Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett has died.Sir-Terry-Pratchett

The words resonated as I tried to understand.

Terry Pratchett has died. One of my most loved and delightful authors has passed away.

No more new tales full of laughter and delight …. no more hilarious tales of a cowardly wizzard, of friendly Death, of witty witches, of the incomparable  Ankh-Morpork.

Terry Pratchett … you will be missed.

 

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Some years ago there was in the city of York a society of magicians. They met upon the third Wednesday of every month and read each other long, dull papers upon the history of English magic. They were gentleman-magicians, ClarkeJonathanStrangewhich is to say they had never harmed any one by magic  – nor ever done anyone the slightest good. In fact, to own the truth, not one of these magicians had ever cast the smallest spell, nor by magic caused one leaf to tremble upon a tree, made one mote of dust to alter its course or changed a single hair upon any one’s head. But, with this one minor reservation, they enjoyed a reputation as some of the wisest and most magical gentlemen in Yorkshire.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel, by  Susanna Clarke, is one of my favourite books. It’s set in Regency England (1800’s – the time of Napoleon) and reads like a wonderful historical fiction that just happens to be about the return of magic to England by the two titular magicians. It is a thoroughly different fantasy – this is blatant from the beginning. It’s this unusualness that prevents me from recommending it to everyone – I am aware that some people dislike the book for the same reasons that I enjoy it. You see this isn’t a quick-paced quick read – as it’s hulking size should suggest. It also isn’t the typical quick fantasy read filled with action, magical battles and easy going prose. Nor is it typical of the ‘saga’ type of fantasy, with their hosts of characters and sprawling sequels – this is a stand-alone book (although rumours of a ‘sequel’ set in same universe exist) with, as the name suggests, only two main characters.  I am not alone in my love of the book – it won the 2005 Hugo Award for Best Novel, reached number 3 on the New York Times best-seller list and was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. It is currently being adapted for a BBC One Drama.


Oh! And they read English novels! David! Did you ever look into an English novel? Well, do not trouble yourself. It is nothing but a lot of nonsense about girls with fanciful names getting married.

The basic premise is that once, long ago, magic thrived in England. It reached it’s pinnacle during the time of the Raven King – a human raised in Faerie who ruled Northern England for 300 years. Ever since, magic has declined and in 1806 all magicians are theoretical magicians – gentleman scholars who talk about what magic once was. The reason of the decline is unknown and when the York society of magicians attempt to discover why there is no magic in England they find out that there is one last practising magician –  Mr Gilbert Norrell. This reclusive bookworm decides that it his duty to restore English magic to it’s former glory – well actually, only the parts he thinks are proper and respectable. He enters the public sphere, after some difficulty, and demonstrates that magic is still a force in the world.  While doing so he accidentally sets in motion events that spiral beyond his control and knowledge.

It has been remarked (by a lady infinitely cleverer than the present author) how kindly disposed the world in general feels to young people who either die or marry. Imagine then the interest that surrounded Miss Wintertowne! No young lady ever had such advantages before: for she died upon the Tuesday, was raised to life in the early hours of Wednesday morning, and was married upon the Thursday; which some people thought too much excitement for one week.

So why do I like this book so much?

For a start the prose is brilliant. As the book is set in the 19th century the writing style is a pastiche of the time period’s writing styles (think Austen and Dickens). It is witty, moving, scary, sarcastic, compelling… fantastic. Clarke has an incredible gift with language – using the right words at the right time to create her multifaceted world – be it mundane or magical, it is written wonderfully. This is a book to read slower than normal to savour the descriptions and the wonderfully snarky narrator.

Mr Robinson was a polished sort of person. He was so clean and healthy and pleased about everything that he positively shone—which is only to be expected in a fairy or an angel, but is somewhat disconcerting in an attorney.

The story is character-driven and is not a sequence of magic battles, duels, explosions and all that action-ey fluff. Even though there is war in the book it presents itself atypically. In fact, this book could easily be recommended to people who don’t normally read fantasy – although magic is an all important part of the story it isn’t treated in the normal way. Magic doesn’t solve all the problems and neither is it a stand-in for some part of technology. It’s this all-powerful, mysterious, otherworldly force that is unpredictable and not understood despite the countless years of its study. Of a greater importance to the story are the characters, they are complex and interesting – there wasn’t one character that made me groan, “Oh, not her again…” (Sansa and Perrin – I’m talking to you).


I’d like to end with a quote by one of my favourite authors, Neil Gaiman, on this book:

Unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years. It’s funny, moving, scary, otherworldly, practical and magical, a journey through light and shadow – a delight to read.

