misc

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Books read 2017

I read 34 books in 2017:

Comments off

I've finally given up on the idea of making my blog a "social" site, and have turned off comments. The amount of spam I was getting on every article was absolutely ridiculous and took about 2 hours to clean up every time I got round to doing it.

I've now cleaned up all the spam (apologies if I removed any legitimate comments that anyone actually cared about). From now on will be turning off comments for every blog post and article (not many, given that I rarely update my blog these days).

Anyone who really want to get in touch with me can track me down via @townxelliot on Twitter.

Books read 2014

I read 67 books in 2014:

Books read 2013

I read 36 books in 2013. Here's the list:

Free SF, science fiction, horror, fantasy and weird ebooks for the Kindle and others

What is this?

This is my very biased overview of free ebooks for the Kindle. It only covers books I'm interested in: mainly old Fantastic fiction - gothic novels, horror, ghost stories, surrealism, sword and sorcery, lost worlds, and other odd books. There are tons more classic SF&F books out there which you can get hold of.

Sources of free e-books

http://manybooks.net/

This is an excellent site which aggregates various free books, mainly from Project Gutenberg but covering various other outlets, with a decent summary page for each book and author; it enables you to generate downloadable ebooks for each book, as well as read and create book reviews.

There is also a mobile site at mnybks.net, which you can browse directly from your Kindle.

Note: when browsing the full site via Kindle, I've found that the only downloads which work properly are Amazon ones - if I try to do mobipocket downloads, they don't work. Strangely, mobipocket files downloaded from there via a PC or laptop then sent to the Kindle (via email or USB) do work properly.

http://amazon.co.uk/

This is particularly nice, as any content you buy at Amazon will sync to any device where you have a Kindle app (e.g. a phone).

http://gutenberg.org/

I think the content in here is pretty much covered by manybooks.net, but there may be places where a gutenberg ebook isn't on manybooks.net.

http://gutenberg.net.au/

Australia has slightly different copyright laws from the US, so some books may be available here which aren't on the US Gutenberg site.

http://gutenberg.ca/

Canada also has slightly different copyright; the site is likely to have more titles in French than the US site.

http://archive.org

The Internet Archive has some items which aren't held by Project Gutenberg.

Converting various formats for use on a Kindle

I tend to get or make .mobi files; Kindle's own format is .amz.

If you can find a book in PDF or HTML format, you can convert it in the following ways:

  • Kindle
    You can send PDFs and HTML files to Amazon for conversion and later download to your Kindle.

You should have an email set up for your Kindle first. They tell you about the paid one, but you should have a free one in the format <your name>@free.kindle.com.

Once you've done that, do the following to convert the PDF:

  1. Send an email to <your name>@free.kindle.com
  2. Set the subject line to "Convert"
  3. Attach the PDF or HTML file(s)

The converted file will automatically be sync'ed to your Kindle.
You can also send .mobi files direct to your Kindle at the @free.kindle.com address: just miss out the "Convert" subject line

  • Online ebook converter
    http://ebook.online-convert.com/
    This works pretty well, and is especially useful as you can change the author and title of the output book. However, for some PDFs, I found the output was a bit of a mess. I ended up using the Amazon email conversion mostly (see above).
    The one place where I did use this was for converting .lrf files to .mobi, as the Amazon converter won't do this.
  • kindlegen
    This is a command line program (works on Linux) you can use to convert HTML files to Amazon ebooks. Can be useful if you want to iteratively edit your own HTML and test how it looks, without having to send it via email to your Kindle. Get it from the Kindlegen page on Amazon.

A big old list of books

The links below point either at a page where you can download the book in one or more formats, or to a PDF or HTML version of the book. Where the source is HTML or PDF or something else, I've marked it; otherwise you can assume there's a mobipocket (.mobi) or Kindle (.amz) format version available (Project Gutenberg and ManyBooks both provide these types of Kindle-compatible file).

I've also made zero attempt to organise alphabetically or by date.

