A to Z challenge is over

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What a month it has been!

The A to Z challenge is done, complete, finito, and I really have found it a challenge. I was quite organised at the start with a few posts scheduled in advance but as the month went on I found it harder and harder to keep up, and it was touch and go for a while. Twice I was actually still reading a book the day before I wrote a blog post about it. I’ve written posts in airports, at work and in bed. I’ve read other people’s posts in the same places plus on buses, in the car, in shops and while walking the dog.

I would like to say thank you to everyone who has visited, liked, or commented on my blog. I’ve had three times as many visitors as usual, five times as many Likes and eight times as many comments. I’ve managed to gain quite a few more followers and I’ve found some interesting blogs to follow.

My one regret is that I didn’t manage to comment on as many people’s blogs as I intended. Many apologies.

My final thank you is to my followers. I hope you’ve enjoyed my posts and continue enjoying them even though they will be slightly less frequent.

 

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Z is for Z for Zachariah

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It probably seems strange but I haven’t actually read this book and there’s good reason. For a start we studied it at school and that can be enough to put anyone off, it took me thirty years to get over “Far from the Madding Crowd”. But it’s not just that, we looked at it as part of a contemporary topic. It was 1983 and the topic was Nuclear War.

I remember talking with my friends  at around this time and we collectively discovered that none of us expected to live long enough to finish school. This may sound crazy now, but that was what it was like in England in the early eighties. Dramas and books about nuclear war were everywhere, government pamphlets came through the door called things like “Protect and Survive” with ridiculous instructions about how to build a shelter in your house, CND were protesting and I watched the bombers taking off and flying over my house.

In this atmosphere a book that dealt with the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust wasn’t science fiction, just a stark reminder of our likely future. It is, by all accounts, a great book and maybe one day I’ll feel like picking it up. But not yet.

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Y is for Yertle the Turtle

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Ok so I may be pushing the boundaries of the definition of fantasy, but what could be more fantastical than Dr. Seuss? It may seem a strange thing to blog about but, being honest, I was struggling for a Y when I remembered this.

Yertle the turtle is a story in which said turtle, the King of the Pond, attempts to place himself as high as the moon by getting all the other turtles to stand on each other’s backs and then climbing on top. Finally the pressure causes turtle at the bottom to burp causing the whole pile to fall into the mud and Yertle’s reign is ended. It’s basically a morality tale about vanity, and also the dangers of multi-turtle engineering.

When the book was published in 1958 there were concerns that ‘burp’ was far too rude for a children’s book. Despite this, or possibly because of it, the book became a best seller. I loved Dr. Seuss books when I was a kid. Perhaps my weird imagination  and slightly surreal take on life is a result.

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X is for Xeno

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Earth has been found…

This book contrasts wonderfully with War of the Worlds as blogged about in the previous post, a very different take on alien invasion. Written in the late 1970s and set in 1984, it starts like an episode of the X files with a plane disappearing mid flight and reappearing  hundreds of miles and several months off course. There is a touch of Close Encounters about it, except there are no benign alien visitors here, just the slow spread of fear.

The word Xeno means outsider, or alien, it’s where we get our word xenophobia from. I remember my Dad suggesting this book in the early eighties but I never got around to reading it so I ordered a copy (secondhand, I think it’s out of print) and I finished it last night. I’m really glad I read it. Although not necessarily an absolute classic it’s a good read. It is based on an interesting premise, is genuinely chilling and I didn’t predict the end until the last page.

Well, that’s X done. Only 2 days left. If you’re still reading these posts then thanks for hanging in there!

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W is for War of the Worlds

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Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.

— H. G. Wells (1898), The War of the Worlds

War of the Worlds is probably one of the most written about books, certainly in terms of SF if not all genres, so I shall just confine myself to a few points that occur to me.

It was published in 1898!

It was one of the first books ever to deal with the idea of extra-terrestrial invasion.

It is written in the first person with the (unnamed) narrator coolly observing and describing the events around him.

It is a fantastic read.

My favourite bit is when a Royal Navy ironclad (a ship), called The Thunder Child, heroically fights the Martians.

Like  the best SF it doesn’t predict the future as much as comment on the present. If it is about anything, it is about colonialism. The Martian invasion of earth and the uncaring destruction of British civilisation is a metaphor for the way European countries waged wars of genicide against native African peoples during the 19th century.

If you haven’t read it you really should!

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V is for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

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Another post and another map!

I always think of this as the third book in the Narnia series after The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Prince Caspian, even though there are others that may be set earlier in the timeline. It was always my favourite and I think there are three reasons for this.

Firstly, if you’ll forgive me stating the obvious, it’s a voyage, and I’ve said before how much I like a book with a journey. The Dawn Treader is Caspian’s ship in which he set sail to find the seven lost lords of Narnia who were banished by Caspian’s evil uncle Miraz. It’s actually a rattling good adventure with all kinds of excitements along the way, from sorcerers to dragons to giant sea serpents.

Secondly it’s much less dark than the previous two books, possibly because there is no main evil character.  When I think back and try to recapture the impressions of the book, its all sunlight on water, breeze singing in the rigging and waves under the bow.

Thirdly, there is Eustace, who arrives in Narnia as a spoiled brat and leaves having achieved a measure of nobility. For me the book will always be the story of his redemption, how a cowardly, bullying boy who sees the worst in everyone and everything can change for the better. It’s a nice message and one that was important to me when I was a young lad.

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U is for The Unicorn In The Garden

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The Unicorn in the Garden is a very short story by James Thurber. It’s really a fable rather than a fantasy story but a) I love it and b) it’s got a unicorn in it, so I’m putting it in.

It’s about a man who steps into his garden one morning to find a unicorn eating his roses. When he tells his wife she decides he’s gone crazy and sees an opportunity.

I wont tell you any more because I don’t want to spoil it for you. It is quite beautifully written and is wonderful example of short fiction. I read it in a collection called “The Thurber Carnival” which I heartily recommend. It also contains  some of my other favourites of his including “The night the ghost got in” and “The bear who let it alone”

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