Tag Archives: comedy sci fi

This week, I have been mostly … reading.

This week I thought it was time for some book reviews, so here are two that are completely chalk and cheese yet despite this, I find they go together surprisingly well.

First Light by Geoffrey Wellum

First up, I’m a sucker for history books and I’m a total sucker for biographies or autobiographies, especially when you get a good writer/ghost writer or someone who knows how to write up a transcript.

However, this is neither of those.

This is the most wonderful, evocative book about one of the key moments in my nation’s history, written first-hand by someone who could clearly turn a phrase every bit as well as he could fly a Spitfire. It’s fabulous.

The story is of a young man, Geoffrey Wellum, who leaves school at 17 in 1939 to become a pilot. In the book, he takes you through his training, and then, later, some of his best/worst/scariest missions. He is utterly honest, documenting his thoughts and feelings with a frankness that only someone who has been through the mill, and come out at peace with their own humanity, can. He describes his emotions, his fear and his distress as his colleagues and friends are lost, one by one. He describes how the threat of loss deepens the relationships between those who are left and how he, and they, deal with the omnipresent threat of death, themselves. When the heat of combat is finally over, after eighteen long months, and he is taken out of combat and sent home on sick leave, he briefly outlines how he reacted. For those few pages, alone, it’s worth a read, if only for the honesty they contain. The whole book is unfailingly frank about the daily business of being human under stress, and also about the personal and emotional cost.

The style of writing is quiet, understated, yet deep thinking and powerful. Geoffrey Wellum describes flying so vividly you feel you are right beside him, and the writing is compelling. This may be an autobiography, but it’s also a page turner. I read late into the night when I really should have been asleep. I found myself looking for a sequel, it was that good. But over and above that, I came out of it with a great deal of affection for Geoffrey Wellum. Because what comes across in this book is the story of an absolutely lovely chap; a complex and thoughtful young lad trying to do the right thing, but enduring horrors to do it. A man looking for answers which ultimately, perhaps, he finds and accepts, but which may not always be the ones he might expect. A man of great wisdom, so much so that I thought about writing to him to say how much I loved his book, but unfortunately he died in April this year (2018), aged 96.

As people who remember the horrors of the second world war, people like Geoffrey Wellum, die off, we seem to be forgetting. The modern world appears to be more and more profit-driven, our politics polarised and compassion, tolerance or kindness towards people who are weaker than/or different from us fading from daily life. This book is definitely worth a read, if only to face up to the reality of what lies at the end of the path some of the world’s major politicians appear to be embarked upon.

One of the best books I’ve ever read. Recommended.

Scout Pilot of the Free Union (Space Scout Book 1)

This is a comedy but run with me on this, there are similarities, I promise. Our hero, Frank Eric Russell is captain/pilot of a Valhalla Class Star Destroyer in the Free Union’s Star Fleet. We meet him as the Free Union and the Imperium are in an uneasy truce after years of war. Unfortunately Frank makes an embarrassing cock up during a diplomatic mission which leaves the Free Union looking … well … a bit rubbish, to be … Frank (badoom tish). He is punished by way of being transferred to the Free Union Star Fleet’s Reconnaissance Unit. There, he is assigned an ancient and outdated ship and sent on missions which are less prestigious, less carefully overseen and far more dangerous than the crappy obsolete vessel he is assigned to fly them in would suggest.

What I like about this is that Frank is very flawed and human. He can be a bit of an idiot, but he is well meaning and for all his averred cowardice he Does The Right Thing. There’s not a lot of descriptive world building, yet the world in question is very much alive and everything you need a handle on to imagine it properly is in place. Frank describes his missions in the first person which means he clearly understates the case most of the time. Things go wrong on most of them and he is forced to change the plan, or take radical action to fulfil his tasks and escape with his life. Indeed, most of his efforts are about survival and he just does as much of whatever it is he is supposed to be doing as he can while lurching from one crisis or ship’s mechanical failure to the next. But as the book continues, you begin to realise that, though he makes light of it, he is clearly an excellent pilot with a capacity for lateral thought that gets him out of situations that would certainly prove fatal to others. There are also the first hints that his exploits are beginning to get out and that he is beginning to be thought of by his peers as a hero.

