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Deadhouse Landing by Ian C. Esslemont

DeadhouseLandingCover

Deadhouse Landing: Path to Ascendancy Book 2 is the second installment in the prequel trilogy being written by Esslemont that will serve as a prelude to Steven Erikson’s ten volume Malazan Book of the Fallen. While Erikson’s name is the byline for all ten books, he and Esslemont are partners in this universe, codeveloping the ideas and now splitting writing duties on different offshoots from the main story.

I did not review the first of this series, Dancer’s Lament: Path to Ascendancy Book 1, but may at some future point. I did greatly enjoy it, which is hardly surprising since the Fallen series is probably my second favorite fantasy series. The focus of the newest trilogy is on how two of the main characters amass their original core of people who help conquer a good deal of the known world and create the Malazan Empire.

dancer

I said that I enjoyed Dancer’s Lament but Deadhouse is even better. Esslemont started building momentum in introducing the cast of characters that will play both important and minor roles in the Fallen series in Dancer’s Lament but quickens the pace considerably. It had been some time since I had finished the Fallen series and needed to keep notes to remind me who some of the players were.

The first book revolved around how Dancer and (the soon to be named) Kellanved met and their first moves towards empire and first steps to ascendancy. In hind sight it is interesting that two of the central characters in a ten volume series have rather minor appearances in the series, and yet all revolves around them. Very little information about their back story is provided. This trilogy fills in the gap.

One of the things I have enjoyed about the original Malazan series and in this trilogy as well is that there is no information dump. No long interludes that gives the background of events or people. Starting with Gardens of the Moon you are almost instantly thrust into action with a cast of characters you know nothing about, and little idea what their motives and plans are. I have always hated the info dump in many books because not only do they rehash previous events in case you had started in the middle of the series, but may do it in each volume of a series. Ugh.

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In Deadhouse Landing the two have reached Malaz Island and proceed with developing a crew to take over the island and much more. At the same time the two are in search of clues as to how to enter the Deadhouse, and start the path to ascendancy, or godhood. The book jumps around to multiple characters and starts to bring the different threads together.

I think that Esslemont does an excellent job filling in the motives and back story to many of the people involved in the main series, and in doing so answers a number of questions that I have always had about the series. Just one instance is that Kellanved is always portrayed as a powerful mage in the Fallen series, but does little compared to a number of others mages in the Fallen series. In Deadhouse Landing you see why he is considered powerful.

What I have always found amazing is how Esslemont and Erikson keep track of all of the people, places, races, gods, powers etc…and how they all interact. They provide a Dramatis Personae at the start of the books but you really need to reference the excellent Malazan Wiki page to stay abreast. Minor events in one book can have a major impact later so focus is required.

I think that this is the best off shoot book yet in the growing number of books in the Malazan Empire series. If you are new to the series I think starting here would be best, the problem being that you would have to wait until the third volume is available before starting the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. Of course that would give you time to read the Kharkanas Trilogy that covers other important events prior to the Fallen series. The trouble with that strategy is that only the first two books have been written, this time by Erikson, and he is delaying finishing the third to start on a different, but related series called the Karsa Orlong Trilogy, with the first book tentatively entitled The God is not Willing. So good luck picking a starting point.

How Many Points is “Cheat?”

cheat

 

For some reason I have always loved Scrabble. The reason it is odd is that I am spelling impaired. I can remember odd and useless information I heard two decades ago but struggle with “i” before “e”.

I did not get captured in the “Words With Friends” trend simply because I like to play games face to face and just dislike staring at a screen all day. But for years I played Scrabble, and was beaten like a drum. I can only remember one game that I won by any margin and I did so my playing “zygotes” on a triple word score on my last play.

Even liking Scrabble I was surprised to see that there is a national Scrabble league, and more so that one of its top players was caught cheating. I guess in hindsight a league is sort of natural, but cheating, really? What did he do, sneak a peak at a dictionary?

First the league. The organization, based in the United Kingdom is called the Association of British Scrabble Players (ABSP). (Worth 8 points!) Founded in 1987, way before the Words With  Friends wave, it has around 70 events a year and a bi-monthly magazine entitled OnBoard. You can apparently win money at the events, or at least you could in the past since its Money List has not been updated online since 2014.

