Monday, January 15, 2007

Books worth noting

I have a substantial pile of books here which deserve at least a mention, so let's see if we can deal with a few. Some of these books I've read all the way through, others I've just dipped into. But all are good of their kind and will surely be exactly what someone, somewhere, is looking for.

Simon Haynes: Hal Spacejock

Humorous science fiction is not all that common, though you can, of course, find it, notably on television: Red Dwarf et cetera. There's also Douglas Adams; and both Google and Yahoo directories offer you leads to various places.

Anyway, that's what Hal Spacejock is: it's science fiction with laughs. Hal is an incompetent, accident prone space-ship pilot, and his adventures (published in Australia) have attracted enthusiastic reviews. More info on Hal's own web site.

From said web site, I learn that there are now three Hal Spacejock books, and the author is planning fifteen. You will also find, if you explore the site, that Simon Haynes has a lot of advice to offer to writers who are trying to make their way in this hard, cruel world. See, for instance, his take on self-publishing.

Christopher G. Moore: Gambling on Magic

The world is flat, as has been observed, and nowadays you are quite likely to get Japanese writers operating out of France, and French writers doing nicely in Japan. Christopher G. Moore is a Canadian writer whose adopted country is Thailand.

Moore has so far produced 17 novels and a collection of short stories, and he has something of cult status in Asia; he has also attracted approval from the likes of Gore Vidal.

Moore, it seems to me, is a thriller writer with literary overtones or a literary writer who deals with crime. Certainly Gambling on Magic has a foot in both the crime and literary genres.

And, just to complete the point I made about the world being flat, Moore's Vincent Calvino private-eye series is doing very well in Germany.

Jeanette Winterson: The Passion

The Passion was, I think, Jeanette Winterson's third book. Ms Winterson is, of course, known as a literary writer: her first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, won the Whitbread for best first novel. But I took a look at this one because it is partly set in Venice.

The novel tells the story (mainly) of two people: Henri, cook to Napoleon and one of the Emperor's greatest admirers; and Villanelle, web-footed daughter of a Venetian boatman. The story is told in alternating first-person viewpoints, which calls for a degree of alertness on the reader's part.

The book is reportedly being made into a movie.

Michael Matheny: A Hole in the Fog

A Hole in the Fog was first published in 2002 by Brave New Books; that edition is now out of print, but is still available as a collectible item from Cantarabooks. A new edition will, I think, be brought out by Cantarabooks soon.

It seems to me that both writer and publisher did a good job first time around. It's a trade paperback, nicely printed, and it reads very well. The story concerns a middle-aged judge who gets a chance to go back in time and correct an early mistake. The setting is San Francisco.

James Wentworth Day: A History of the Fens

Finally, a non-fiction book, of interest to English readers only. First published in 1954, by Harrap, this is a book that I have owned for fifty years, and I recently had cause to consult it again. I had forgotten how good it is.

James Wentworth Day describes, as his title tells us, the history of that area of wetlands in the east of England which was once known as the Fens. I say once known, because nearly all of the land has now been drained, and turned into rich, flat farm land, stretching for miles without any visible habitation.

Once, vast areas of this part of England were swamp, lake, and river, all intermingling, and invaded periodically by the sea, since much of it was, and is, below sea level. In this inhospitable habitat lived a strange breed of men, and their families. These people, the author tells us, were 'as near savage, as near downright primitive, as any family could be in England.' Within living memory (in 1954), they lived in peat-built hovels, with a hole in the roof for the smoke, and tiny horn-paned windows.

All gone now, of course. But a secondhand copy of this book would make a good present for anyone interested in this part of England. Copies can be found, e.g. via Abebooks, but they are not cheap: expect to pay £30 or £40.


Julia Buckley said...

Simon Hayes is a legend. I hear talk of his books being made available in UK shops soon.

Simon Haynes said...

Thanks for the mention Michael, you've gone ahead and made my day.

And thanks for your comment, Julia. 'Soon' isn't correct, though ... I signed with the John Jarrold Literary Agency late last year in the hope that a UK publisher would be found for the books. It's early days yet.

Anonymous said...

I was a little worried when Mr. Haynes started off on his web site with a definition: "self-publishing is where you lay your manuscript out like a book and have a company print and bind x number of copies for you." That's clearly a description of the old style "vanity press," not self publishing, per se.

Further down, he does go on to acknowledge "POD" as another form of self publishing, but seems to stay a bit lost in his own definitions.

Vanity and POD are very different roads to "self publishing." I agree with him that "vanity" is not the way to go in the world of self-publishing, but let's label it properly ("vanity")so as to avoid confusion.

I don't know if you could even find a vanity press, any more, but those who froth at POD love to label it as vanity printing (it appears Mr. Haynes is just a bit loose with his terminology). Regardless of intent, however, I think it's crucial that we keep the terminology straight.

Spacejock is a great idea and sounds like fun to read--Tom Swift Jr with two left feet? Nice to see someone still writes with a humorous streak these days!

Simon Haynes said...

Thanks, Andrew. At the foot of my article I do say that corrections and clarifications are welcome.

The articles were written a few years ago now, although I tweak them and update the links from time to time. When I first looked into it, Vanity was where you paid thousands and got a garage full of posh looking books. POD publishers were firms who got the author to pay for publication but pretended they didn't. Self publishing was organising the whole job yourself, from editing to cover design to printing. And POD was just a process: print on demand.

I'll have to re-read the articles and clarify anything which seems unclear.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, it can be enough to confuse the Devil himself, Simon. I guess one could say that "the POD avenue of self publishing" has gone through some delightful transformations and while some still feel this need to disguise the fact that they're self published, more and more are quite open about it and taking advantage of the unique benefits over traditional publishers.

I guess we'd all love to have Simon & Schuster lapping at our heels (only to be forgotten on the trash heap six months later), but those who enter self publishing with open eyes and grounded expectations based on their actual quality (versus fantasized quality) and willingness to market--if they even want to--can end their day quite happily.

I enjoyed your comment and best of luck to you!

Anonymous said...

Humorous science fiction nsounds interesting - thanks for letting us know about it!

Hope this finds you well.

- Leopold said...

I read the title of this entry as 'Books worth nothing!' Come to think of it, it would be pretty interesting to get your take on that subject matter too!