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Arabella of Mars (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 30 April 2017 09:06

kay, so the Napoleonic Wars are still taking place. There's that.

And there is colonialism. Again, a constant of the British Empire.

But then there is the fact that space isn't, well, space. It's full of air.

And with sailing ships that can lift on massive hot air balloons to low earth orbit, where they can set their sails and move about on interplanetary jet-streams and then, when they get to a planet, deploy heated chutes to come in for landing, yeah, so it's rather a different 1813 than you could imagine.

So young Arabella is a daughter of a rich landowner on Mars, interested in the ways and affairs of the natives (an English colony, of course. Why stop with India?), a pants-wearing tomboy. This latter fact causes her mother to decide that the frontier has made her too wild and packs her (and her sisters) back home. Now a societal prisoner of cold uninteresting England, poor Arabella pines for her native planet. Yet, while visiting relatives, she overhears her cousin Simon hatching a plot to travel to Mars and kill her brother and assume the family fortune. Locked away, it is up to Arabella to utilize her pluck, travel to Mars and stay Simon's assassinating hand.

So she'll be a busy girl.

Arabella of Mars calls on a number of period tropes for its telling, and that's fine. I recognize the bits of a girl shipping as a boy aboard a merchantman, of overhearing mutinous plans, of French space privateers and likely lads and mysterious Indian captains (a.k.a Nemo). And of course, we have the Indian Mutiny (cast with Martians) for the heroine to deal with.

So here's the deal on this book (first of a series, implied): just go with it. Yeah, it's silly and fantastic and difficult to explain to your literary chums, but it's fun. It's pretty much Treasure Island and Kidnapped cast in space, with a dash of steampunk and a gallon of daring-do. I have to admit that I enjoyed it. I think you will too. So go out and get this one. Just get over the air-in-space deal and you'll be fine.

(and this is coming from a guy writing a story about people travelling about the moon on ice-runner boats!)

>>>IF YOU LIKE MORE REALISM WITH YOUR TALES, CHECK OUT MY HISTORIC FICTION (FIRE AND BRONZE). OR, IF YOU DO LIKE STEAMPUNK, I'VE GOT SOMETHING FOR YOU (EARLY RETYREMENT). FOLLOW THIS LINK TO THE GIFT SHOP!<<<

Last Updated on Sunday, 30 April 2017 09:31
 
London Under (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 23 April 2017 14:39

nyone who's played a game within the last 40 years probably knows about D&D (Dungeons and Dragons). In its most basic form, players take the role of magic users and warriors and travel into the dungeon of a castle long swept away, to fight all the monsters who horde treasure therein.

Economically, it makes no sense. Biologically, it makes no sense. Rationally, it's a joke. But it's still fun.

But while a dungeon chock full of monsters who understand economic principles (and, seemingly, doorknobs) seems unlikely, equally unlikely are the places that exist beneath London. The remnants of old streets from Roman times. Ancient vaults, crypts, and cells. Passageways chiseled for purposes unknown. Even rivers, redirected beneath the streets to ease their passage (and stench).

And now the London Underground. And bomb shelters and redoubts from World War Two. And all those telecommunication lines, water lines, gas lines.

Wow.

As a game designer, I think this would be a better game than silly old D&D. Rumors of cavemen from prehistoric times, of tribes driven under by the great fire, of cockroaches the size of your arm and rats the size of small ponies. Imagine the encounter tables!

So, yes, Peter Achroyd's fine book Under London was a delight to read. I picked it up in a used bookshop in Easton Pa while haunting about, killing time. Read a good chunk of it waiting for the bike shop to open. It works logically through its materials, briefly discussing London and its history (and belowground geography). Then we read about the first raw sewers and underground cells. The rising of the ground (through the gradual collection of dirt and filth) lifts the city, making first floors into cellars. Rivers are vaulted over. Then there is a good deal of information about bringing water in (as the population expands) and (well after the fact) taking it back out again. For me, I was quite interested in the section on the tube, including the stations build, abandoned, and in some cases, forgotten. A very fun book!

So, if you are standing around in bike shorts on a cold April day inside a tiny little bookshop, look this one up. Only don't try this in Easton - I already got that one!