Free sf / fantasy / horror / supernatural books

The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov (1940)

http://justcheckingonall.files.wordpress.com/2008/03/master-and-margarit... (PDF)
(translation released under Creative Commons licence)

The Worm Ouroboros - E.R. Eddison (1922)

http://manybooks.net/titles/eddisoneother060602051.html
(I've read this - it is hard going, but worth reading if you're interested in the history of fantasy and like archaic English)

The Works of Edgar Allen Poe (5 volumes) (19th century)

Volume 1: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/2147
Volume 2: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/2148
Volume 3: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/2149
Volume 4: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/2150
Volume 5: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/2151
(obviously very important in the history of various genres)

Clark Ashton Smith short stories

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/short-stories/ (HTML)
(these are in HTML format, but pretty easy to convert to an ebook; I used a bit of scripting to spider the website, munge the HTML files into one big file, then convert the result into a mobipocket ebook)

The Wood Beyond the World - William Morris (1894)

http://manybooks.net/titles/morriswi30553055.html
(an early and influential fantasy novel)

The Green Child - Herbert Read (1934)

http://www.archive.org/download/greenchild030736mbp/greenchild030736mbp....
(apparently quite surreal)

Lilith - George MacDonald (1896)

http://manybooks.net/titles/macdonaletext99lilth11.html
(a very early, and influential, fantasy novel)

The Marvelous Land of Oz - L. Frank Baum (1904)

http://manybooks.net/titles/baumlfraetext93ozland10.html
(I picked this one as it's the one I loved when I was a child)

The Great God Pan - Arthur Machen (1894)

http://manybooks.net/titles/machenaretext96ggpan10.html
(an influence on H.P. Lovecraft; I read it, it was reasonably good)

The Three Impostors - Arthur Machen (1895)

http://manybooks.net/titles/machenarother090301561.html
(some opinion claims this is one of his best books)

She - H. Rider Haggard (1886)

http://manybooks.net/titles/haggardhetext02shrhe10.html
(I loved King Solomon's Mines when I was younger, so thought I'd try this; it was a pretty good read)

Jurgen - James Branch Cabell (1922)

http://manybooks.net/titles/cabelljaetext058jurg10.html
(infamous fantasy novel which caused a scandal on its publication)

Fantômas - Pierre Souvestre (1915)

http://manybooks.net/titles/souvestrep2779427794-8.html
(about a master criminal)

The Wallet of Kai Lung - Ernest Bramah (1900)

http://manybooks.net/titles/bramaheretext97wklng10.html
(set in China)

The Man Who Was Thursday - G.K. Chesterton (1907)

http://manybooks.net/titles/chestertetext99tmwht10.html
(I read this one: very odd, very readable, amusing, worth a read; reviewed by someone else at http://www.sfsite.com/fsf/2009/cur0901.htm)

The Club of Queer Trades - G.K. Chesterton (1905)

http://manybooks.net/titles/chestertetext99tcoqt10.html
(mystery short stories a la Sherlock Holmes)

The Napoleon of Notting Hill - G.K. Chesterton (1904)

http://manybooks.net/titles/chestert2005820058-8.html

A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder - James De Mille (1888)

http://manybooks.net/titles/demillejetext04msscc10.html
(reviewed at http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/oct/03/strange-manuscript-de-mille-...)

A Voyage to Arcturus - David Lindsay (1920)

http://manybooks.net/titles/lindsaydavietext98vrctr10.html
(apparently very odd and a fantasy classic)

Don Rodriguez: Chronicles of Shadow Valley - Lord Dunsany (1922)

http://manybooks.net/titles/dunsanyetext03drodr10.html
(you can't get The King of Elfland's Daughter (his masterwork) legally in the UK as an ebook, but you can get this, which is meant to be nearly as good)

Nightmare Abbey - Thomas Love Peacock (1818)

http://manybooks.net/titles/peacocktetext068nmab10.html

Goslings - J.D. Beresford (1913)

http://www.archive.org/details/goslings00bereiala
(post-apocalypse)

The Inner House - Walter Besant (1888)

http://www.archive.org/details/innerhouse00besagoog
(utopia)

The Amazing Marriage - George Meredith (1895)

http://manybooks.net/titles/meredithgeoetext03gm94v10.html
(one of the books Michael Moorcock likes to give away)

