Books That Changed My Life

Not being given to hyperbole, let me define exactly what I mean.

I’m not talking about books I just liked a lot.

I’m not talking about books that I was exposed to so young that they didn’t change my beliefs or interests however much they shaped me.

I’m not talking about books that deepened an already nascent interest.

These are books that changed the direction of my life. The change was not a gentle, unrecognized pushing of my life along a new vector. These books were violent nudges. Continue reading “Books That Changed My Life”

Lord of the Green Planet

Emil who?Petaja-LordGreen

I didn’t know either. I’ve even seen the name on Ace Doubles at a local used bookstore. I would have guessed, given that I live in an area with many of them, that he was a Finn. John Clute’s Science Fiction Encyclopedia entry on Petaja confirms he was an American of Finnish descent.

It also mentions that his best known work is a science fiction series based on the Finnish epic poem, the Kalevala. Ian Watson was later to do a two book series based on that work too: Lucky’s Harvest and The Fallen Moon. But, of course, Watson’s and Petaja’s series weren’t the only thing inspired by that Finnish saga. One J.R.R. Tolkien was a fan of it too. Thus, in some sense, Finland’s influence on modern Anglophone fantasy is rather like Jamaica’s influence on global popular music — way out of proportion to its size. Continue reading “Lord of the Green Planet”

Five Against Arlane, or The Tom Purdom Project, Part 3

A modern ruler could do almost anything, apparently, if he didn’t tamper with the medical care his subjects were used to.

Purdom-ArlaneThis 1967 novel, half of an Ace Double, was the first of Purdom’s stories set in this universe of travel between planets at relativistic, i.e. slightly slower than light, speeds, where most of the travelers between the stars are traders, and where humans have managed to greatly extend their lives with medical care. Follow up stories were 1970’s “A War of Passion” (which I have not read yet) and 2010’s “Haggle Chips” which I reviewed in part 1 of the Tom Purdom Project.

As the cover blurb says, this is a “revolt against the mind tyrant”. Continue reading “Five Against Arlane, or The Tom Purdom Project, Part 3”

The Tom Purdom Project, Part 2

The imprudent title of this post refers to my intention to read the complete science fiction works of Tom Purdom.

Like most such reading projects, it will probably not be completed in my lifetime — not because of the time involved but because of my desultory ways and easily distracted personality.

The first entry of the Tom Purdom project is a review of his recent collection, the only one of his career so far, Lovers & Fighters, Starships & Dragons. I actually became aware of Purdom about ten years ago, so I’ll briefly review, or at least list, stories of his I’ve read to date and that aren’t included in his collection.

His “Romance in Extended Time” from the March 2000 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction was my first encounter with Purdom. While I recall liking it, I have not found any notes recording my detailed reactions. It is part of what Purdom refers to as his Casanova in  Space series. He talks about their inspiration and the details of writing them in entries four and five of his engaging literary memoir. Continue reading “The Tom Purdom Project, Part 2”

Am I an Unlicensed Therapist?

At the Daily Telegraph is a curious piece about “bibliotherapists”.

… bibliotherapists will serve up suggestions suited to your particular tastes, guiding you to enchanting books you may not be aware of.

Perhaps here is an untapped revenue stream for all us amateur book reviewers looking to monetize our blogs for a bit more than the value of a few review copies.

The School of Life in London offers this service for ” £80 per consultation”.

I, of course, will entertain invitations from any one willing to form a cartel of book reviewers to corner this nascent but valuable market.


Skull in the Ashes

untitledI’m not usually a true crime reader. The only reason I picked this book up was because it’s set in Iowa, and I spend a fair amount of time in parts of the state. By itself, that wouldn’t have made me read it, but I was curious about the “gold rush manhunt”, and that was the best part. It was a quick enough read, I’m not sorry I picked it up.

Review: Skull in the Ashes: Murder, a Gold Rush Manhunt, and the Birth of Circumstantial Evidence in America by Peter Kaufman, 2013.

As long as you don’t take the “birth of circumstantial evidence” bit too seriously, this is an entertaining true crime book. Or, at least, so it seemed to me, but I seldom read in the genre. Continue reading “Skull in the Ashes”

Forgotten Science Fiction: Goslings by J. D. Beresford

James W. Harris over at his Auxiliary Memory blog (see below) started an interesting discussion on post-apocalyptic novels, a favorite subject of mine, so I’m doing something different and reblogging his post and adding a list of some of my own favorite post-apocalyptic novels.

