31 December 2014

Post Christmas tidy

My son's LEGO collection grew last week, demanding extra space for display.  One set in particular - a glorious '20s style cinema - is rather ominous as it is part of an interlocking streetscape... the first part we have, but I suspect not the last: Lego helpfully provide a range of other compatible models, and I suspect some of these will be arriving in due course. (Son's birthday is a couple of months away). It is an "expert" level set and suggests that he has arrived at a level of Lego mastery - and expense - that will consume shelf space even faster than books do

I share a spare bedroom with Son which we use as an office/ sitting room.  When we moved in two years ago, I arranged my older files on top of an IKEA unit... which it turns out is an ideal site for a LEGO street.  So I've been clearing some space: most of the files and papers weren't needed, really. (To think that in 2004 I would carefully print out online instructions for networking a Mac and a PC, or the online help for "My Mac runs slow" or whatever...)

Anyway, these clearing exercises are never containable and of course I didn't stop till I'd rearranged everything on my desk, everything under my desk, the piles of papers and books hidden under the bookcase and a lot else.  Which brought to light something I thought I'd lost, this little book.

It's an edition of AE Housman's A Shropshire Lad which belonged to my father - although looking at the publication date (1922, Grant Richards, London) I now suspect it was handed down to him, as my father was only born a couple of years before.  My guess is it belonged to his father, who dies in the early 50s.  My father's parents separated when he was small - he used to tell a story of his mother taking the children away to Wales, where they were supported by her in-laws, and him (my father) riding his tricycle round on the platform at Paddington Station while his parents argued.  (Just try that today!)

I don't know what led to this split.  It would presumably have been a great scandal in the 1920s, especially given that the family (both sides) were strict Methodists - but the family were clearly taking his mother's side.  All old history now - I never knew my grandfather (I was born in the 60s)  and I have a faint memory of my grandmother as an old lady sitting up in bed.

Whatever, I'm glad that I found the book.  Apart from the family connection, it is a beautiful object (with, I think, cut pages) and I find these verses - tales of doomed youths awaiting the gallows in Ludlow town or going away to war - very moving, if somewhat sentimental.  It may not be the greatest poetry ever, but is very readable, quotable - and of course has a deep resonance today.

Which may seem a gloomy note on which to end 2014, but I do find New Year's Eve a gloomy (if somewhat sentimental) time.  

Best wishes to anyone reading this for 2015 (if it is 2015 for you)! 

Books I'm looking forward to in 2015

I keep a spreadsheet to track books that are coming out, and I've been reviewing 2015 (need to get those orders in early if I'm not to miss anything!)  I search online (You Know Where) for new books by authors I've already read, and trawl blogs, podcasts and Twitter for advance news.

I find You Know Where is useful as a database for this - it will often tell you whether an author has something new up to two years ahead. It's also a good way to cross check information from other sources (publication dates can change!)  And you don't actually have to buy from it if you don't want to.

So, based on all that, here are some books coming up that I hope to be reading and reviewing next year...

January (6)

Jo Walton's The Just City (8 Jan) comes highly recommended by various SFF podcasts I follow.  I haven't read any of Jo's books before but it sounds intriguing - a marriage of Greek philosophy and fantasy.  Out on 13th is Adam Sternbergh's Near Enemy, a sequel to his Shovel Ready, a lovely cross between fantasy and noir set in a decaying New York of the future.

Weathering by Lucy Wood (due on 15 Jan) is - I think - her first novel.  I absolutely loved her recent short story collection Diving Belles so am keen to read more by her.

Dead Girl Walking by Chris Brookmyre (22 Jan) is... by Chris(topher) Brookmyre!

The Boy Who Wept Blood by Den Patrick (29th) is a sequel to the Boy With the Porcelain Blade, set in excellently imagined, Italianate fantasy that has, I think, dark secrets at its heart.

February (5)

Neil Gaiman has Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances coming out on 3 Feb.  My son and I got terribly excited when Gaiman visited Oxford a couple of years ago promoting The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and signed at our local bookshop.  This is a must, though I have no idea what's in it.  Rook Song by Naomi Foyle is due on 5 February, a sequel to Astra, one of the books I enjoyed most in 2014: a political, ecological saga set in the near future.

