Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl

boy

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.

going solo

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.

Charliechocolate

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

tor

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.

acadie

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.

killing

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.

Space Team by Barry J. Hutchison

spaceteam

Cal Carver is dashingly handsome, clever, witty, resourceful, brave and heroic. Well maybe one of these features at least. But he believes it darn it and he will do what a man needs to do. Cal is the hero, of sorts, in Space Team, a tongue in cheek Sci-Fi book by Barry J. Hutchinson that is the first in a five book series.

Cal is just a low level criminal who has been tossed in a cell with a hardened criminal nicknamed “The Butcher”, a cannibal that has eaten and killed 48 people-some eating starting prior to death apparently. However the book does not dwell on such morbid issues, much. Instead it is the adventures of Cal (originally masquerading as the Butcher) and a team of misfits that Zertex, giant corporation/government, hires to get some damaging footage from a planetary warlord before it starts an interstellar war

The team includes Mizette, a werewolf type who is very much a woman. Mech, a huge cyborg that can go from being a genius to a killing machine with the twist of a dial and who probably goes by the name Mech as his birth name is Cluk Disselpoof.  and Gunso Loren, a Zertex officer who has issues of her own rounds out the team. Oh and a green blob named Splurt that can assume the shape of anything, and its functionality.

willful

I have read a number of Sci-Fi and fantasy humor books in the past, but I think few have done it as well as Space Crew. The humor always seems fresh, and Hutchison constantly comes up with a line that makes me break out laughing. The closest book I have read that compares is probably Steven Erikson’s Willful Child.

However Ericson’s protagonist, Hadrian Sawbuck, is a supremely competent officer while Carver is only supremely confident, but believes that he is equally competent. However there is more to Cal than meets the eye. He is brave, and willing to instantly take steps. Has the ability to think things through, and gets to the obvious issues quickly rather than being distracted by side issues. It is that his mouth runs away from him and he is not as clever as he thinks he is. He likes to poke, poke, poke everybody around him.

Sternn
Captain Sternn

I try and avoid mashups when writing about books, you know a blurb that says something like “Gone With the Wind” meets “Aliens.” However Carver seems to be a mix between Captain Sternn from Heavy Metal and Peter MacNicol’s annoying camp councilor in Addams Family Values.

 

There are some reviews out there that compared this to either Terry Pratchett or to Douglas Adams and I don’t really see the comparisons, except that they are all comedies. I really believe that the Space Team stands on its own merits and highly recommend it. How can you not love a book that has an alien made out of stone who likes Dolly Parton, a zombie God, an evil soda company, and a quick guest appearance by Tobey Maguire. Also there are some clever plot twists.