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Robert Cordner (Northern Ireland, UK)

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The Invasion Handbook
The Invasion Handbook
by Tom Paulin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Looking back, 13 Aug. 2012
This review is from: The Invasion Handbook (Hardcover)
This collection of poems, or possibly one long poem, recounts Europe's inter-war tensions and the road to the Second World War. Several countries feature although the focus is inevitably Britain, with occasional references to the poet's childhood home in Northern Ireland. Despite being written so long after the period, it adopts a perspective which is old fashioned in as much as it focuses on the actions of `great men'. Aside from a few fleeting references, there is little here of popular attitudes to another world war. The appeasers are denounced, and Churchill comes out unscathed. It could be suggested this is a deliberate or possibly unconscious effort to conjure up the period, yet it has a very present-day History Channel preoccupation with conspiracy, in particular, freemasons and the alleged collaboration of the Duke of Windsor. A brave and often interesting collection, but in eschewing insights learned with hindsight, a more authentic voice might be better found in the poetry of the late 1930s.


Supertoys Last All Summer Long: And Other Stories of Future Time
Supertoys Last All Summer Long: And Other Stories of Future Time
by Brian W. Aldiss
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Humanity lasts all summer long, 26 July 2012
The best science fiction places us in extraordinary situations, or adopts clever if unlikely conceits, with which to test our humanity. Brian Aldis's collection of short stories achieves this in almost every instance. Three stories at the start develop Aldis's previously published `Supertoys last all summer long', about the robot boy who seeks a human mother's love but is forced to confront his true nature. Aspects of this were worked into the Kubrick-Spielberg film `AI', but Aldis's original deviates significantly from the trajectory of the movie. The short stories' conclusion is equally haunting if less saccharin. In contrast to the film, these stories dwell on David's `parents', exploring the unpleasant side of humanity in a clever juxtaposition with their `supertoy'. Indeed, the remainder of the (individual) stories tend towards the melancholy and poignant. Common themes include religion, mythology, and environmentalism. `Becoming the full butterfly' draws on Rushdie's magical realism (it is even 'set' in India), `Dark Society' offers a quasi-Gnostic view of heaven and hell, `Nothing in life is ever enough' presents an interesting twist about love on a desert island, `Apogee' offers a great moral on unknown symbiosis, and `Steppenpferd' tests a monk's faith on a planet displaced to another galaxy by demonic aliens. In all, Aldis interrogates commonplace assumptions and warns us of their possible implications in `future time'.


Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class
Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class
by Owen Jones
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.48

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good message, 16 July 2012
The message of Owen Jones' book is one which rightly deserves attention from all quarters. It is undeniable that the working class have been demonised, and in a manner which is qualitatively different from the long held dislike which characterised inter-class relations for the past two centuries. Of course, middle and upper-class suspicion (in some cases hatred) of the working classes and their culture is nothing new. Even the progressive middle class, long synonymous with the Guardian's readership, have since the 1960s exhibited increasing frustration with the working class they claimed to care about. The truth is many simply wanted the working class to be depleted through transfers to the middle class. Move forward several decades and this is manifested as New Labour's assumption that, after Thatcher via Calvin, people were poor or disadvantaged because of their own personal failings. As Jones reminds us, this coincided with a momentous change in the power of the working class. Once it was feared for being too strong, but its gradual decline from 1980s means that it is working class weakness, their very powerlessness, which is criticised. Owen Jones' message is very important, and all too often the reader will wince at their own connivance in some of the behaviour addressed. As a polemic, it goes without saying that it can be selective in the evidence presented. In a like manner, Jones never pauses to consider other reasons for demonization. Comprehensive schools, for example, have done so much good in promoting cross-class interaction, but at least some of this must have been negative on both sides, leaving people with bitter memories and prejudiced ideas about `the other'. Many who attack comprehensive education have experienced it themselves. Jones makes occasional references to Scotland and Wales, but is regrettably English-centric. Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties have certainly absorbed, throughout their history, discontented Labour (and Liberal and Conservative) voters, but this vastly underestimates the middle class ideology and impulses of these two parties. Indeed, for many nationalists in Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, the working class were (unwitting) traitors to their causes: too reliant on British welfare, enthralled to British/American popular culture, and too stupid to see that local schoolteachers and poets were their true overlords, not Whitehall. Working class voters have not permanently flocked to these parties; or indeed to the farcical BNP. Thankfully, despite their demonization, Britain's working class continue to rally to democracy as their forebears did in 1939.