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This is just the league that had the scandal. According to Wikipedia there has been an English-Language Scrabble World Scrabble Championship since 1991 with more than 30 countries sending players. There is also a Spanish World Scrabble Championship (since 1997), a French World Scrabble Championship (since 1972) and a Catalan World Scrabble Championship (since 2005.) Apparently the game is available in at least 27 languages.

Back to the scandal. Apparently Allan Simmons, a top player, author and commentator on the game was caught cheating. Three witnesses claim that they saw him put freshly drawn letters back into a bag to draw better ones.  He has been banned from the game, per the article in the Guardian.

You always hear about cheating in pro sports from illegally filming opponents in football to stealing signs in baseball. I think most people don’t really relate to cheating in games that are played in social situations,. Yet Bridge has a long history of cheating, and let’s not even go into poker.

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So next time one of your friends coughs check to see if he is sending signals, you can never be too sure!  One interesting note on the article, it uses the word “furore” in the headline. I had never seen it in that spelling and plan to break it out in my next game if I can.

The World’s 11 Most Unique Bookstores?

powells

Somehow I started receiving e-mails from Fodor’s Travel the other day. I do not recall signing up for its newsletter but then I compulsively sign up for contests without reading the terms so it is probably that I agreed to get the news letter as part of the terms. There are worse fates in life.

Anyway it had an interesting piece entitled “The 11 Most Unique Bookstores in the World” mixed in with what to do in Cabo and similar pieces. I live near Powell’s City of Books, one of the largest independent book stores in the world (according to Powell’s) and was interested in what made the list.

A pair were also bars as well as bookstores, BookBar in Denver and Kramerbooks & Afterwords in Washington D.C. and while that is not a bad thing, I think I would prefer to do my drinking and reading combination in a more secluded environment such as a cozy café or at home after I have purchased a book. I could easily see drinking too many beers while ready some comedy. However they both look very comfy so maybe I should give them a try next time I am in the area.  A third was a champagne bar, Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar.

A slight variation on this theme is the Brazenhead Books in New York, where after his rent became to high the owner moved the store to his apartment and made it by appointment only. Oh, and he also made the place into a speakeasy as well. Kudos on creativity.

The largest is the Book Garden in Tehran, with 700,000 square feet and a rooftop park where you can go read. It even offers 1,000 free books to read on the roof. The photo supplied has a spacious, open store. I have to admit that I prefer crowded, stuff places that have the interesting book aroma.

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Bart’s Books

It has entries for most colorful in Saraiva Bookstore in Rio de Janeiro, the most outdoorsy in Bart’s Books in Ojai, California, and the most romantic with the aptly named The Ripped Bodice in Culver City, California. None of those really grabbed my interest to be honest. Another unique looking place, La Caverne aux Livres, in a former home of Vincent Van Gogh as well as in a train station and a few rail cars. In Auvers-sur-Oise, France it looks interesting but not sure I would go out of my way for it.

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Livraria Lello

The one that I would really have liked to visit, and had no idea about when I was there was the Livraria Lello, a gorgeous bookstore in Porto, Portugal. Purportedly the inspiration for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books and movies it is a combination of Neo-Gothic and Art Noveau stylings.

So check out the article and see if any appeal to you and if you have a favorite drop me a line and let me know about it. Not that I have anything against drinking and reading but four bars in the top 11? One fun fact is that in reading all of the bookstores’ web sites I found that Fodor had previously run a World’s 20 Most Stunning Bookstores article. I did not check it out but it seems to me that it’s cheating to then run one on 11.

That is no dragon, it is a turtle on the map!

A'tuin
A’Tuin

It is always fun when what you assume is just a piece of whimsy has an actual basis in reality. That happened for me last week when I opened my daily e-mail from Atlas Obscura, a site I have always enjoyed due to the unique and interesting people, places and things that it discusses.  The site had an article entitled “Why is the World Always on the back of a Turtle?” that instantly rang a bell with me.

Of course many readers will instantly think of Terry Pratchett and his Discworld novels. For the few that are unfamiliar with the stories, they are based on a flat circular planet that travels through space held up by elephants that are standing on the back of a giant space turtle, named A’Tuin. I had always thought that this was a bit odd, but in a series that has walking, and dangerous, furniture, I never really gave it much thought.

According to the article it turns out that the idea of a planet floating through space on a giant member of the Chelonioidea family comes from ancient sources, appearing first in Hindu mythology. According to anthropologist Sir Edward Burnett Tylor’s Researches Into the Early History of Mankind and the Development of Civilization, we have it all to blame (or credit) on the god Vishnu’s second avatar for starting the whole idea. Then the same motif developed independently in Native American mythology.

