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Reviews Written by
Bill Matheson "billmat21" (Northumberland)

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The Glory That Was
The Glory That Was
Offered by Audible Ltd

5.0 out of 5 stars "De Camp's stories are always meaty. He brings to his art an astonishing range of knowledge ..." (from Heinlein's introduction), 3 July 2016
Accompanying a fretful husband (trying to find a wife who has mysteriously disappeared), Knut Bulnes breaches the energy barrier surrounding most of Greece -- to find that he seems to no longer be in the 27th century, but instead in Classical Greece !

Complete with slavery, the smell, the brutality, Athenian snobbery, the dire food and drink, and rampant street crime -- the inhabitants speak what seems to be "old" Greek, and have memories only of their lives as people of that era (before Christ).

Socrates, Pericles .. they are all there, speaking and acting true to character.
What IS going on ??!!

The author doesn't let us down here, on a dizzying and entertaining ride of a book, filled with the usual snippets of historical interest, and the substantial mass of action and intrigue --- all interlaced with fine characterisation and some humour.

Definitely worth buying -- to be fair, so are the vast majority of de Camp's books !

Edition: Mass Market Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars "As he watched, an apartment block tilted, cracks spider-webbed all one side, and then the whole construction canted ...", 22 Jun. 2016
Jack Waley, earth-born hustler survives a spaceship disaster and lands on a nearby planet -- a world populated by diverse peoples, each able to call upon the great Pe'Ichen for the most remarkable aid.

Waley's journey from hardly-likeable chancer to a more hardened and experienced trooper is entertaining and brisk.
Bulmer can trot a story along when he wants to, and there is an interesting and (at that time) quite novel plot to the story.

Whilst the end of the book in the main is hardly surprising, there are a few twists (and loose ends) that the author has left in there.

Now, don't get me wrong here -- Ken Bulmer is a good author and has turned out an amazing amount of titles under various pseudonyms, but ... I have never finished one of his books and been completely happy with it.
This is one for that set, to go along with "City Under the Sea", "Stained Glass World" and the interesting sci-fi starship trooper story "Behold the Stars".
I always feel that there is something either missing to his books, or not quite correct.

In this case, I have to say that whilst the book is very good with nice characterisation and lovely plot flow, there's a self-pitying element that is given to the protagonist, Jack Waley, that just does not feel right at all.

Which is why I have been fussy and given this four stars rather than five.

Again, don't get me wrong -- this is a book you will enjoy, but if you read many more of his books you may find yourself coming around to my reluctant viewpoint that there are other authors to pursue.

The Great Fetish
The Great Fetish
by L. Sprague de Camp
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars "The last rays of Muphrid turned scarlet, then purple, as the island waxed before them ...", 16 Jun. 2016
Marko Prokopiu, escaping imprisonment in his homeland, sets out on a journey that becomes a great adventure, involving travelling by the planet's most novel means.
En route, he and his companion meet what the reader will see as the usual variety of natives and exotics.

However de Camp's wide real-life experiences and his great talent for fantasy make this a very entertaining book indeed.
When I picked ths up again after so many years, I wondered at how much de Camp would be able to properly pack into what seems such a "small" book, but the reader need have no worries -- whilst not an epic on the scale of his classic "The Dragon of the Ishtar Gate", this is a thoroughly enjoyable and unhurried read.

I did drop the review to four stars because I thought the author tended to belabour the origins of the names of some of the planet's features, but although de Camp himself was an accomplished editor, it's possible that he in turn fell foul of editorial insistence on that issue.

Anyway -- a good book and well worth the read.
de Camp's stories are always intelligent, containing both action and the unusual. His books, due to their nature, will stand the test of time and I don't think there is any greater compliment to be paid to an author.

by Peter Wahloo
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars "He felt ill and frightened and found it hard to breathe.", 18 April 2014
This review is from: Assignment (Hardcover)
Peter ("Per") Wahloo is well known as the co-author of the excellent series of Martin Beck detective novels (along with his wife, Maj Sjowall).

He has however written several novels, this being a splendid read -- uncharacteristically non-Scandinavian in both setting and plot.

Manuel Ortega is given the opportunity to return home from his foreign trade mission work, to assist in setting up a Peace Conference in a remote and terribly impoverished region of his homeland, set somewhere in the Americas.

The pressures he endures and the obstacles he has to attempt to overcome make this an almost Herculean task, especially when he is targetted by both sides in the dispute.

Wahloo also wrote the impressive "The Steel Spring" and "Murder on the Thirty-First Floor" -- both worth obtaining !

Sell and be damned
Sell and be damned
by Ned Donaldson
Edition: Unknown Binding

4.0 out of 5 stars The Glasgow Merrylee Housing Scandal of 1951, 5 April 2014
This review is from: Sell and be damned
This is a small, privately-published booklet, possibly available from Glasgow's Clydeside Press.

Of considerable interest to any Glaswegian with an interest in Scottish politics, this succinctly describes the housing situation in Glasgow in the early 1950s, when hard-working men were building houses for Glasgow Council ( to be rented), only to find out that a cosy clique of Conservatives in the upper echelons had decided to sell the houses.

This was during a time when the very men who were building these houses were absolutely desperate for a place to live -- when hopeful people travelled miles to pay "a woman" twenty pounds just because a rumour had spread that she could "get you a house" !

