Nightfall the short story and Nightfall the book by Issac Asimov and Robert Silverberg

In my post about Issac Asimov last week, I mentioned that he wrote a short story called Nightfall in 1941 which is still considered one of the best science fiction short stories ever written. I looked it up and I was intrigued by the premise. The story is set on a planet called Lagash which has six suns. Since one or the other of their suns is always up in the sky, the people of Lagash have never known the night or darkness in any form.

In fact, darkness is one of their phobias, an experience that most of them simply cannot handle. Now for the first time in 2049 years they are going to experience darkness (cause by an eclipse which happens every 2049 years, a fact that their scientists have only just discovered.) They are a bit disturbed to find that their prediction coincides with that of a religious cult called the Apostles of Flame who have been preaching about the coming darkness and urging people to join their cult to save themselves from the darkness…

The story begins on the night of the eclipse. The scientists of Saro University are ready with their instruments and their computers. The Apostles of Flame are busy fanning fears. But the people of Lagash do not believe either the scientists or the Apostles. They are simply unable to conceive that such a thing as nightfall can happen…and then the eclipse begins.

It is a dramatic story and it is told very well. The people of Lagash are very much human. They don’t feel alien at all. They even refer to themselves as mankind, which is a bit of a let down when you’re reading a story that is supposedly set on another planet. But despite this and despite a couple of plot holes, Asimov tells an engaging story with multiple plot lines all of which come together very well. He builds a complete tale with a history and a very believable back story.

The characters are not very well fleshed out, but that does not matter because the story is driven by plot and action rather than the characters. It was a perfectly enjoyable read.

Nightfall_cover

 

I can see why Robert Silverberg thought there was enough material in it to turn it into a book. Nightfall the novel was written in 1990, so in some ways, it is more sophisticated than the short story. Silverberg takes the very briefly sketched out back story in the original and fleshes it all out. This part of the book is very interesting. I enjoyed seeing the back story laid out in such detail.

He also fleshes out the characters and adds some new ones. I was glad of this for most part except when he brought in a romance towards the end that felt out of place and down right awkward at times. The characters are also a bit more emotional here and while that adds to the story in some places, it also takes away.

Silverberg sticks to the story laid out by Asimov until the eclipse. He even uses Asimov’s words and descriptions, particularly in the sequence leading up to the eclipse and right after.  Asimov’s story ends soon after the darkness sets in. He gives you a hint of what is to come and stops, letting you imagine the rest.

Silverberg tries to continue the story and this is where the novel breaks down. It becomes tedious and needlessly descriptive. The same events are gone over by a whole bunch of people, so it is repetitive as well. The plot meanders along with the characters and you begin to wonder of there is an end in sight.

I was bored by this point, but I kept reading because I wanted to know how it would all end. The resolution was not lame perhaps, but definitely disappointing.

 

Daily Trivia : Tintin and Hergé

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On May 24th this year, a drawing by Hergé was sold for 2.5 million euros, a new world record for a comic strip. The piece, dating from 1937 and signed by the creator is a double page ink drawing created by Hergé for the inside cover of the Tintin adventures published between 1937 and 1958. It went to an American collector after 15 minutes of furious bidding at the Artcurial auction in Paris.

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Although he would go on to be one of the world’s most iconic cartoonists, Hergé (Georges Remi) was not a particularly standout student as a young boy. Instead, he preferred to indulge in his love for adventure and games with his friends on the streets of Brussels.

In secondary school, he joined the Boy Scouts. His drawing skills quickly caught the attention of the Scout leaders, and soon he was illustrating a Scout magazine and creating his first characters. Long before Tintin appeared in 1929, Georges Remi’s active imagination was conjuring up stories of international intrigue.

During the years of the First World War, Georges used the margins of his schoolbooks to scribble stories about a little character who played dirty tricks on German soldiers. He began drawing a comic strip featuring Totor, an adventurous Boy Scout who would become the basis for Tintin.

After leaving school and beginning work at the Belgian newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle, Hergé oversaw a weekly supplement for children entitled Le Petit Vingtième. This got him thinking about a new character: “The little brother of Totor, a Totor-turned-journalist, yet with the spirit of a Boy Scout.”

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Hergé’s job provided him access to all the latest news, including the real-life exploits of French reporter and investigator Albert Londres. Londres’s career, as well as stories from Belgian and foreign papers, became fodder for Tintin’s adventures.

Tintin himself was modelled after Totor, with a round head, a button for a nose and two dots for eyes — but with the iconic quiff that makes him instantly recognizable. Tintin was the reporter that Hergé himself would have liked to be.

