Harry Harrison - Technicolour Time Machine
It's been decades since I read this book for the first time, I was a young teenager I think. It's strange how your memory plays tricks on you too. I remembered it as a comedy but it isn't. It's quietly amusing in parts and mildly frivolous in it's treatment of the film industry but not particularly funny.
I think because I was expecting laughs I didn't really enjoy this as much as I could have done. It was a good solid tale though and sitting here all insomnia'd up at 2:10am it was suitable companionship as I got to read the last 80 pages.
I'm glad I took another look at it as it'd been a while since I'd read any H.H. books (Deathworld 1 about 10 years ago was the last). Not as good as I remembered but a nice way to while away some time.
Mark Hodder - Burton & Swinburne in The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack
Quite frankly this novel turned out to be one of the best books it's been my pleasure to read in a very long time. For his debut novel Hodder takes that heaviest-weight of 19th century adventurers, Richard Burton, partners him with an obscure and largely unsung poet, Algernon Swinburne, and weaves them into a riveting romp through an irrevocably altered Victorian (now Albertian) period. The catalyst for this change and the unorthodox partnership is the mysterious Spring-Heeled Jack whose mythos has been seemlessly interwoven into the narrative.
Burton is a dynamo of energy and it's surprising that he has not been utilised more in fiction of this kind in the past. His real life adventures are audition enough to make his adoption of his role in the narrative utterly plausible. Swinburne's very obscurity for the reader (or at least this reader) allows him the opportunity to become anything Hodder desires of him.
The partnership are assigned a new role of secret investigators for the King in this brave new world of rampant technological and biological advances. Some of which are maybe a little too major for the sort of timelines hinted at but it all goes to serve the tale so I don't really care too much.
As a villain Jack offers much and the seamless way in which Hodder has woven the folktales surrounding this Victorian enigma into the story is an absolute joy. His presence augmented by the maniacal villainy of some other familiar historical faces whose fates, like Burton and Swinburne, have been irrevocably changed by this interloper.
As I said earlier, it's been a while since I enjoyed a book as much as this and that this is a debut novel is nothing short of astonishing. The recommendation on the front from Michael Moorcock (saying pretty much the same as I did in that last sentence) is very apt as it is he that is most brought to mind in Hodder's writing, the characters almost ooze a Moorcockian presence and solidity that enables them to utterly exist within the storyworld no matter how deranged. This is Hodder's baby though and he does have a voice that is very much his own and is both engaging and compulsive. He takes no shortcuts and never leaves the the reader to flounder in unnecessary world-building, wool gathering or naval gazing. The plot is tight, the characters well rounded and engaging and the setting is one I wish to visit again and again.
It's my understanding that the follow up (called, I believe, 'The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man') is on it's way and I for one cannot wait.
Mark Hodder - Burton & Swinburne in the Curious Case of the Clockwork Man
The first of these Burton & Swinburne books was one of my highlights of last year. This one has set the bar terrifically high for this one.
Chronologically there's only a small gap between the two but mention is made of a few other cases i n the interim. This story is based around the story of the Tichborne affair - a real life court case regarding a claim to the Tichborne fortune. In this version however it is the Rakes (dandy anarchists) faction, under the sway of some ghostly woman, who are attempting to replace the missing heir as part of their wider plan. Their claim is blatantly fraudulent yet for some reason people, including Swinburne, are falling for it hook line and sinker. It soon becomes evident that this is linked with the theft of some black diamonds that Burton was investigating earlier.
As the popularity of the monstrous Tichburne claimant spreads among the working classes of London things start to look decidedly violent and grim.
I really like the way Hodder easily juggles a large cast most of whom have some basis in real Victorian life. Easily my favourite addition to the roster this time off is the philosopher Herbert ('Survival of the Fittest') Spencer. I'm so glad he's staying on board for the duration as he was a delight as a character.
Gripping and enthralling throughout with an ending both satisfying and intriguing. I am so very glad that there was a sequel to Spring-Heeled Jack but also that there's another in the sequence due later this year.
Mark Hodder - Burton & Swinburne in Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon
The third - and perhaps final - chronicle in the adventures of the explorer Rishard Burton and poet Algernon Swinburne. This follows on from almost immediately from the second volume where the defeat of the Russian interlopers and the acquisition of the second of the Naga diamonds has prompted / necessitated a return to Africa and the area of the source of the Nile in order to find the third diamond.
In this the two, along with their phalanx of friends are opposed by Burton's rival John Speke and the Prussians who are both supporting him and eugenicists.
The story unfolds in three different time frames; the present time of the expedition, in 1914 some 20/30 years after Burton's death in an Africa devastated by a terrible war that the British have lost to the rampaging plant and animals of the Prussians and in a 3rd time that I'm going to avoid discussing.
For me the book didn't sing as loudly or as clearly as the previous two. It was, like the expedition, a bit of a slog in parts. It never let up the pace and was quite fantastic for pretty much it's entirety but I adored the others and so this one even though it fell short of that level of love was still head and shoulders above most of the stuff I read to get me through the day.
I'm not sorry if this is the end of the series - even if the end was a little odd. It's been a trip and I very much look forward to where Hodder goes next.
William Hope Hodgson – The Casebook of Carnacki: Ghost Hunter
A year or so ago I heard the ‘Weird Tales for Winter’ version of ‘Gateway of the Monster’ and shortly after that I read ‘The Whistling Room’ as a back-up story in one of the Doctor Who novellas – ‘Foreign Devils’ by Andrew Cartmel – these sent me looking for the full anthology.
The two I already knew are amongst the best of the 9 Carnacki stories here. ‘The Hog’ was also pretty fab as was ‘the Horse of the Invisible’ even if part of the ending was maybe a little poor.
‘The House Among the Laurels’ was a silly but fun Sherlockian short. ‘The Find’ was too brief by far and felt undeveloped. ‘The Haunted Jarvee’ had its moments but didn’t really go anywhere.
‘The Thing Invisible’ was another basic Sherlock investigation and ‘The Searcher of the End House’ had nothing to offer in the end to live up to the build-up.
At best Hodgson was a journeyman writer. There are some nice ideas in there and the fact that Carnacki doesn’t always come across supernatural causes to the crimes he investigates is very satisfying. The stories though, often feel underdeveloped and the character himself is too dry and stunted and just doesn’t have the personality to truly carry the story, he really needs a Watson. Perhaps if Hodgson had survived WWI he would have developed his style and the character. It would have been interesting to see how his experiences would have influenced his words. Alas it was not to be.
Robert Holmes & Rene Basilico - Aliens in the Mind
Originally starting life as a proposed Doctor Who script (Second Doctor) this was later made into this fantastic sci-fi serial starring real-life friends Peter Cushing and Vincent Price as old college friends – eminent brain surgeon John Cornelius and his laconic college friend and parapsychologist Curtis Lark.
I’m very pleased that it was turned down. Cushing & Price are in phenomenal form trading banter and handling the often pretty absurd banter with aplomb. And, let’s be honest here they both have amazing voices that I could listen to all day.
The story details their discovery (via another old friend) of colony of telepathic ‘mutants’ on a small Scottish island. Amongst their number they identify two women they describe as ‘controllers’, mutants who can control the actions of other mutants. Their investigation into this phenomena leads them to London and an attempt to take over the government. Which they foil in what must be said is an anticlimactic ending.
The whole thing is gloriously dated and sublimely archaic and great, great, great fun.