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 Other Half Of My Heart — Stephanie Butland

Apparently it’s a sequel to ‘Letters To My Husband’.

I really enjoyed ‘Lost For Words’, so i thought i may as well give some of Stephanie’s other books a go.

Stephanie’s Page

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