National Novel Writing Month – what its all about

National Novel Writing Month (shortened to NaNoWriMo) is a world wide novel writing project that aims to get people to write a novel in the month of November. It sounds like the ultimate challenge: write 50 00 words (the minimum novel length) in 30 days – ie. an average of around 1,667 words per day – but each year more and more people are participating in it (this year even I am). The non-profit organisation tries to motivate anyone who has ever thought about writing to sit down and start writing. The goal is completion and not writing a flawless novel – your draft can later be edited at your own leisure. No official prizes are awarded for length, speed or anything. Anyone who manages to complete the word count is called a “winner”. Since 2006 over a hundred novels have been (traditionally) published with many more novels having been published by smaller presses or self-published. Notable novels completed during NaNoWriMo include The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.

The Essence of Love

You’re beautiful, but you’re empty…One couldn’t die for you. Of course, an ordinary passerby would think my rose looked just like you. But my rose, all on her own, is more important than all of you together, since she’s the one I’ve watered. Since she’s the one I put under glass, since she’s the one I sheltered behind the screen. Since she’s the one for whom I killed the caterpillars (except the two or three butterflies). Since she’s the one I listened to when she complained, or when she boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing at all. Since she’s my rose. – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince (review on site)

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I should have liked to begin this story in the fashion of the fairy-tales. I should have like to say: “Once upon a time there was a little prince rsz_le-petit-prince-1-822x1024_7217who lived on a planet that was scarcely any bigger than himself, and who had need of a sheep…” To those who understand life, that would have given a much greater air of truth to my story.

The Little Prince published in 1943, has gone on to become one of the most famous and well-read French books, with annual sales of 2 million (giving it a total of +140 million copies sold which makes it one of the best selling books ever published) and worldwide recognition as a literary classic. It happens to primarily be a children’s book, complete with illustrations by the author. It’s full of childish inquisitiveness, moral allegories, expounded wisdom and heart-wrenching sadness, an unusual combination if there ever was.  Personally it’s one of the book’s I enjoyed the most and I think this sad, sad Tale of the Little Prince has a marvellous appeal to both children and adults. For after all, “All grown-ups were once children… but only few of them remember it.”


The book is the account of a French aviator who crashes in the Sahara dessert, far from civilization (this actually happened to the author). While faced with dehydration, and desperately trying to fix his plane, he is approached by a young boy who asks him to draw him a sheep. The majority of the story is about the boy (the titular Little Prince) telling the story of how he arrived on Earth – why he left his asteroid, and started travelling from place to place until he came the aviator. During his travels he meets and talks to lots of different creatures, these conversations make up the famous parables of the book.

And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

This is a most remarkable book that I would strongly advise anyone to read. And for this book, I truly mean anyone – irrespective of age. It’s a beautiful, sad and wonderful tale that is sure to captivate. With a total length of 91 pages, there is no excuse for not having time to read this book.


littleprincelandscape

 It is here that the little prince appeared on Earth, and disappeared. Look at it carefully so that you will be sure to recognize it in case you travel some day to the African desert. And, if you should come upon this spot, please do not hurry on. Wait for a time, exactly under the star. Then, if a little man appears who laughs, who has golden hair and who refuses to answer questions, you will know who he is. If this should happen, please comfort me. Send me word that he has come back.

Douglas Adams

The story so far:
In the beginning the Universe was created.
This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.

Douglas Noel Adams (11 March 1952 – 11 May 2001) Douglas Adamsis the author of the best-selling trilogy of five books known as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Douglas Adams is one of the best known comedy writers in the world and personally he is one of my all-time favourite authors. His best known work, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy sold 15 million books in his lifetime and is a quintessential comedy and hallmark of science fiction. He was indeed one of the greats and his work has often been cited by people like Neil Gaiman, Stephen Fry and Eion Colfer as a great influence. He also contributed greatly to radio earning him a commemoration in The Radio Academy’s Hall of Fame. His other works included Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul and  as well as the co-written The Meaning of Liff, The Deeper Meaning of Liff and Last Chance to See. A unfinished collection of his work was published as The Salmon of Doubt in 2002. He was always a ardent fan of technology and new inventions, only seaking for new and fun inovations. A few articles of his on the subject were published in The Salmon of Doubt. He went to great lengths to promote environmentalism and conservation. The plight of endangered animals was the topic of Last Chance to See. Save the Rhino yearly holds the Douglas Adams Memorial Lecture in recognition of him, to raise money for environmental campaigns.