Then there's The Death House by Sarah Pinborough - more Sarah Pinborough! Yes! - and Touch, both on 26th, by Claire North.  I found North's earlier urban fantasy, written as Kate Griffin, hard to get into - but then last year she wrote The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August which I enjoyed immensely (with Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, multiply iterated parallel lives seem to be having a moment...) and I want to see what she does next.

To round off February, we have A Darker Shade of Magic on 27th by VE Schwab.

March (3)

Company Town by Madeline Ashby is out on 3rd March.  Another one recommended on the podcasts, I'm also intrigued by the description.

"They call it Company Town – a Family-owned city-sized oil rig off the coast of the Canadian Maritimes.  Meet Hwa. One of the few in her community to forego bio-engineered enhancements, she’s the last truly organic person left on the rig. But she’s an expert in the arts of self-defence, and she’s been charged with training the Family’s youngest, who has been receiving death threats – seemingly from another timeline.  Meanwhile, a series of interconnected murders threatens the city’s stability – serial killer? Or something much, much worse..?"

There's a new book by Ian Tregillis, The Mechanical, on 10th March.  His Lovecraftian alt WWII/ Cold War trilogy was entrancing, and then followed up by Something more than Night,  which read as though Milton had turned to writing pulp fiction, so I WANT this.

Finally, on 19 March, there's Glorious Angels by Justina Robson, whose Quantum Gravity trilogy I loved.  Description runs "On a world where science and magic are hard to tell apart a stranger arrives in a remote town with news of political turmoil to come. And a young woman learns that she must free herself from the role she has accepted."

April (3)

Blood, Salt, Water by Denise Mina on 9 April is the latest DI Alex Morrow book, a series which I'm enjoying a lot.

Then there's a new book by Magnus Mills, The Field of the Cloth of Gold, on 23 April  (23/4)  Mills, Magnus.  Like A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked In, this seems to be a book with historical parallels but not set in actual history, as it were.

Then the next day, 24 April, there's The Machine Awakes, the second in Adam Christopher's SF Spider Wars.  The first book, The Burning Dark, was a wonderfully atmospheric ghost story in space.

May (4)

My most anticipated book of 2015 is A God in Ruins (5 May) by Kate Atkinson. Based in the same world as Life After Life this is apparently focussed on a different character from the earlier book - I'm intrigued how that will be managed amongst the multiple timelines!

May also has Collected Fiction by Hannu Rajaniemi on 12th, and The Last Post by MR Hall on 21st, the next of the Jenny Cooper series.  Cooper is a coroner with a troubled past and a knack for exposing awkward truths, a wonderful character who just gets more and more interesting.

Finally, for the first half of next year, I know nothing at all about Seveneves (19 May) by Neal Stephenson but - Neal Stephenson!

In the second half of the year there is a new Laundry novel by Charles Stross, and The Seed Collectors by Scarlett Thomas, short stories by China Mieville and another book(!) by Adam Christopher.

I don't have so many books on my list as I did this time last year, and more of them are (I think) short story collections, or first sequels to brilliant books published last year - so perhaps 2015 will be more of a year of consolidation than 2014?  Of course there will be lots of stuff that I don't know about yet, so as ever, it will be an exciting year.

Enjoy your reading in 2015.


23 December 2014

Books I Liked in 2014

Looking back at 2014, I see that I read 70 books (using my Amazon/ Goodreads reviews to keep track: I haven't posted everything to this blog).  Which was the best?  I'm undertaken an unscientific enquiry.  First I've arbitrarily divided these according to genre/ sub genre (based on my own judgement - not necessarily how they were marketed) purely to help with this assessment.  That gives the following.

Then, I have chosen the best/ my favourite in each category, and finally, picked an overall winner.

