March Reading Thread

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Warriorborn: A Cinder Spires Novella by Jim Butcher. Excellent: but like all novellas I've ever read, too short.
With novellas in general, I always end up thinking "Well, I enjoyed that, but it's a shame that it wasn't a full-length novel." I appreciate that sometimes the plot is too slight to carry one, but they always make me think that they're a wasted opportunity.
Perhaps oddly, I occasionally have the exact opposite reaction: "Well, I enjoyed that, but it would have been so much better at half the length."
 
Warriorborn: A Cinder Spires Novella by Jim Butcher. Excellent: but like all novellas I've ever read, too short.
With novellas in general, I always end up thinking "Well, I enjoyed that, but it's a shame that it wasn't a full-length novel." I appreciate that sometimes the plot is too slight to carry one, but they always make me think that they're a wasted opportunity.
The next Cinder Spires novel starts directly after the events in Warriorborn. You can consider Warriorborn a sort of side quest or spy mission before the big stuff. I suspect it might have been the beginning of the next novel but got cut for various reasons, and then converted into a novella, because "why not?"
 
I’ve just finished reading The Green Knight, by Vera Chapman.

Being still in the mood to revisit some of the Arthurian retellings/reimaginings which brought me delight in years gone by, I chose this time to reread Vera Chapman’s YA fantasy-romance, based on the famous medieval poem by an anonymous poet.

I know for some of you “YA” and “romance”—alone or in combination—are the kiss of death, and if this applies to you, you won't want to read my review which is posted here: Review: The Green Knight, YA fantasy romance
 
Finished The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World by Bettany Hughes, which, in addition to amazing and illuminating details of the actual wonders themselves, is an amazing trek through antiquity and very highly recommended.

Not sure what's up next, but looking at either Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore or Pax by Tom Holland. Not sure what reading mood I'm in, so it could be neither!
 
I'm rereading Charles Williams's Descent into Hell, which in its basic plot is a kind of Gothic horror novel. It moves very slowly, and though I have been reading and rereading Williams for over 50 years, I find myself giving up on understanding what he is saying. At times it's as if he's talking to himself. He knows what he means but doesn't take sufficient care to keep the reader with him. I suppose the editor responsible for the publication of this book was T. S. Eliot (or that Eliot was involved in the acceptance anyway, but I don't know). Eliot knew Williams, eventually anyway, and was highly appreciative of his work, and probably also rather tolerant of a difficult style. I think now that Descent into Hell is something of a book apart over against the other six novels in being so dense and slow. Yet it might be his masterpiece. This would have been a good one to study with a sympathetic, knowledgeable, first-rate teacher. I can only imagine how great it would have been to be in a seminar on this novel with Stephen Medcalf as the professor -- supposing that ever happened.

As far as I know, this, the 6th of the seven novels, was written before Williams became involved with the Inklings. Only his last, All Hallows' Eve, was written with their input, and it can't be a coincidence that it is so much more readable than Descent. It seems to me to combine the brooding intelligence of Descent with the accessibility of the earlier "thrillers." I'd say All Hallows' Eve is his best novel. But the best one to start with might well be the Grail thriller misleadingly titled War in Heaven or the amazingly original Platonic thriller called The Place of the Lion. For people who like horror fiction, definitely War in Heaven.

Having finished a rereading, after 15 years or so, of Charles Williams's Descent into Hell -- yes, it might be his masterpiece. It's a densely written tale of the supernatural and definitely an example of Literary Fiction. It will exasperate readers who read for a fast-moving plot and, at times, even many readers who don't demand that.

I was reminded of Oliver Onions's "The Beckoning Fair One" quite a lot; also of Le Guin's evocation of the death-realm in The Farthest Shore, and even of King's Pet Sematary, a novel I wouldn't read again because of its wallowing in ugliness -- but as I recall from reading that 40 years ago, the idea is that a town or housing development has been built on a Micmac burial ground. In Williams's novel, a key element is that the suburban enclave of Battle Hill is built on a place where many people have been killed in war.