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I had always assumed that Pratchett had just created a funny vision of the world, and he may have come upon the idea independently, but I suspect that he just snuck in another cultural reference that so many of us would miss. Good for him. I was also surprised that when I mentioned this to several people at the local dog park they were apparently all aware of the Hindu tie in but not the Native American one.

Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja

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I love looking at overstock and discount racks at the local bookstores. The problem is that I buy more than I will ever read- I guess that just gives me a goal to live forever. At Powell’s Books in Portland I noticed a book entitled Mechanical Failure (Epic Failure Trilogy Book 1) by Joe Zieja. I liked the cover art (amazing how much that can influence a decision to look closer) but what got me was the small tag line –Please Restart Your Warship. Humor, when done well is always appreciated

Mechanical Failure follows the trials and travails of one R. Wilson Rogers, an ex-space fleet sergeant mechanic that is forced back into the service due to some very unusual circumstances. Life in the service had been an interesting bore for Rogers, basically one long party, a time in which he sold watered down beer, ran fixed poker games and races and generally idled away his with the fleet as it in turned idled away its time due to the  200 Years’ (and counting) Peace.

Back in the service after a strange battle between pirate fleets in which he is the only survivor, he finds the fleet completely changed. It is now on a war footing as it prepares for an expected incursion by the long time rival Thelicosans. As he returns to a fleet that he barely recognizes, with all of the men and woman serving devoutly believing in the preaching of the inspirational, yet strangely incompetent Admiral Klein, Rogers tries to just serve his time and once again depart. As he says all he wants to do is drink beer and play cards.  But fate has other plans for him- but maybe he can answer the age old question: Do the times make the man of the man make the times?

That is a rough outline of Mechanical failure, an amusing first book by the author who spent a decade in the U.S. Air Force , and his experience obviously peppers the book with  what feels like real life experiences from a career military man. The motivational posters, the transfer of qualified trained personnel into positions that they are unfit for, and so much more has a real world feel. I had the feeling that the scene where Rogers, just seconds after he arrived in his new quarters is subject to an inspection and he is found to fail a number of details has a basis in real life.

The book is a tongue and cheek poke at the military, but I did not get the feeling that it was anti-military, as many are portrayed as dedicated, intelligent and hardworking. Instead Mechanical Failure pokes a finger in the eye of mindless bureaucracy and how connivers can always find the gaps in a system, something our hero excelled at.

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Rogers is basically Sergeant Bilko in space, for those old enough to remember the old Phil Silvers show or the newer Steve Martin movie Sergeant Bilko. After departing the military he sets his eye on bigger scams, seeking to swindle pirates, something that goes strangely and disastrously wrong for everybody involved but himself. Forced to return to the service he manages to advance up the ranks while constantly wondering about the strange going-ons in the ship around him.

I found this to be a very entertaining book, and an excellent first effort. Humorous from end to end, with some jokes starting in the early chapters only to get punch lines much later. Some of the jokes seem to be overly obvious, a few could have been omitted and a couple would make better sight gags than appearing in written form. Also one seems to strongly remind me of a Mel Brooks bit, but I could be wrong.  Overall they did work quite well. If you tend towards serious military space novels this might not be for you, even though it has a semi-serious undertone. However it is a very good lighthearted read and I will certainly get the second book. It takes a bit to get going, at least for me. I was unsure where the plot was heading and initially was not interested in it but about midway you can certainly see a firm direction

Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl

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I have had a copy of Roald Dahl’s autobiography, Going Solo, for years but just have not gotten around to reading it, a common problem at my house. Then a friend mentioned that he had one about his childhood, giving me another reason to delay reading Going Solo. Then last week at a garage sale I found a very battered copy of Boy: Tales of Childhood available for a whole quarter.

Dahl clearly states that the book is not an autobiography, it is rather the top memories that he has from his childhood. For instance he does not reconstruct his family life, for the most part, or go into lengthy descriptions of many aspects of his life and family. There is no listing of all of the siblings and their traits, and just a brief description of his parents. Instead it is a collect as advertised, tales from assorted years that have remained at the top of his memory.

Instead it is really just an enjoyable collection of tales, few of them really interconnected, aside from Dahl being the omnipresent character in all of the tales. Almost all are humorous, none are really side splitting funny, and all are interesting. I have never read any of his other books but I suspect that his wry sense of humor pervades them.