Household Tales - Brothers Grimm (1884)

http://manybooks.net/titles/grimmetext04grimm10a.html
(saw this mentioned by Sarah Waters as a favourite book from her childhood)

Descent into Hell - Charles Williams (1937)

http://manybooks.net/titles/williamscharlesother08Descent_into_Hell.html
(Williams is mentioned in 100 Must Read Fantasy Novels - he was an associate of C.S. Lewis, and wrote what T.S. Eliot called "supernatural thrillers" - this novel is considered one of his best)

The Place of the Lion - Charles Willians (1933)

http://manybooks.net/titles/williamscharlesother09place_of_the_lion.html
(I've read this one: not the easiest read I've ever had: shifts mood very abruptly, has long passages of Christian mysticism, and characters you can't really associate with; but thoughtful, with great imagery, and some genuine moments of psychological horror; has to be read to be believed, really)

War in Heaven - Charles Williams (1930)

http://manybooks.net/titles/williamscharlesother09war_in_heaven.html
(given I enjoyed The Place of the Lion, I thought I'd try this, which is meant to be more straightforward: a Holy Grail thriller with supernatural elements)

The Hour of the Dragon (Conan the Conqueror) - Robert E. Howard (1936)

http://manybooks.net/titles/howardrother07hour_of_the_dragon.html
(the Conan books were the first fantasy books I read when I was about 10; time to revisit them)

Atlantida (aka The Queen of Atlantis) - Pierre Benoît (1919)

http://manybooks.net/titles/benoitp1430114301-8.html
(early Atlantis novel - I just finished The Serpent by Jane Gaskell, which ends in Atlantis, so thought I might follow the theme)

The House on the Borderland - William Hope Hodgson (1907)

http://manybooks.net/titles/hodgsonwother06houseontheborderland.html
(I've read this one: an intense weird/horror/supernatural/occult tale)

The Night Land - William Hope Hodgson (1912)

http://manybooks.net/titles/hodgsonw10661066210662.html
(supposedly very long and hard-going, but considered his best by many)

The History of Caliph Vathek (aka Vathek) - William Beckford (1787)

http://manybooks.net/titles/beckford20620602060.html
(proto-Gothic novel)

The Castle of Otranto - Horace Walpole (1764)

http://manybooks.net/titles/walpolehoraetext96cotrt10.html
(another proto-Gothic novel)

Knock, Knock, Knock, and Other Stories - Ivan Turgenev (collected 2004, 19th century)

http://manybooks.net/titles/turgenevetext048knck10.html
(supernatural/mystery tales)

The Witch, and Other Stories - Anton Chekhov (collected 2006, 19th century)

http://manybooks.net/titles/chekhovaetext99witch10.html

Weird Tales (2 volumes) - E.T.A. Hoffmann (1885)

Volume 1: http://manybooks.net/titles/hoffmannet3137731377-8.html
Volume 2: http://manybooks.net/titles/hoffmannet3143931439-8.html
(Volume 1 includes The Sandman, one of the oddest and most unsettling stories you're likely to read)

Hunger - Knut Hamsun (1890)

http://manybooks.net/titles/hamsunknetext058hngr10.html

Herland - Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1915)

http://manybooks.net/titles/gilmanchetext92hrlnd10.html
(early feminist sf classic)

The War of the Worlds - H.G. Wells (1898)

http://manybooks.net/titles/wellshgetext92warw12.html
(most of Wells' work appears to be available from Project Gutenberg)

The Island of Dr. Moreau - H.G. Wells (1896)

http://manybooks.net/titles/wellshgetext94dmoro11.html
(as recommended by China Miéville in http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2002/may/16/fiction.bestbooks; will probably read this first out of the H.G. Wells books I have)

Edgar Huntly - Charles Brockden Brown (1799)

http://manybooks.net/titles/brownchaetext05edhnt10.html
(I've seen his work compared to Borges)

The Green Odyssey - Philip Jose Farmer (1957)

http://manybooks.net/titles/farmerpother05The_Green_Odyssey.html
(I'm a fan of his stuff, and this novel is public domain)