Tintin is myself. He reflects the best and brightest in me; he is my successful double. I am not a hero. But like all 15-year-old boys, I dreamt of being one…and I have never stopped dreaming. Tintin has accomplished many things on my behalf.” -Hergé –

The first Tintin adventure, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, was an instant hit with children and adults alike. As the adventures progressed, Hergé added all kinds of characters, some of whom he based on famous people (such as Bianca Castafiore, whose character was inspired by the opera singer Maria Callas). He also based some characters on friends and family (such as Thomson & Thompson, who were inspired by his father and his father’s twin brother).

Tintin-mainCast

Although he started out as an investigative reporter, Tintin developed into a detective. He had a sharp eye for detail and considerable powers of deduction. A bit like James Bond, there was no car, motorcycle, locomotive, submarine, airplane, helicopter, horse or camel that Tintin could not drive, ride, steer or fly. No matter what situation Tintin found himself in, he was never at a loss for what to do.

Tintin was also an explorer, a fact that led to his most memorable achievement — taking the first steps on the moon, some 16 years before the American astronaut Neil Armstrong.

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For any child growing up amid the political and cultural changes of the twentieth century, Tintin was a role model who both inspired and delighted. Hergé drew upon the political events of the time and dedicated his life to creating adventures that transported readers to places around the world — from Japanese-occupied China in The Blue Lotus to the Arctic Ocean in The Shooting Star.

Throughout his career, Hergé strove to bring as much of the real world as he could into the world of Tintin. Although Tintin travelled around the world, Hergé stayed in Belgium for most of his life. In his later years, the artist and author managed to make trips to several countries and see first-hand the places that had inspired Tintin’s adventures.

Hergé’s career as a cartoonist was successful from the start, but it had one major hurdle. It came after the Second World War, after the end of German occupation when he was accused of being a collaborator because of the Nazi control of the paper (Le Soir),that he had been writing for. He claimed that he was simply doing a job under the occupation, like a plumber or carpenter, without any political sympathies.

But he admitted later that: “I recognize that I myself believed that the future of the West could depend on the New Order…In light of everything which has happened, it is of course a huge error…” Tintin, however was never depicted as being pro-German but the comic had hints of anti-Semitic themes that angered quite a few people.

Le Soir was shut down by the allied authorities and Tintin’s adventures were interrupted toward the end of The Seven Crystal Balls. During the chaotic post-occupation period, Hergé was arrested four times and he was publicly accused of Nasi and Rexist sympathies. Like other former employees of the Nazi-controlled press, Hergé found himself barred from newspaper work in post-war Belgium. He spent the next two years adapting many of the early Tintin adventures into colour.

Tintin’s exile ended on 26 September 1946. The publisher and wartime resistance fighter Raymond Leblanc provided the financial support and anti-Nazi credentials to launch Tintin the magazine with Hergé. It was a weekly publication that featured two pages of Tintin’s adventures, beginning with the remainder of The Seven Crystal Balls as well as other comic strips and assorted articles. It became highly successful, and weekly circulation surpassed 100,000 at one time.

Since then Tintin’s adventures continued uninterrupted until Hergé’s death in 1983. Tintin has been translated into over a hundred languages. In German he is called Tim, in Turkish he is called Tenten and in Latin he is known as Titinus. To celebrate Hergé’s seventy-fifth birthday, the Société Belge d’Astronomie gave his name to a newly discovered asteroid. The asteroid Hergé is located between Mars and Jupiter.

Sources:

tintin.com

wikipedia

 

Book Review: Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr

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The full title of this book is : Four Seasons in Rome : On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World. Now if that is not an intriguing title I don’t know what is. This is a memoir of four seasons or one year that the author spent in Rome with his wife and two infant sons. In 2004, the day after Anthony Doerr and his wife had twins, he received a letter informing him that he had won the Rome Prize, one of the most prestigious awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and with it a stipend and a writing studio in Rome for a year.

While it was daunting to move to another country with infant twins to take care of, particularly when you don’t speak the language, Doerr and his wife Shauna made the move because they knew they would regret it if they didn’t. Their sons were six months old when they landed in Rome and took possession of a small apartment with a huge terrace that gave them a lovely view of the city. Doerr had a studio at the American Academy that was next door to their apartment building.

He would go there every morning and spend a few hours trying to work on a novel set in France in world war two (All the Light We Cannot See which was published earlier this year), but he ended up spending more time writing in his journal than working on his novel and that that journal is what turned into this book.

It is very much a journal in that he chronicles the ordinary and the every day, visits to the grocery store, walks to the piazza, staying up all night with kids who will not sleep and so on, but then there’s the day they walked down to the Vatican which was less than a mile from their apartment, the day they took their sons to the Pantheon, visits to ancient temples and cisterns, the night he  took one of his sons to watch the starlings flying over the city, the week long trip to a village in Umbria, they day he joined thousands of people keeping vigil over the dying Pope John Paul II (whose funeral is the one referred to in the title) and so on.