The mobilisation of the workers of Glasgow (especially the building workers) to demonsrate and force a change to this odious policy is a heartening one, although probably unlikely to occur again in this country under the draconian (and deliberate) laws such protesters would now endure.

My father ("Willie M") in the book is quoted as saying " .. by and large it was a rank and file affair, voicing utter and absolute disapproval."

Indeed, this actually marked the end of Conservative power in Scotland.
Because of the greed of a few "leaders".

It's a great little booklet, which I've only given 4 stars to, because it's too short (!) and also because I have been told that some of the quotes attributed to the marchers named are "a bit mixed up".

Still, the message of the words is clear -- organised labour CAN change the lives of people for the better, and whilst some may look askance at such a statement with their own memories ... this was one occasion where a stand was taken and real good came out of it.

The Last Grain Race
The Last Grain Race

5.0 out of 5 stars "The noise on deck was indescribable ... and above everything the screaming wind ....", 19 Mar. 2014
This review is from: The Last Grain Race (Paperback)
"A tremendously exciting personal story ... a classic of the sea."
So states the standard blurb on the rear cover of this book, and for once it is spot-on.

This is a very-well written and exceedingly enjoyable account of the author's experiences upon joing up with the steel-hulled sailing ship "Moshulu".
The tale dates from 1938 (and into 1939), being the end of the age of sail, but at a time when such giant ships could still give steamers a run for their money.

From leaving Belfast on the voyage to Australia, and then returning fully-laden to the UK in what was the final opportunity for many of such cargo ships to vie for the title of fastest home, Newby brings humour and a keen observational eye to his time onboard.

I will forever associate this story with the passing of my father, who died the day after I finished reading the book. He was an avid reader of such sailing-ship adventures in his youth and would really have appreciated this tale.

I can give the book no greater compliment than that.
With humour and interest, the book concludes with a pertinent dignity that still resonates with me to this day.

Mean City
Mean City
by Ron Mckay
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mean plot, 9 Jan. 2014
This review is from: Mean City (Paperback)
This is an unusual book --- written by a journalist who clearly knows the past landscape of some of the Glasgow gang men of the fifties onwards.

The writing involves multiple flashbacks to various points in time (protagonist gangster, his grandfather, father, previous policemen, etc), and across various geographical locations.
It could have been a very very good book indeed, but it has every appearance of being something that was created on a word processor and then cut and pasted in seemingly random segments, into a "work".

I've given this three stars, because there IS a good story in there, although it seems to be a book that runs out of steam and ideas after the first two-thirds, instead careening onto a fairly ludicrous conspiracy plot.

The ending of the book is deliberately abrupt but is still unsatisfying: it's OK to have loose ends and untidy plot strands -- that's life after all! But by clearing just a couple of those up would have transformed this book into a five star work.

Worth reading if you are a Glaswegian, but it could have been SO much better.

Here They Dug the Gold: The story of the Colorado Gold Rush
Here They Dug the Gold: The story of the Colorado Gold Rush
by George Findlay Willison
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars " ... A glaring illustration of human recklessness, avidity and folly, a powerful effect of an insignificant cause ...", 23 April 2013
An absolutely tremendous book --- about the great Pike's Peak gold rush of 1859 (and thereafter ...), and on the establishment of the great city of Denver.

Often, a reader will come across a historical book so lovingly written, so well-researched, so compellingly readable, that it is never forgotten.
This is that book for me.
On a subject that I was not at first glance that interested in, based in a region that I had no knowledge of, I find it difficult to express just how good a book this actually is !

From the digging of gold, to silver and lead, from the vast panoply of personalities (from the James outlaw gang to Oscar Wilde), to the venal and the determined and the ultimately inspiring ("Baby Doe" Tabor), this is a considerate and enriching read.

I can guarantee you a book that will forever stay in your heart and mind --- the best historical book I have ever read !!

Long pig
Long pig
by Russell Foreman.
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Long Pig" -- the human victim of a cannibal feast ..., 8 April 2013
This review is from: Long pig (Hardcover)
This often grim tale is based upon the true story of the wreck of the American ship "Argo" at the beginning of the 19th century.

The natives of Fiji had never seen "white" men at that time and this forced encounter brought every unfortunate result that there could have been.

Certainly worth reading, the book's central character of first mate Slater is a good locus of events and misdeeds.

The writing is enjoyable and fluid, with description and action, but also thoughtfulness and empathy.

The Many Worlds of Magnus Ridolph
The Many Worlds of Magnus Ridolph
by Jack Vance
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interstellar Troubleshooter and Adventurer, 28 May 2007
Comprising of 6 short stories: "The Kokod Warriors", ""The Unspeakable McInch", ""The Howling Bounders", ""The King of Thieves", "The Spa of the Stars" and "Coup de Grace", these date from 1948 onwards.

This is a well-written, diverse little collection, presenting an early showcase of Vance's burgeoning abilities, each tale highlighting one aspect here, another facet there, of Jack Vance's repertoire.

The book's main character, Magnus Ridolph, is a man of various talents and shows remarkable similarities to a later Vancian protagonist (Milo Hertzel, "Galactic Effectuator" -- indeed "The Kokod Warriors" may be recalled warmly when the reader encounters "Galactic Effectuator" ...)

Authored so early; yet these tales amount to a likeable, enjoyable introduction to Jack Vance, master of Fantasy and of Mystery.

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