Because this is all seen through the prism of his view, he is very understated and matter of fact in the way he describes his exploits – except when he is talking about lack of coffee at which point a hint of drama might creep in. It’s that style of delivery that reminded me of some of the sections in First Light. But also, I believe there was a lot of gallows humour in the RAF in WW2 as a way of dealing with the high casualty rate. This gallows approach is similarly abundant in the world of the Free Union’s Reconnaissance Unit. Likewise, the way Frank questions the ethics of the conflict but at the same time, steps up to do his duty, anyway, also echoed some of the moments of thought Wellum outlines in First Light.

Scout isn’t a deep book, by any means, or at least not like First Light; the humour is slapstick in places and very Milliganesque, so you have to like that sort of thing. It’s all very light and as such is chalk to First Light’s cheese. But, while it’s a quick entertaining read, at the same time, it’s way more complex than it appears when you start in. Macmillan Jones is smart enough to know the important truth that few heroes ever see themselves as such and that’s a facet of Wellum’s personality that is noticeable in First Light. I found the parallels between the two books interesting. Indeed, I found it very intriguing that I even noticed parallels. I’ll leave you to decide if I’m bonkers or onto something.

Light fun but fluff with more than one level! Recommended.

So there we are. If you want to read either book, just click on the picture and it will take you to a page with links to buy it in all the major stores. Although Scout is only available from Amazon both books are available in paperback and ebook – there’s also an audiobook of First Light.

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Meet Bugly: #Whovian #JollyJapes

This is a before and after shot of the new friend McMini and I have created because … I dunno idle thumbs? We have too much time on our hands? Probably a bit of both. We’ve named him Bugly because he’s blummin ugly bless him. Anyway, Bugly is about to go on a road trip, and he’s going to be sending us selfies from all the lovely places he goes to which I will post on here, unless it’s just not funny any more. In which case I won’t.

apologies to everyone who has already seen this, I got my media muddled!

So here we are.

image

Before .. An ordinary Ood.

After!

After!

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#ComedyBookWeek, two reviews.

Three weeks ago Comedy book week was looming and I wanted to join in but at he same time, looking at my diary, it was patently clear that I didn’t have time to do it justice. So I decided I would read as many books off the list as I could and review them. That’ll be a nice series of posts over the week I thought. And then I read … er hem … two books. But if all the others are as good as these, you will find a fair few new authors to follow and worlds/stories to enjoy.

The Bumpkinton Tales, Volume 1
by Matt Drzymala

Matt Drzymala’s books have been vaguely on my radar for a while. I think he posts in some of the same Goodreads and Facebook groups as me. As someone without much time, I really like short stories so I when I saw this collection featured in Comedy Book Week I downloaded it at once. They’re all based around the imaginary town of Bumpkinton. Here’s the blurb:

bumpkintonTalesWelcome to Bumpkinton!

Come in, have a cup of tea and a scone, and lose yourself in five humorous tales from the village.

Follow Father Whitworth O’Grady as he chokes on a penny, Albert Scatterhorn as he becomes the grubbiest Father Christmas ever, and Amelia Goose as she feuds with… well, anybody. Plus a whole host of characters as they attend the village’s first Singles Night with a sex-crazed ladies’ man.

Jump in and find out more for yourself…

So I did jump in.

First impressions, this kind of reminded me of Barbara Pym in that there’s a wry wit that crops up in the observation from time to time which is reminiscent of hers. The pace is gentle and this book is series of short stories so you can dip in and finish an instalment. For the most part I really liked the characters, and I enjoyed that some were rather trying, just as people in a real life village are. There was a great atmosphere of gossip created and I enjoyed the whole, does he or doesn’t he? thing surrounding a couple of characters and their reported misdemeanours. There’s a fair bit of comic mileage in the total madman in charge of the paper who, basically, just says ‘hello’ to you and then makes up some spurious interview.