The categories are

The Book of Strange New Things (Michel Faber), Firefall (Peter Watts), Bete and Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea (Adam Roberts), Extinction Game (Gary Gibson), The Long Mars (Pratchett/ Baxter), The Burning Dark,  Hang Wire and Brisk Money (Adam Christopher), Southern Reach Trilogy (Annihilation/ Authority/ Acceptance) (Jeff VanderMeer), Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome (John Scalzi), Descent (Ken Macleod), Resonance (John Meaney), Then Will The Great Ocean Wash Deep Above (Apollo Quartet 3) (Ian Sales), A Highly Unlikely Scenario: Or, a Neetsa Pizza Employee's Guide to Saving the World (Rachel Cantor)

The largest category.  I'd been waiting for something new from Faber for years, and Strange New Things didn't disappoint.  Similarly, Firefall followed and completed (or did it?) Watts' earlier Blindsight (strictly, Firefall contains two books, Blindsight and its sequel, Echopraxia but I've treated as if it was just the latter).  Adam Roberts books are always readable and challenging and I enjoy seeing him find new ways to trash the Thames valley.  Extinction Game was immense fun.  Long Mars was slightly disappointing.  Adam Christopher had clearly been very busy and I found his books engaging and fun.  Descent was challenging and satisfyingly labyrinthine.  The third part of Sales' Apollo Quartet was a slight change in tack from the previous ones, and I didn't enjoy it quite as much, but it was still excellent and I'm looking forward to the final part. Rachel Cantor's book was manic, exciting and fast-paced.

My favourite? Taking them together, the VanderMeer Southern Reach trilogy which combined beautiful writing with a creepy vision of an alien incursion which was nevertheless so "thisworldly" that I half believe it's true.  Favourite individual book would be Ken Macleod's Descent which does something similar for a new-future Scotland - and that book has my very favourite scene of the year, where the combined armed forces of the civilized world invade and suppress every tax haven.  I can dream.

City of Stairs ((Robert Jackson Bennett), Europe in Autumn (Dave Hutchinson), Smiler's Fair (Rebecca Levene), Broken Monsters (Lauren Beukes), The Boy with the Porcelain Blade (Den Patrick), Plastic Jesus (Wayne Simmonds), A Different Kingdom (Paul Kearney), Bone Song (John Meaney), Liminal States (Zack Parsons), A Man Lies Dreaming (Lavie Tidhar), The Islands of Chaldea (Diane Wynne Jones), The Murdstone Trilogy (Mal Peet).

City of Stairs for the way it tackles a post-colonial world (involving dead gods, of course) in a truly original and yet believable way. Also for one of the best fantasy hero(ine)s I've ever read.  (But Liminal States pushes it close for sheer verve and use of multiple genres in one book and A Man Lies Dreaming for audacity.  And Europe in Autumn has taught me to persist longer when I'm not getting engaged - it blossomed so much in the final two thirds that I nearly missed something very, very special indeed.)

Urban Fantasy
The Ghost Train to New Orleans (Mur Lafferty), Vicious (VE Schwab), Banished (Liz de Jeger),
Something More Than Night (Ian Tregillis).

Vicious, which was violent, refreshing and original. (Actually, they we all violent, refreshing and original, it's just that Vicious was slightly more so...)

Apocalyptic/ Dystopian
Red Rising (Pierce Brown), The Chimes (Anna Smaill), Station Eleven (Emily St John Mandel), Astra (Naomi Foyle), Bird Box (Josh Malerman)

I give up on this one.  They were all so good I can't decide. Perhaps Station Eleven for sheer humanity and a new angle on post-apocalypse. Or Astra for politics.  Or...

Horror/ Ghost stories
Revival (Stephen King), No-one Gets Out Alive (Adam Nevill), Touched (Joanna Briscoe), The Unquiet House (Alison Littlewood), Murder (Sarah Pinborough), The Voices (F R Tallis), Rooms (Lauren Oliver), The Supernatural Enhancements (Edgar Cantero), Blood Kin (Steve Rasnic Tem).

No-one Gets Out Alive.  Left me feeling grubby, and listening for creaking sounds in the night.