In the Penal Colony - Franz Kafka (1919)

http://manybooks.net/titles/kafkafraother05penal_colony.html
(don't need to say much about his work, I guess)

The Trial - Franz Kafka (1925)

http://manybooks.net/titles/kafkafraetext05ktria10.html

Metamorphosis - Franz Kafka (1912)

http://manybooks.net/titles/kafkafraetext04metam10.html

A Princess of Mars - Edgar Rice Burroughs (1912)

http://manybooks.net/titles/burroughseetext93pmars13.html
(very topical, what with the John Carter film)

The Enchanted Castle - E. Nesbit (1907)

http://manybooks.net/titles/nesbite3421934219-8.html

Uncle Silas - Sheridan Le Fanu (1864)

http://manybooks.net/titles/fanujose1485114851-8.html

Zuleika Dobson - Max Beerbohm (1911)

http://manybooks.net/titles/beerbohmetext99zdbsn11.html

The King in Yellow - Robert W. Chambers (1895)

http://manybooks.net/titles/chambersetext058kngy10.html
(horror short stories)

The Twilight of the Gods, and Other Tales - Richard Garnett (1903)

http://manybooks.net/titles/garnettr10091009510095.html
(often included in "best fantasy books" lists)

The Coming Race - Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1871)

http://manybooks.net/titles/lyttonedetext99cmgrc10.html
(lost world story)

Across the Zodiac - Percy Greg (1880)

http://manybooks.net/titles/percyg10161016510165-8.html
(early Planetary Romance sf)

The Hampdenshire Wonder - J.D. Beresford (1911)

http://manybooks.net/titles/beresfordjother060601411.html
(child prodigy sf)

The Lost Continent - Charles John Cutcliffe Hyne (1900)

http://manybooks.net/titles/hynecjcuetext95lostc10.html
(an early Atlantis story)

The Beetle - Richard Marsh (1897)

http://manybooks.net/titles/marshricetext04thbtl10.html
(horror)

The Inheritors - Joseph Conrad and Ford Maddox Ford (1901)

http://manybooks.net/titles/conradjo1488814888-8.html
(Conrad's only sf novel)

Greener than You Think - Ward Moore (1947)

http://manybooks.net/titles/moorew2424624246-8.html
(he wrote Bring the Jubilee, considered an sf classic; wonder if this is any good?)

The Monk - Matthew Gregory Lewis (1796)

http://manybooks.net/titles/lewismatetext96tmonk10.html
(proto-Gothic classic)

Dracula - Bram Stoker (1897)

http://manybooks.net/titles/stokerbretext95dracu12.html

Ghostly Tales (5 Volumes) - Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1853 - 1871)

Volume 1: http://manybooks.net/titles/fanujose1169911699-8.html
Volume 2: http://manybooks.net/titles/fanujose1170011700-8.html
Volume 3: http://manybooks.net/titles/fanujose1175011750-8.html
Volume 4: http://manybooks.net/titles/fanujose12641264712647-8.html
Volume 5: http://manybooks.net/titles/fanujose1259212592-8.html

Present at a Hanging and Other Ghost Stories - Ambrose Bierce (collected 2003)

http://manybooks.net/titles/bierceametext03prhg10.html

Ghost Stories of an Antiquity (2 volumes) - M.R. James (1904, 1911)

Volume 1: http://manybooks.net/titles/jamesmonetext058jgst10.html
Volume 2: http://manybooks.net/titles/jamesmonetext068jgs210.html

After London (or Wild England) - Richard Jefferies (1885)

http://manybooks.net/titles/jefferie13941394413944-8.html

Pledged to the Dead - Seabury Quinn (1937)

http://manybooks.net/titles/quinns3251432514-8.html
(horror)

The Sign of the Spider - Bertram Mitford (1896)

http://manybooks.net/titles/mitfordb2747627476-8.html
("an adventure of cannibals, slave traders, man-eating crocodiles, fighting off hordes of Zulus and a terrifying spider-beast" - how can I resist?)

