. I've managed not to spend more than ten bucks (about £4.50) getting hold of any of them, which I'm pleased about.
I had planned to spend a happy month reading through them, but what with work and the like, it's looking more like two months or longer. Well, here goes.
DW and the Daleks was actually my first Who novelisation, as well as the first Who novelisation back in 1965 (possibly even the first TV novelisation in Britain, although I'm unable to find out for sure). It's been written with love, compressing the Dalek story into the available space while hugely expanding the characters and completely rewriting the series' origins. (I was astounded when I later discovered that there'd been another TV story before this one...) It's still one of the very best books in the series, and a great children's book in its own right.
Fans of the post-2005 series might be amused to learn that Whitaker includes a romantic sub-plot between Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright barely even hinted at in the TV series - the show's first script editor, also the show's first 'shipper.

Doctor Who - Marco Polo, John Lucarotti
This was another of the first Who books I read, although it doesn't stand up so well to mature scrutiny. There's a good story in here trying to get out, but it's held back by Lucarotti's complete inability to inject a single hint of action into even the most dramatic scenes. I'd be tempted to get hold of the audio CD and give that a try instead (no DVD as the episodes were wiped and remain lost), but it's seven episodes long. What Lucarotti is good at is description, and there's plenty of scope for that in the story of a months-long journey from Pamir to Peking in the company of Marco Polo. I just think it might have benefited from being perhaps 40 or 50 pages longer, and having an editor go through and liven it up a bit(/lot) in places.

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