WWI Front Line: "The Dark Lantern" by Henry Williamson

Dark Lantern (Pocket Classics) - David Fine, Henry Williamson

(Original Review, 1981-05-05)

The best fictional writing about the First World War is a series of novels written by Henry Williamson. In a long fictional cycle with the overall title of "A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight" there are 5 novels that deal with the period 1914 - 1918.

These are: “How Dear is Life”, “A Fox under My Cloak”, “The Golden Virgin”, “Love and the Loveless”, “A Test to Destruction.”



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The Juggernaut: "Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften" by Robert Musil

Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften: Band 1: Erstes und Zweites Buch. Band 2: Aus dem Nachlaß: 2 Bände. - Robert Musil

(Original Review, 2007-05-05)

I've long waited for someone explain to me what the criteria are to select the best fiction out there. I know when I like a book or when others like a book, yet critics and intellectually sophisticated people often talk about books as if one can assess their value objectively, going beyond mere preference. Yet, mysteriously, the criteria by which literacy value is to be assessed are never stated with sufficient precision so that they can actually be applied. This article is a case in point. Even though saying exactly what literary value is would be of extraordinary importance to make the point the author wants to. In the absence of any solid and justifiable philosophy underpinning assessments of literary value, I fear we have to take pronouncements on what's good and what's bad as a form of virtue signalling in certain circles.



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Ruthless Pursuit: "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald

(Original review, 1981-04-30)

“The Great Gatsby” is essentially a love story. Daisy turns out to be as unattainable to Jay as Beatrice was to Dante but this being the US, the hero doesn't elevate his idol to muse status; instead he embarks on a ruthless pursuit that ends up destroying him.

It's difficult in the present era of throwaway relationships to comprehend the extent of Gatsby's romantic obsession. The questions are: 1) would he have taken to crime had Daisy returned his love and told her wealthy family to go to hell and 2) did he love Daisy precisely because she was a romantic chimera, a glamorous woman who represented a rarefied world he wished to conquer?




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Saviours: "The Future of Work: Robots, AI, and Automation" by Darrell M. West

The Future of Work: Robots, AI, and Automation - Darrell M. West

Imagine the scene: It's 2025 and a school student is visiting their careers adviser.

Student: Hey there, so do you have any advice for me in choosing a career?
Adviser: Well, we've monitored your performance over the last 13 years of schooling, your interests and abilities and used our software to predict which roles you would be best suited to.
Student: Ok, so whats the result?
Adviser: We are terribly sorry, but it seems you are what is commonly called a 'spare'
Student: Umm..a spare?



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Similar Story Archs: "Past Tense" by Lee Child

Past Tense: (Jack Reacher 23) - Lee Child

I have said elsewhere that crime fiction seems to flourish in times of stress, such as our era now. I fully expect more great detective fiction in the near future as it is one of the few genres that can show society from top to bottom: the detective, investigator or whatever, in many of the best novels, talks to both the monied and the moneyless at the same time against a puzzling foreground as broad and as complex as the society, or the human beings, that carry out and solve seemingly deeply baffling crimes at the outset of any great novel.



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N-Dimensional Topology: "Cosmosapiens" by John Hands

Cosmosapiens: Human Evolution From the Origin Of the Universe - John Hands

Me: 'Whatever happened to Occam's Razor? This stuff makes Plato's Forms look like one of the most sober and parsimonious metaphysics imaginable! I would like to point anyone interested in this stuff to an amazing non-performance of a book called "Cosmosapiens" by John Hands. Hands has the nerve to subject all these theories (the Big Bang, Inflation, multiverse theories and much more) to the actual evidence we have, rather than arcane mathematical models that try to extrapolate from it in various directions, or else wild speculation (or both). None of them come out well. The universe looks as if it is much other than these theorists try to paint it.
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Rattling SF: “The Affirmation” by Christopher Priest

The Affirmation - Christopher Priest

“Living is not an art, but to write of life is. Life is a series of accidents and anticlimaxes, misremembered and misunderstood, with lessons only dimly learned. Life is disorganized, lacks shape, lacks story.”

In “The Affirmation” by Christopher Priest

A Priest book isn't just a (SF) book. It is the distilled essence of a philosophy, a memoir; a piece of someone's soul. Losing the book is losing that element. On a more mundane level, it is also a memory - I read a book when I was about 7 (a proto-choose-your-own-adventure thing) that I've fitfully searched for ever since and never found, and doing so would put me right back on my nan's sofa on a Saturday afternoon with the wrestling on.




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Fiction Without Fiction: "The Impostor" by Javier Cercas

El Impostor - Javier Cercas

(Original Review, 2014-11-24)

“The Impostor” is the story of Enric Marco, a fake holocaust survivor from the Flossenbürg concentration camp and one time chairman of the French association Amicale de Mauthausen. Cercas labels it a "novel without fiction", presumably because literary awards for fiction are sexier than those for non-fiction. It’s been done before, as Cercas points out, referencing Truman Capote and Emmanuel Carrère (but not poor Norman Mailer). To be fair, it’s been done before by Cercas as well. Ever since the success of "Soldier of Salamis" rescued his faltering literary career back in 2002, Cercas has been grafting fiction to varying degrees onto real life characters and events.
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.


