Saturday, March 04, 2017

Robert W. Chambers revisited

Felt a bit better today, less tired and not as dizzy.  No appointments today for a change, so spent the afternoon quietly at home listening to music and re-reading Robert W. Chambers' short story "The Repairer of Reputations."

I had not read Chambers since my teenage years, and I had forgotten nearly all of it.  [Spoilers ahead!]  It is narrated by a troubled man in what was then the near future, and some parts of the story don't seem to add up.  But the first time you read the story you shrug that off, figuring that you'll eventually work out what is going on.

When I was younger, I was slightly baffled by the story and did not appreciate Chambers' artfulness in showing us everything through the eyes of an unreliable narrator.  In fact, you realize after a few pages, we are hearing a tale told to us by a madman  -- nobody and nothing he describes are likely to be true. 

The story was first published in the 1895 collection THE KING IN YELLOW and has achieved a new life through being referenced in recent movies and television shows.   I suspect, though, that readers who come to the book through that route will be as nonplussed by the story as I was in the 1960s. 

  
 

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Books of 1972




Recently on Facebook, there was some discussion about the number of books I seemed to have read down the years.    I explained that a lot of my reading had been done in my early years when I had a book on the go almost continuously.  From memory I used to read about six paperbacks a week.

To examine the original data, I blew the dust off one of my old notebooks (and I mean that literally) and opened it to see what I read in the month of November 1972, which is -- um -- almost 45 years ago.

  1. THE KANDY-KOLORED TANGERINE-FLAKE STREAMLINE BABY by Tom Wolfe
  2. PROFESSOR JAMESON SPACE ADVENTURES: TWIN WORLDS by Neil R Jones
  3. THE BLIND WORM by Brian Stableford
  4. SEED OF THE DREAMERS by Emil Petaja
  5. PERRY RHODAN: PLANET OF THE DYING SUN
  6. DON'T FALL OFF THE MOUNTAIN by Shirley MacLaine
  7. LOST HORIZON by James Hilton
  8. THE CYBERNETIC BRAINS by Raymond F. Jones
  9. NEW WORLDS QUARTERLY No.2
  10. THE DAYS OF GLORY by Brian Stableford
  11. THE INHERITORS by A. Bertram Chandler
  12. THE GATEWAY TO NEVER by A. Bertram Chandler
  13. KING KOBOLD by Christopher Stasheff
  14. THE HIGH HEX by Laurence M. Janifer & S.J. Treibich
  15. NEBULA AWARD STORIES No.2
  16. NEBULA AWARD STORIES No.3
  17. DRAGONFLIGHT by Anne McCaffrey
  18. THE AVENGERS: THE AFRIT AFFAIR
  19. THE AVENGERS: THE MAGNETIC MAN
  20. THE BLACK STAR PASSES by John W. Campbell   
  21. DR. FUTURITY by Philip K. Dick
  22. THE CRACK IN SPACE by Philip K. Dick
  23. HELL'S GATE by Dean R. Koontz
  24. THE NEW TOMORROWS edited by Norman Spinrad
  25. INFINITY TWO edited by Robert Hoskins
  26. THE REBEL WORLDS by Poul Anderson
  27. THE WEATHERMONGER by Peter Dickinson
  28. THE HOLLOW by Agatha Christie
  29. THE STAR VIRUS by Barrington J. Bayley
  30. PERRY RHODAN:  THE IMMORTAL UNKNOWN
  31. PERRY RHODAN: VENUS IN DANGER
  32. PERRY RHODAN: SECRET BARRIER X
  33. THE WARLORD OF THE AIR by Michael Moorcock
  34. THE ENEMY STARS by Poul Anderson
  35. GOD BLESS YOU, MR ROSEWATER by Kurt Vonnegut
  36. ALICE'S WORLD by Sam J. Lundwall
  37. NO TIME FOR HEROES by Sam J. Lundwall
  38. EMPIRE OF TWO WORLDS by Barrington J. Bayley
  39. VULCAN'S HAMMER by Philip K. Dick
  40. DR. OX AND OTHER STORIES by Jules Verne
  41. THE BLONDE AND THE BOODLE by Jack Trevor Story
  42. A BOOK OF MILLIGANIMALS by Spike Milligan
  43. MASTER OF LIFE AND DEATH by Robert Silverberg
  44. INVADER FROM EARTH by Robert Silverberg
  45. SKYJACK! by Clark Whelton
  46. DOC SAVAGE:  THE MUNITIONS MASTER
  47. FLIGHT INTO DANGER by Arthur Hailey.

