September 2023 book blog

The month began with ‘Wonder Worlds’ by William F Nolan. Another farewell read, for a book that’s been on my shelves for decades. It’s been a long time since I read these stories, and only a few felt familiar. This is a collection of dozens of short short stories, some of them almost flash fiction. Some are shaggy dog stories, some what ifs, but they are all of their time. There is humour in there, and some great ideas, but ultimately they haven’t aged particularly well. I think the author must have had a lot of fun writing them though, and I wouldn’t begrudge that of the author of ‘Logan’s Run’.

On to something a little more up to date. ‘The Curious Affair of the Missing Mummies’ is the third book in the Jesperson and Lane series of paranormal detective stories by Lisa Tuttle. I’ve read and enjoyed the first and second books, and thoroughly enjoyed this installment of the adventures of the Victorian detective duo.
The pair have been professional partners for nearly a year now, and the story starts with Jesperson being quite bored by the lack of interesting work, dismissing potential cases with a Holmesian disregard. And then, he spots a young man approaching the house, and deduces immediately that this could be the next big case.
There follows a riveting and rollocking yarn that takes in a beautiful orphaned girl, mummies aplenty, venomous snakes, a possessed tomcat and even a brief non-appearance by the Prince of Wales. Recommended.

My next read was a very welcome review copy of ‘A Stroke of the Pen – the Lost Stories’ which is a collection of early and mostly unpublished short stories by the wonderful Terry Pratchett. My ‘official’ review is in my last blog post, but as this blog ultimately serves to remind me of what I’ve read and what I thought about it, I’ll do a quick summary here too. There are a couple of Introductions that explain how the collection came to be, then a fair number of very short stories. In ‘How it All Began’ a caveman invents fire, and gets carried away, he keeps on inventing whilst his companions wonder what will become of them all. ‘The Fossil Beach’ is a cute time travel story. ‘The Real Wild West’ is a crime caper set in Welshest Wales, but which has more than a hint of Hamish MacBeth. ‘How Scrooge Saw the Spectral Light …’ tells of how Scrooge embraced Christmas and then commercialised it beyond all reason. It’s the first of a run of Christmas themed stories. ‘Wanted – A Fat Jolly Man’ tells the tale of when Father Christmas quit his job and looked for another suitable post. ‘A Partridge in a Post Box’ is one of my favourites from the book, and looks at how a postman deals with someone’s true love sending all kinds of things through the post in the run up to Christmas. The next story introduces us to Blackbury, a town where odd things happen. ‘The Great Blackbury Pie’ is a parable on the importance of understanding the specification before embarking on the project. ‘How Good King Wenceslas Went Pop’ is a story of a well meaning old chap finally getting what he deserves. ‘Dragon Quest’ is a quest with a difference, that lets us know that dragons are people too. ‘The Gnomes from Home’ sees a business minded gnome take over a suburban garden – and a suburban gardener get the upper hand. ‘From the Horse’s Mouth’ is a shaggy horse story about a talking horse, and about learning respect. ‘Blackbury Weather’ has a real Discworld feel to it, and reminds me of the Unseen University stories. ‘The Blackbury Jungle’ is another deft little story about a silly event. ‘Mr Brown’s Holiday Accident’ is a Pratchettesque take on the Truman Show trope, with an added dollop of bureaucracy and 1970s TV. In ‘Pilgarlic Towers’ a haunted house is slated for demolition – but that won’t happen if the resident ghosts have anything to do with it. ‘The Haunted Steamroller’ was another favourite, it made me wonder how we’d be able to tell if an appliance was being run by an AI, or was haunted. ‘The Money Tree’ is literally about a money tree, and perhaps about being a bit too greedy for your own good. ‘The Blackbury Thing’ delves into the world of UFOs and escapees. Finally we come to ‘The Quest for the Keys’. This is the longest story in the book, it was initially serialised and we’re lucky that all the episodes were found. It has strong Discworld vibes, with a dodgy wizard and a hapless hero working through a series of quests to a typically Pratchett ending.

Since I finished the Pratchett collection I’ve not read much at all, I’ve been dipping into Interzone 295, and have nearly finished it. That’s a review for October, methinks.

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