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Arbie's Unoriginally Titled Book Blog

It's a blog! Mainly of book reviews.

Currently reading

Station Zero
Philip Reeve
Progress: 220/282 pages
The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition
Ursula K. Le Guin, Charles Vess
Progress: 749/997 pages
The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry
Robert Chandler
The Uncertain Land and Other Poems
Patrick O'Brian
Progress: 8/160 pages
The Heptameron (Penguin Classics)
Marguerite de Navarre
Progress: 152/544 pages
The Poems and Plays of John Masefield
John Masefield
Progress: 78/534 pages
Poems Selected
Emily Dickinson, Ted Hughes
Progress: 4/50 pages
Selected Poems
U A Fanthorpe
Progress: 18/160 pages
The Penguin Book of Scottish Verse
Mick Imlah, Robert Crawford
Hainish Novels & Stories, Vol. 2
Ursula K. Le Guin
Progress: 133/789 pages

Reading progress update: I've read 467 out of 683 pages.

The Iliad - Homer, Bernard Knox, Robert Fagles

Eventually Ajax and Ajax form a mini-phalanx to keep the Trojans off Menelaus as he carries Patroclus' body back to camp - and a runner is sent to tell Achilles the news...

Reading progress update: I've read 460 out of 683 pages.

The Iliad - Homer, Bernard Knox, Robert Fagles

Hector dons Achilles' armour - taken from Patroclus' body, which is now defended by Menelaus and Great Ajax.

Reading progress update: I've read 98 out of 368 pages.

Screwed - Eoin Colfer Cracking wiser than Buddha.

Reading progress update: I've read 434 out of 2016 pages.

Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works -  MacDonald P. Jackson (Editor),  John Jowett (Editor),  John Lavagnino,  V. Wayne, Gary Taylor, Thomas Middleton A Mad World my Masters, Sc. 3.1: Two plot threads involving con-tricks, gullible victims and - here's a shock! - lots of bawdiness.

The Clockwork Rocket, Greg Egan

The Clockwork Rocket. - Greg Egan

In one sense this is the most ambitious SF novel I've ever read. In every other it's kinda insipid. That one sense? The science! Generally, SF that isn't actually Engineering Fiction or (the very rare) Mathematics Fiction or Alternative History does its science by saying those scientific laws you know? They're approximately right but what if there was this extra thing I've made up? (Hyperspace, wormholes that don't have singularities in the middle, infinite computing power...)


Egan asks, what if the fundamental topology, geometry and laws of relativity were in fact different? (Here's a universe where there's no maximum velocity, time behaves exactly like space, in terms of laws of motion, oh, and the universe is the shape of a ring doughnut.) The answer is, apparently, then your story is 50% exposition about the consequences for physics, chemistry and biology, as discovered by our characters. Said consequences are very weird indeed and require more graphs than I've ever seen in a novel before, by some stretch. Perhaps the most weird thing, though, is that the consequences for alien psychology and social structure are almost negligable...


I'm pretty excited about reading the two follow-up volumes but mainly because I want to know how microscopic physics works over there in Torus Universe. Whether and how the aliens save their planet come a long distant second and third. How this stuff is supposed to appeal to anybody without a physics BSc, I don't know.

Reading progress update: I've read 22 out of 144 pages.

The Cloud Book - Richard Hamblyn

I recant: noctilucent clouds are in the book but they don't feature in the internationaly accepted cloud catagorisation because too rare.

Reading progress update: I've read 442 out of 683 pages.

The Iliad - Homer, Bernard Knox, Robert Fagles

Patroclus bites the dust but not before Apollo strips him of his armour. The final blow comes from Hector - but Priam's son is told hs own doom is fast approaching.

Reading progress update: I've read 18 out of 144 pages.

The Cloud Book - Richard Hamblyn

Cloud classification has become ever more complicated and even this book appears to be out of date, since the Introduction makes no mention of noctilucent clouds.

Reading progress update: I've read 333 out of 373 pages.

The Clockwork Rocket. - Greg Egan

Did they just discover antimatter?

Reading progress update: I've read 418 out of 683 pages.

The Iliad - Homer, Bernard Knox, Robert Fagles Even Giant Ajax can't hold back Hector and the first Achaean ship goes up in flames. Patroclus dons Achilles' armour and takes his chariot and horses into the battle. I had forgotten that Achilles was complicit in Patroclus doing this.

