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.
I read 19 books in 2015:
I read 67 books in 2014:
I read 36 books in 2013. Here's the list:
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.
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.
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).
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.
Australia has slightly different copyright laws from the US, so some books may be available here which aren't on the US Gutenberg site.
Canada also has slightly different copyright; the site is likely to have more titles in French than the US site.
The Internet Archive has some items which aren't held by Project Gutenberg.
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:
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:
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
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.
(translation released under Creative Commons licence)
(I've read this - it is hard going, but worth reading if you're interested in the history of fantasy and like archaic English)
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)
(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)
(an early and influential fantasy novel)
(apparently quite surreal)
(a very early, and influential, fantasy novel)
(I picked this one as it's the one I loved when I was a child)
(an influence on H.P. Lovecraft; I read it, it was reasonably good)
(some opinion claims this is one of his best books)
(I loved King Solomon's Mines when I was younger, so thought I'd try this; it was a pretty good read)
(infamous fantasy novel which caused a scandal on its publication)
(about a master criminal)
(set in China)
(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)
(mystery short stories a la Sherlock Holmes)
(apparently very odd and a fantasy classic)
(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)
(one of the books Michael Moorcock likes to give away)
(saw this mentioned by Sarah Waters as a favourite book from her childhood)
(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)
(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)
(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 Conan books were the first fantasy books I read when I was about 10; time to revisit them)
(early Atlantis novel - I just finished The Serpent by Jane Gaskell, which ends in Atlantis, so thought I might follow the theme)
(I've read this one: an intense weird/horror/supernatural/occult tale)
(supposedly very long and hard-going, but considered his best by many)
(another proto-Gothic novel)
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)
(early feminist sf classic)
(most of Wells' work appears to be available from Project Gutenberg)
(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)
(I've seen his work compared to Borges)
(I'm a fan of his stuff, and this novel is public domain)
(don't need to say much about his work, I guess)
(very topical, what with the John Carter film)
(horror short stories)
(often included in "best fantasy books" lists)
(lost world story)
(early Planetary Romance sf)
(child prodigy sf)
(an early Atlantis story)
(Conrad's only sf novel)
(he wrote Bring the Jubilee, considered an sf classic; wonder if this is any good?)
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
("an adventure of cannibals, slave traders, man-eating crocodiles, fighting off hordes of Zulus and a terrifying spider-beast" - how can I resist?)
(this chap is considered one of the great pulp sf writers; I read The Ship of Ishtar, which was a rollicking good adventure)
(contains The Beckoning Fair One, considered a classic ghost story, which I've never read)
(reviewed at http://www.sfsite.com/fsf/2001/cur0105.htm - sounds good)
(reviewed at http://www.sfsite.com/fsf/1999/cur9906.htm; quite a peculiar book about an anthropomorphised dog who works in a department store)
(never read this, but meant to be good and gothic)
(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)
(I've read some of his short stories, and thought this might be worth a punt)
(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)
(steampunk - see http://steampunkscholar.blogspot.com/2009/07/interview-with-rudy-rucker-... for an interview where Rudy Rucker discusses this novel)
(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)
(Cthulu mythos story written from the perspective of Jack Kerouac - got to be worth a look; Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5)
(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)
If you are lucky enough to live in the US, Canada or Australia, you have access to a few more gems:
(available for free for Kindle in the US)
(absurd classic; public domain in Australia)
(public domain in Canada)
(public domain in Australia)
(public domain in Australia - the same as the Kindle edition you can buy for 72p from Amazon in the UK...suspicious...)
(public domain in Australia)
(public domain in Australia; pulp classic)
(public domain in Australia)
(public domain in Australia)
(public domain in Australia)
(public domain in Australia; a "dark, metaphysical fantasy novel" according to Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Haunted_Woman)
(public domain in Canada; not sf or fantasy, some consider it marginally a ghost story, but an odd, interesting and melodramatic read)
Rather belatedly, here's a list of books I read in 2011, 77 in number. The ones with '*' are the ones I particularly enjoyed.
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.
Last year I did pretty poorly on reading books, so this year I made an effort to read much more. I managed 62 books this year: the first year where I've read at least a book a week. My reading rate dropped off just before Christmas, due to the lure of new DVDs and the minor improvement to TV schedules around Christmas. But I will get back to reading more regularly this year.
Here's the list (for completists and myself only); the ones with asterisks are considered "classics" in the SF/fantasy fields (one of my personal goals this year was to get better acquainted with the classics in these fields); the ones in bold are the ones I really rate:
This year I plan to read more Jack Vance, Michael Moorcock and Jonathan Carroll, as well as more of the "classics", particularly older works of The Fantastic I have on my Kindle (stuff like Charles Williams, H. Rider Haggard, G.K. Chesterton, Arthur Machen, Lord Dunsany, George MacDonald).
I've also been attempting to put together some ideas for short stories, or maybe even interactive fiction. Something might come of that too. Probably not, though.
I keep thinking about writing something here, but the problem is once I get started, that's a whole evening gone, waffling.
In particular, I've been thinking about books a lot. So here are some book-related nuggets. It all goes a bit Victor Meldrew by the end, I warn you now.
I recently read Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep alongside Alastair Reynolds' House of Suns. Both are galaxy-spanning space opera, both full of artificial intelligences, alien races, and dogfights in space. Both highly entertaining. But Vinge's book was written about 20 years before Reynolds', and it's pretty obvious Reynolds is a big fan of Vinge. Not to the point of copying, but the plotlines of both share similarities (humans caught up in a battle involving AI systems/races which have reached god-like power). And Vinge is a much, much better writer: his characters are more sympathetic, his scenery more memorable, his aliens more interesting, and his narrative pace tighter and more dramatic. So if you want some space opera, I'd go for Vinge first, and Reynolds second.