“Science has lost a friend, literature has lost a luminary, the mountain gorilla and the black rhino have lost a gallant defender.” – Richard Dawkins


 The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - full review here

This planet has — or rather had — a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much all of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a trilogy of five parts, is recognised as one the greatest comedies ever written. In BBC’s Big Read (a poll to find the most loved book in the country) the first book was ranked 4th. It originally started as a radio show but has since spread to books, movies, comics, computer games and towels. The books have sold 15 million copies and have been translated into over 30 different languages. A 6th book in the series was written posthumously by Eion Colfer (as Douglas had wanted to write one but died before writing it). The first book of the series was published in 1979 and a full review can be found here


Environmental Work and Last Chance to See

[Mark Carwardine]’s role, essentially, was to be the one who knew what he was talking about. My role, and one for which I was entirely qualified, was to be an extremely ignorant non-zoologist to whom everything that happened would come as a complete surprise.

Douglas Adams was a great supporter of conservation and environmental work. With Mark Carwardine, Adams made Last Chance to See, a radio series (later published in book form) which focused on a variety of endangered species around the world. The animals include the Aye-aye. Komodo Dragon, Mountain gorilla and the Amazonian manatee. He was extremely passionate about the environment and animals and described Last Chance to See as his favourite work. Last Chance to See raised awerness of animals by describing the various expeditions the duo took around the world to visit these animals. He participated and endorsed many environmental fundraisers such as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in a rhino suit for Save the Rhino International.

The people who do understand what we’ve lost are the ones who are rushing around in a frenzy trying to save the bits that are left.


Technology

Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things. 

Douglas Adams was a big fan of technology, innovation. He was extremely impressed by Apple’s ideology and ideas, and was the first person in Europe to get a Macbook. Eventually he became one of the “Apple Masters”, a group of celebrities that Apple used as spokespeople for their products. Later he was a keynote speaker at both The Microsoft Professional Developers Conference and the Embedded Systems Conference. He also published a lot of small articles about technology of which The Salmon of Doubt contains a few.


Music

Beethoven tells you what it’s like to be Beethoven and Mozart tells you what it’s like to be human. Bach tells you what it’s like to be the universe.

Douglas Adams is often quoted as saying that music had a major influence on what he was writing. In addition to listening to music he also had major conections with two bands, Pink Floyd and Procol Harum. On his 42nd birthday he was invited to play in Pink Floyd’s 28 October 1994 concert at Earls Court in London, playing guitar on the songs “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse”. He also chose the name of Pink Floyd’s 1994 album, The Division Bell. Douglas Adams was a friend of Gary Brooker, the lead singer, pianist and songwriter of Procol Harum.Adams appeared on stage with Brooker to perform “In Held Twas in I” at Redhill when the band’s lyricist Keith Reid was not available. He also commonly introduced Procol Harum at their gigs.

Immortality, Inc. by Robert Sheckley

Genre: Science

Rating: 8/10

Robert Sheckley is one if my favourite short storimortality incy writers, not just limited to science fiction. He just has a truly tremendous ability to present a wonderful idea and spin a story from it in just a few pages. This is a widely held view, indeed Neil Gaiman said, “[He was] Probably the best short-story writer during the 50s to the mid-1960s working in any field.” Sheckley was known to be unpredictable, with a absurd sense of humour, resulting in some wonderful stories of which Immortality, Inc. is one.  It  was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel.


 

One of the things I most enjoyed with this book was the remarkable concept behind it. Thomas Blaine was driving home one day when he is involved in a fatal collision. Years later he wakes up in a different body to be informed that has died. But that’s not a big deal as he is alive again. For in the year, 2110 science has discovered how to transfer one’s conscience from body to body – resulting in Blaine’s mind being snatched from his time of death to be placed in a vacated body. Along with this it was proven that there is a reality after death. Only problem is that one can only go it if one undergoes long years of spiritual conditioning. Or you could pay money for a rather expensive treatment that stimulates the brain to achieve this conditioned state. You see guaranteed immortality does exist, but it’s controlled by corporations and requires enormous funds. One of these corporations decided to show of their new “point of death” technique with Blaine, planning to use him as a marketing tool. However now that he’s in the future the higher ups have decided against using him. And so he is left to fend for himself in a harsh future where heaven can be bought and suicide is rather fashionable.

There are 3 possibilites when a man dies. First his mind can just explode, scatter, dissipate; and that’s the end of him. Second his mind can hold together through the death trauma, and he finds himself in the threshold, a spirit. Third, his mind breaks during the death trauma, but not enough to cause dissipation. He pulls through into the threshold. But the strain has been permanently disabling. He is insane. And that is how a ghost is born. They’re filled with twisted hatred, anger, pain.

The writting is witty and snappy, thoroughly enjoyable, and is an excellent example of Sheckley’s skill.  The deft, sarcastic dialogue and the many interesting and unpredictable  concepts that the book holds is wonderful and expectedly leads to an enjoyable read.

Corpses shouldn’t be forced to answer questions. Death was man’s ancient privilege, his immemorial pact with life, granted to the slave as well as the noble. Death was man’s solace, and his right. But perhaps they had revoked that right; and now you couldn’t evade your responsibilities simply by being dead.