It is a chronicle of one year that was full of new experiences both mundane and grand. What I loved about it was the engaging honesty with which it is written. There is a lot here about children and what it means to be a parent and how difficult it can be and yet how joyful. And then there’s the dramatic experience of not just being in another country, but being in one of the oldest cities in the world where there’s art and history everywhere you look and the food is fabulous, the people are interesting and quirky…

They don’t have any great adventures. They’re parents of babies just trying to get through days dominated by their kids, just as they would have been of they’d never left home, but just being in a new place, being taken out of context like that somehow made even the ordinary spectacular. And Doerr manages to convey that feeling so well.

The book is full of observations and insights that make you stop and think. Here’s an example:

“The mind craves ease; it encourages the senses to recognize symbols, to gloss. It makes maps of our kitchen drawers and neighborhood streets; it fashions a sort of algebra out of life. And this is useful, even essential— X is the route to work, Y is the heft and feel of a nickel between your fingers.

Without habit, the beauty of the world would overwhelm us. We’d pass out every time we saw— actually saw— a flower. Imagine if we only got to see a cumulonimbus cloud or Cassiopeia or a snowfall once a century: there’d be pandemonium in the streets. People would lie by the thousands in the fields on their backs.”

Talking about the election of the new pope, standing in front of St Peter’s along with thousands of other people he says,

“Are we here because we want to know who will become pope? Or are we here out of vanity— because we want to be able to say we were here? Both, of course. The Church is making narrative, and this is the story’s climactic moment. Right now we’re here mostly because we want to know what will happen next, because we’re most of the way through a rich and complicated story. The curtain is up, the orchestra is playing; this is the thrill of drama and the Catholic Church is the most experienced dramatist in the world.”

He spends a lot of his words trying to describe Rome and while some of his descriptions are lyrical they are never cheesy or over the top. For example:

 “It seems impossible but today is more beautiful than yesterday. The sky is a depthless, flawless cobalt. Everywhere little chamomile daisies open their white faces to the sun— the lawns look as if they’re covered with snow.”

“What is Rome? It’s a place where a grown man can drive a tiny car called a Panda or Musa (the Muse) or Punto (the Dot) or Stilo (the Stylus) or Picasso. It’s a feast every damned week. It’s maddening retail hours. It’s a city about to become half old-people’s home/ half tourist museum. It’s like America before coffee was “to go,” when a playground was a patch of gravel, some cigarette butts, and an uninspected swing set; when everybody smoked; when businesses in your neighborhood were owned by people who lived in your neighborhood; when children still stood on the front seats of moving cars and spread their fingers across the dash.” 

The book reads very much like a journal in that it jumps from one topic to another, dwelling for a while on this and then on something else, moving between observation and musing, thoughts and descriptions. There is a certain immediacy in the writing that makes it all very real. It makes you feel as if you are right there with the writer seeing what he sees and at least to some extent feeling what he feels.

It is a thoroughly charming book and one that I made me want to rush through it and savour it all at the same time.

 

 

Daily Trivia : Issac Asimov

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Issac Asimov was born in Petrovichi, Russia (1920). Three years later his family immigrated to Brooklyn, New York, where they ran a candy store that carried science fiction magazines. Isaac’s father didn’t allow him to read the magazines but he did it anyway. His family wanted him to go to medical school and become a doctor, which he had no interest in doing, but he applied and was happy when he was turned down and could go to college to study chemistry instead.

Asimov published his first short story in Amazing Stories when he was 18. He was able to put himself through college and graduate school at Columbia University by writing and publishing stories. He published his 32nd story called Nightfall in 1941 in Astounding Science Fiction magazine when he was just 21 years old. It won numerous awards and is often considered the best science-fiction short story ever written.

After graduate school Asimov taught biochemistry at Boston University school of Medicine, but he had no interest in research or academic publishing. He continued to write short stories until 1950 when he published his first science fiction novel, Pebble in the Sky.

1950 was also the year in which he published I, Robot, which featured the ‘Three Laws of Robotics”, which seem so sensible and self-evident almost, that people believed that any future robots would have to have these laws built into them.

Just year after this Asimov published Foundation which is perhaps his best known work. Then came Foundation and Empire (1952) and Second Foundation (1953). There were four more books in this series, two sequels and two prequels a couple of which were published in the 1980’s.

Isaac Asimov called himself “a born explainer” and he is known for writing books on a wide variety of subjects like Astronomy, Biology, Mathematics and Religion.

Kurt Vonnegut once asked him how it felt to know everything, to which he replied, “I only know how it feels to have the reputation of knowing everything. Uneasy.” He said when he had to write about something he knew little about he closed his eyes and typed “very very fast.”

Isaac Asimov died in 1992 after contracting AIDS from an HIV infected blood transfusion he received during a 1982 open heart surgery operation.