One focuses on the small cast of characters much of the time, but an important theme is what Williams calls "Gomorrah." By this he means, in part, something especially characteristic of modern times (he was writing during the vogue for Freud): "Hysteria of self-knowledge, monotony of self-analysis, introspection spreading like disease, what was all this but the infection communicated over the unpurified borders of death? The spirits of the living world were never meant to be so neighbourly with the spirits of that other." Lilith in the guise of a sympathizing old lady, Lily Sammile, patters around and at last is found to live in a ramshackle shed on the edge of a cemetery. Puffs of dust and soil begin to break out in the cemetery. A great modern poet's play is performed by a group of Battle Hill amateurs, and some are uplifted, but after the play many fall sick. The poet says (this is in the last few pages) "'I don't think anyone will die ...But I think the plague will spread. The dead were very thick here; perhaps that was why it began here.'"

It's a novel of ideas for sure.
 
Having finished a rereading, after 15 years or so, of Charles Williams's Descent into Hell -- yes, it might be his masterpiece. It's a densely written tale of the supernatural and definitely an example of Literary Fiction. It will exasperate readers who read for a fast-moving plot and, at times, even many readers who don't demand that.
I read it about the same time, and it probably deserves another read from me too. My memory of it is vague, apart from what you've just reminded me of, but I recall it certainly felt weightier than All Hallow's Eve.
 
I read it about the same time, and it probably deserves another read from me too. My memory of it is vague, apart from what you've just reminded me of, but I recall it certainly felt weightier than All Hallow's Eve.

Graham Greene categorized his book-length fictions into Entertainments and Novels. War in Heaven, Many Dimensions, The Place of the Lion, The Greater Trumps, the fledgling effort Shadows of Ecstasy -- these are Entertainments, but Descent into Hell is a Novel for sure. All Hallows' Eve maybe straddles the line.
 
To you Mr Chips (1938) by James Hilton.
I thought this was a sequel to Goodbye Mr Chips (1933) but it's proving to be a collection of essays and short stories set around the school where Mr Chips taught.
It's a very interesting look at public school life in days gone by. I'm enjoying it a lot.
 
I see what you mean, and I too was struck by some of those instances at the time, but immediately forgot about them as I was swept along by the narrative. I always am. I’m a terrible reviewer.

I was never bothered by the selective amnesia however, because it is a real phenomenon, well documented, brought on normally by extreme stress. Agatha Christie’s lost weeks is a case in point.

FYI, the protagonist goes back later after the birds have finished nesting and dismantles the nests to retrieve as many as possible of the bits of paper.



You do wonder if the author could have done with the assistance of a slightly more thorough editor, if the issues are mostly quite easy to address. Perhaps her success has made the publishers cautious of criticising?
I think it's not really Clarke's style to go into detail about how the fantastical elements work, in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell how the magic worked usually seem to be however the plot needed it to work at the time.
 
Finished The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World by Bettany Hughes, which, in addition to amazing and illuminating details of the actual wonders themselves, is an amazing trek through antiquity and very highly recommended.

Not sure what's up next, but looking at either Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore or Pax by Tom Holland. Not sure what reading mood I'm in, so it could be neither!
It was neither. I'm now reading Hauntings: A Book of Ghosts and Where to Find Them Across 25 Eerie British Locations by Neil Oliver.

Needless to say from what I've read so far, I won't be going anywhere near any of those locations.
 
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I have finished my retro read of Gregory Benford. If you want to read scientifically oriented exploration of the universe by humans who are recognizable as our immediate descendents, Benford is your author. This describes his Galactic Center series as well as books written with Brin and others. More recent stuff, some of which I mentioned recently, also fits this description, as does The Sunborn.
Benford follows his pattern of segmenting the action into three sections. Here the exploration is of Pluto and the further out Oort cloud. Leave it to a physics prof to make science interesting. Benford goes somewhat cosmic. Why should Pluto be warming up? What is out there and what is their interest? Entities on Pluto? In a deep freeze closer to absolute zero than to what we think of as being compatible with life, how the Hell? Well, the description "cosmic" applies. He anchors the action with human personalities, not just airy exploration. I was still disappointed with the last section. The extra-solar entities are initially fascinating, but rapidly come across as quarrelsome pseudo humans.
Final rating? nine on a scale of ten for creativity. Four or five for development (at the end.)
 
I am about to start The Time-Swept City (1977) by Thomas F. Monteleone, an early science fiction novel from an author later known more for horror. Effusive praise from Harlan Ellison and Roger Zelazny on the back cover. Like many SF books, it's a fix-up novel, incorporating four stories, dating from 1973 to 1977, into the text. It appears to be a future history of the city of Chicago, progressing far into the future.
 
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