Supernatural crime/ espionage
Foxglove Summer (Ben Aaronovitch), The Rain-Soaked Bride (Guy Adams), The Rhesus Chart (Charles Stross), The Severed Streets (Paul Cornell).

The Severed Streets, not only for audacity in use of a real person as a character but also for a well realised and menacing alt-London.  Looking forward, though, to the next Laundry book, which is apparently told form the point of view of a different character...

The Informant (Susan Wilkins), Dark Tides (Chris Ewan), Twist (Tom Grass), The Silkworm (Robert Galbraith), Mr Mercedes (Stephen King), The Girl in 6E (A R Torre), The Axeman's Jazz (Ray Celestin), Glow (Ned Beauman), The Burning (MR Hall).

The Axeman's Jazz was simply in a class of its own, not only in its language and the portrayal of the characters but also in its humanity.

Anthologies/ Short Stories
Dead Funny (ed Robin Ince and Johnny Mains), Dark Entries (Robert Aickman), Rags and Bones (ed Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt)

Dead Funny - horror stories by practising comedians sounds like it ought not to work, but most are brilliant, subtle and some deelpy human and touching.

The Table of Less-Valued Knights (Marie Phillips), Crooked Heart (Lissa Evans), Everland (Rebecca Hunt), Nunslinger (Stark Holborn).

Crooked Heart, for its different take on the myth of the Blitz and the deeply human portrayal of two characters on the edge.

Retreat (Liza Costello), Ajax Penumbra: 1969 (Robin Sloan), Tigerman (Nick Harkaway).

Hardly fair, this one, as the first two are both shorts, and the Harkaway really outguns them, but it's my catch-all for realist, non crime, you know, what might be called "literary", perhaps.  Arguably Book of Strange New Things might go in here as it's not actually very SFnal in feel?)

And my overall winner?

As my favourite over the year, City of Stairs. As the best done, probably No One Gets Out Alive, but it's hard to say a book that creepy is the one you loved most!

22 December 2014

Thoughts on "Red Rising" by Pierce Brown - spoiler warning: thoughts, not a review.

Red Rising
Pierce Brown
Hodder, 2014
Paperback, 282 pages

Bought from my local independent bookshop.

I find it endlessly surprising and fascinating how, in a world of Twitter and blogs, I now find books to read.  "Red Rising" is a good example.  I somehow managed to miss this book despite it getting lots of praise when it appeared earlier this year, but finally picked it up last week in anticipation of the sequel which is due early in 2015.

I only did that because I saw Liz of Liz Loves Books claiming on Twitter that she'd been proselytising in a local bookshop, urging complete strangers to buy the book.  It's always good seeing that kind of passion, and she also mentioned that there is a sequel coming, so I asked if I should give it a try...

Before I go any further, I should warn you, if you haven't read the book, that below THERE ARE SPOILERS.  I could review this book briefly but I really want to discuss it in more detail because at actually made me think.  So, proceed on that basis.

At first, I did wonder what all the fuss was about. The setting - a pitiless, hierarchical society that keeps its most downtrodden, the "reds", slaving in the mines of Mars - is well drawn, but it didn't seem anything special.  We're introduced to Darrow, the main protagonist, one of the reds, who toils in atrocious conditions to produce the minerals that are needed to make Mars habitable. If they strain every muscle and meet their quote, they may get a little more food to share, a few more comforts, and Darrow shows himself bold - almost reckless - in straining to achieve this.  It's all a con, of course, and we pretty soon see that things are rigged to set the different miners against each other and keep the elite - the "golds" on top at all times.

Darrow suffers, having done nothing wrong: his wife is killed and is sentenced to death.  He has no choices but to die or to join a vaguely sketched rebellion.  The rebels want him to infiltrate the Golds' (the ruling caste) elite academy, the Institute, where the cosseted sons and daughters of the rulers are toughened up and turned into future commanders.  The idea is, I think, that Darrow will rise and use his position in the hierarchy to bring down the system.

