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 and we know what we’re doing and nothing, not even Nature, can stand in our way.   For King and Country, 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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The Mermaid — Christina Henry

Another great story from Christina.

I certainly feel rewarded for reading ‘The Little Mermaid’ and ‘The Fabulous Showman’ before diving straight into this, as they do give one the feeling and attitude of the age and thereby give this story a sense of genuine realism.   So i would certainly recommend reading both before hand if you’re looking for a more immersive experience from this story.

Reading a work of fiction that contains real historical characters, in their real historical places and time, while only twisting the factual narrative where needed to make the fictional narrative fit was, at times, quite emotionally disturbing.   One can truly feel for Amelia as though she is a genuine historical person, because all the people around her were genuine historical people.

For example…   Barnum did put a huge tank into the museum, but he put whales in it.   And the way in which he treats the mermaid in this story is not too dissimilar to how he treated the whales.   One can almost read this story as the story of those whales, and have Amelia’s voice speak for them.   Sadly, the whales never had a voice, nor did they have someone like Levi to champion their corner, and all suffered and died serving the ignorance of the masses and Barnum’s bank account.   It made me feel genuinely uncomfortable, and moved in ways that an ordinary work of fiction simply doesn’t.   It’s quite the experience, and one i certainly recommend.

As with all of Christina’s books, the writing is wonderful, flowing, and, for me, perfectly edited.   A wonderful read.   It really does capture the feeling and attitude of the age.

Christina’s next book ‘The Girl in Red’ is out on 18th June 2019.   I’m so looking forward to having a ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ journey.

Christina’s Page

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The Fabulous Showman — Irving Wallace

I decided to read this to give me a little background before reading ‘The Mermaid’ and i’m really glad i did.   What a wonderful piece of history and a very interesting man.

I think, after reading this book, that if we want to blame anyone for the current cult of celebrity, modern advertising and marketing, tabloid journalism, etc., then we need look no further than P.T. Barnum.   While he may, or may not, have invented these things, he certainly brought them all together and exploited them in ways that no one was prepared for.

I do feel that this book does him justice though.   In exploring his background and reasons, from a stifled puritan childhood in a stifled puritan village, it seems his main driving force was to make life fun and interesting for all and sundry.   And his determination and drive to get things done and suceed was quite incredible.

My only complaint about this book is the timeline gets a little confused in places, hopping back and forward and back again and forward again.   But, it’s still very much worth reading as it exposes a lot about today’s modern world of celebrity, pop culture, tabloid journalism, advertising and marketing.   Maybe people shouldn’t be so gullible, but when people’s lives are so dull and tragic they’ll flock to anything that anyone markets to them that they want to believe, whether it’s true or not.   And people’s lives are probably more dull and tragic now than they have ever been.

And so i’m now really looking forward to reading ‘The Mermaid’ and i’ll let you know if learning about Barnum was a good idea or not.

Irving’s Page

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The Little Mermaid — Hans Christian Anderson

I decided i’d read this just to get my mermaid thing going before reading ‘The Mermaid’.

I’m very disappointed.

Silly little girl falls in love with handsome prince who she can’t have because she’s just not good enough and he loves another, blah, blah, blah.   So she has to die, like dead forever, because mermaids don’t have immortal souls like human beings do because they’re obviously just animals and Anderson obviously believes that animals don’t have souls and probably agrees with Descartes that you can even nail them to doors and dissect them without anaesthetic because they’re just soulless things unworthy of our consideration.

But wait, Hans gives this disgusting, soulless animal a chance, she can have legs to go on land and woo the handsome prince but she has to lose her voice by having her tongue cut out and suffer the pain of walking on knives for her whole life to do so.   So desperate is this soulless creature that she agrees to this obscene torture.   If she gets the prince to own her through marriage thus becoming a responsible pet owner for this soulless animal then god will bestow a soul upon this creature and it can live happily ever after as the sex slave of the prince.   Otherwise she’s just going to be a bit of nothing floating on the wind for all eternity.

And then we’re told that if children are good then the little mermaid may still get a soul and go to heaven but if children are bad then she won’t.   So if you you’re ever a naughty child, even for a moment, then you’re obviously a fucking evil little shit who hates mermaids.   WTF!!!   But mermaids are soulless animals who don’t get to go to heaven so its a bit confused as to whether a child should be worried about being good when its not actually the child’s fault in the first place that mermaids are soulless animals who god obviously hates and doesn’t want in heaven anyway.

Children should not have a sense of right and wrong built upon fairy tales, imaginary beings and/or other such nonsense.   Because what do you think is going to happen when the child finds out that everything it believed you told it was true is a complete lie that you conjured up in order to hoodwink and con the child into behaving to your unreasonable demands?

I seriously would not read this to any child i had in my care.   It’s disgusting, backward, patriarchal, god grovelling drivel.   Some books should be burned/deleted.

Deleted!

Han’s Page

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The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes — Ruth Hogan

Having totally enjoyed ‘The Keeper of Lost Things’, i just had to give this a read.

Mostly a book that deals with death, and how different people deal with death in its many guises.   I know, it sounds a bit morbid and miserable, but Ruth manages to pull this off without it being so.

As with ‘The Keeper of Lost Things’, Ruth creates a wonderful cast of characters that we can believe in and feel for.   People who have been hit by tradgedy and grief and have to learn to live on with it.   And Ruth does this with a wonderful compassion mixed in with just the perfect touch of humour to keep the story flowing along nicely while set mostly between a Victorian grave yard and a lido.

10/10 for taking a topic that most writers would shy away from and making it into a really enjoyable, thoughtful read, with quite a few titbits of genuine wisdom thrown in.

I really enjoy Ruth’s writing, and you’ll definitely find me reading Ruth’s next book, ‘Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel’, at some future date.

Ruth’s Page

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The Last Town — Blake Crouch

‘Pines’ and ‘Wayward’ were brilliant, and so i dove straight into this finale to the trilogy without pausing for air.

It’s been a while since i’ve been treated to such unputdownable books, and to have 3 of them in a trilogy is wonderful.

As with the other two books, great writing, great characters and great all-around story telling.

And what a great ending.   Although, for me, i feel it would have been a tiny bit slightly better without the Epilogue — it wouldn’t be a good review without some negative criticism, now would it?

I am most certainly going to be reading more from Blake in the future.

I’m now a fanboy.

Blake’s Page

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Wayward — Blake Crouch

‘Pines’ was a really good read, and ‘Wayward’ did not disappoint in any way either.

I found both books totally unputdownable, any spare moment my head would be glued to my Kindle reading.

The story keeps on having more layers and twists added to it as more information from the time before suspension is revealed — all to be played out in Wayward Pines.   And the characters just get better the more we learn about them as Blake artfully drip feeds the occasional back story snippet from their previous lives.

Full on story telling from a full on story teller.

And now it’s straight into ‘The Last Town’ for the finale.

Blake’s Page

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