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Recent Recommended Reading

Since writing the below, Jane Palmer has mailed me and pointed me to her website. I do recommend that you take a look.
My comments about 'The Planet Dweller' apply in bunches to 'The Drune', her latest. It's fab and funny and surreal - read it!

The Planet Dweller - Jane Palmer. Unfortunately I couldn't find a decent synopsis on the web, probably because it's out-of-print. It was published by The Women's Press, which published a fair selection of high-quality science fiction written by women, both with and without a feminist message. I think this is a great, funny book, with a nice underlying message, and the underdog wins out in the end. The Mott, the most greedy and power-mad species in the universe (very aggrssive and not too bright, with no moral sense beyond their own narrow interests, but with the biggest and nastiest toys; remind you of anyone?) are searching for new worlds to possess. They have enlisted the help of the genetically-engineered and psychopathic mad genius Kulp (who is an Olmuke; the Olmuke are almost as nasty as the Mott but with much less mean toys). They have decided to conquer Earth. Two unlikely characters must stop them - Diana (a middle-aged mother who hears voices) and Yuri (a rarely sober Russian scientist). The 'Planet Dweller' of the title is Moosevan, a benevolent superbeing who possesses the planet Earth, and who has developed a crush on Yuri. Other important characters are the Old Ones, ethereal superbeings who can possess the bodies of other creatures; they live in another galaxy and are many millions of years old, but have been summoned to help save the day by the Torrans, a species of basically benevolent cat-like aliens. I like this book a lot because it's very funny and is not too polemical; the characters and different species are quite well built up too. There is a twist in the plot at the end, when the Old Ones teach Kulp the better side of his nature (which had been suppressed by generations of genetic engineering) and he joins the resistance. Basically, power and technology do not add up to enlightenment; but good wins out in the end. A good read.

The Rediscovery of Man - Cordwainer Smith. Classic science fiction. The future history of an interstellar utopia which enslaves and deadens human creativity; and the rediscovery of the human spirit - ironically involving the liberation of an underclass of genetically altered animals. This is a very influential if little read book, covering many different levels; a satire on utopian ideals, an investigation into poetry and passion which make life meaningful, cultural clashes, and lots of strong plots and strong characters. Great.
Confessions of a Yakuza: A Life in Japan's Underworld - Junichi Saga. Memoirs of a Japanese gangster - entertaining and interesting. I'd recommend this book more to the Japan-phile than the average reader, though; but if you're interested in this kind of thing, it's a good read.
Derailed in Uncle Ho's Victory Garden: Return to Vietnam and Cambodia - Tim Page. Tim Page was a war photographer during the Vietnam War; this book is the story of his return. It's offbeat and funny and moving and contains lots and lots of interesting stories - the search for the remains of a colleague lost to the Khmer Rouge, a reunion between an US general and the Vietnamese mastermind General Giap, and lots and lots of smaller, irreverent tales. Very good.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J.K.Rowling. As one of the online reviewers said, 'The book is superb and a brilliant fantasy' - for children of all ages. Recommended.
Introducing Chomsky - John Maher/Judy Groves. An excellent introduction to Chomsky, his linguistic ideas, the concept of 'universal language' as part of human inheritance, and his political thought and commitment to social justice.
Portraits - Steve McCurry. A photo-journalist's collection of photographic 'portraits' of people all over the world. Itself an excellent portrait of human resilience. Highly recommended.
The Japanese - Joe Joseph. A Westerner's view of Japan; interesting.
Up North - Charles Jennings. Journalist from London goes to the North of England in search of the spirit of the place. Some people might find it a bit smug in places, and it probably won't tell you anything about the North that you didn't already know, but it does shed a lot of light on Southern attitudes and prejudices towards the North, and how this particular Southerner expected to find the North. It's also quite funny, in a good-natured way, especially towards the beginning. I should note that I've seen just as much social deprivation living in London as I ever saw in any Northern city - probably more, in fact. The chapter on Blackpool reminds me very much of Easbourne! Maybe I should write 'Down South' about my experiences living in London and Surrey to balance it out ;). Worth a look - Signed A. Northerner (transplanted)!
Japanese Street Slang - Peter Constantine. How to swear in Japanese.
Index on Censorship 1/2000. Slavery.
Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West - Stephen E. Ambrose. The exploration of the American west, lots of first-hand material.
Imperium - Ryszard Kapuscinski. A journalists' view of the USSR - both funny and horrific.
The Motorcycle Diaries - Che Guevara. Around South America by motorbike with the Marxist revolutionary as a young man.
Memoirs of a Spacewoman - Naomi Mitchison. An empath has a wild time in outer space.
Granta - Women and Children First. New fiction.
Index on Censorship 6/1999. The hidden history of the twentieth century.
The French - Theodore Zeldin. A funny but revealing profile of the French by a leading French writer.
Twenty Letters to a Friend - Svetlana Alliluyeva. A record of Stalin's reign of terror, in the words of his own daughter.
Revolutionaries - Eric Hobsbawm. Lucid and readable historiography of revolutions by a leading left-of-centre historian.
A Brief History of Time - Stephen Hawking. At last I read it - and I understood it too! A very readable overview of cosmology.
The Ages of Gaia - James Lovelock. A view of the Earth as a living superorganism.
The Blind Watchmaker - Richard Dawkins. Leading biologist evangelises on evolution and theology, but entertainingly so.
Black on White - ed. David R. Roediger. Views of race relations in the USA by black writers from Frederick Douglass to James Baldwin to Toni Morrison.
Hiroshima Notes - Kenzaburo Oe. Moving essays on the aftermath of the atom bombings and their meaning for the world, by a Japanese Nobel laureate.

Recent Recommended Viewing

Shaft. (USA). Original blaxploitation. A bit silly, but a lot of fun.
Planet of the Apes. (USA). A classic science fiction allegory.
All About My Mother. (Spain). Directed by the great Pedro Almodovar, and in my opinion his best film. Full of puzzles, humour and tragedy, and about various kinds of quest for identity - but witty and engaging with it.
Beautiful People. (UK) The funny side of Bosnia and the British class system.
Eight and a Half Women. (UK/Netherlands/Germany/Luxembourg) Peter Greenaway's latest, a comedy, but just as visually stylish, eccentric and intellectually engaging as all his others.
Afterlife. (Japan) If you could choose, what single memory would you take into eternity?

Favourite Saturday night CD - 'Cosmic Thing' by The B52's.
Favourite Sunday morning CD - 'Kind of Blue' by Miles Davis.