So, forty seven books in thirty days.  Most not long books,  some quite short in fact.  But you can see how it adds up if you keep reading at that rate for several years.  I may not know many modern writers, but I can claim to have a pretty good acquaintance with the authors of the first three quarters of the twentieth century !

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Shop till you drop

OK, I spent $300 on new comics in one afternoon yesterday. 

Jeez.

I hadn't been to either of the two shops where I buy my comics for a few weeks, but I didn't realize it had been that long.

The first shop, where I get my British and Australian stuff, I walked out with seven issues of THE BEANO, ten issues of COMMANDO and four issues of THE PHANTOM.

The second shop is the one where I get my American stuff. I came out of there with two issues of COMICS REVUE, one POPEYE, one DONALD DUCK, two WALT DISNEY COMICS, three MICKEY MOUSE and five issues of UNCLE SCROOGE. At least I get a 5% discount there as a regular customer, but bloody hell.   A lot of those comics are $4 in America,  but here we are paying $7 or $8  --  call it US$5.50



I didn't think it was that long, but you can't argue with seven weeks of THE BEANO sitting there waiting for you.


Tasmania -- Bushfire 1967

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the worst fires in the history of Tasmania. I was 16, working in my father’s hotel in the middle of the city. We knew it was a scorchingly hot day and the wind was blowing up, but we could never have believed the inferno that was about to descend on the country and suburbs. 

As the day went on, conditions worsened. The sky darkened, and a chokingly hot wind swept across the city. I stepped out the front door, and the street outside was filled with ash blowing through the city. All but one of the radio stations was off the air because the landlines to the transmitters had been victims of the fires, but we were getting news of the suburbs and the streets that the fires had been through.

My father went down to a hardware store and bought an extra long length of hose in case he needed to damp down the roof if embers started to land on it -- that’s if the water had been available. My mother was freaking out a bit because she didn’t know where my sister was; she got in the car and drove around looking for her, passing the Botanical Gardens where men with hessian bags were trying to beat out fires.

Eventually my sister turned up safe and sound. All my family came through that day safely. But after five hours, there were 62 people dead, 900 injured and over seven thousand homeless. No one who was there on that Tuesday in 1967 will ever forget it.
(Picture shows Lenah Valley in 1967 fire)
 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Barsham excursions and adventures in art

Liz Barsham is an old friend of the family.  We knew her before she became one of Australia's leading surrealist artists -- although she isn't happy with the surrealist tag and prefers to describe her work as "expressionist"  (she calls it Tasmanian Gothic).  Her new exhibition opened in North Hobart this month -- "Excursions and Adventures - new paintings by Elizabeth Barsham".  (Picture shows Liz on the left with Lara van Raay in front of one of her paintings.)

The works on show covered all sorts of emotions and styles.  "Eyes of the Forest" is a straightforward depiction of --  well, a forest of eyes.  "The Flower" caught many people's attention with its splash of colour illuminating a drab and dusty world.  "Battleship" is just that, and "The Mechanics" mixes apocalyptic wreckage with a rather endearing pair of mechanics who seem unphased by the cataclysym, jauntily wielding their spanners as they prepare for work.  

"The Great Silence", with its shambling beast approaching the viewer, would be perfectly at home illustrating a collection of stories by HP Lovecraft.  "The laughing girl" is at odds with its cheery title and caused some unease whenever I looked at it.

"Song of the Mill", 58 cm x 41 cm acrylic on paper, was her contribution to Metamorphosis, an international exhibition at the annual Ripattoni Art Festival in Italy.  Notable for surrounding its organ-playing protagonist with an array of Tasmanian ferns, which Cary Lenahan was happy to enumerate for me.

"Child's Guide to Wilderness" has something of a Lewis Carroll feel, with an immaculate little girl wandering through a strange world - which is obviously Tasmania, given the subtle inclusion of a Tasmanian Tiger and Mount Wellington in the background.  "McCrae's Hill" even more so, with a completely realistic Tasmanian countryside in the background of a typically Barshamesque shambles.
Sometimes the fantastic is so close to the real.  "Seabird" depicts a skeletal shape dominating the landscape,  recalling to my mind the chicken skeleton by my back door, so perfectly does it capture the long-dead avian look.

If I had to choose a picture I would want to live with on my wall, I would find it difficult to choose between the endearingly elliptical bestiary of "Strange Flightless Birds Wandered The Hills" and the small but perfectly rendered piece "Little Sisters of Perpetual Motion" which would have perfectly suited one of those abstract covers that Penguin paperbacks used to have back in the 1960s.

http://www.tasmanian-gothic.com/artwork.html