I wanted to start the New Year with a book that was funny, comforting, nostalgia-inducing and most of all entertaining. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read this book over the years. I’ve also listened to the wonderful radio play, watched both the classic BBC TV series and the less classic movie adaptation. Oh, I almost forgot, I’ve listened to a few different audiobook versions, too. Yes, I adore Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s a definite 5-Star book for me. But I also realize it isn’t for everyone.
One of Douglas Adams’ greatest ideas was to write the reassuring words DON’T PANIC on the cover of the fictional book. How many of us could use this comforting reminder on a daily basis today? I could’ve made great use of it around ten to fifteen years ago when I was tumbling down my own self-induced rabbit hole, but that’s a tale best left for a never time. *insert winking emoji here*
Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I have the impression that Hitchhiker’s works best for people from the United Kingdom. This is in no way meant to upset or anger anybody, it’s my opinion simply based on the kind of humour that permeates this wonderful book. It’s a very British style of humour filled with satire, sarcasm, the absurd, as well as being very self-deprecating. I’ve heard from friends from different countries that some of them “just don’t get it” when it comes to this book and the rest of the famous “trilogy in five parts“–I don’t recognize the supposed sixth book written by Eoin Colfer, but to be fair I haven’t read it and so it might be good. It just isn’t Douglas Adams.
Over Halloween this year, I listened to an excellent audiobook version of The Exorcist read by the book’s author William Peter Blatty. I recommend it if you can find a copy. I’m from the UK and the home video version of The Exorcist was banned there for years. (According to Wikipedia it was withdrawn from sale in 1988 and not re-released until 1999.) I remember going to watch a midnight showing at my local cinema when they finally lifted the ban. I was in my early twenties and I can still recall the genuinely creepy atmosphere and sense of dread of the movie. And those brilliant practical effects. Yes, it scared me.
‘Actress and divorced mother Chris MacNeil starts to experience ‘difficulties’ with her usually sweet-natured eleven-year-old daughter Regan. The child becomes afflicted by spasms, convulsions and unsettling amnesiac episodes; these abruptly worsen into violent fits of appalling foul-mouthed curses, accompanied by physical mutation. Medical science is baffled by Regan’s plight and, in her increasing despair, Chris turns to troubled priest and psychiatrist Damien Karras.’
Published back in 1971, The Exorcist was a controversial book at its time of release and quickly became a bestseller. In interviews over the years, author William Peter Blatty has declared that he didn’t intend to make it so scary. He wanted to “write a novel that would not only excite and entertain, but would also make a positive statement about God, the human condition and the relationship between the two.”
The Wolfen was a recommendation from fellow blogger Sean P Carlin who described it as a pulpy but decent werewolf story that uses its 1970s New York setting very well. There aren’t very many werewolf books out there so I wanted to give it a try.
The author Whitley Strieber is probably most famous for his book Communion (1987) about his alleged encounters with extraterrestrial beings. I haven’t read that book but I remember watching the Christopher Walken movie from 1988. I only have vague memories of the film but I know it freaked me out at the time. Walken makes pretty much anything he stars in worth a look. It could be time for a re-watch.
I’m not sure what started it but I’ve been going through a bit of a Vietnam War phase over the last few weeks. I watched a very decent Australian movie called Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan (2019) about an Aussie Regiment’s experiences in Vietnam. I followed this with Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter, two absolute classics of the genre. I’ve also been reading some of the old The ‘Nam comics published by Marvel Comics back in the late 1980s. These are surprisingly good comics and still hold up today.
Around the same time, I read a glowing review of Philip Caputo’s 1977 Vietnam War memoir A Rumor of War by Ola G over on Re-enchantment of the World. Her excellent review sold me on the book and I was not disappointed. I recommend you also read Ola’s review if you are interested in this book.
“I’m going to dissect your every thought, your every wish, every dream. I’m going to find out what happened to you, what made you separate yourself from your sisters, what made you decide to become an individual, and when I find out we’ll know how never to allow it to happen again.”
The story begins as civilization is on the verge of collapse. The causes, pollution, disease and climate change, are briefly touched on by the author but she keeps them in the background. Instead, her focus falls on one extended family, the Sumners, and their attempts to survive. They have wealth and education on their side. Their isolated setting near the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia shields them from the worst of the global meltdown until a problem develops with their livestock. They are found to be infertile. When this infertility spreads to the people, the end really does seem nigh. Facing extinction, some of the survivors begin experiments in cloning, first on animals then later on themselves.
“The house was built in unhappiness, has been lived in with unhappiness, there has been blood spilt on its floors, there has been disappearance and accident.”
