The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp — W. H. Davies

My school house master, Peter Forest, who was also my maths teacher, one day stated in front of the whole class that i’d either grow up to be the next Einstein or a tramp, and that he feared it would most probably be the latter.   Suffice it to say, i never did get around to doing that degree in theoretical physics.

So when i found this book on Amazon it reminded me of Peter Forest and his condemnation of my future and was certainly instrumental in my purchase.   I wasn’t disappointed, so thanks Peter.

The strange thing was the timing, as i let the ‘Infinite Improbability Drive’ always select my next book from ‘The Pile’ and it’s only been a couple of books since i finished ‘Into The Wild’, about Chris McCandless, AKA, Alexander Supertramp.   This book certainly flows nicely on from that.   It makes me wonder if Chris had actually read this amongst all the other books mentioned in his story.

William covers his adventures as a tramp during the late 1800’s, where he ventures far and wide.   The funniest thing for me was that he was a trustifarian.   I had no idea that these creatures existed back in the 1800, but it’s certainly true in William’s case, and he even admits it in the book.

When his grandmother died, instead of willing him her property, which she knew he would squander rather quickly, she instead put it into trust from which he was given an allowance.   So off he goes to America, tramping around, living on hand outs and goodwill, while all the time his weekly allowance from his trust fund is being saved up for his return.   And he can return at any time, by working cattle ships from Baltimore, and even getting paid while doing so.

Even later on when he gets back the England, he continues to drop out into his tramping lifestyle while his trust fund rebuilds his bank account in order to fund his next adventure.   I wonder if William was the original trustifarian, were there others before him?

Without a doubt, a very good inside look into the mind and lifestyle of the typical trustifarian.   But, on top of that, it’s a very revealing look into this odd sub-culture of the underclass of the age and the lifestyles they lead and how they managed to support themselves.   Although, one can’t really get away from realising that most of these people were simply down where they were due to alcoholism, with every opportunity of spending any penny they managed to accrue on getting drunk always eagerly taken — no, nothing much changes.

Anyways, an enlightening piece of history of the Victorian age seen from a very different view point to the normal history books and biographies.

William’s Page

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The Woodcutter — Kate Danley

This is like…   ‘How many fairy tales and folkloric things can you fit into 346 pages and still manage to create a well structured story?’

From ‘Odin’ to ‘Sleeping Beauty’, ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ to ‘Baba Yaga’, and everyone in between, this is none stop from the first page to the last.   And somehow Kate has managed to make it all work in this wonderful story about a Woodcutter — who doesn’t actually cut wood.

If you like fairy tales, folklore, or are maybe looking for something different in a fantasy story, then i don’t think you’ll be disappointed with ‘The Woodcutter’.

My first Kate Danley book, it won’t be my last.

Kate’s Page

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New Caviar — Stephany Brandt

A little novella that just gets to the point.

I really enjoyed it.   And it’s not so unbelievable that people would spend ridiculous amounts on a tin of some food when you see how much some people are prepared to pay for a bottle of wine.   And it’s also not so unbelievable that people will just eat whatever is the fashion without ever questioning the reality of where that substance they’re shoving into their mouths comes from, or what it is.

If Rank Hovis can get millions eating that Quorn shit and Mcfilth can make billions a year in sales, is it any different that a corporation could get people to eat New Caviar?

Hints of Soylent Green — eat up!

Stephany’s Page

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Into the Wild — Jon Krakauer

I enjoyed watching the film, a rarity for me, so when this came up on a Kindle deal for 99p i didn’t hesitate.

After watching the film i was of the mind that Chris McCandless was a total idiot, as apparently were most of the people who heard the basic story of his demise.   But was it fair on him to be portrayed in that way?   I wanted to know a bit more.

Jon was the reporter who first brought this story to the world in an article he was asked to write for ‘Outdoor Magazine’.   But he knew he hadn’t done the story justice in the time constraints that he’d had to get that article written, so he went back over the whole story and wrote this book.

And this book really does put things into context.   One thing the film doesn’t cover is the childhood that Chris and his sister suffered under a domineering, controlling, and oft times abusive, father who demanded excellence all the time, and when Chris found out the truth about his father’s excellence — how Chris and his sister came to be born — i think something really snapped inside him.   He just wanted to be free of everything his father represented, to get as far away from it as possible — and having been bought up by a father like that who i had to escape from at 15 years old into my own wilderness, i can’t blame Chris whatsoever for being like he was and doing what he did, in fact, i totally understand.

As to the writing, this story is incredibly well thought out and presented and really does put a lot of Chris’ behaviour and attitude into a much broader perspective than a film could ever hope to get to.

So if you have watched the film then please don’t just stop with that view of Chris, i don’t think that’s fair.   Take a little while, read this book and get to see a much wider picture of Chris McCandless.