I might read Jack Vance soon, as a brief look at one of his books (The Star King) suggests Vinge was inspired by his work (e.g. both use the term The Beyond to refer to the far reaches of the galaxy)...
I visited Hay on Wye with my family for a couple of days last week. We've made this an annual pilgrimage, as we all love going there so much. I found a lot of good books; in particular, Richard Booth's bookshop was a fantastic source of unusual sf: see the town shop catalogue and castle bookshop catalogue for a fraction of the stock.
I ended up buying:
Each book cost me £2 to £2.50: cheaper than Amazon marketplace, but not as cheap as I would have liked. I think I'm lucky because sf books are still in a bit of a ghetto; other types of paperback seem a bit overpriced (a symptom of the tourist popularity of the place). I love going there, but my best finds are still when I get hold of an unusual 1960s/1970s paperback for 30p in a small charity shop.
My tactic when visiting is to make a list of specific books to look for: we have about 3-4 hours browsing time, and there are just too many books to look at all of them. On this occasion, I was aiming to find a few "classics" (Moore, Varley, Pangborn, Shaw), interesting books by authors I've recently discovered (Vernor Vinge, Michael Bishop), and books by authors I always look out for (Malzberg - often tricky to find, as I'm not sure all his books made it to publication in Europe). I had a list of about 50 authors/books, but passed up on a few I found because the book wasn't in particularly good condition, or it didn't look so good in the flesh, or were too expensive.
Madeleine chose 17 books (we had to limit her to 1 or 2 per shop, as she kept gathering piles of half a dozen or more - children's books are reasonably priced, though the Children's Bookshop is a rip-off with common paperbacks at £3); Joel got 4 picture books (he mainly wanted to walk around the shops, rather than look at books); and Nicola got about 5 (her favourite shop there is Murder and Mayhem).
Anyhow, now I've got so many great books to read, I don't know where to start.
Bookmooch is a great little site: basically you list books you want to give away, and books you'd like to acquire. Each time you give a book away, you get points; each time you acquire a book, you spend points (so no money changes hands). You get 3 points for sending abroad, 1 point for sending to your own country; asking for a book from your own country costs 1 point; asking for a book internationally costs 2 points. I've exchanged quite a few books on there. But a few recent experiences have soured it for me:
All in all, while it worked out well for a while and I got some good books out of it, I'd actually rather spend £3 on Amazon to get the books I want, rather than go through the hassle of using bookmooch. Shame. I'll leave my wishlist on there, but I'm not going to put anything in my inventory for the time being.
I'm 40 this year (not yet, I hasten to add). Yes, I know it's no big deal it's a round number, that's just human preference for powers of 10. Anyway, it does seem like some kind of milestone in my life, for whatever reasons. And as I have a generally introspective mind, and a good dose of self-absorption, and this is my blog, I'm going to write a few notes about it.
Not sure what got me started down this path, but yesterday I dug out a load of old school books, note books, board game designs, roleplaying game campaign books, poetry, short stories - it's all still out there in the garage. But what struck me, rather than "where did all my dreams go? what am I doing with my life?", the usual things accompanying the average mid-life crisis, I found myself thinking "actually, I'm pretty much the same person I was when I was 12; I haven't really changed much; I still believe the same things". I mentioned this to Nicola (my wife) and she said something like "that's one thing you always are: consistent, stable, level-headed". Though she made it sound better than that: I'm paraphrasing.
So, where is my evidence for this. Cue quotations from old school books etc.:
"There is not anybody that I would really like to be, but if I had to be someone else, I think it would be Arthur C. Clarke...I would not like to be him because of the mysteries he has investigated but because of his great output of short stories and books..." (June 22nd 1982; still love science fiction, would love to be a great SF writer, but realise that probably that's not my calling)
"There are three things I would change in the world if I became, as it were, a 'supreme dictator'. 1. Banning of vivisection: all animals should be treated as part of life, and if they are destroyed or harmed we would be affecting our future lives... 2. Freedom of speech: I would give everybody in the world the freedom to speak how they wish... 3. Nuclear war: I would try to stop the production of nuclear weapons." (December 15th c. 1983; basically I was a hippie then and I still am; I think that's quite forward thinking for someone living in a provincial backwater in the early 1980s - probably my mum's influence)
There's really no point going on about achievements since then etc.; you can read my about page to find out what I've done with myself all this time. I don't think I'll ever "do enough" to say I've finished.
More important, though, are things which have meant a lot to me over the past few months. These are the kind of things we're living for:
While digging around, I also found this rather excellent (and very 1980s and corny, obviously around the time of Close Encounters) birthday card from my family; inside it says "HOPE YOUR BIRTHDAY IS OUT OF THIS WORLD!" There's also some of my mum's handwriting: "To Elliot, lots of love Mum, Dad, Dean & Chloë" (she always put the umlaut on Chloe). Finding some of her writing, that made me a bit sad (she died a few years ago of cancer). Here's the picture, anyway:
(Looking at this now, the sentimental part of me suddenly finds this picture quite fitting as a visual metaphor for what it's like to grow up...)
No earth-shattering revelation to come to, no character progression. But perhaps that is my point. What's important is knowing who you are, and doing things which make you (and those around you) feel good.