En Route, London to Paris, Peter Brown

En Route London to Paris - Peter Brown

Peter Brown; plein air; really good; nice bloke. Prolific, too - I've still got three unread catalogues on my shelf and haven't checked his website for new ones for months. Here I found the Brit paintings better than the France paintings, generally speaking. No idea why. 

Reading progress update: I've read 151 out of 373 pages.

The Clockwork Rocket. - Greg Egan The aliens have extremely alien physiology and obey alien physics but they have surprisingly human psychology and societies...

Reading progress update: I've read 142 out of 373 pages.

The Clockwork Rocket. - Greg Egan

I've never read a novel with so many graphs in it, before!

Smithsonian Goes Wild

Smithsonian Goes Wild (Spotlight Smithsonian) - Linda Mcknight, Amy Pastan

The Smithsonian Institute seems to have a museum for almost everything, but not one dedicated to cats. Nevertheless, they have much by way of cat-related artifacts and artworks and many of them are reproduced in this delightful and diverse little book. Recommended for all cat lovers and art lovers and especially art-loving cat-lovers, like me!

Vanishing Bath, Peter & Ruth Coard

Vanishing Bath - Peter Coard, Ruth Coard

The 1960s-1970s were a disaster for cultural heritage in Bath. Not merely entire streets but whole neighbourhoods of Georgian through to Victorian architecture were demolished and redeveloped. It became known as The Sack of Bath. Not until the late 1970s did the tide turn back towards conservation and preservation. By that time huge quantities of buildings of significant architectural merit had been flattened. The motivation for all this destruction was allegedly the need for improved housing. It was cheaper to bulldoze and build new than to modernise terraces that were anything up to two centuries old. And indeed, something needed to be done - many of these terraces were suffering from damp as well as needing new plumbing and electrical wiring. Not a single one of the replacement buildings had half the architectural merit of its predecessor and, mysteriously, large areas were not replaced by housing of any kind. The Southgate area gained a horrible covered shopping precinct. Hamm Gardens got a giant multi-storey car-park that couldn't have been uglier if you were trying to make it so. Similarly with Corn Street and Avon Street.


Eventually it was realised that since the local wool trade died in the 18th Century, Bath has had no reason to exist outside of being a Tourist Mecca and giving posh people bragging rights about living in one of the famous up-market streets. (John wood the Elder created this out of nothing in the 2nd half of the 1700s.) Since then, the city's economy has risen and fallen consistently on how popular it is with tourists and rich residents. Needless to say, the 1960s-1970s were a hideous depression for Bath. Only when the clean up and conservation ethos re-established itself (around the time my family moved to the area) did fortunes improve. Since then, new developments have, despite often being labelled (usually fairly) "mediocre" and "insipid" been usually a vast improvement on anything that occurred post WWII and pre-1980. (A notable exception is the new bus station which is only marginally better than the atrocity it replaced.) Since then, the fortunes of the city have also been generally on the rise. People want to visit the amazing World Heritage Site now, whereas they mostly wanted to get the hell out of the soot-covered hell-hole of pre-1980.


Which brings me to the book. From the start of the Sack of Bath, many protested the enormous cultural loss. Some, unable to stop the loss, decided to at least try to preserve a record of the old city before it was too late to do even that. A campaign of photography and drawing was launched. The originals were curated by the old Bath Reference Library (now merged with the lending library). This book, which reproduces the majority of the drawings made during this effort, is therefore important - a term I do not bandy about lightly in case of books - as it represents the best and frequently only easily accessible witness of what we lost in those two decades of planning horror. And what a loss! I had no idea! Almost every building appearing in the book would be considered an untouchable masterpiece if it was standing in one of the towns or villages to the south west or north west of Bath. Only the proximity to so many internationally extraordinary streets and isolated buildings allowed them to be overshadowed and criminally under-appreciated by urban planners who caused more problems than they solved.

Reading progress update: I've read 402 out of 683 pages.

The Iliad - Homer, Bernard Knox, Robert Fagles

With Poseidon gone and Apollo leading the Trojan charge, the Argives find themselves pressed back to their boats once again. Patroclus is off to try to persuade Achilles to fight, not knowing where that decision is going to end for him, personally. Aeneas gets another mention in passing; didn't know he was another bastard son of a god and a mortal...