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22 June 2003

Charles the First, King of England by Hilaire Belloc (Lippincott, 1933) is primarily a biography, with a prologue sketching background of how the English monarchy had gradually declined in power during the reigns (so to speak) of Henry VIII's children, and how the Stuarts came to inherit the throne. It focuses mainly on Charles' character, his friendships, and how he reacted to the gradually developing movement among the rich and the Puritans to deprive the monarchy of real power. As Charles would not go along with that, the movement became an armed rebellion, and he was finally killed. The details of the mock trial are horrific.

It's hard for a non-historian to judge how objective Belloc's treatment is; but if it errs, it anyway compensates for the usual picture heavily biased in favor of Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans.


The Eyre Affair (2001) by Jasper Fforde is a spiffy fantasy of time travel and travel into the fiction worlds of books. It stands reasonably well on its own, though it's the first of at least four books in a series. Lost in a Good Book (2002) doesn't stand alone so well, but is worth reading if you enjoy The Eyre Affair. The Well of Lost Plots is scheduled for release in the U.S. in February 2004, and Something Rotten for August 2004.

Thursday Next (her mother's name is Wednesday; annoyingly cute character names are one of the few flaws in these books) is a literary detective; she spends most of her time investigating forgeries and copyright violation. When the original manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit is stolen, Thursday is one of the agents assigned to investigate. The story starts changing in all copies of Martin Chuzzlewit; and then the original manuscript of Jane Eyre is stolen... That isn't a terribly coherent summary, but any more would involve worse spoilers.

There's a lot more going on in the background. Thursday's father was (is, & will be) an agent for the ChronoGuard, the time travelling police, but turned renegade after learning of corruption among his superiors. Her uncle Mycroft is a brilliantly eccentric inventor; his wife Polly a brilliantly eccentric mathematician. Thursday is a veteran of the Crimean War, which is still dragging on in 1985 in this alternate world; she's one of the few survivors of the Charge of the Light Brigade, and her dealing with the horrible memories, and difficult relationships with several fellow veterans, form a more serious layer in this largely silly novel. She has a pet dodo named Pickwick; several extinct species have been recreated in recent years. (Recreated mammoths and Neanderthals play major roles in Lost in a Good Book.)

I won't say anything substantial about the plot of Lost in a Good Book, as that would involve yet more spoilers for The Eyre Affair. I enjoyed both a great deal and am planning to read The Well of Lost Plots soon after it's published in trade paperback. I would like to see Mr. Fforde do something different, though.
(Updated 2004/2 re: forthcoming books in series)


The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, July 2003

5 June 2003

Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell (1936) is the best of his novels I've read - probably somewhat better than Animal Farm, and certainly far better than Nineteen Eighty-Four. Gordon Comstock, nearly thirty, quit a "good" job at an advertising agency two years ago to work as a bookstore clerk and write poetry. His epic poem about London is getting nowhere and he hates this job only somewhat less than the copywriting job he quit. He considers himself to be in rebellion against "the Money God"; ineffectually, but persistently, he tries to avoid living by the money-oriented standards of English society. His relations with his sister Julia and his girlfriend Rosemary are strained because they don't understand his rebellion; and because they both earn more than he.

The story follows Gordon's developing romance with Rosemary, his financial fortunes and misfortunes and how they affect his emotional state (in spite of his theoretical rebellion against money, he is vastly elated to have some and horribly depressed when he lacks it), and culminates with a series of intense scenes of decision. It's an emotional roller-coaster; I had no desire to leave off reading it, but also found it hard to read very much at a time, so intense is the effect.

I listened to Keep the Aspidistra Flying in an unabridged audiobook from Recorded Books, narrated by Patrick Tull. He reads it quite well.


With some regret I've decided not to go to the Toronto Worldcon this year. The probability of getting infected with SARS seems to be fairly low in Toronto; but the consequence for someone with serious lung ailments to begin with would more than probably be fatal. I'll probably go to DragonCon here in Atlanta, which I haven't been to since it moved to Labor Day Weekend and started conflicting with Worldcon.

There are other good books I've read recently I would like to write about, but I want time. I may have opportunity for another entry next week sometime, but more likely it will be two or three weeks more.

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