The Metal Monster - Abraham Merritt (1920)

http://manybooks.net/titles/merrittaetext02memon10.html
(this chap is considered one of the great pulp sf writers; I read The Ship of Ishtar, which was a rollicking good adventure)

Widdershins - Oliver Onions (1911)

http://manybooks.net/titles/onionso1416814168-8.html
(contains The Beckoning Fair One, considered a classic ghost story, which I've never read)

The Tower of Oblivion - Oliver Onions (1921)

http://manybooks.net/titles/onionso3470334703-8.html
(reviewed at http://www.sfsite.com/fsf/2001/cur0105.htm - sounds good)

Where the Blue Begins - Christopher Morley (1922)

http://manybooks.net/titles/morleychetext98wtbbg10.html
(reviewed at http://www.sfsite.com/fsf/1999/cur9906.htm; quite a peculiar book about an anthropomorphised dog who works in a department store)

The Pathless Trail - Arthur O. Friel (1922)

http://manybooks.net/titles/friela3032430324-8.html
(mentioned at http://www.strangehorizons.com/reviews/2011/01/2010_in_review-comments.s...)

Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte (1847)

http://manybooks.net/titles/bronteemetext96wuthr10.html
(never read this, but meant to be good and gothic)

Modern Creative Commons / free books

Agent to the Stars - John Scalzi (1999)

http://manybooks.net/titles/scalzijother06agent_to_the_stars.html

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom - Cory Doctorow (2003)

http://manybooks.net/titles/doctorowother05domkg10.html
(much (all?) of Doctorow's work is Creative Commons, though I've yet to read any, I'm embarassed to say; full list at http://manybooks.net/authors/doctorow.html)

Painkillers - Simon Ings (2000)

http://manybooks.net/titles/ingssother08painkillers_the_novel.html
(I've read some of his short stories, and thought this might be worth a punt)

The Ware Tetralogy - Rudy Rucker (2010)

http://manybooks.net/titles/ruckerrother10rucker_ware_tetralogy_cc2010.h...
(comprising Software, Wetware, Freeware, and Realware; I read one of his novels years ago (I think it was Software), and keep meaning to read these)

The Hollow Earth - Rudy Rucker (1990)

http://www.rudyrucker.com/thehollowearth/rucker_hollow_earth_cc_jan_17_2... (HTML)
(steampunk - see http://steampunkscholar.blogspot.com/2009/07/interview-with-rudy-rucker-... for an interview where Rudy Rucker discusses this novel)

Glimpses - Lewis Shiner (1993)

http://www.lewisshiner.com/liberation/glimpses.pdf (PDF)
(this one one the World Fantasy Award in 1994; Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs; more of his work for free at http://www.lewisshiner.com/liberation/index.htm)

Move Under Ground - Nick Mamatas (2004)

http://www.moveunderground.org/ (HTML)
(Cthulu mythos story written from the perspective of Jack Kerouac - got to be worth a look; Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5)

Accelerando - Charles Stross (2005)

http://manybooks.net/titles/strosscother05accelerando-txt.html
(Creative Commons)

Magic for Beginners - Kelly Link (2005)

http://smallbeerpress.com/books/2005/07/01/magic-for-beginners/
(recommended by China Miéville in http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2002/may/16/fiction.bestbooks; Small Beer Press are to be applauded for making some of their titles available under Creative Commons licences)

Items available in other countries

If you are lucky enough to live in the US, Canada or Australia, you have access to a few more gems:

Bright of the Sky - Kay Kenyon (2007)

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B003N7MYQK
(available for free for Kindle in the US)

The Nose - Nikolai Gogol (1836)

http://www.gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0602381h.html (HTML)
(absurd classic; public domain in Australia)

The King of Elfland's Daughter - Lord Dunsany (1924)

http://www.mobileread.com/forums/attachment.php?attachmentid=21611&d=123... (PRC)
(public domain in Canada)

Consider Her Ways - Frederick Philip Grove (1947)

http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0201151.txt (TEXT)
(public domain in Australia)

Collected Stories - H.P. Lovecraft (collected 2006)

http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0600031.txt (TEXT)
(public domain in Australia - the same as the Kindle edition you can buy for 72p from Amazon in the UK...suspicious...)

