Thursday, 6 March 2014


Since it's world book day and 1000's of children including mine are in school today discussing and finding out about the value of books in our lives I thought I would add my 2 pennies to the discussion and share some of the books that have stuck with me ever since I read them and why. Also why I think they should be read and remembered.

My husband and I have alot of books they are everywhere so I am sure I have missed one or two and will kick myself later but I fudged out some of the 'real special to me ones'.

Brightness Falls From The Air & The Misenchanted Sword.

Now I put these two together as I read them first at about the same time/age and they really stuck with me.   Brightness Falls From The Air is described on this edition as 'An extraordinary Experience' and it's not wrong.  Reading this book is quite an experience.  It's a Sci Fi book in basic terms but don't let that put you off.  This book has some of the best character descriptions in a book ever! (imo).  It's set on a planet where years before a star exploded and destroyed almost all of a race of aliens and three humans two men and a woman a (one man and woman are a couple the other is a sex starved doctor) are waiting for a group of very unusual guests to turn up so they can view the last rising of a manmade nova.  Now at first you get all the guests arriving and all these different characters thrown at you . Including a group of porn stars..yes porn stars its really weird. I could list every character and why they were there but I would be typing for weeks as there is so much going on. It turns out to be a murder mystery wrapped in a sci fi novel with this stars nova going on all at the same time.  There is a stand off in it and a big show down .  Some would say this book is a bit melodramatic and silly but it really stood out to me and really shocked me at the time especially the fight shall I call it, at the! Fan's of Tiptree seem to be split down the middle regarding this book and while I agree it's probably not her best in terms of writing (I would say stories from The Starry Rift are better in that department) this is still my favourite and I think often overlooked book of hers.  I say hers as James Tiptree was her pseudonym she was really Alice Bradley Sheldon and kept the knowledge that she was a female writer quiet for alot of her career as people bought more books from male authors especially in the Sci Fi genre. She was a troubled character and when she was 71 she took her husbands life (he was unwell and almost blind) and then took her own life when they were found they were both lying hand in hand.  Now according to Wiki The James Tiptree, Jr. Award is given in her honour each year for a work of science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender.

Next is The Misenchanted Sword and it is probably one of my top 5 favourite books of all time. It wont win any outstanding books of the century awards but I don't care as the story spoke to me and I love it.  It's just the way the main character is in the book he does not want to be a hero at all he just wants to mind his own business and get on with his life.  It starts with Valder who was a scout and is being pursued by the enemy (one of them a sorcerer) and has been for some nights and days when he stumbles into a marsh .  When he notices a dry area he sees a small hut and a man and calls out to him they meet and Valder explains he was separated from his unit and could he have some assistance. The old man takes him into his hut . There Valder realises that the old man is a wizard .  All is OK until the old man realises that Valder has lead the enemy to them and looses his temper as he was living in the marsh to avoid being involved in the war that is going on. In the panic at the enemy getting closer the wizard flicks through some of his old books and randomly picks out a spell to try and protect them and fools the enemy into thinking that he and Valder are dead.  Then before Valder leaves the wizard enchants his sword for him to give him a hand in escaping further. Valder is not really sure what the spell is until later when he draws his sword and finds that it cant be re sheathed until it has killed... It also gives its wielder incredible sword skills so that it never misses a kill.  However there is a catch, the spell will last until 100 enemy lives are taken at which point the sword will turn on its owner and slay him in turn. Now that is the basic premise of the story.  But as it goes on you find Valder who really just wants to get rid of this sword gets turned into an assassin for his side in the war and forced into it and by this he is using up his kills and getting closer to the end of the spell where the sword will kill him.  What ensues is a fantastic and funny story of his misfortunes and adventures. You feel for him he does not want to kil,l he hates it, he tries to get rid of the sword but he cant as even when he tries to loose it, it finds him. Near the end he retires and buys an inn and has a chance encounter with the wizard once again...and then there is a small but rather funny twist.

I just loved this story and indeed most of the stories by Lawrence Watt Evans (his Basilisk stories are particularly good) it was one of those stories that just really stuck with me and I urge anyone to read this as its so enjoyable and such a change from the normal 'hero' we get in books.