A note on taxonomy: the science fiction subgenres of the disaster and post-apocalyptic novels often blur. I’m not going to mention novels where the old order is essentially reasserted after some convulsion be it via plague, war, asteroid impact, or nanotech disaster.

For purely sentimental reasons, I’ll start with Christopher Anvil’s The Day the Machines Stopped. This one has electrical technology grinding to a halt after some accident in the Soviet Union. To be honest, I don’t even remember how it ended, so I don’t know if qualifies as a true post-apocalyptic novel or not. I read it decades ago, in grade school, during the 1970s. I just remembered the gun battles around grocery stores, and my young brain thinking, “Why, yes, that’s how it would be if there was no more electricity.” A lifelong fascination was born.

Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven’s Lucifer’s Hammer is long and goes the whole spectrum from pre-disaster, through cometary impact, and the new world after. Some issues raised: Are accountants really useful after civilization ends? How do you store books in a hoard? If you’re a feudal lord who used to be a U.S. Senator, do you really owe anything to that one time campaign contributor?

One of the characters in Lucifer’s Hammer was a postman still making his rounds because communicating with other survivors is still useful after life as we know it ends. I suspect he inspired David Brin’s The Postman. Its titular character not only helps bind communities together, but he becomes the accidental and reluctant nucleus for a revival of civilization. Yes, the novel ends with silly super-survivalists, but I still liked it.

Perhaps not a truly post-apocalyptic novel but still good and a fascinating look at the possible effects of even a limited nuclear war was Whitley Strieber (yes, the Communion guy) and James Kunetka’s War Day. Using the John Dos Passos mosaic style, it’s a trip through an America that survived in a shaken and rattled state.

Something a little different but along the same line are the first two installments of Dean Ing’s Ted Quantrill trilogy: Systemic Shock and Single Combat. Set in a “streamlined America” after a limited nuclear war (specifically Ing used, as his starting point, the events of Sir John Hackett’s The Third World War there’s a recent look at it here), it has America under the thumb of a Mormon theocracy with its young hero, Quantrill, as a government assassin. To be honest, I don’t remember much of the plot. (Ing wrote a straight up survivalist novel called Pulling Through which featured an appendix on how to build an improvised fallout shelter in a hurry.)

John Christopher’s No Blade of Grass  aka The Death of Grass is a very good novel, another work that starts in the world before it falls apart, covers the unfraying of civilization due to the death of all grain crops, and covers the beginning of the new order.  There’s Pierre the gun store owner who is one of those memorable characters who comes into his own during the disaster. But he’s not the protagonist. The hero becomes the de facto leader of a group of survivors, and the novel ends memorably with a tragic incident that shows the loyalties and relationships of the old world now count for nothing.

For reason’s Jim covers ably in his reviews, George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides and John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids are rightly regarded as classics. (I take an extended look at the tter here.)

Wyndham’s Out of the Depths is also worth a read. It’s a combination post-apocalypse and alien invasion novel. Wyndam’s interest in the practical skills needed to maintain life and society probably owe something to his unusual education at England’s Bedales School, an education which emphasized gardening and crafts besides traditional academics.



Auxiliary Memory



J. D. Beresford

, is a 1913 post-apocalyptic novel about a plague that sweeps across the world and kills mainly men.  If you follow the link from the book title you can read a 23-part serialization from HiLobrow Books, which is illustrated with period photographs.  HiLobrow also has

reprinted the novel

as a paperback and ebook as part of their

Radium Age Science Fiction Series

.  I listened to the

Dreamscape edition

from that was elegantly read by Matthew Brenher who did a bang-up job narrating the British dialect – just look at this

reproduction of the English edition

to see how hard it would be for a modern American to read.  The book was called

A World of Women

when first published in America.


Beresford was an admirer of H. G. Wells, and combined fiction with scientific philosophy in Goslings, that is part satire, part…

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Lovers & Fighters, Starships & Dragons


Ever since my amateur reviewing reached the point where publishers, editors, and authors sent me books, I’ve always chosen titles out of curiosity and maybe a little sense of duty. I’m not given to passionate gushing about books or using the phrases like “You’ve got to read this book.” That will often produce the opposite effect on me.

No, I don’t have to read that book. I assume that at least a portion of my readers exhibit the same contrarianism.

So I won’t gush about Purdom’s one and only collection. I will just say that it’s been the first review title offered by a publisher that I immediately, enthusiastically requested, and it got moved to the top of the review pile.

I had read several of the stories before. All were at least as good as I remembered. One I liked even better on second reading. Continue reading “Lovers & Fighters, Starships & Dragons”