Orlando - Virginia Woolf (1928)

http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0200331.txt (TEXT)
(public domain in Australia)

The Ship of Ishtar - Abraham Merritt (1924)

http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0601941.txt (TEXT)
(public domain in Australia; pulp classic)

The War with the Newts - Karel Čapek (1936)

http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0601981h.html (HTML)
(public domain in Australia)

Last and First Men - Olaf Stapledon (1930)

http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0601101.txt (TEXT)
(public domain in Australia)

Melmoth the Wanderer - Charles Robert Maturin (1820)

http://www.gutenberg.net.au/ebooks07/0700551h.html (HTML)
(public domain in Australia)

The Haunted Woman - David Lindsay (1922)

http://www.gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0608401h.html (HTML)
(public domain in Australia; a "dark, metaphysical fantasy novel" according to Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Haunted_Woman)

Thunder on the Left - Christopher Morley (1925)

http://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=19390
(public domain in Canada; not sf or fantasy, some consider it marginally a ghost story, but an odd, interesting and melodramatic read)

Books read 2011

Rather belatedly, here's a list of books I read in 2011, 77 in number. The ones with '*' are the ones I particularly enjoyed.

  • The Other City by Michal Ajvaz
  • The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson *
  • Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson
  • Satyrday by Steven Bauer
  • Talking Man by Terry Bisson
  • The Other Side of the Mountain by Michael Bernanos *
  • The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
  • The Last Starship from Earth by John Boyd
  • A Confederate General from Big Sur by Richard Brautigan
  • The 39 Steps by John Buchan
  • Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys
  • The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington *
  • A Child Across the Sky by Jonathan Carroll
  • Outside the Dog Museum by Jonathan Carroll
  • White Apples by Jonathan Carroll
  • The Marriage of Sticks by Jonathan Carroll
  • The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton
  • The Death of Grass by John Christopher
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper
  • The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper
  • The King of Elfland's Daughter by Lord Dunsany
  • Sum by David Eagleman
  • The Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison
  • The Fahrenheit Twins by Michel Faber
  • Under the Skin by Michel Faber *
  • The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney *
  • The Unholy City by Charles G. Finney
  • The Ghosts of Manacle by Charles G. Finney
  • The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner
  • The Moon of Gomrath by Alan Garner
  • The Serpent by Jane Gaskell *
  • The Inheritors by William Golding
  • The Spire by William Golding
  • She by H. Rider Haggard
  • Shit My Dad Says by Justin Halpern
  • The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz by Russell Hoban
  • The Story of the Stone by Barry Hughart *
  • Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart
  • The Hermit by Eugene Ionesco
  • The Mortmere Stories by Christopher Isherwood and Edward Upward
  • Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson *
  • Moominpappa at Sea by Tove Jansson
  • The Gunslinger by Stephen King
  • The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King
  • Wizard and Glass by Stephen King
  • The Waste Lands by Stephen King
  • A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin *
  • The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Guin
  • Galaxies by Barry Malzberg
  • The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen
  • A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
  • The Box of Delights by John Masefield
  • All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
  • The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip
  • Ombria in Shadow by Patricia McKillip
  • The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia A. McKillip
  • The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt
  • In the Penny Arcade by Steven Millhauser
  • The Sword of the Dawn by Michael Moorcock
  • The Runestaff by Michael Moorcock
  • The Weird of the White Wolf by Michael Moorcock
  • The Steel Tsar by Michael Moorcock
  • Jirel of Joiry by C.L. Moore
  • Where the Blue Begins by Christopher Morley
  • Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan
  • 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem ed. by Ruth Padel
  • Duke Cosimo by Akbar del Piombo
  • Stirk of Stirk by Peter Tinniswood
  • The Languages of Pao by Jack Vance
  • The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas
  • Mistress Masham's Repose by T.H. White
  • The Place of the Lion by Charles Williams
  • A Haunted House and Other Short Stories by Virginia Woolf
  • Jog Rummage by Grahame Wright *
  • Howl's Moving Castle by Dianne Wynne Jones
  • Nines Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny

Why you should read the Moomin books

I never read the Moomin books when I was growing up, though I vaguely remember seeing the TV series when I was a teenager. I suppose the cuddly characters indicated that there was nothing to see there, and I should move along.