I am always in debate with my husband over the qualities of this book. I think its genius he thinks meh.  It's classed as a fantasy but it is not in the conventional sense i.e there are no wizards no spells no monsters.  It's starts with the line that our main character ''Jeff Winston was on the phone with his wife when he died''.  Now he wakes up back in 1963 and he is 18 again. At first of course he thinks its a dream but as he starts to interact with people from his past he realises that its not and that is is really happening to him.  This keeps happening and going in loops as every time he reaches 1988 again he cannot prevent his death.   It happens every time and then every time he wakes up again in 1963 but this time later by a few hours and each time he completes a loop it jumps forward, days, weeks then decades closer to 1988 and his impending death from heart attack.  In one of his cycles he notices a film has been made which is a similar story to what has been happening to him and as he does not remember this movie in previous cycles he seeks out the writer and finds that she is going through the same thing as him and is 'replaying' her life over and over again.  They start a relationship but their replays start at different times so they try and send each other messages in papers and letters so find each other in time .  In one replay they even try and go public with what is happening to them.. I cant say more without totally ruining it. But the novel asks you to question what would I do in this situation? would I try and make money? he does in one life. He of course uses his knowledge of the future to bet on things and buy stocks . He becomes a total jerk for alot of his replays , he tries to be a good husband in one he tries to find out why this is happening to him in another.. what would you do? again this is something I urge every one to have a read of and decide for themselves. It is in the top 100 modern day fantasy books to read list and it is well deserved.  If you liked The Time Travellers Wife or found Groundhog day intriguing then do check this out...remember it came first.  The author Ken Grimwood was writing a sequel to this book when ironically he died of a heart attack.

Heart Of Shadows

A merchant finds an unusual stone shaped like a heart and takes it home...then asks his son to get it valued this is where the trouble starts and it brings them nothing but trouble and death.  The stone is also being pursued by a hideous inhuman creature called Skalatin and he wont stop until he gets it.  Sound familiar? yea it does have similarites with that ring and that Gollum but personally I found Skalatin to be Gollum times 100 he is just vile! the detail that the author puts in about him when at one point he captures the heroine in the story Meglan is just brilliant as you really feel tense as to what will happen next.  Its such a good story it has so many things going on but you don't get bored even with the parts where they discuss the food these parts of the book make me hungry. They describe Spicy lamb on a bed of semolina, marinated chick pea sauce with wild parsley, flaked herb potatoes, olives then Juicy pink charcoaled prawns, squid in yellow bean sauce, oysters stewed in golden ale, crayfish with rose sauce and almond milk, and fragrant rice.  Tangy iced sherbets and fresh dates stuffed with soft cheese, then figs, pomegranates and oranges and elegant wines!  COME ON! let me eat it all now! that is right up my street!

Apart from that the two main hero's, I guess you would call them, in this are great.  The male teenager the son that was sent to value the Heart in the first place is a great character but the strength of the story lies with his sister Meglan the other teenager,  she puts up with/goes through so much! she retains her cool most of the time and is thoughtful and clever and above all very, very brave. Honestly this girl would have Xena for breakfast Katniss for lunch and still have room for Wonder Woman for dinner. The royalty tries to take advantage of her she becomes the main objective for the gross and evil Skalatin' to possess and generally has to put up with alot of chauvinism.  For example she arrives after a particularly stressful time to an inn as she needs to see a professor the clerk there 'Looked Meglan up and down, seeming to have difficulty in accepting what he saw before him. narrow lips twitched and affronted expression clouded the man's features.  'What did you say? ' I wish to speak to Professor Ractoban. Is he here? 'That is not possible' 'It is important I must' The clerk looked her insolently in the eye and said quietly, you are a woman'  Meglan stared him down, narrowing her eyes 'I am quite aware of that!' ''   Needless to say he regrets what he said to her there.  Honestly this is a fantastic adventure and well worth a read. It was one of those books that after reading it sticks with you for ages.

The Practice Effect

I wish, wish, wish, wish they would make this into a film! why have they not done this!? whoever 'they' are.  With today's abilities with SFX it would be a doddle and would make such an awesome movie a break from the boring rom coms and ultra violent drivel we seem to get so much of.  And while I know those other styles of films do have a place I would love to see a change and something really different made.  The story is about a physicist called Dennis Nuel , yep Dennis not a typical hero name. anyway he is sent to probe strange realms called anomaly worlds. Alternative universes where the lays of science are changed/different this is done via a "Zievatron" a machine that allows travel between these worlds.   He comes to a world which seems like ours but is have one really notable difference.  That is when objects are used in this world they don't wear out instead they change they improve...with what is known as 'The Practice Effect' .  I cant say too much without really ruining this one .  But needless to say its brilliant, it has a good sense of humour and there is a fantastic part in the book where they need to escape and so have to 'practice' items to make a vehicle to escape.  The love interest in it is very sweet Linorra and she calls him 'Dennizz'.  A really fun read which I do think would make for an interesting film adaptation. 