Performing in Silence: “The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea” by Yukio Mishima

The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea - John Nathan, Yukio Mishima

(Original Review, 1981-04-24)

“They performed in silence. He trembled a little out of vanity, as when he had first scaled the mast. The woman’s lower body, like a hibernating animal half asleep, moved lethargically under the quilts; he sensed the stars of night tilting dangerously at the top of the mast. The stars slanted into the south, swung to the north, wheeled, whirled into the east, and seemed finally to be impaled on the tip of the mast. By the time he realized this was a woman, it was done...”

In “The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea” by Yukio Mishima.

I've read many scary books with frightening stories before and since, but they don't disturbed me the way this book did. The book was disturbing in a completely different way - it felt as if it was talking about me, saying something that's scary yet true about me.




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The Abyss of Horror: "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy

The Road - Cormac McCarthy

(Original Review, 2006-09-30)

“Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.”

In “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy
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Growing Inward: "The Blind Owl" by by Sadegh Hedayat

The blind owl - Sadegh Hedayat

(Original Review, 1981-04-20)

“I was growing inward incessantly; like an animal that hibernates during the wintertime, I could hear other peoples' voices with my ears; my own voice, however, I could hear only in my throat. The loneliness and the solitude that lurked behind me were like a condensed, thick, eternal night, like one of those nights with a dense, persistent, sticky darkness which waits to pounce on unpopulated cities filled with lustful and vengeful dreams.”

In “The Blind Owl” by Sadegh Hedayat

“My one fear is that tomorrow I may die without having come to know myself.”

In “The Blind Owl” by Sadegh Hedayat



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Youthful Frolicking: "The Mysterious Stranger" by Mark Twain

The Mysterious Stranger - Mark Twain

(Original Review, 1981-04-17)

“The Mysterious Stranger” by Mark Twain which presented a very bleak and troubling vision of humanity. It had some Huck Finn style youthful frolicking too but this was swamped by that sense that human history and the consequences of moral decision making are a horrible dream that the narrator may be able to escape from but we cannot. I was expecting some jolly progressive waffle about the stupidity of religion but the book went far deeper than that especially when Satan started compassionately bumping people off because he could foretell how awful their lives would be if he didn't.





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Coagulating Disgust: "I Was Dora Suarez" by Derek Raymond

I Was Dora Suarez (Factory 4) - Derek Raymond

(Original Review, 1990-04-17)

“He produced a big 9mm Quickhammer automatic with the tired ease of a conjurer showing off to a few girls and shlacked one into the chamber. He told Roatta: ‘Now I want you nice and still while all this is going on, Felix, because you’re going to make a terrible lot of mess.’
Roatta immediately screamed: ‘Wait! Wait!’ but his eyes were brighter than he was, and knew better. They had stopped moving before he did, because they could see there was nothing more profitable for them to look at, so instead they turned into a pair of dark, oily stones fixed on the last thing they would ever see – eternity in the barrel of a pistol. His ears were also straining with the intensity of a concert pianist for the first minute action inside the weapon as the killer’s finger tightened, because they knew that was the last sound they would ever heard. So in his last seconds of life, each of them arranged for him by his senses, Roatta sat waiting for the gun to explode with the rapt attention of an opera goer during a performance by his favourite star, leaning further and further forward in his chair until his existence was filled by, narrowed down to, and finally became the gun.”

In "I Was Dora Suarez" by Derek Raymond




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The All-Powerful State: "One" by David Karp

One - David Karp

(Original Review, 1981-04-15)

"One" by David Karp, 1953.

It is like a nightmarish but plausible convergence of an über HR Services Dept. and the State, attempting to flush out and supplant individual heresy with conformity, even when dealing with the life of a most innocuous individual. A bit like some of the places we now have to work in really. Sh*t, I've really dropped myself in it now. I’m so skeptical and paranoid of any workplace that attempts to implement cultural change ever since. (I automatically switch in to heresy mode, can't help it.) They won’t come for me yet but it'd be only a matter of time, why are they waiting? Posting this now before it's too late because I don’t even what I’m going to major in, maybe Theoretical Physics or Computer Science, let alone what work I’ll do in the future [2018 EDIT: It’s so funny reading this in 2018…ROTFL!]




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Would-Be Communism: "Chevengur" by Andrei Platonov, Anthony Olcott (Trans.)

Chevengur - Andrei Platonov

(Original review, 1981-04-10)

Dino Buzzati's “The Tartar Steppe” disturbed me in the most elemental way. I found it extremely hard to finish yet I couldn't put it down. McCarthy's “Blood Meridian” is also unsettling, but in a glorious way. In some respects I found it very similar to “Moby Dick.” Finally, I'd nominate Andrei Platonov's novel Chevengur as one of the most parodic ans horrific horror stories that disturbs because of its truth.





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Phallocracy: "Juliette" by Marquis de Sade, Austryn Wainhouse (Trans.)

Juliette - Austryn Wainhouse, Marquis de Sade

(Original Review, 1981-04-04)

Histoire de Juliette ou les Prospérités du Vice (Story of Juliette or The Prosperities of Vice) by de Sade.

Profoundly disturbing - not only in its depiction of cold-hearted indulgence, by way of a text nearly as long as War and Peace, in murder, rape, robbery and more horrors besides, but also in its capability to beguile and confuse readers of a feminist persuasion.

Angela Carter fell for it: "[Sade's] great women [characters in Juliette], ... once they have tasted power, once they know how to use their sexuality as an instrument of aggression, they use it to extract vengeance for the humiliations they were forced to endure as the passive objects of the sexual energy of others ...”




If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

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