Sources:

Writer’s Almanac
Biography.com

Reader’s Block and a couple of reviews

I have been away from this blog for over two months. Some of it was life getting in the way, but mostly it was a lot of not reading. Sometimes I get into this rut when for whatever reason, I can’t seem to find a single book I like. It seems absurd, considering how many books I have that I still haven’t read, but for whatever reason, I just can’t seem to get interested in anything.

The last book I mentioned here was Dearie by Bob Spitz. It was interesting and I read it through, but only because the subject (Julia Child) was interesting. The writing was not. The book was at least a 100 pages too long. It could’ve done with tighter editing and and a more interesting manner of presentation. There is a wealth of research here, but it is poorly organised and a lot of times it felt like an information dump rather than the story of somebody’s life…

Anyway, I couldn’t read anything for a few days after I finished this. Then I picked up The Apple Orchard by Susan Wiggs. I had never heard of this author before and I didn’t know anything about her style of writing. I only picked up the book because it had an interesting premise and a lot of good reviews.

The book started well and it drew me in, but somewhere around the middle it began to unravel.  The story has a complex plot and it deserved a far better resolution than it got. A lot of the conflicts which had been built up rather well, were resolved, with what I thought was unrealistic ease. Towards the end, I was only reading it because I wanted to find out how it all ended…

Since then I haven’t been able to settle on anything to read. At least until a couple of days ago. I am now reading and thoroughly enjoying Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr. I am only sixty pages from the end, so I will be done by tonight and I should be able to post a review tomorrow.

 

Daily Trivia : Gene Roddenberry

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Today is the birthday of the father of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry who was born in El Paso, Texas, in 1921. He was affectionately referred to as the “Great Bird of the Galaxy,” and he led a life as colourful and exciting as any high-adventure fiction.

He flew B-17 bombers during World War II and he was decorated with the Distinguished flying Cross and the Air Medal.

It was while he was in the South Pacific during the war that Roddenberry began to write. He sold stories to flying magazines, and later poetry to different publications, including The New York Times.

He flew commercially for Pan-Am after the war, and he later served as an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department.

He really wanted to be a writer, though, and he got some freelance jobs consulting and writing scripts for several TV shows, including  Dragnet, Have Gun — Will Travel, and Dr. Kildare. In 1956, he resigned from the LAPD and began writing full time.

The first show he created and produced was NBC’s The Lieutenant, which aired from 1963 to 1964. Set at Camp Pendleton, it examined social issues through the lens of a military environment.

He’d always loved science fiction, though, so in 1964 he developed the idea of a new series about space exploration — “a Wagon Train to the stars,” as he described it — and shopped it around to several studios, most of which were uninterested.

Desilu Productions, the company run by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, finally expressed an interest, and NBC agreed to run it. The first of the two pilots was pronounced “too cerebral” by the network and rejected.

Once on the air, however, Star Trek developed a loyal following as viewers grew to love the Starship Enterprise and its crew. The first episode was aired on September 8, 1966.

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The show only ran for three seasons, but it was a huge success in syndication, and has since spawned an animated series, four spin-off live-action TV series, and 11 feature films.

Star Trek was so wildly popular that it was the first television series to have an episode preserved in the Smithsonian, where an 11-foot model of the U.S.S. Enterprise is also exhibited on the same floor as the Wright brother’s original airplane and Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis.”

In addition to the Smithsonian honors, NASA’s first space shuttle was named Enterprise, in response to hundreds of thousands of letters from fans demanding that the shuttle be named after the beloved starship.

What made the show special is the fact that it was the first science-fiction series to depict a generally peaceful and progressive future…This stemmed from Roddenberry’s fundamental optimism about the human race.

“It speaks to some basic human needs,” he said in 1991, “that there is a tomorrow — it’s not all going to be over in a big flash and a bomb, that the human race is improving, that we have things to be proud of as humans.”

The show went outside television to win science fiction’s coveted Hugo award and on September 4, 1986, Gene Roddenberry’s fans presented him with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the first writer/producer to be so honored.

His novelization of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (Pocket Books, 1979) sold close to a million copies and was ranked number one on the national bestseller lists for many weeks.

Roddenberry died in 1991 and his ashes were carried on a 1992 mission of the space shuttle Columbia. The following year, NASA awarded him their Distinguished Public Service Medal for “distinguished service to the Nation and the human race in presenting the exploration of space as an exciting frontier and a hope for the future.”

Sources:
http://www.rodenberry.com
Writer’s Almanac

I’ve been away for a while…

But now I’m back and I hope to get back to posting regularly again. The last book I read was Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Cracked From Side to Side. It is a Jane Marple mystery and it was entertaining but nothing very special. I finished it few days ago and I have been reading magazines ever since.