>>>IF YOU LIKE YOUR HISTORY ABOVEGROUND, CHECK OUT MY HISTORIC NOVELS HERE!<<<

Last Updated on Sunday, 23 April 2017 14:58
 
We are Pirates (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 16 April 2017 18:03

e are Pirates is a weird little book, and comes to us from Daniel Handler, author of A Series of Unfortunate Events. And if you think this is another YA book, perfect for that "gateway" panacea drug you parents are always searching for your children to become readers... no. Not this one. Grownups only, here. Trust me.

So Gwen Needle is the young, frustratedly confused daughter of Phil Needle, mid-life-crisis guy who is currently involved in television productions (and if there is any place where reality is shaped to meet popular demands, it is here). Gwen has just enacted her right-of-passage-into-troubled-teenhood - shoplifting, of course. Caught and released into the toxic atmosphere of her parent's sick and failing relationship, she is "punished" by being sent to an old folks’ home to provide company and companionship for some of the older failing bulbs. And one Magoo, Errol, catches her attention. In his room he's got pirate books by the shelfload. And these she reads. And suddenly the idea of becoming a pirate (even in San Francisco Bay, on a boat used for lame pirate shows) becomes an out for her. She can find her freedom from her classes, from the boy who rejected him, and, of course, from her parents.

And assembling a small band of pirates (or, in the historical sense, misfits) she beings her short yet colorful journey.

And my word of warning - if you think this is a YA book where everyone waves cutlasses that don't bite, that people end up poorer but wiser, that people bungle to a laugh track and everything is just innocent hijinks, think again. There is blood on the deck, lots of blood. Pirates aren’t Disneytronics - they are murderous thugs, and released from the constraints that her father flails against, Gwen goes fully into it. Yes, the book is funny, but it is graphic, too. So don’t buy this book and have your children read it for you - grow a pair and read it for yourself.

Overall, I enjoyed this one. It was a good book, and I kept at it, even when the decks were red*.

>>>MY BOOKS ARN'T REALLY YA BOOKS, EITHER. SO MAYBE YOU NEED TO CHECK THEM OUT TOO. DOWN THIS LINK TO OUR LITTLE GIFT SHOP!

* with Pizza.

Last Updated on Sunday, 16 April 2017 18:28
 
Bicycle Diaries (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 09 April 2017 00:00

o if I tell you Bicycle Diaries was written by David Byrne, you're going to snap your fingers and say "Byrne, Byrne! Where have I heard that name before?"

Talking Heads. Okay, now remember? He was involved in that group.

So since the eighties, Byrne has been interested in traveling the world (as part of his work, and also part of his spirit). And over much of these travels, he brings a folding bike with him so he can explore and expand through these new cultures.

The book isn't a clear diary - it doesn’t follow his life day-by-day. Rather, it studies each city mostly from its ability to be a city, to move its people while not surrendering (as it is all too easy for cities to do) to the poisonous allure of the automobile. And while you might be thinking, Oh, that's just Robert - then you haven’t really looked at the world as Byrne has (and I have). You don't see the neighborhoods slashed wide open by eight lanes of elevated roaring mayhem. You haven't really noticed neighborhoods that wither and die as cities become rumbling fume-traps and whites flight to their spacious sprawl. Yes, for all the good it's given us in terms of freedom and flexibility, the car has robbed us of lives and communities. So think about that next time you yell at a cyclist to get on the sidewalk.

Byrne dosn't just logjam about cars for his entire book. He also looks at cultures, how they've changed in the last thirty years, their people and customs and such. Overall, it's very interesting reading. And for many of my tour-bus travels, it makes we wish I'd had a bike too, and wandered about cities and towns and lonely roads, looking for adventure amid the exotic backgrounds.

There is also a great deal about music here, many memories of small smoky clubs and dissections of musical cultures, sub-cultures, and even sub-sub-cultures. I hadn't given it much thought but when you consider it, every district in some city might have several bands playing whatever venue they can find, trying to get their music out. And these bands are trying to find their own sound, be it a mix of regional and international flair. So if you think all Latino music is Latino music, you'll find out otherwise here.

So overall, a very good book, one full of travel and insight, long enough to be worth it but not overly so. I'll give it a check-it-out rating, especially for musicians and cyclists in my readership.

>>>AND WHILE YOU ARE AT IT, CHECK OUT MY BOOKS HERE. EASY TO BUY, CHEAP TO PAY FOR, THE PERFECT BOOK FOR A LAZY OUTSIDE DAY!<<<

Last Updated on Sunday, 02 April 2017 08:39
 
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