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In some it makes you wish you were alive in that bygone age. When else could you ride your tricycle to school, unaccompanied by an adult, down the middle of the main street due to lack of cars on the street. Or taking a steam ship to Norway every year for a long summer holiday. Then you might have second thoughts on wanting to live then when you read about Dahl having his adenoids removed, sans pain killers, or his father having to have his arm amputated due to being treated by a drunk doctor.

The first family drive in a car results in his nose being almost completely severed, after the kids push his “ancient sister” to speed up to the unheard of speed of 35. His stories of public boarding schools make me very glad that I was not forced to attend them. You find out that he was a star athlete without any bragging, and a superb photographer, and did not like Latin. He wrote his mother every week of his life starting with school, and that has no doubt helped with his recollection of events as his mother saved all of the letters.

An interesting note is that at one school the candy maker Cadbury used to send the boys an occasional box of new types of chocolate to get feedback. He daydreamed of discovering the greatest chocolate yet devised. That was the kernel for the story Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, written over 30 years later.

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One thing about the physical book that I purchased which amused me is that one of the previous owners was named Amanda. Written in six different color pens on the top of the book, and in bold black letters on the bottom. I wondered if the book was owned by an Amanda, or if it was owned by someone who had a crush on an Amanda? Some questions we will never know.

I greatly enjoyed the book; it was a pleasant journey through some of the memories of a person who lived in what is increasingly long ago bygone era. It was a pleasant, short afternoon read I can now with a clear conscious go on to Going Solo!

Summer of Space Opera Sampler from Tor.Com

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I am a big fan of the Space Opera genre, although what actually constitutes a space opera as opposed to a run of the mill sci-fi book is a bit unclear to me. I think it needs more than one volume, a large cast of characters and conflict. I looked at Wikipedia’s definition and I was close:

Space opera is a subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes space warfare, melodramatic adventure, interplanetary battles, as well as chivalric romance, and often risk-taking. Set mainly or entirely in outer space, it usually involves conflict between opponents possessing advanced abilities, futuristic weapons, and other sophisticated technology.

So earlier this year Tor.Com offered a Summer of Space Opera Sampler I snapped it up. It has five excerpts from pending or just released longer stories. All Systems Red:The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells, Killing Gravity:The Voidwitch Saga by Corey J. White, The Ghost Line: The Titanic of the Stars by Andrew Neil Gray and J.S. Herbison, Starfire:A Red Peace by Spencer Ellsworth and Acadie by Dave Hutchinson.

 

Two of the excerpts have a very old school feel to them.  Starfire combines swords with blasters, a combination that I have always felt only works if you are a Warhammer 40K fan. I just find it hard to believe that a futuristic society would have space ships, space weapons but also armies fighting with swords. Aside from that I liked the dual plot lines that were introduced in the story. In one a cross breed human has defeated the pure human empire and is now pondering pogrom on the remainder of pure humanity. Also there is a mixed breed pilot who is being kidnapped to carry some pure breeds off planet.

The second old school story, The Ghost Line has to do with a ghost ship and a crew hired to possibly salvage it. Their mysterious employer is not entirely clear about their goals. Taking place in the not too far future it could almost be a side story from the world of The Expanse. Slow ships from Earth to Mars, Belters mining asteroids etc… Had a very strong feel from the Golden Age of Science Fiction, and I enjoyed it a great deal.

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The third story (chronologically) was my favorite. Called Acadie, it’s about how some brilliant genetic engineers fled earth and started moding their bodies. While the topic in the book, Earth’s continual search to capture and punish these people, called Makers, the scene where the council is meeting is very funny. The sample gives a very good history of what happened previously and the challenges facing the Makers and the others that live with them when it looks as if Earth has finally found them. I will probably purchase the entire story when it is available; I liked both the humor and the dilemma.

All Systems Red reads as a detective story in space. Who is out to sabotage a project on a lonely planet? Can the assassin android, with a newly but secretly disabled governor, help solve the issue? The premise is interesting and the android is an almost instantly interesting yet complex character, it leaves you at a cliff hanger and makes you wonder, always a good thing.

The last in the excerpts, Killing Gravity, was probably my second favorite. It throws you in the action without a data dump and then slowly feeds you a lot of information in a smooth measured manner. The concept of PSI and other powers being taught to humans and used in space has a lot f interest as a plot device and it is interesting to speculate where the story is going.