The Stars My Destination

This book (originally called Tiger, Tiger) it has been likened to a sic fi Count of Monte Cristo well this character starts off being a dull uneducated person who ends up being marooned in space on a ship for 170 days and has to survive. He still remains very passive and unresisting,and unassertive, to this until an apparent rescue ship passes him and deliberately ignores.  This finally triggers something in him and he becomes enraged and decides to exact revenge. He this is motivated to repair the ship but then gets captured by a cargo cult who tattoo a mask of a tiger on his face. He eventually escapes but is captured again and put in a jaunte-proof prison.  To find out what Jaunte means you will have to read the book.  He ends up going through many guises he becomes such a vile character.  He is selfish, violent, and bent on revenge. Its a different way of looking at a main character as you don't like him as such as he is so vile but you find yourself trying to sympathise with him sometimes...

He seeks out the captain of the ship that passed him by when he was marooned and kidnaps a telepath to enable him to interrogate the captain who he cant torture as she has had all her sensory nerves disabled so is immune.  There are many more twists and turns and I cant write about all of them without major plot spoilers but needless to say its an excellent read and again one that really did stick with me .  I was unable to read anything after this for quite a while as it does play on your mind and it sits at no 5 in the SF Masterworks collection so pretty near the top of the pile.

''Gully Foyle is my name 
And Terra is my nation 
Deep space is my dwelling place 
The stars my destination''

Inverted World
Now this was on a recommendation list on Amazon and I remembered that Christopher Priest wrote The Prestige which I thought was a great read and turned into quite a good film too.   I am glad I took the recommendation and read this . The book is put into 5 parts and the first, third and fifth parts are narrated by the main character Helward Mann and the second part follows Helward and the forth part is about Elizabeth Khan but in third person.  Helward lives in a city called 'Earth' this city is winched along very, very slowly on tracks that have to be taken up behind it and placed in front and it is always heading for the mysterious "optimum".  The people don't think they are on real earth and the city called Earth is itself very small.  The people live in the hope that rescue will come from the real earth one day.

Anyway Helward turns ''650 miles'' old and is sent to the guild of 'Future Surveyors' there are different types of guilds where the children are bought up to be different types of workers. Only men are allowed to work .  Women are bartered for in nearby villages where they have a need of supplies as the city does not seem to produce females.  Only men are allowed outside the city.  Helward is given a wife and she hates that he is not allowed to speak of the outside world as he knows it.  He leaves for a mission (which details I shan't say or I will spoil the story) when he returns he discovers that time moves differently outside and in the city of Earth years have passed.  His wife has given him up for dead and remarried.

He goes on another mission to 'Future Survey' for the tracks to go down and meets a woman called Elizabeth who says she came from England a few months ago. He gets excited thinking that the city of Earth will be rescued soon.  But she cant understand what he means as....... and I can't say anymore as I will totally ruin the story.  It does have a big twist at the end and is an excellent read.  Again I think this could make an excellent film.  After all his other novel has been made into one.  I hope they attempt this as well.

I cant put all my favourite books on here as the list will be massive and I am getting tired of typing and need new glasses.  The jist of this post was to put on books that impacted me and made me think in a diffident way.  Which these did.  I cant go however without mentioning Robert Heinlein books:-

I just put a few in this picture here but I have loads!.  I love almost all of them and he was an outstanding writer who really did, to sound clich├ęd, challenge the thinkings of his time .  One of my favourites of his (not pictured) is Farnham's Freehold which blew my mind a little when I first read it.  If you are going to have a first read of his books I recommend that one first just to give you an idea of what's in store if you read more.

I do read normal non fiction and autobiographies and the like but I do urge you even if you are not a sci fi fan to try some of the above and see what you are missing.  Common misconception that sci fi is just for nerds and geeks and that the stories are all the same is old fashioned and wrong.

What books changed the way you think? or impacted on you? Comment and please follow.

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