The Time Machine (Penguin Classics)
The Time Machine (Penguin Classics)
by H.G. Wells
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Bleak and brilliant, 9 May 2012
Often regarded as one of the earliest science fiction stories, The Time Machine follows in the tradition of Swift's Gulliver's Travels and Voltaire's Candide. Not only do all three feature a central character travelling to strange places and incurring adventures and mishaps, but all offer a biting critique of society. H.G. Wells' contribution lacks the humour of these precursors and perhaps for this reason is not viewed as satire, but arguably his is the most immediate, frank and bleak of all three. In contrast to the Hollywood versions, Wells' original story warns of the folly of ambition and grandeur, personal and otherwise, at a time when the British Empire and European culture's self-confidence were at their height. The contrast between the apparently privileged Eloi and underworld Morlocks is well known: Wells' brilliantly turns expectations on their head to question the meaning of existence. The central protagonist's discovery of a museum brings home the potential futility of privileged learning in a culture blind to its own contradictions and injustices. The Time Travellers' push further into the future offers even less hope (and conjures up an end-of-time landscape used by many later writers).


December Bride
December Bride
by Sam Hanna Bell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Patter Familiar, 8 May 2012
This review is from: December Bride (Paperback)
This is deservedly the most well-known novel on Ulster Protestants. Sam Hanna Bell's December Bride has long been lauded for its achievement of making this community understandable to outsiders (and even its own members). Regrettably, such praise can all too easily mistake cliché for peculiarity. The rural life depicted in December Bride differs in only the details from similar novels on rural communities across the British Isles. The internal conflict of religious characters is hardly unique to Ulster's Presbyterians, the tenacious determination of women acting outside the moral code is a familiar literary phenomenon, and the oft-remarked stubborn force with which the land is held is a feature of most fictional treatments of peasant farmers. The details, nevertheless, are clearly significant given the long dearth of fictional works on Ulster Protestants, and the poor image they projected throughout the thirty years of the `Troubles' (originally published in 1950, December Bride was republished many times in the 1980s). Far from celebratory about its subject matter, the December Bride grips the reader with its carefully honed writing, which in places deserves reading several times over (a feature, unfortunately, not replicated to the same standard in Hanna Bell's later novels). Slow moving at the start, the novel's momentum increases throughout so that the reader is determined to understand a resolution which has already been revealed in the first chapter. The novel's greatest asset, however, does not feature the main protagonists, the Echlin brothers and their erstwhile servant, Sarah Gomartin, but the `short story' which constitutes Chapter 7. Charting Petie Pentland's day-trip to Belfast, this story manages to capture and distil the trials and complications of Ulster working-class life and culture. In addition to the novel's well-known treatment of scandal, it also examines the Echlins' consolidation of neighbouring farms, and how the latter lessens the problems of the former (notably, Hanna Bell's later novel, Across the Narrow Sea, suggests the possibility that the peasant Echlin's lineal forebears were minor Scottish lairds). December Bride should be recommended on its own terms, although inevitably it will remain known for its apparently revelatory treatment of Ulster Protestants.


Candide and Other Stories n/e (Oxford World's Classics)
Candide and Other Stories n/e (Oxford World's Classics)
by Voltaire
Edition: Paperback
Price: £2.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Candide camera, 27 April 2012
Voltaire's satire follows the travels of young Candide's expulsion from Germany, through a series of bizarre and calamitous incidents, around the world, to an eventual resolution...of sorts. Depending on which version you acquire, the original novella by Voltaire is appended with a 'sequel', or Book II, by one of his many imitators. The difference in quality is obvious but this should not put off readers from tackling one of the best short novels ever written. This is without doubt, despite its subject matter, a very humorous story. Whereas the humour in Swift's Gulliver's Travels is confined largely to politics and the social norms of the powerful, Voltaire's Candide combines this with an examination of the behaviour of ordinary people and everyone else besides. His critique of established power, especially aristocracy and Church, is wonderfully wicked. His main protagonist, Candide, is genuine, combing an Optimism (the novella's subtitle) and generosity with an inner-voice expressing self-interest (again, a development from Gulliver's Travels). But while Voltaire has Candide experience the brutality of the aristocracy and church, he is equally scathing of philosophy. An Enlightenment writer, Voltaire warns readers against adhering to the doctrines of new authorities as much as old. 250 years ago, it was a fortuitous warning given how Enlightenment ideals ever since have been twisted by those who seek to compel the world to adhere to one philosophy or another.


Candide, or Optimism (Penguin Classics)
Candide, or Optimism (Penguin Classics)
by Francois Voltaire
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Candide camera, 27 April 2012
Voltaire's satire follows the travels of young Candide's expulsion from Germany, through a series of bizarre and calamitous incidents, around the world, to an eventual resolution...of sorts. Depending on which version you acquire, the original novella by Voltaire is appended with a 'sequel', or Book II, by one of his many imitators. The difference in quality is obvious but this should not put off readers from tackling one of the best short novels ever written. This is without doubt, despite its subject matter, a very humorous story. Whereas the humour in Swift's Gulliver's Travels is confined largely to politics and the social norms of the powerful, Voltaire's Candide combines this with an examination of the behaviour of ordinary people and everyone else besides. His critique of established power, especially aristocracy and Church, is wonderfully wicked. His main protagonist, Candide, is genuine, combing an Optimism (the novella's subtitle) and generosity with an inner-voice expressing self-interest (again, a development from Gulliver's Travels). But while Voltaire has Candide experience the brutality of the aristocracy and church, he is equally scathing of philosophy. An Enlightenment writer, Voltaire warns readers against adhering to the doctrines of new authorities as much as old. 250 years ago, it was a fortuitous warning given how Enlightenment ideals ever since have been twisted by those who seek to compel the world to adhere to one philosophy or another.


