Just bringing this discussion over to ning...

What books are you reading right now that don't have a narrative driven by images as well as words?

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I recently finished listening to the Librivox version of Murray Leinster's Creatures of the Abyss and am currently listening to "The Devolutionist" by Homer Eon Flint. Link via Wikipedia.

I just finished up Grift Sense by James Swain which was an excellent little crime novel. I

'm a couple of chapters into A Carlin Home Companion by Kelly Carlin, George Carlin's daughter.  I heard her on a podcast a few weeks ago and the book sounded great, so I got it for Christmas.

"The Devolutionist" turned out to be the third in a series of four novellas by Flint in which a group of four people explore other planets. In the first two stories, from 1919, the characters visit other worlds of our solar system using a sky-car invented by Dr Kinney. In the latter two, from 1921, they explore distant worlds psychically using a technique they've learned from the Venusians.

I've just finished listening to the fourth story. (Spoilers follow.) In "The Devolutionist" the characters mentally visit two planets that exist in close conjunction. The ruling class lives on one, and the working class on the other. The ruling class maintains itself in power by repressive means, but the working class is uninterested in revolution. In "The Emancipatrix" they visit a world where bees rule over primitive humans. Later they learn the world is ring-shaped and until recently there were modern countries on the inner surface. These experienced workers' revolts after a WWI-style conflict, but these led to further rounds of fighting (like the Russian Civil War) until almost all were wiped out. The lesson the Earth people draw from their explorations is that compromise is needed between classes.

The stories are mostly interesting as period curiosities. If I ever listen to the first two I'll write about them as well.

Just finished Tess of the D'Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy.

Next up:

On War, by Carl von Clausewitz.

I’ve just finished listening to/reading The Lone Wolf by Louis Joseph Vance. This is a thriller from 1914(1) primarily set in Paris. The title character is Michael Lanyard, a jewel thief who works alone. A consortium of bigwig crooks attempt to force him to join their organisation. While trying to escape their snares he falls in love. By the end of the book (spoiler warning) Lanyard has reformed and is planning marriage.

I thought the book read like one from the 20s/30s. The pre-war tension between Germany and France is alluded to but not central to the plot. The story is told from Lanyard’s point of view but in the third person. There’s a Paris car chase. An airplane chase forms the climax and is particularly well-written.

Vance wrote further books starring the character, and he also appeared in movies and on radio and TV.

Columbia made a long-running B-movie series. Several actors played Lanyard, but Warren William appeared in the role most. Eric Blore, who was Bates in Top Hat, played his butler. (I suspect the role was created for him. There isn't such a character in the present book.) They also played the roles in an episode of the radio show Suspense called “Murder Goes for a Swim”, which can be found online.

(1) I assume this is the date of the work’s first book publication. I have no information as to whether it had previously appeared in a magazine.

Today's book is a Tom Corbett juvenile novel, On the Trail of the Space Pirates by Carey Rockwell. This was a pseudonym, and author's real name is uncertain; the site I linked to suggests two possibilities on its second page. Willy Ley was credited on the covers as "technical advisor".

In the book Tom and co. are assigned to display their ship at an exposition. They are suspicious of the neighbouring concession, which takes people on rides into space. It turns out their neighbours have burrowed for the time capsule buried during the exposition and have been dumping the dirt in space. The theft is part of the break-out scheme of a renegade Solar Guardsman called Bull Coxine, who is imprisoned on a prison asteroid.(1) After the break-out he and the other escapees become space pirates

The book is in the style of older juvenile novels, and belongs a type of SF that depicts the spacefaring future but avoids flights of fantasy (apart from the characters' "paralo-ray" weapons). It's mostly on about the level one would expect, but the break-out sequence is memorable because it comes suddenly and shows how difficult it would be to defend a location from an attack from space.

Louis Glanzman(2) drew the spot illustrations, which are included with the text at Project Gutenberg. This was Sam Glanzman's brother, who also worked in comics. There's an image of a monorail car near the start that has a Kirby look to it.

Librivox has an audio version, which I partly listened to.

(1) The prisoners are all people who have refused "psychotherapeutic readjustment to make them into new men". ("You mean," gasped Roger, "that the men on this asteroid deliberately chose to remain criminals?" "Yes, Manning," said Strong. "Rather than become healthy citizens of the system, they prefer to stay here and waste their lives in isolation with no hope of ever returning to society.")

(2) Adult content elsewhere at site.

I've finished a few more things.

In "Asteroid of Fear" by Raymond Z. Gallun the first homesteader on Vesta has trouble with the miners working the asteroid’s other side.

Badge of Infamy by Lester de Rey depicts a future in which a guild called the Medical Lobby controls the practice of medicine, and puts its rules ahead of patients. The protagonist is a doctor who was kicked out for conducting an emergency operation outside a hospital. He travels to Mars as a spaceman and is drawn into practising illegally. He realises deaths he has seen have been caused by a Martian disease and an epidemic is beginning. His efforts to combat it become mixed up with Mars's struggle for independence. I listened to this and the above story via Librivox.

