Friday, 30 October 2020

I have been reading...

I'm reading quicker that I can review at the moment so time for a catch-up post. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore was one of those random spots on Amazon, cheap to download and then added to the three million already on there. (At least this year I have been reading some of them...)

Clay Jannon has lost his job in computers and, wandering randomly around San Francisco, he spots a sign in a bookshop looking for help. He gets the job, working the night shift in a very strange shop that never closes. The store is an odd one. Bookshelves are so high they stretch over three stories and fetching books from the top is a test of nerves. People asking for these books seem excited, desperate to get hold of them but Clay has been told not to look inside said books. Eventually of course he can't resist, only to discover that they're all in code. Who are these people that come in the middle of the night to buy these strange books? And who or what is Mr. Penumbra? Clay gets a girlfriend who turns out to work for Google, she's a computer geek and together they set about breaking the codes. Which of course means their troubles are only just beginning... This was an entertaining book but I don't think it was really what I was expecting. Instead of being a very bookish book it was really more about how wonderful and brilliant and clever Google is and how amazing the people who work there are. I enjoyed it well enough for being different but won't go around recommending it to all and sundry. It's another case really of there being a decent book inside this struggling to get out. 

Menace of the Monster: Classic Tales of Creatures from Beyond - edited by Mike Ashley was a freebie in exchange for a review from the British Library. It's my 22nd. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2020.

Monsters have always been with us according to Mike Ashley in his 30 page introduction to this anthology, and they come in all shapes and sizes, not to mention varieties. I was a bit thrown by the first story in the volume which was The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells in the form of a short story. I couldn't think why on earth you would want to do that: read the whole book! It's worth it! The second story, The Cloud Men by Owen Oliver cheered me up though, aliens in the form of strange shaped clouds invade Earth, this was weird and imaginative and well written. After that the stories varied a  bit. There was a dragon-like bird terrorising London after being released from the Arctic ice (I kid you not), an invasion of giant ants coming from underground (much more likely), a tale that seemed to revolve around Scott and Amundsen in the Antarctic which had me completely baffled, one based on King Kong which I've never been a fan of and so on. Favourite stories included Dagon by H.P. Lovecraft which I've read before but always bears rereading and Discord in Scarlett by A.E. van Vogt about a spaceship that unwittingly picks up an alien passenger on its hull; very well written and full of suspense but it never fails to amuse me that these sci-fi writers from the 40s, 50s and 60s could imagine anything and everything in the universe except the concept of women going into space with the men. Also good, The Monster from Nowhere by Nelson S. Bond about a lost expedition to Peru coming home with a creature from another dimension (as you do), Resident Physician by James White about a hospital in space that caters for all alien life (this is a series apparently so I must investigate it) and The Witness by Eric Frank Russell, a thought provoking story that sees an alien put on trial for trying to claim asylum on Earth, I liked the ending to that one. This was quite a patchy anthology, some of the stories didn't appeal at all or worse, confused me. Others were terrific and for me that's what anthologies are all about, a way to discover new authors to explore by sampling a little of their work. Although this collection didn't completely work for me I am a fan of these British Library anthologies and love getting them through the mail.

8 comments:

Nan said...

The bookstore book sounds weird. And I think I am still afraid of monsters!
Hope all okay with you. Scary times.

Lark said...

Yeah, Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore wasn't as good as I'd hoped it would be. For me it was just an okay read.

TracyK said...

Two interesting reviews. I will skip Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore for now, based on your opinion. I noticed at Goodreads it had some 5 star reviews and some 1 star reviews, so all over the place. I certainly don't want to read about how wonderful Google or Google programmers are, much as I enjoy using its search engine.

You inspired me to get a Kindle copy of another collection put together by Ashley, with Roaring Twenties Whodunnits. Independently, Glen ran into several Mike Ashley anthologies, and purchased one called Doorway to Dilemma.

I have a book by Mike Ashley titled: The Mammoth Encyclopedia of Modern Crime Fiction. Published in 2002, so out of date now, but I enjoyed reading it when I bought it. Huge, with 500 pages.

Cath said...

Nan: The bookstore was weird. I was expecting more of a book about old books and though there was a little bit of that, that was not the main theme of the book.

We're fine thanks, Nan. We're in a part of England with the lowest numbers, much higher in the north of the country. Peter and I are still basically in lockdown. We go out food shopping and the family visit but other than that we're living very quietly indeed and I suspect will pass the winter in this manner. I think a lot of older people are doing exactly the same thing. As you said, scary times. How're you doing?

Lark: It seems we read a lot of the same books and mostly feel the same way about them. LOL

Tracy: Yes, Penumbra gets very mixed reviews, think I gave it a half-hearted three stars on GR.

I have 5 more of Mike Ashley's British library sci-fi collections to read and his older 'New Sherlock Holmes' anthology. And on Kindle, his Mammoth Book of Dickensian Whodunnits, which sounds rather interesting. So, like you and Glen, lots to enjoy.

Sam Sattler said...

I had almost exactly the same reaction to 24-hour Bookstore that you had, Cath. Any title with "bookstore" in it always catches my eye - and gets my hopes way up - but this one really wasn't about a bookstore at all. They may as well have been picking up their special books at the local bus station for all that the bookstore had much to do with things.

Your description of the short story collection reminds me of how often a good portion of the stories don't work for me. I rave about the ones that have a 75 or 80% hit rate for me because they are so rare.

CLM said...

Sam's comment made me speculate there are editors deliberately luring us with bookstores to read books that sometimes are misleading. I suppose some of them are good books anyway.

However, it reminded me of an author whose books were selling so poorly that we told her we believed in her but she had to start writing under a pseudonym. She was devastated but said gamely, "All right, let's find a name that will sit next to Stephen King or Nora Roberts on the shelf."

Susan said...

Bummer MR. PENUMBRA'S isn't better. It sounds like it has a really interesting set up. I've heard good things about it, but I've still hesitated to read it for some reason. I guess I can keep putting it off! LOL.

Cath said...

Sam: So glad it wasn't just me with the Penumbra book. And I hadn't expected such a celebration of 'Google'.

Lately I've been lucky with short story collections but yes, usually I feel happy if I like 75% of them.

Constance: Oh yes, I think you're spot-on when you say that maybe publishers are luring us bookish folk in with their titles. A bit sneaky.

I love your publishing stories!

Susan: I think as readers we're used to anticipating that books will be wonderful and finding them to be rather a letdown or a bit mediocre. Happens a lot.