However, these stories are much more than a light read. The characters have empathy and depth and you do start to care about them quite quickly, even the ones that are, frankly, a bit grim. There was a point where I almost felt sympathy for the village busybody and found myself hoping that she might find love, or something. We find out how and why she was transformed from a shy bookish girl to nightmare harridan. After I discovered her past I found her just as odious but at the same time, with understanding, came an ability to give her a little slack! And this depth and reality to the characters, and the way we find out little tit bits here and there as the stories proceed, just as we would if we actually lived there and were genuinely getting to know these people, was an excellent touch and really cleverly done. There is an intelligence and subtlety to it that I really liked.

As someone who grew up in a small village and sang in the church choir (for my sins) I did find it slightly unseating, at first, that the priest is Roman Catholic – it’s definitely more Father Ted than Rev in that respect. But if you, too, find that strange, it’s worth persevering because you soon get used to that.

So, all in all, I recommend this. It’s a lovely bit of light, gentle humour except that, like life, it works on many subtle levels and there’s a lot more to it than that.

Four stars.

Where to download The Bumpkinton Tales

The book is £1.99 as I write but should be reduced to 99p for Comedy Book Week.

Mission Improbable
by J J Green

ImprobableThe galaxy is in crisis, and Carrie Hatchett is the last person on Earth who should be fixing it.

Carrie is a low-achieving daydreamer. After providing a good home for her butt-ugly dog and psychotic cat, her biggest challenge in life is to avoid being fired, again.

But a strange green mist sucks her beneath her kitchen sink, and an unusual clerical error leads to an offer she foolishly doesn’t refuse.

The Transgalactic Council hire her to settle a conflict between the mechanical placktoids and the mysterious oootoon. Carrie must overcome her personal weaknesses and, for the first time in her life, succeed in her job, to uncover a threat to the entire galaxy.

Mission Improbable is Book One in the light-hearted, fast-paced Carrie Hatchett Space Adventures series. “…like Scully and Mulder on acid.”

As a big humorous fantasy/sci-fi fan I had to give this one a go. I think I may not have been in the mood for this book to begin with. I felt that Carrie was the most annoying, thoughtless, irritating woman and I wanted to give her a sharp rap over the head and tell her to belt up. Then something happened to the cupboard under her sink and suddenly, things began to look up, and Carrie got interesting enough for me to forgive her.

This is a much more straightforward book, in many ways, than its partner in this post. Where The Bumpkinton Tales is all half tones and subtlety, Mission Improbable is blocks of primary colours and is definitely not subtle. However, in this case it isn’t a bad thing. Carrie is really quite dim to start with, but she has a good heart and you can’t help rooting for her eventually once the author’s imagination kicks in. Because what really lifts this book is the wonderful originality of thought in it. The oootoon were inspired, I liked Gavin, I particularly liked that Gavin was called Gavin, and the placktoids are a stroke of genius. This book is a piece of light fluff, total whimsy but it’s none the worse for that. You’re looking at a reviewer, here, who has written a book about lobster-shaped aliens who are covered in marmite (vegemite if you’re Australian) scented goo. Let’s just say there were aspects of this book, and I, which were pretty much made for one another.

It was a quick read, the action clipped along at a good pace and once it got going I really enjoyed the twists and turns of the plot and zipped through it in an afternoon. I also got to like Carrie by the end.

OK, so this is a book of it’s type, and in this case, it’s madcap space comedy. It’s not deep. It’s not designed to be deep, because what it is, and what it’s designed to be, is FUN. That said there is a pretty solid and commendable message about not judging by appearances, listening to both sides, thinking and evaluating before jumping to conclusions.

For me, the greatest test of a book is whether or not you think about it after you’ve read it and if you do, how long for. I found that I was chuckling about some of the creatures and ideas in this book for some time. In fact I still am, as I write because the more I think about them the more delightfully off the wall they seem. So although to start with, I was thinking, hmm… not sure, as time goes by, I am looking back on the reading experience more and more fondly.

So did I like it? Yeh. Another four stars. I will definitely be buying other books in this series. It’s not deep, but it is what it is, and I enjoyed it. Recommended.

Where to download Mission Improbable

Mission Improbable is free to download, everywhere.

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