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It should be noted that these are just a few pages from short stories. None of the tales that the samples come from tallies much over 200 pages and most are in the 160 range.

All Systems Red is a Kindle single available for $3.99, or $10.39 in paperback, 160 pages. Starfire: A Red Peace is in pre-order mode at $4.99 on Kindle and $11.66 in paperback, 210 pages. The Ghost Line is also a Kindle single available in that format for $3.99 and paperback for $14.97 at 146 pages. Acadie, another Kindle single is available for preorder at $3.99 or $7.60 for the print version with no page count (that I could find.) Killing Gravity, also a single, is $3.99 for the Kindle version and $1039 in print, 176 pages.

The Silverleaf Chronicles by Vincent Trigili

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One of the many blogs and newsletters I read had a low cost offering for this book and that is something I can never resist. I would give a shout out to where I found it but I don’t recall at this moment (Might have been Tor). I had never encountered Trigili but looking at his page on Amazon he has been writing for quite some time.

I enjoyed The Silverleaf Chronicles (The Dragon Masters Book 1) and it was a fast read, but I thought that it had a number of flaws (or perceived flaws) that annoyed me. I should mention that what bothers me in one book I often do not notice in another so all complaints should be taken with a grain of salt.

The book follows a man named Silverleaf, who comes from one of the clans of the Forest People. They look just like humans but some of them are born to control dragons. However dragons went extinct centuries before and so the potential dragon masters slowly go insane. However when they go insane they also become frightening efficient killing machines as well. Silverleaf is a dragonmaster and has fled his home so that he does not inflict harm on those he loves.

As he wanders he reaches a small town and sets up work as a smithy to earn some money. While repairing a rare ax the town is invaded by a foreign army. The one strange thing about the foe is that they have armored, android like troops that have the ability to fire destructive beams from their arms and are mind controlled by humans. Much like the army in the classic bad movie Krull. In many ways the movie had an interesting cast with both Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane in supporting roles-I kid you not.

krull
Sadly no dragons

Silverleaf manages to fight his way out, accompanied by Kaylissa, the serving girl from the inn where he was taking his meals. He discovers that she is also from the Forest Clans and returns her to the clans, and then departs again.

The book chronicles their relationship as she follows and reunites with him and his battle with the madness. This is the strongest part of the book, but even here I think there is a problem. Silverleaf has been living as an almost feral animal, and was part of a wolf pack for a time. He no longer remembers his past and seems barely human. One quick battle and he is now a thoughtful teacher, helping Kaylissa on her way to beating the madness. Wow that was fast.

The world building is almost non-existent. No maps or sense of distance. You are told that once a vast civilization existed in that area yet no one seems to ever encounter ruins, aside from one impregnable fortress. Aside from this there are forests, a few isolated villages and a rumor of cities to the south.

That fortress, Drac’nor, is where all of the clans of the Forest People retreat at the first onset of the foreign army. The scenario where they decide to go does not ring true. Silverleaf meets the ruler of one of the clans. The leader asks what they should do. Silverleaf says retreat to the fortress. “Ok stranger that we have never met, we will follow your instructions and off they go with nary a word raised about abandoning their ancestral homeland.  It seems that many decisions in the book are made this way. No arguments raised. Also where do they get the food and other supplies when they are in the fortress? Once in the fort, they seem unconcerned about what the enemy is doing away from its borders.

Another odd item is that when Silverleaf comes out of berserker (madness) mode he is ravenous. Nothing odd about that, but it is that he says he needs simple sugars then roots and insects (basically carbs) before he goes on to proteins. All that was missing was a complaint against trans fats.

I did enjoy the writing and the portrayal of the main two characters. The book ends with a lot of unanswered questions and I am interested to see how the author resolves them. There are a number of interesting twists in The Silverleaf Chronicle and so I would expect there to be more in future books. I think that in hindsight the book was probably more targeted at a YA audience, which might explain some of my perceived shortcomings in the book.

Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

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I was a huge Zelazny fan when I was younger and read a great deal of his work. I even went so far as to stand in line at the old Recycle Books in San Jose to get an autographed copy of Nine Princes in Amber. He crossed genres easily and I felt then and now that much of his work was way ahead of its time. So when I came across a copy of Jack of Shadows at a garage sale I snapped it up.

