The Exploits of Engelbrecht by Maurice Richardson
Have slowly got through this. Deserves to be in print, which it isn't, but I still don't understand why Moorcock is such a big fan of this. Typical public school / Oxbridge whimsy. Beachcomber meets Molesworth as I said last time, with a side order of Ripping Yarns and bar-room stories, and a small garnish of Fforde-style overstretched metaphysical conceit. Ballard also liked it, apparently. Faintly misogynistic: the only female characters are witches, who are shot during the witch hunt. Although, to be fair, the Prime Minister is shot in the great man hunt. Now, if Moorcock had railed against this as being an example of the British upper class hatred of women and democracy, I would have been less surprised. Finishes with an atom bomb (or two) going off.
Grainne by Keith Roberts
This is often described as being one of his best works, again, I really don't see this. I have nothing against his Woman as Goddess novels (he had a strange term for this, didn't he? Primitive Heroine?), but this is very self-indulgent and the plot doesn't hang together. It is obviously semi-autobiographical since no-one would write so tediously about an imaginary person, and from what I have read there are correspondences with Roberts's life. Basically, the protagonist meets Grainne (she is an Oxford student, he isn't), they have an affair which fizzles out, then his life maunders on for quite a bit until she reappears as a TV talk show host (*) and starts a new age cult, although our protagonist doesn't really have much to do with her at this point. Curiously this, too, finishes with an atomic war. Must be something in the water.
I vastly preferred Kaeti and Company and The Road To Paradise. He is, however, a fine writer.
Changewar by Fritz Leiber
Now, this is more like it. I think Leiber is one of the elephants in the living room in terms of forming my instincts of what SF (very much Science Fantasy) is supposed to be like. I cannot think of any SF writer of the 50s who has dated so little and who seems so fresh. Some of the stories are obviously set in the 50s, but if someone told you they were by a fresh new writer in the latest Isaac Astral's you would have no reason not to believe this. This is a collection of his Change War stories - another of these being 'The Big Time', his Hugo award winning novel - a time and space spanning war between two sides, the Spiders and the Snakes, who recruit humans and others into the war. Unlike the Time War (it's a jump to the left, then a step to the right) there is an ambiguity as to whether there is really any difference between the two sides.
Banvard's Follies by Paul Collins
This is the 'people who didn't change the world' book I mentioned before. The problem with this premise is that practically everyone doesn't change the world, therefore how do you choose who to write about? We therefore have a mixture of people who were essentially nuts, people who were essentially misguided but well meaning, people who have just vanished into obscurity i.e. it is really a book about people that the author thought he could write interestingly about. Moderately amusing.
Shaping Things by Bruce Sterling
So good I can't remember a single thing about it.
Bentley's Complete Phrase Code Book
Not as large as the ABC Telegraphic code, nor with as many bizarre code-words, but the prefaces etc. are particularly fine. The most interesting thing is the one that refers to WW1 (which was going on when the preface was written) as 'The European War'.
Hacking Roomba: ExtremeTech by Tod E Kurt
Hmm. After the last 2 experiences, I am wary of having a random slag-fest of a book like this that the author might Google for. However, if you have a robot vacuum cleaner controllable via serial comms you might expect the two things the book would contain would be
a) a detailed and lucid description of serial comms
b) suggestions of how to use the control mechanism to try alternative cleaning strategies
Not completely without merit (although if you Google for it you will see that the Extreme Tech series are the world's most ugly books, ever).
(*) Something odd about the Roberts is that Grainne appears on 'Channel 5' which as described is a channel more commercial and controversial than Channel 4, which would have been going a few years when this was written in the late 80s. You have to pinch yourself and remember that this is not 'our' Channel 5. A bit like the Dorothy L Sayers Peter Wimsey books where the 'Morning Star' is referred to, but this is a down-market daily paper nothing to do with 'our' left-leaning Daily Star which would have been the Daily Worker when DLS wrote the books.