I get Intelligent Life on my iPad every month and I haven’t read the last three issues. So I’m reading my way through that. Then I’ve been reading a bit of National Geographic. They started a series this May called ‘Feeding 9 Billion’ about food and agriculture and the desperate need to rethink the way we grow food. I am finding this particularly interesting.

Then there’s the fact that The New Yorker has opened all it’s archives to the public for the summer. This is stuff that usually only subscribers get to see and I’m not a subscriber. I like the magazine, but I don’t want to subscribe because I doubt that I would have the time to actually read it. I like what I have been reading and it is a nice change of pace, but no matter how good the magazine, it is still a bit insubstantial when compared to a book.

I picked up a new book yesterday. It’s called Dearie and it is a biography of Julia Child written by Bob Spitz. I’ve long been interested in Julia Child. I’ve read My Life in France and I really enjoyed it, so this is a book I very much wanted to read.

I’m about five chapters in and I find it interesting, but it was slow going at first…Much as I tried, I couldn’t get all that interested in the story of Julia’s grandfather’s life and then her father and her mother. Most biographies are written like this and I understand the importance of the story of the family that a person comes from, but it honestly bores me and I often find myself skipping ahead to what I think of as the real story.

Anyway, the real story is about to begin, so I will get back to my book. Happy reading, everyone.

 

Daily Trivia : Agatha Christie

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Agatha Christie is the most widely published author of all time and in any language, outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare. Her books have sold more than a billion copies in English and another billion in a hundred foreign languages.

She is the author of eighty crime novels and short-story collections, nineteen plays, two memoirs, and six novels written under the name Mary Westmacott. She is till date, the most translated author of all time.

She first tried her hand at detective fiction while working in a hospital dispensary during World War I, creating the now legendary Hercule Poirot with her debut novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

With The Murder in the Vicarage, published in 1930, she introduced another beloved sleuth, Miss Jane Marple. Additional series characters include the husband-and-wife crime-fighting team of Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, private investigator Parker Pyne, and Scotland Yard detectives Superintendent Battle and Inspector Japp.

Many of Christie’s novels and short stories were adapted into plays, films and television series. The Mousetrap, her most famous play of all, opened in 1952 and is the longest-running play in history.

Among her best-known film adaptations are Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and Death on the Nile (1978), with Albert Finney and Peter Ustinov playing Hercule Poirot, respectively.

Agatha Christie was first married to Archibald Christie and then to archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan, whom she accompanied on expeditions to countries that would also serve as the settings for many of her novels.

In 1971 she achieved one of Britain’s highest honors when she was made a Dame of the British Empire. She died in 1976 at the age of eighty-five.

Source:

http://www.AgathaChristie.com

Daily Trivia : Aldous Huxley and Brave New World

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Aldous Huxley was born on 26th July, 1894, in Godalming, England. Huxley completed his first (unpublished) novel at the age of 17 and began writing seriously in his early 20s.

He spent much of his time in Italy until the late 1930s, when he settled in California. He established himself as a major author with his first two published novels,  CromeYellow and Antic Hay.

But it is for Brave New World that he is most remembered today. Published in 1932, Brave New World arose out of Huxley’s distrust of 20th-century politics and technology.

He started out intending to write a parody of H.G. Wells’ utopian novel 
Men Like Gods (1923). He ended by envisioning a future where society functions like one of Henry Ford’s assembly lines: a mass-produced culture in which people are fed a steady diet of bland amusements and take an antidepressant called soma to keep themselves from feeling anything negative.

Brave New World is often compared with George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948), since they each offer a view of a dystopian future. Cultural critic Neil Postman spelled out the difference between the two books as follows:

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.”

“Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.”

“Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.”

“Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture. … In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that our desire will ruin us.”

Sources:

Writers Almanac
Wikipedia
Biography.com

Book Review : Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie

I finished reading this book two days ago. I read it in a little more than a day, ignoring any and all chores that I could, just so I could keep reading…I love it when a book grips me that much.

I have read this book before, but the last time I read it, I was 16…that was 21 years ago. I remember it as a book that I thoroughly enjoyed, but I did wonder if I would like it as much this time around.

I did. I thought the resolution was a bit implausible…not the solution to the mystery, but the manner in which it was revealed…barring that, I loved everything.

The plot was brilliant and the story was full of clues, false trails and surprises, the way a good detective story should be. But what I noticed this time around was the characters. They were all so well crafted each with their own set of perfectly plausible motives for doing what they do.

When we think of Agatha Christie, we think about plot and action and lots of clever writing. All of that is very much in evidence here, but so is her ability to create believable and some genuinely likeable characters.

The story is set in a school called Meadowbank. It is one of the best girl’s schools in England, the last place that anyone would associate with murder. And yet one night, just a week into the summer term, the new games mistress is found murdered in the sports pavilion. The police are trying to solve the crime, but there are too few clues and a complete absence of motive.