The Modesty Blaise book I was reading was Last Day in Limbo. A millionaire has rich people kidnapped so his crazy aunt can enslave them on her secret plantation in Guatemala. There is no possibility of escape and all the slaves will be killed when the aunt dies. There are a number of connections to earlier books in the series.

I’ve listened to/read Planet of the Damned by Harry Harrison and read another Modesty Blaise novel.

Planet of the Damned was Harrison’s third novel. As in his first, Deathworld, the protagonist has to solve the secrets of an alien world to avert a disaster. In this case the world is a desert planet where life is cheap and forms of symbiosis between the human inhabitants and local life have developed. The local lords have acquired nuclear weapons and mean to attack a pacifist planet. The pacifist planet is going to have to commit genocide to save itself and this will wreck it culturally. The book predates the jokey turn in Harrison’s work.

There’s actually a comics connection here: Harrison was a comics artist when younger - he worked with Wally Wood - and wrote the Dan Barry Flash Gordon daily strip for a time.

The Modesty Blaise novel was Dragon’s Claw. Modesty is sailing a yacht solo from Australia to New Zealand when she comes upon a man in a dinghy who turns out to be a famous painter who went missing the previous month in Malta. He can’t remember what happened to him. The book holds back on revealing the identity of the head villain, but it’s very obvious. One feels Modesty and Willie should have figured it out. But the climax the best from the novels I’ve read so far.

Since my last post I’ve read/listened to The False Faces by Louis Joseph Vance and The Black Sun Passes by John W. Campbell, Jr., and read The Coming of the Rats by George H. Smith and another Modesty Blaise novel, The Night of Morningstar.

The False Faces, from 1918, is the second Lone Wolf novel, set during WWI. Lanyard and his wife settled in Belgium, and his wife and child were killed when Germany invaded. His driving desire now is revenge, and he takes a ship for America in pursuit of the spy who fingered them. En route a British woman entrusts him with a document, it's stolen, he gets knocked overboard, and the ship is torpedoed. The U-boat surfaces under him and he poses as a German spy. (This part of the book reminded me of Greenmantle.) He learns that America has declared war. The sub berths in a secret base at Martha's Vineyard, and he sinks the sub, escapes, and reports the base to the authorities. He subsequently makes his way to New York, robs a safe, escapes with the woman from a nightclub controlled by the Germans, breaks into German spy HQ, aids the woman again, arranges the death of his enemy, and reveals a traitor in the household of the local British spy chief. There's also a car chase involving a bus.

John W. Campbell, Jr. had a big influence on American SF as the editor of Astounding/Analog from 1937-71. But he started out as a writer. The Black Star Passes is a collection of three novellas from his Arcot, Morey and Wade series. These are super-science stories set in the future, somewhat like the work of E.E. Smith but with more of a tech emphasis. The protagonists are young men who solve problems by deducing how their opponents do things and then building a device that can overcome them. In “Piracy Preferred” the authorities are unable to stop the robberies of an air pirate. Arcot figures out his methods, and he and Morey and capture him. (The pirate is Wade; he’s cured of his kleptomania between stories.) In “Solarite” the trio travel to Venus and find a giant craft attacking a city. They save the city and learn from its inhabitants that the other race is planning to attack Earth. In “The Black Star Passes” humanoids from the planets of a dead star attempt to invade the solar system. The story culminates in a giant battle in space. This reminded me of Campbell’s later story “The Last Evolution”, which depicts an even more epic space war and takes the theme of technological/tactical evolution during the course of a war further.

In The Coming of the Rats survivors of WWIII in a valley in California have to fight off a horde of rats. It’s a short book and the rat fight doesn’t come until the final fifteen pages, but I like that idea and the climax is decently done. The book is mediocre otherwise, with sexploitation content. George H. Smith should not be confused with George O. Smith.

The Night of Morningstar involves a Soviet plot to murder the heads of the Western nations using a terrorist front group called the Watchmen. The opening chapters are set several years earlier, during the final days of the Network.

This post displaced the thread Big Digital Comics Sale from the homepage.

Finished Cryptonomicon yesterday: one of my favorite books, ever. I can't recommend it highly enough. A long book, but I didn't want it to end. Read it, Travis!

Travis Herrick (Modular Mod) said:

I have had that one for a few years now, but I've never gotten around to reading it. Let me know what you think when you finish

Mark Sullivan (Vertiginous Mod) said:

I'm still working my way through Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, which is definitely historical fiction rather than science fiction. It reminds me of both Underworld (which I've read fairly recently) and Gravity's Rainbow (if memory serves). It's terrific, so much so that I don't mind the length at all. I expect to be sorry when it's over.

Slowly reading through the Lovecraftian stories of Ramsey Campbell (slowly because there aren't really that many of them). Campbell lives in England and I believe he was the first published writer of Lovecraft stories written in a country other than the United States.

I just started reading "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.  I read "The Gulag Archipelago" about 25 years ago and I'm finally getting around to his other great works. 

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