James Tiptree: 10,000 Light Years from Home #Review #ScienceFiction #Dystopian

I’ve umm’d and ah’d about whether to persevere with or give up reading James Tiptree Jnr’s “10,000 Light-Years from Home” (1977, Pan-Science Fiction). Even as I write, I’m still not 100% sure whether I will finish it or not… so why am I reading it?
I came across mention of it on Mastodon, Tiptree being rated as a science fiction writer and this the book to read. Not being a science fiction reader, preferring the past to the future, it seemed an opportunity to expand my horizons. Having struggled through the first three chapters, it seems as though there are multiple strands that will eventually merge. By page 72 this seems to be the case. However, the book has still not drawn me in sufficiently to want to finish it. This despite my fascination with when the book was published and its future-gazing. It seems so much more than I pick up today where the future vision seems to have stagnated.

Does this mean the book is not good? I don’t think so. It’s rated as one of the best, the publisher wrote an introduction to the book: “Here was a story by a professional, a man who knew how to interest me…he writes the kind of fiction that is worth reading and is a pleasure to read at the same time.”

Britannica gives some background to Tiptree – not a “he” but a “she” – while Vox puts her work into perspective.

It’s simply not my kind of book. But it might be yours. It did get me reflecting though: why is there such a need to focus on sex in entertainment? I hadn’t expected the graphic scenes (rather mild by today’s standards) in the opening chapter. Not having read the blurb or anything about the author before embarking on the read, I had no idea Tiptree was fascinated with gender issues.
The start of the Vox article notes:

Feminist dystopian fiction owes just as much to this woman — who wrote as a man — as Margaret Atwood.

While I found Margaret Atwood’s film of “A Handmaid’s Tale” incredibly moving, rating it as one of the best I’ve seen, it’s not a book I’m going to read. The mental images are likely to be too much for me. Similar to Tiptree. I much prefer the more gentle but still hard-hitting approach of Doris Lessing.

Knowing something of the author’s interest in a topic is another way I approach books taking me out of my comfort zone. This got me through editing Gideon Master’s trilogy: “Lucifer’s Child”, “Gestation” and “Ovum” which TSL published. This is a struggle between good and evil, this world and others. Knowing more about Tiptree and her motivation, I can’t say the same – her focus on gender issues rather put a damper on things.

And with that, I’ve decided not to finish the book. But it might be one for you. As might the trilogy by Gideon Masters.
Another dystopian novel published by TSL and a little more gentle than those already mentioned are by Jo Wilkinson “When Falls the Night” and “Into the Darkness”.


Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

Many when hearing I was reading Tess of the D’Urbervilles wished me good luck and said how brave I was. It was a book which a reading group I belong to decided to read as we’d worked our way through the list our local library at Northwood (@Hill_libraries) supplied us. One member of our group remembered the book fondly and was keen to re-read it. By the time our group got to meet to discuss the book, I’d only managed 100 pages (one of the drawbacks of being a publisher/editor/proofreader is that my author books have to take priority over pleasure reading). But I had already at that stage decided I would finish the book (I can only recall not ever finishing two books ever) – Tess had gripped me. So, I was a little suprised to discover how challenging many had found Tess. One reader had given up and resorted to the study notes rather than finish the book. I finished the book on Christmas Day 2016 as part of my tradition of reading a ‘non-work’ book every 25 December.

The discussion at our group explored why the book had been so difficult to read. Suggestions were that it was old English, the style of writing is completely different to modern novels which is what we mostly read and it was long. Unsurprisingly, for this group, the religious references and imagery didn’t feature in the discussion as the group are all of an age and background to understand the references. I wonder how difficult it will be for future generations in England to read Tess as fewer and fewer people are exposed to Biblical texts.

I thoroughly enjoyed Tess. Perhaps it was my love of cows and so much of the story revolves around milking cows. The imagery of the close relationships between man and the bovine and how individual they are, taking to specific dairyhands whilst objecting to others captured my imagination as did the image of Tess staring into the horizon, her head resting against the cow’s side.