Just a few days later, one of the students is kidnapped. She’s not a regular student, she’s a princess and she’s from the small middle eastern kingdom of Ramat, which has recently had a revolution in which her cousin, the former ruler of Ramat was killed.

Before there is any proper investigation of the kidnapping, a second murder happens. Another of the teachers is killed…in the sports pavilion. What is  so special about the sports pavilion? What is the connection between the Revolution in Ramat and the murders in at Medowbank? No one can make head or tail of it.

There are rumours about jewels that were smuggled out of Ramat just before the revolution, there's blackmail and secrets a plenty. And one fifteen year old school girl who figures out one part of this mystery and realises that her life is in danger. She runs away from school and goes to Hercule Poirot looking for help and advice.

He brings her back to the school and he slowly figures out exactly what happened and why. The book is an absolute romp from start to finish.

Writers on Writing : Raymond Chandler

“The most durable thing in writing is style, and style is the most valuable investment a writer can make with his time. It pays off slowly, your agent will sneer at it, your publisher will misunderstand it, and it will take people you have never heard of to convince them by slow degrees that the writer who puts his individual mark on the way he writes will always pay off.”

Daily Trivia : Erle Stanley Gardner

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Erle Stanley Gardner was born in Malden, Massachusetts in 1889. He went to Valparaiso University to study law, but he was kicked out after only a month for participating in an illegal boxing match.

So he studied law on his own, and he passed the California bar exam when he was 21. He went to his swearing-in ceremony after a boxing match, and said that he was probably the only attorney in the state to be sworn in with two black eyes.

Innovative and restless in nature, he was bored by the routine of legal practice, the only part of which he enjoyed was trial work and the development of trial strategy. So in his spare time, he began to write stories for pulp magazines.

He created many different characters for the pulps, including the ingenious Lester Leith, a “gentleman thief” in the tradition of Raffles, and Ken Corning, a crusading lawyer who was the basis of his most successful creation, the fictional lawyer and crime-solver Perry Mason.

In 1933, he published The Case of the Velvet Claws, his first novel featuring detective and defense attorney, Perry Mason.

Gardner wrote more than 80 Perry Mason novels, and his books have sold more than 300 million copies.

With the success of Perry Mason, he gradually reduced his contributions to the pulp magazines, eventually withdrawing from the medium entirely, except for non-fiction articles on travel, Western history, and forensic science.

He said: “I still have vivid recollections of putting in day after day of trying a case in front of a jury, which is one of the most exhausting activities I know about, dashing up to the law library after court had adjourned to spend three or four hours looking up law points with which I could trap my adversary the next day, then going home, grabbing a glass of milk with an egg in it, dashing upstairs to my study, ripping the cover off my typewriter, noticing it was 11:30 p.m. and settling down with grim determination to get a plot for a story. Along about 3 in the morning I would have completed my daily stint of a 4,000-word minimum and would crawl into bed.”

After a few years of this, Gardner gave up the practice of law to devote himself to writing. In 1937 he moved to Temecula, California, where he lived for the rest of his life. On August 9, 1968 he married his long-time secretary Agnes Jean Bethell, the “real Della Street”.

Gardner also devoted thousands of hours to a project called “The Court of Last Resort”, which he undertook with his many friends in the forensic, legal and investigative communities.

The project sought to review and, if appropriate, to reverse, miscarriages of justice against possibly innocent criminal defendants who were originally convicted owing to poor legal representation; or to the inadequate, careless or malicious actions of police and prosecutors; or most especially, because of the abuse or misinterpretation of medical and other forensic evidence.

The resulting 1952 book earned Gardner his only Edgar award In the Best Fact Crime category.

Sources:

Writer’s Almanac
Goodreads
Wikipedia

Flashback Friday : 2001 Space Odyssey

Flashback Friday is a meme hosted by Bookshelf fantasies  focusing on showing some love for the older books in our lives and on our shelves. 

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This is another wonderful book that I read as a teen. It is the first science fiction book that I ever read and it opened up a whole new world of thought and ideas that I hadn’t known existed. Arthur C Clarke immediately became one of my favourite writers and he still is.

This book was written in 1964 (four years before the first moon  landing). It was conceived as a movie before it was thought of as a book. Stanley Kubrick apparently approached  Arthur C Clarke and told him that he wanted to make “the proverbial good science fiction movie” and that was how 2001 came to be.

It is based on a short story that Clarke had written a few years earlier called The Sentinel and the book and the movie were created almost in tandem. But there are a few small differences between the two and the three sequels follow the movie and not the book.

The story begins when an ancient artefact is found under the surface of the moon. The moment it is brought into the sunlight, it lets out a loud radio signal aimed directly at Saturn and then it becomes completely unresponsive.