But recently I have been tracking down and reading various books which are generally "Fantastical", mainly via 100 Must Read Fantasy Novels; Comet in Moominland was one mentioned there. I've just finished reading it to my daughter (7), and we both thoroughly enjoyed it.

It's the first of the Moomin books intended for older readers (the first was more for younger children), and while slow-moving to start with, and in many ways lacking in "action", it is humorous, lovable and graceful, but with a deep, darkly-tinged heart.

Some reviews I've read, talking about this book and the later ones, discuss themes in depth; one of the most important being that difference should be tolerated. The characters are very different from each other: some nomadic, some home-loving; some open, some insular; some pessimistic, some optimistic etc. But they all rub along together, and want to stay together, tolerating each other's differences. I have to be honest that this didn't occur to me during reading, but it does make sense in retrospect. Though that's not why I'm urging you to read the book.

The story is pretty simple: through various omens, Moomintroll realises a comet may be about to crash into the planet. The comet appears in the sky, and he sets out (with various friends) to ask some astronomers (fairly useless, it turns out) when the impact will happen. Towards the end of the book, they are racing back home to Moomin valley to hide in a cave they think will keep them safe. The comet has boiled the water out of the ocean and hangs threateningly overhead; they are using stilts to move over the drained ocean bed. At that point, there is a beautiful passage which almost made me cry. It's because of passages like this that I urge you to read it, even if you're an adult:

All about them stretched the strange sea landscape, which had been covered by millions of tons of water since the beginning of the world.

"You know it's rather solemn to be down here," said the Snork. "We must be pretty near the deepest part of the ocean by now."

But when they reached the biggest chasm of all they didn't dare go down. The sides sloped steeply and the bottom was obscured in green gloom. Perhaps there was no bottom! Perhaps the biggest octopuses in the world lived down there, brooding in the slime; creatures that nobody had ever seen, far less imagined. But the Snork maiden gazed longingly at an enormous and beautiful shell that was poised on the very brink of the chasm. It was a lovely pale colour, only to be found in the depths of the sea where no light penetrates, and its dusky heart glowed temptingly. The shell sang softly to herself the age-old song of the sea.

"Oh!" sighed the Snork maiden. "I should like to live in that shell. I want to go inside and see who is whispering in there."

"It's only the sea," said Moomintroll. "Every wave that dies on the beach sings a little song to a shell. But you mustn't go inside because it's a labyrinth and you may never come out."

So she was at last persuaded to go on, and they started to hurry, as dusk was falling, and they had not found anywhere to sleep. They could only see soft outlines of each other through the damp sea mist, and it was uncannily silent. There were none of the small sounds that liven up the evening on land: the pattering of small animal feet, leaves moving in the night breeze, the cry of a bird, of a stone dislodged by someone's foot.

A fire would never draw on that damp ground, and they dared not sleep amongst the unknown dangers that might be lurking about, so in the end they decided to pitch camp on a high pointed rock, which they could just reach by their stilts. They had to keep watch, so Moomintroll took the first and decided to take the Snork maiden's too, and while the others curled up tightly together and slept, he sat staring out over the desolate sea bottom. It was lit by the red glow of the comet, and shadows like black velvet lay across the sand.

Moomintroll thought how frightened the earth must be feeling with that great ball of fire coming nearer and nearer to her. Then he thought about how much he loved everything; the forest and the sea, the rain and the wind, the sunshine, the grass and the moss, and how impossible it would be to live without them all, and this made him feel very, very sad. But after a while he stopped worrying.

"Mamma will know what to do," he said to himself.

I love how the simplicity of the language in the penultimate paragraph reflects the simplicity of the sentiment: it's simple things which make life worth living, and dressing those simple things up in more flowery language detracts from their worth (it puts me in mind of the haiku of writers like Han-shan). I also like the description of the shell: a little sentimental, maybe, but hinting at our ambivalent relationship with the sea: the myth of the siren, our endless longing for the sea, but ultimately how unfathomable and dangerous it is.

The sequels apparently become darker in tone, though remaining life-affirming. I'll definitely be getting hold of them and reading them with my daughter.

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