But life was tough then, much tougher than many of us experience todday. What struck me most, was Hardy’s being ahead of his time. Throughout the book, we have Tess standing up for what she believed. At a time when women were meant to be subservient, we see her taking a stand despite knowing what the consequences might be. As far as she is able, she plays the game – knowing when to put on her feminine guiles and when to hide them. I see much of this still happening today. I myself go into ‘subservient woman’ mode often when I am working in parts of Africa – it allows me ‘in’ to what is still largely a patriarchal society despite overt visions of equality, and I’ve known Muslim students to use the hijab to assert the boundaries they feel others are overstepping.

The dark side of life dominates with Tess eventually succumbing to the pressures placed on her. Is this any different to today with political correctness and the media telling us how to think? And what about the pressures on men? Although the focus is on Tess, the men featured resonate with many today (and I’d suggest some role reversal too).

Despite being published in 1891, Tess is still very relevant to life today. Be brave, take a read.

And for those interested in a bit of background to Hardy, here it is courtesy of The Guardian.

Have you seen?


#Review – A Home on Vorster Street: A Memoir by Razina Theba

A Home on Vorster Street: A Memoir by Razina Theba caught my eye for some reason – I can’t remember how I discovered it but with mention of memoir, Fordsburg and Oriental Plaza, it became a ‘must read’.

It took a flight from Johannesburg to London via Nairobi and Amsterdam to read – although it was finished before touchdown in Amsterdam. So, a fairly quick read.

A collection of recollections of growing up in South Africa under apartheid and the impact on family and community life for someone of Indian heritage. This had been inspired by Razina’s son asking ‘who will remember me?’ Coming from a different South African population group, and of a similar age to Razina, it was a journey of discovery into another side of familiar places and experiences. A significant chunk of my early working career occurred in and near Fordsburg and one of my favourite sensory experiences was visiting the Oriental Plaza – not the crowds and noise, but the smells, tastes (of the very samoosas Razina disparages), colours and vibrancy – it was a world removed from the clinical towns and cities we moved around: The equivalent of Razina’s family visiting Johannesburg central business district.

This is a book written from the heart. While school experiences, juggling wider family expectations and religious diversity resonate across the cultural divide, it’s the detail that separates us. And at the end of the day, we all have the desire to be remembered.

As for the title, it’s the central home where grandparents resided keeping the family together – the space many of our oldest memories turn to, when we were young. 7a 6th Street and ‘the Plot’ being my equivalents: refuges and places of encounter and discovery. Home is where identity is formed and where we return to for comfort – at least those of us who were priviledged enough to grow up in loving and caring families. This comes through in Razina’s recollections.

For other experiences of home, the following TSL books might be of interest:


#Review: Adam’s Lock by Michael J Lansdown

Adam’s Lock by Michael J Lansdown is the first of a trilogy concerning the life of William Parker.
I first encountered William Parker in Michael’s second book, The Land Beyond the Seas, which TSL has published and which deals with William Parker’s life in another country. To say too much here will likely give away the ending to Adam’s Lock, so I’ll leave it there. Having said that, starting on book 2 and then a year or so later reading book 1 was not an issue as both books are self-standing.
It shows Michael’s dexterity as an author as the settings and approach are quite different between the two books.
Both have required careful research, being historically based at the turn of the 19th century. The blurb on Adam’s Lock sets the starting scene:

Hensford is an historic Hertfordshire village ill-at-ease with itself. Since time immemorial those inhabiting the lower and the upper halves ahve eyed each other with suspicion – but a suspicion born of what? Newcomer, young school teacher David Stacey, determines to find out, setting off on a journey of discovery that will change the lives of two families, forever …

Striking in both books is the message that justice is not always on the side of right but that despite or inspite of the circumstances in which one finds oneself, it’s how we react that is important. Resilience in keeping to one’s values of honesty and doing unto others… are strong messages in both books. Read for yourself how it all pans out while gaining an insight into life in 19th century England and it’s social system.

I’m now waiting patiently to see what happens to William Parker in Book 3…

For more on Michael and his books, click here.