I had read the book decades ago but only had a faint memory of it, and a vague feeling of uneasiness about it. I could not put my finger on why prior to reading it and am still not sure why afterwards but I believe I have a better idea why now.

The world that it is set in is an earth that basically does not rotate. Half is always in sunlight and half in darkness. In the light section there is science and a mechanical world. In the dark there are ruling powers that have powerful magic at their command. The dark side keeps a shield in the sky that keeps the world as it is with magic while the daysiders have a mechanical shield. The people in the sun have souls and the people in the dark are immortal and will be reborn if killed. At the edge of these two areas is Shadow, an area that the titular figure inhabits, and where his power comes from. The world had a Dying Earth feel to it, but it is obvious that Jack Vance’s books were not an inspiration. You also get hints (in hindsight) of the powers and characters that will his Amber series, especially Corwin.

I really enjoyed the reread but I could clearly see why I had the unease when I was younger. When you are introduced to Jack, he is a cool character, just a master thief planning a job. When the plan goes off the rails he ends up struggling to survive (after being executed) and vows vengeance on all that have wronged him. And he brings off the vengeance with a flourish. At this time he becomes an unlikable character. His mistakes and arrogance start compounding problems and he has to take drastic measures to try and salvage the situation.

I think what had upset me was that when I read this, back when it was originally published, all of the heroes in books that I followed were basically good. Even a character like Conan, who off the pages looted, robbed and raped, was a chivalrous, almost do-gooder in the stories. Jack somewhat redeems himself, but not really. I think I was unprepared for a character like this at the time, and to a degree I still find it unsettling. Not that he did not reform but rather because I still somewhat liked him.

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I think that since I really enjoy Zelazny’s writing style and the imagery that he presents it is time to revisit other books that he has written. I think that Lord of Light, which won the Hugo in 1968, will be on my need to read soon list.

Far Away and Long Ago by William H. Hudson

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Reading a recent issue of The Smithsonian I read an article on William H. Hudson. I had never heard of him but he was a prolific author and a famous English/Argentine ornithologist who grew up on a plantation in Argentina during the 1840s and 1850s. In the article it talks about his autobiography about his childhood years, Far Away and Long Ago: A History of My Early Life. I found it interesting that amid the praise for the book that it was also a text used to teach children in Japan English. I suppose much like Caesar’s Commentaries are used to teach Latin, or was at one time.

I just have to say what a delight the book was. While written when he was 77 and the first draft started when he was fairly ill, it resounds with childhood’s innocence and wonder. I cannot recall a childhood autobiography that I have enjoyed more, although Little Britches  by Ralph Moody comes very close. The book kept reminding me of many things from my childhood which was odd since there is no parallel. It is just that Hudson manages to maintain the joy of discovering new things every day and project it to the reader.

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Growing up on the plains he was a small and shy child, in love with the outdoors and all that lived in it. While birds are clearly his first love, everything in nature seemingly fascinated him, flowers, plants, trees, mammals and so on. Without formal education he learned all about these things and their seasons. I was envious that at 6 he could identify so many birds simply by their call- all I can get right is a crow. One of my favorite stories in the book is how someone told him that if he put salt on a bird’s tale it could not fly. I wonder how old that joke is? The joy of childhood is also revealed in tales about his and his siblings loved how one neighbor laughed and another sang.

His life was anything but ordinary. Having a pony at age 6 and free to roam at will across the pampas by 8. Watching cattle and sheep drives, talking with old gauchos and witnessing them have knife fights. Having the remnants of a defeated army flow by his home. All through the books is a growing love of nature and most specifically birds, slowly at first and then with a growing admiration. His growth into reading and education as well as spirituality, and then subsequently questioning spirituality is very interesting, heartfelt and relatable.

Very rarely does he display cynicism that might have come with age but he does lament the loss of those days, and in part what he decries is the fact that the area where wild animals swarmed and birds flew is now plowed under to make way for corn fields.

One odd note in the book is that he never names his brothers or sisters, or his parents. His father is very rarely mentioned and his mother occasionally. His oldest brother obviously holds a very important position in his life, including a helpful push to be a naturalist, but is unnamed. I wonder why, as it does not sound like he disliked them, but I do get the impression that they were nowhere near as important as seeking a new bird or flower.

I am really looking forward to reading more of his writings. I found it incredibly approachable but I had to continually stop and look up what a bird or a plant looked like. His book about Patagonia particularly interests me.