Gulliver's Travels (Penguin Classic)
Gulliver's Travels (Penguin Classic)
by Jonathan Swift
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gullible's Travels, 19 April 2012
Jonathan Swift's magnum opus is one of the most well-known contributions to fiction. It is surprising therefore that, in contrast to many other classics, its publication is relatively limited. Perhaps its popularity is the very reason for this: the story known by almost everyone, of a giant landing in a land of tiny people, is part of a much longer and more detailed satire on British and European politics. In an age of visual images, the spectacle has eclipsed the narrative, much in the same way Gulliver overshadowed the Lilliputians. Little wonder it has been repeatedly filmed for cinema, television, and children's animation. Those familiar will these adaptations should not be put off reading the original. It is written in remarkably modern prose, despite its early 1700s provenance, and often provokes laughter. Indeed, it is bawdier than Victorian fiction and satire 150 years later. Another remarkably modern feature is that the main protagonist, Gulliver, is increasingly hard to sympathise with, not least for repeatedly abandoning his family and ultimately disowning them. His downfall, in this respect, is well accounted for by Swift. The conversations between Gulliver (defending his society) and his interlocutors are of course intentionally satirical, and often applicable even today. Towards the end of the novel, however, Gulliver changes completely to become his own society's fiercest critic. His determination to damn completely European politics and culture for an unrealisable utopia is ultimately destructive. The Laputans prefigure this earlier in the novel (with their bookish disconnection with the outside world). But it is the Houyhnhnms, initially admirable, who are in turns revealed as a totalitarian elite. They are not only prepared to discuss a final solution for ridding themselves of Yahoo pests (humans), but their perfect society is unable to even tolerate the mere presence of Gulliver despite all his worldly experiences and determination to emulate them.


The Map and the Territory
The Map and the Territory
by Michel Houellebecq
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Houellebecqian rhapsody, 1 April 2012
Melancholic bordering on nihilistic, at pains to link the recent past with the present and future, and preoccupied with sex and death, this is very much classic Houellebecq. The three main characters include the author himself, an artist very much in the mould of Houellebecq, and a detective nearing retirement. Like the (earlier) films of Woody Allen, Houellebecq's novels are irresistibly autobiographical, if not in reality, then in imagination. For those familiar with his fiction this novel will deliver, although it is shorter than some of the more recent works. Each of the main characters is explored (or reflected) through a particular relationship. The artist Jed, with his dying father; Houellebecq, through his brief encounters with Jed; and the detective with his more junior colleague. Like Houellebecq's previous novel, its resolution is set in the future, a device which allows him to deepen his cutting critique the present. Houellebecq's characters rail against modernity, explicitly so in this novel, yet it is never clear, like Kafka, if this in the belief of an alternative system, or simply an eloquent and entertaining expression of a writer's resignation to the ultimately fruitless struggle of life.


I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan
I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan
by Alan Partridge
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars The joke's on us, 13 Feb. 2012
The team of writers behind `Alan Partridge' have produced a consistently funny parody of celebrity confessional autobiographies. The humour is in the style of the book more than its contents, and therefore it is not necessary to recall in any detail the character's development on television. Of course the majority of readers will have followed the series, but the sections where this is relied on to generate humour are relatively few. Partridge is a tragic clown who few of us identify with; yet his type have been a conspicuous presence in broadcasting for decades. Periodic weeding out of unfashionable presenters occurs at the same time other empty vessels are foisted on our screens. The truly remarkable thing is that they all have a relatively long shelf life, even if its end is on a `reality' freak show. This book, therefore, is not simply about a comic creation, but about modern celebrity. It is also a very English book (and character). Most British situation comedy, despite being overwhelmingly populated by English characters, is rarely English in that the characters' peculiarities are confined to that country. `David Brent', for example, is found everywhere. Partridge, however, with his suburban sensibility which attempts to combine modernity (filmic portrayals of America) with traditional (idealised England), epitomised by Barrat Homes, his frequent asides at a familiar range of targets within Britain, and his strong sense of place (Norfolk), is today's stereotypical `Englishman' , rather than the rather smug chap who always seemed to run circles around his Irish, Scottish, and Welsh counterparts.


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