Losing Henry by Ezra Williams #Shortstories #Review

Losing Henry is Ezra’s first published book of short stories. Published in 2007, 14 years before Fairytales and Oddities, it is a very different book to the latter.
The stories are more grounded, less abstract and a few have the same characters appearing. I’m not one for reading titles (or blurbs) – I prefer to get straight into a story so was rather surprised that having read two different stories about losing Henry, the one I thought was to be the title story wasn’t.

Both Ezra’s books are well crafted and written, depicting states of mind which is not surprising given the decade plus between the books. In their own way, they are commentaries of the societies of the time – I’m tempted to say London society but that is too specific, and British is too broad, so read them yourself and decide.

Don’t always expect a happy ending – life is not like that and that’s a trait of Ezra’s writing. He’s not afraid to tackle the darker side of life (or taboos for that matter). He pushes the boundaries – more so in Fairytales and Oddities than in Losing Henry.

TSL has published various collections of short stories – from the more traditional by Josie Arden, through to quaint English with a twist in Tea at the Opalaco (Jane Lockyer Willis) to activism and social change (Sue Hampton and Amna Agib). Nick Horgan and Johannes Kerkhoven have their own niche as does John Samson‘s Cold Fiction inspired by the album Cold Fact.

Of these, Losing Henry aligns most with Stuffed! while for ‘off the wallness’ and abstractness, Cold Fiction and Fairytales and Oddities take prime position.

If you would like to purchase a copy of Losing Henry, please contact TSL Publications so arrangements can be made… all other books are available through the links above.


Authors and Writers #review #writingadvice

Keep remembering that you can please some of the readers some of the time, and some of the readers most of the time, but sometimes you will please only yourself, and you can never please all of the readers all of the time.


Good advice from Jane Smiley in 13 Ways of looking at the Novel.

This has been a long read, not only because the book itself is long but because I took a break to focus on other things. My engagement with the book started soon after I started a local book group and felt the need to engage with novels beyond my historical themed interest.

Jane’s take on the novel and how it engages with the reader spoke to me, the relationship between author, paper and reader continuing to do so. Significantly, so does the quote above. This echoes with the advice I regularly give new writers – write the book you would like to read (unless you’re only out to make money, then read and follow the ‘how to write a novel’ books).

Jane’s analysis of the novel and how readers engage together with the little gems she imparts such as that quoted above make it a text I would recommend to new writers looking for guidance on what and how to write.


#Review: The Fever Trail – In search of the cure for Malaria by Mark Honigsbaum

Review: The Fever Trail – In search of the cure for Malaria by Mark Honigsbaum

For those who know me, I am not a fan of anti-malarials and will do anything to avoid having to take them. But I am also aware of the dangers of contracting malaria based on my research on World War 1 Africa and having heard some more recent horror stories.

Growing up in South Africa where there are areas which are malarial there was also conflicting advice about whether to take anti-malarials or not – was masking the parasite worse than trying to prevent the disease? And then, what to believe in the press everytime they pronounce there’s a cure?

Somewhere, I discovered this ‘little’ book charting the history of the cure for malaria. Rather surprisingly, it took me into South America. I naturally assumed, given my experiences, that the book would talk about Africa. No, it’s South America and it goes back to the late 1700s, early 1800s – ‘way before my time’.

Being a time traveller and stepping out of my usual time zones was eye-opening. I had no idea malaria had impacted on the world to the extent it did and for as long as it has. Connections with dinasours! And I’m rather disappointed to say, I have a new respect for this parasite which has survived so long, finding ways to mutate as it has. I almost feel guilty for thinking (desiring) its host should be eradicated. I will also tread gingerly next time I’m walking down Gower Street so as not to disturb the little critters underground (although Mark reassures readers that they are not infected mosquitoes in the cellars underground, they’re research assistants).

This is a fascinating accessible read which takes the reader on a journey over mountains, through civil wars, across lakes and seas, from earliest times to 2002 with a little bit of humour thrown in. I now understand this insect a little better – hard to believe it’s the third biggest killer on earth. Has it convinced me to take anti-malarials? Not really, but I will make sure I have my mosquito net with me.

And for those with an East Africa World War 1 interest, there are three almost passing mentions of the campaign and the challenges of malaria.