The scientists on the moon believe that there must be something on Saturn, a device or a machine that the radio signal was intended for. And so they set up a manned mission to Saturn.

Things are very peaceful in the beginning, but soon they start to go wrong. HAL, the on board computer, goes rogue and kills all the crew members except one…the captain, David Bowman.

He shuts off the computer and takes control of the ship and he is all alone when he comes face to face with another artefact…a gigantic monolith which is the same size and shape as the one on the moon, only many, many times bigger…he enters the monolith and finds a universe that he could never have imagined…

It is a gripping tale and it is told very, very well…

Book Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles

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This was my first pick from my Classics Club book list. I’ve read it before, of course, but that was nearly two decades ago. So while I had a general idea of the story, I had forgotten a lot of the specifics which was good, because it made my experience of the book a lot more fresh than it would have been otherwise.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is probably the most famous of Conan Doyle’s stories which is both fitting and surprising. Fitting because it is such a good story and it is told so well. The suspense builds and builds until the reader feels as if his head is going to explode from all the tension and then comes this giant hound with glowing eyes and a glowing mouth to push the tension up even further…

Surprising, because of all of the Sherlock Holmes stories, this is perhaps the most atypical. It begins in the same way as most of the other stories, with the arrival of a client and the unfolding of a mystery. But it reads more like a thriller than a detective story. There are clues aplenty, but working out the clues is less important to the progress of the story than the unfolding action which is brilliantly written.

All the characters, Sir Henry, Dr Mortimer, Stapleton, Frankland, Barrymore…each of them is important to the story and each has a role to play in the unfolding mystery. Stapleton and Frankland in particular are written very well.

The story is full of great sequences, but my favourite is the night on the moor when Dr Watson and Sir Henry go looking for Seldon, the escaped convict and hear the awful howling of the hound for the first time. It is a chilling moment. Then there is the part where Dr Watson goes looking for the other man hiding on the moor and finds Sherlock Holmes…the suspense that is built up here is just wonderful.

Conan Doyle is a very visual writer and he has an amazing ability to paint a scene and describe a place…the moor is a very important part of this story and he really makes you feel the coldness, the isolation and the darkness of the place.

The book is very well paced and it goes easily from fast paced action to slow building tension. It was a joy to read.

Daily Trivia : The Catcher in the Rye and J D Salinger

It was on this day that The Catcher in the Rye was published back in 1951. The book is about a 16-year-old prep school boy named Holden Caulfield, who is fed up with all the “phonies” and wants to go live in a cabin in California. Salinger took ten years to write this book and it was at one time the most banned book and the most frequently taught book in America.

The book begins with Holden Caulfield saying,  “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

And later he says: “I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around — nobody big, I mean — except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff — I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.”

The book earned its share of positive reviews, but some critics weren’t so kind. A few saw the main character of Caulfield and his quest for something pure in an otherwise “phony” world as promoting immoral views. But over time the American reading public ate the book up and The Catcher in the Rye became an integral part of academic literature curriculum. To date the book has sold more than 120 million copies worldwide.

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The Catcher in the Rye, set a new course for literature in post-WWII America and vaulted Salinger to the heights of literary fame.  For the young writer, who had fiercely boasted in college about his talents, the success he had seemingly craved early in life became something he ran away from once it came.

In 1953, just two years after the publication of Catcher, Salinger pulled up stakes in New York City and retreated to a secluded home in New Hampshire. There, Salinger did his best to cut-off contact with the public and significantly slowed his literary output.

Two collections of his work, Franny and Zooey and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters—all of which had appeared previously in The New Yorker—were published in book form in the early 1960s. The June 19, 1965, edition of The New Yorker was devoted almost entirely to a new Salinger short story, the 25,000-word Hapworth 16, 1924, a novella in the form of a long letter from seven-year-old Seymour Glass while at summer camp.

His first new work in six years, the novella was almost universally panned. This was the last Salinger piece ever to be published while he was still alive. Despite the lack of published work over the last four decades of his life, Salinger continued to write. Those who knew him said he worked every day and speculation swirled about the amount of work that he may have finished by the time of his death in 2010. In 2013, Shane Salerno and David Shields published a biography of J D Salinger in which they revealed that there are about five unpublished works of his that are scheduled to be released over the next few years.

Sources:

Writer’s Almanac

Biography.com

 

Daily Trivia : Marcel Proust

Marcel Proust

Marcel Proust was born in Auteuil, France, in 1871. His major work is the seven-volume À la Recherche du Temps Perdu (originally translated as Remembrance of Things Past and  more recently, as In Search of Lost Time.) It is 3,000 pages long and it is Proust’s own life story, written in a stream of consciousness style and told as an allegorical search for truth.