-JERUSALEM’S LOT by Stephen King
I’ve written about Stephen King before on this blog. In my review of IT back in May 2020, I complained about King’s penchant for ‘overlong’ writing in some of his doorstoppers. I have always thought one of the pieces of advice in his excellent memoir On Writing was ironic. In it, King refers to the classic American writing guide, The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr., and highlights the guideline to “omit needless words.” Of course, it’s all subjective but just imagine if King had applied it more forcibly to his own writing. How about omitting needless pages and pages of backstory, Stephen? No? Well, who am I to argue with one of THE bestselling authors of the last 50 years.
I realize that I’m waffling a bit myself, but I just wanted to say how much I’ve come to prefer King’s shorter works. Which leads us to Night Shift, King’s first collection of short stories.
‘Night Shift: Excursions into Horror is the fifth book published by Stephen King, and his first collection of short stories. The book was released by Doubleday in February of 1978. Night Shift received the Balrog Award for Best Collection, and in 1979 it was nominated as best collection for the Locus Award and the World Fantasy Award. Many of King’s most famous short stories were included in the collection.’
A new edition of The Runaways was recently published and it caught my attention on Amazon. It is one of the books that was read to my class in primary school when I was 10 years old. It’s also one of the only books I remember being read to us. It made a big impression on me at the time. I bought a copy on Kindle thinking it would make a nice and easy read. I was also curious to see what I would think of it now, after all these years. I know it’s often not a good idea to revisit a childhood classic but I gave it a try.
On a night of wild storms, two lonely creatures escape from captivity. One of the creatures is a boy, Smiler, wrongly convicted of stealing, the other a cheetah, Yarra, leaving the Longleat Wild Life Park to have her cubs in privacy.
Both are in danger from the outside world and each other, but somehow their lives become inextricably bound up as they fight for survival on the edge of Salisbury Plain.
The Runaways tells the story of 15-year-old Samuel Miles, or “Smiler” to his friends, and an escaped female cheetah, Yarra. Smiler is on the run from the police after escaping from his reform school. At the same time, Yarra has escaped from Longleat Wildlife Park. Their lives cross paths as they both make their way across the English countryside towards Salisbury Plain. (300-square-mile Salisbury Plain is famous for Stonehenge, as well as its military training area with the abandoned “ghost village” of Imber.)
This is an updated review of one of the first books I posted about on this blog: Inverted World by Christopher Priest. That was back in the days when my blog was called “Who’s Dreaming Who” and everything was still in black and white! (Here’s a link to that review, it’s a very short and simple early review, by the way.)
Christopher Priest is a writer you need to read, it’s as simple as that. I can recommend this book, also his 2002 novel The Separation, and the magical The Prestige (1995), made famous by Christopher Nolan’s 2006 movie.
*If you watch to the end of the video, there is a “ghost” clip of something spooky that happened while I was recording this! Enjoy:-)
Summary of My Updated Review
Helward Mann lives in a city that is “winched along tracks through a devastated land”. Upon reaching the age of 650 miles, he becomes an adult and begins working for the “Track Guild”. Their job is to tear up the track south of the city, and re-lay it in the north. Only guildsmen can leave the city and see what lies outside, and they are sworn to secrecy. Most citizens don’t even know the city is moving.
“Gray Matter” first appeared in the magazine Cavalier in October 1973. It’s taken from Stephen King’s first collection, Night Shift (1978), which contains twenty of his earliest short stories. These stories were originally published between 1970 and 1977. This collection includes Children of the Corn, Quitters Inc., The Lawnmower Man, Trucks, The Ledge, Jerusalem’s Lot, and more.
My Summary & Thoughtson “Gray Matter”
A young boy runs into a 24-hour convenience store during a heavy snowstorm. He looks terrified and asks the owner, Henry, to sell him a case of beer for his father. Henry and the two locals in the store know the boy well. He is Richie Grenadine’s son Timmy, and his father often sends him to buy his beer, making sure it’s the cheapest beer in the store. Richie used to come and buy it himself until fairly recently.
‘And a helm was on his head; a black helm, with a dragon’s head craning over the peak, and dragon’s wings flaring backward above it, and a dragon’s tail curling down the back.’
Yes, I’m very late to the tales of Elric VIII, 428th Emperor of Melniboné. His first appearance was in a novelette titled “The Dreaming City” which was published in the British magazine Science Fantasy in 1961. Since then, Moorcock’s most famous creation has featured in a wide range of stories including short stories, novels, comic books and graphic novels. The publisher Gollancz republished all of Moorcock’s Elric back catalogue over seven volumes from 2013–15. This is the first volume and serves as an introduction to the character.