Jon’s Page

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The Bees — Laline Paull

Now that was quite a strange experience.

To begin, this is listed on Amazon as ‘Dystopian’ and ‘Dystopian Science Fiction’, it is neither of these.   How anyone can get to class the typical life cycle of a hive of a honey bee hive to fit either of those genres is utterly beyond my comprehension.

If i were to genre-ise this book then i would put it firmly in the children’s fantasy and children’s education section.   Why?   Because if you have a child who is getting to the age where you have to have that conversation about the birds and the bees, then i think this book would be a great way to broach the subject, both literally and metaphorically.   It pretty much covers everything there is concerning the life cycle of bees but presents it in an anthropomorphic way that i would consider appropriate for children learning about these things.

If i was home schooling a child then this book would definitely be getting read and explored a lot further.   If it was juxtaposed with a genuinely accurate text about the life cycle and habits of honey bees there would be a great deal to discuss with a learning child.   One could also take nature walks with a child to spot the various flowers and trees mentioned, maybe even visit a real bee hive.   I remember when i was a child my local museum had a beehive in a big glass case with the entrance through the back wall behind the case.   It was incredibly fascinating.

But as a book for adults alone, no, it’s just far too childish for my tastes.

The main character, a honey bee that is a freak but isn’t killed by the other bees at birth for being so, becomes some new kind of super bee that seems to be able to resist the hive mind and do whatever she wants and goes through most of the jobs in the hive doing them all better than the bees whose sole job they’ve been bred for.   On top of the childishness of this aspect is the childishness of heavily anthropomorphising this character far above the general anthropomorphising of all the other bees.

Not that i mind a bit of anthropomorphising, but for a honey bee it does get overdone to childishness, which is why i consider this a children’s book.

Other than that, i have to say that it is very well written, with a flowing style and easy language — again, making it very suitable for children.

Rather disappointed, but for 99p i shouldn’t really moan.

Laline’s Page

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Flowers For Algernon — Daniel Keyes

This book is incredible, and truly deserves all the accolades it has received.

What i love about this book is that while the writing itself is simple and easy going, allowing the reader to just fall into the story without distraction, the story itself is incredible in its depth and scope.

I would definitely throw this book in with ‘Black Swan Green’ into the teenage education syllabus.

Essentially a man with an IQ of 70 is given an operation and turned into a genius after the incredible success of performing the same procedure on a white mouse named Algernon.   But where an isolated laboratory mouse appears a total success, a human being with a very challenging past that the new found intelligence has to come to terms with while navigating his way into a new life that he is completely unprepared for in every way, is a totally different story altogether.

For the first 15 years of my life i lived with a very damaged heart and was extremely ill and disabled, only to have my heart fixed at 15 and then left to come to terms with all that had happened to me.   Needless to say, it didn’t go very well.   And reading this book about a child who was extremely mentally disabled who suddenly gets fixed brought a lot of those old feelings from my own experiences back.   At one point i almost gave up reading it, it became so upsetting.   But the book is so well written and i just had to keep going to find out what happens to Charlie.   I’m glad i did.

There is so much truth in this book about the way people are and how they treat those they perceive as lesser than, and also those they perceive as more than.   Add to all that, there are also many parallels between Charlie’s story and the changes between drug addiction and sobriety.   Which, again, i know from experience.   There is, quite simply, a great deal for everyone to learn from this book.

And there’s also so much in this book that leaves me looking forward to reading it again in the future — after its percolated through my conciousness for a while — as i really don’t think one reading can ever do it the justice it deserves.

And that ending…

Daniel’s Page

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South — Ernest Henry Shackleton

A most fascinating piece of history, written up by Ernest from the diaries, logs and journals that survived his calamitous attempt at crossing the Antarctic.   It seems that if it could have gone wrong, it did go wrong.

There’s that all pervasive, Victorian attitude of bloody minded, arrogant perseverance throughout this book, and it certainly feels that that is all that kept these people alive, but it’s also what got them into the mess in the first place.

Having been beaten to be the first to get to the South Pole by Roald Amundsen, Shackleton decided to turn his sights on being the first to cross the Antarctic.   It certainly seems to me that this need to be the first, to always be proving that the British could do something quicker and better than any other nation, caused Shackleton to rush into something he was completely unprepared for.   Whereas Amundsen, being Norwegian, was obviously very used to dealing with very cold temperatures, was fully trained with sled dogs and their uses, and set out fully trained and physically fit, Shackleton appears to have just taken the bloody minded, arrogant approach of… ‘We’re British, we know what we’re doing and nothing, not even Nature, can stand in our way.   For King and Country, stiff upper lip, tally ho! — and all that!’

I just get the feeling that Shackleton’s attitude was… ‘Let’s just get going, we can’t afford to wait, we can sort it all out when we get there.’