Proust was born during the violence that surrounded the suppression of the Paris Commune, and his childhood corresponds with the consolidation of the French Third Republic. Much of Remembrance of Things Past concerns the vast changes, most particularly the decline of the aristocracy and the rise of the middle classes, that occurred in France during the Third Republic.

Proust had a serious asthma attack when he was nine and from then on he was considered a sickly child, so he spent long holidays in the village of Illiers. This village, combined with aspects of the time he spent at his great-uncle’s house in Auteuil became the model for the fictional town of Combray, where some of the most important scenes of Remembrance of Things Past take place. (Illiers was renamed Illiers-Combray on the occasion of the Proust centenary celebrations.)

Despite his poor health, Proust served for a year as an enlisted man in the French army, stationed at Coligny Caserne in Orléans, an experience that provided the basis for a lengthy episode in The Guermantes Way, volume three of his novel.

As a young man, Proust was a dilettante and a successful social climber, whose aspirations as a writer were hampered by his lack of application to work. His reputation from this period, as a snob and an aesthete, contributed to his later troubles with getting his book published.

Towards the end of the 1890s Proust began to withdraw more and more from society, and although he was never entirely reclusive, as is sometimes made out, he lapsed more completely into his lifelong tendency to sleep during the day and work at night. He was also plagued with severe asthma, which had troubled him intermittently since childhood, and a terror of his own death, especially in case it should come before his novel had been completed.

Proust started writing Remembrance of Things Past in 1905, but he put it aside after a while. He realised that he needed to think about his book a little more and  to clarify what  it’s philosophy would be. He did other writing in the mean time…plays, parodies and essays. He had an epiphany in January 1909, and he went back to his novel the following June.

He produced the first volume, Swann’s Way, in 1913, publishing it at his own expense after several publishers rejected it.  He spent the next decade working on the rest of his book which has a total of eight volumes, the last three of which Proust was  proofreading and editing on his deathbed in 1922.

Proust is widely recognised today as one of the greatest authors of the 20th Century, and À la recherche du temps perdu is considered one of the most dazzling and significant works of literature to be written in modern times.


Source:

Writer’s almanac

Goodreads

Wikipedia

Writers on Writing : Alice Munro

“A story is not like a road to follow … it’s more like a house. You go inside and stay there for a while, wandering back and forth and settling where you like and discovering how the room and corridors relate to each other, how the world outside is altered by being viewed from these windows. And you, the visitor, the reader, are altered as well by being in this enclosed space, whether it is ample and easy or full of crooked turns, or sparsely or opulently furnished. You can go back again and again, and the house, the story, always contains more than you saw the last time. It also has a sturdy sense of itself of being built out of its own necessity, not just to shelter or beguile you.”

Review : Yes Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

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I am a bit conflicted about this book. It’s a good book. It says on the cover that it is about the life of a chef and it certainly delivers on that count. I gives you a real insight into a chef’s life, the long hours, the training, the mistakes, the learning experiences,  the joys, uncertainties and difficulties of the restaurant business. It is also the story of Samuelsson’s life and it is told with an honesty that I appreciate. He talks about his mistakes, his errors of judgement, his (excessive) ambition and (complete) self absorption without trying to hide or gloss over anything.

But the problem is that the nothing is treated in depth. There are plenty of family stories and emotional moments that should have been given a lot more space than they were. Like his reaction to his father’s death. Samuelsson was in the States cooking at Aquavit when his father passed away. He made the decision not to go to Sweden for the funeral because leaving the States then would have affected his visa situation. That would have a been hard call to make. And it does portray him in a negative light. Now I’m not about to make judgments on anybody’s choices, but the way the incident was presented…it lacked the emotional depth it should have had. He keeps saying that his father’s death was real blow to him, but the way he says it, makes that a bit hard to believe.

Another incident that comes to mind is his first meeting with his daughter who he basically ignored for the first fourteen years of her life. This part of the book reads as if Samuelsson just wanted to rush through the narrative as quickly as possible.  Maybe he did. Maybe he didn’t want to face the emotions it brought up, but why write about it, if you cannot treat it with the honesty and the emotion that it deserves? The nature of the narrative here, makes it seem as if this man does not care about anything or anyone. It’s all about the cooking. Even when he talks about meeting his wife and falling in love with her…there is a distinct lack of emotion in the writing that is a bit off putting.

Samuelsson didn’t write the book himself, of course. He had a writer friend do it for him. The writing is fairly fluid in the beginning of the book, but then it starts to read like a bunch of anecdotes strung together rather than a coherent story. There is a lot of writing here about food and it is all very good…whether it talking about the idea behind a dish, the emotion or the tradition behind it, the writing makes you feel as if you can see and smell everything if not taste it.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the quality of writing in the book is inconsistent. It’s a good book. But it could have been so much better.