While this book is, without a doubt, an incredible testament to the incredible bravery, fortitude and perseverance of humans to survive when pushed well beyond all imaginable limits, it’s also a testament to some incredible stupidity.

Yes, i realise, that that was the zeitgeist: to just keep throwing people, lives and equipment at a problem until it was dealt with.   Human life was not held in such high regard back then as it is today.   Spending a few years properly planning and training was simply unacceptable when other nations would have no such restraint and do it before us.   So one does have to weigh this account in that regard, and when weighted in that light Shackleton did an incredible job, and it’s always so easy to criticise with hindsight.   If the weather had been with him those years then what could have been achieved?

Anyway, while we’re on this topic, and if you want to hear more about Antarctic expeditions, the full traverse of Antarctica, solo and unaided, was only recently completed for the first time.   Have a listen…

Ernest’s Page

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Yarrow, Sturdy and Bright — Devon Monk

The first tale from the anthology… ‘Once Upon A Curse’

It’s like… ‘Whatever happened to the Pied Piper afterwards?’.

It’s a very short tale but with 17 tales in 416 pages one can’t expect long ones.   It’s well written though, and i quite enjoyed it despite its short length.

If this is setting the standard for the rest of the anthology then i shall be very pleased.

Devon’s Page

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Nymph: The Singularity – Jill Killington

I originally read this in 2011 when i first got a Kindle Keyboard — yes, i really am that old — and when i put this website together i remembered totally enjoying it, so it went straight onto ‘The Pile’ for a second reading so i could write a nice review.

So, imagine a future where a corporation could gather all your photos, videos, emails, messages, credit card history, travel history, friendships, family history, medical history, etc., etc., and put it all into a computer with AI technology and load that into a body that looks just like you.

So while the AI would know your whole life history, would know what all your friends and family looked liked and how each relationship was weighted in your life, it would also look and behave almost exactly like you.   Now factor in that you’re dead, and your lonely husband is wealthy enough to afford one of these machines to replace you, his dead wife.

This is the story of one such AI simulacrum, known as a Nymph, and her predecessor’s widower.   And it’s good.

Is she nothing but a stupidly expensive sex toy to assuage a billionaires cravings for his dead wife, or is she something more, can she be something more, or, more nefariously, was she designed to be something more?

If you’re someone who has read and enjoyed Isaac Azimov’s robot books — i’m fairly sure you’ll enjoy this just as much.

Well written, thoughtful, well considered, and almost plausible in the not too distant future.   My only complaint is that Jill hasn’t wrote more.

Reading this book does make you think about what current technology could be moving toward with big corporations like facebook, google, and many others.   All gathering what is essentially infinite amounts of information on their users while also at the same time investing heavily into AI technologies.   As the book states…

“Our programmers are scouring every available database for details about Suzanne — remnants of e-mail correspondence, school and medical records, news reports, passports and visas, credit transactions, web profiles, data mines — any infotrash they can dig up.”

Now consider just how much information is stored on servers all over the world concerning you and your life.   And now consider what an advanced AI could do with that information when it’s programmed with your identity in a world that’s governed and controlled by computers and computer transactions.   An AI does not need a body in a world controlled and run by technology to take over your life, it just needs the information that you have given away freely.   How long before you are no longer relevant, how long before you are no longer needed?

There’s lots of food for thought in this book.   So get eating and thinking.

Jill Killington’s Page

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Sealskin — Su Bristow

It came up cheap on a Kindle deal some time ago and i thought i may as well throw it in ‘The Pile’ and give it a read when i had a mermaid binge.

And i think i’m very glad i did.

The story is set in some far out Scottish fishing village way back somewhere in time.   Su really does give the reader a feel of what life must have been like for these rural fishing folk and their families in these isolated far flung villages before newspapers, radios, telephones, television and even local doctors.   Where you’d have to rely on the local herbalist, or hedge witch, for your healthcare needs.

Sometimes it’s pretty grim.   As i say, it’s set way back in time when simple folk live rather simple lives in simple villages, and the story begins with a fairly simple fisherman hiding a Selkie’s seal skin while she’s out of it and then raping her when she can’t go back to the water.   Don’t worry if you’re not up on what a Selkie is, the story covers all you need to know.   I would even say it’s probably better if you don’t know about Selkies because this is an expansion of an old folk story about Selkies and if you’ve read that story then you just might guess the ending of this one.

So having raped her he takes her back to his cottage and later returns to collect her seal skin…

…and so the story begins and plays out amongst these old world fisher folk of the village.   And it’s really good, even in all it’s old world grimness.

It’s incredibly well written in a nice, easy flowing prose, and one can really fall completely into the story without disruption or distraction.

I would also give writers like Su a big pile of kudos for bringing old folk tales like this into the modern, wider literary world and doing such a great job of it.

Su’s Page

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