More about that below, but first I just want to say how brilliantly written and compelling Browns' subsequent narrative is.  Forming the final two thirds or so of the book, this is essentially the story of a war, both between the aspiring Golds and between Darrow and them (and the system they're all trapped in).  Quite simply this part of the narrative rises to a whole new level.  Forget the improbability that Darrow would even get so far, or the scientific implausibility of aspects of the book (mining for helium-3, for example).  The writing simply sweeps all before it.  Darrow is drawn with great mastery; he is among enemies on all kinds of levels.  The stakes are high for him - discovery will lead to a cruel death, not only for him but for his family and clan.  For the sons and daughters of the Golds, losing means disgrace, but nothing more: think The Apprentice with swords.

Or does it?  Things may not be quite that simple and - as becomes clear - things are rigged at all levels.  The world of the Golds is supposed to me "meritocratic", that is, to let the best rise in order to preserve the order of Society: but as we know, power corrupts and those who have it aren't willing to let their own offspring go under.

That brings in a whole level of complications which Darrow must overcome if he is to win - and survive.  But the setting he's in brings more. It's awkward, but he discovers that the Golds aren't all monsters: and perhaps some of the things he has to do and more monstrous than anything which has been done to him.  How is he to pursue his mission - and his revenge? - amongst this?

I was impressed by Brown's command of the realities of the situation here.  Darrow is bound to be compromised.  For example, he falls for a girl, one of the other competitors, who turns out to have close connections to the worst of his enemies.  He discovers that another is also a Red is disguise - and has to kill him.  (Shades, perhaps, of GK Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday in which the Central Council of Anarchists is entirely composed of police infiltrators.  I have a hunch that many of the most powerful Golds may be disguised Reds, and that this may even be winked at as a means to recruit the strongest, most driven new talent as a counterweight to the corruption caused by ingrained privilege).

The story of what happens in those "games" is, in short a lesson in power and a lesson in division: the structure of the mines is repeated at all levels, with friend set against friend, brother against brother (and sister). It's a compelling springboard for the second and third volumes in the trilogy, where I hope to see some of the paradoxes of Darrow's rebellion explored - quite simply, "change will not come from above" and I don't see how command of a starship, or a fleet, is going to allow him to topple the rule of the Golds and bring his fellow Reds up form the mines.

I wonder how long it will take him to learn that?

 Or whether he will manage to avoid the dead end and achieve what he really wants?

Whatever, this is a trilogy where decisions matter, where there are real consequences and you can feel the reality of the choices.

I am so glad that I listened to Liz and got this book!

20 December 2014

Review: Nunslinger by Stark Holborn

Stark Holborn
Hodder, December 2014
Paperback, 614 pages

I was sent this book by the publisher through Bookbridgr.

I've never been a great reader of Westerns, and I'd find it hard to say what attracted me to this book in the first place, but I'm really glad I tried it.

Set in 1864, against a background of the US Civil War, this is the story of Sister Thomas Josephine, a nun sent on the dangerous journey West to join a convent in Sacramento.  When the waggon train she is travelling with is attacked, she is abducted by the notorious outlaw Abraham C Muir.  The two are a mismatched pair, but as they bicker their way through the wilderness, a real friendship seems to form between them.  Will it survive brushes with the law, hunger and cold, and the rapacious spirit of greed abroad in the Frontier towns?

Forced by circumstances to take up arms, Thomas Josephine finds her beliefs challenged and is forced to take up arms.  As the "Six-gun Sister" she becomes a terror across the west - and has  a bounty set upon her head. With every shooting, every encounter with law or army (whether North or South) it seems less likely she will be able to find peace and security as she wishes, still less the life of prayer and good works that she has been trained for.

The book was fun to read, has a relentless, page-turning rhythm and, as the blurb promises, serves up cliff-hanger after cliff-hanger.  Perhaps a little too much so - it's not long before the reader knows full well that Thomas Josephine will escape (more or less) intact from every dire situation.  While this diminishes the tension somewhat, Holborn has set out a broad enough canvas that he's continually able to find something to surprise with and as the book draws to its climax we begin to learn what has really been going on and how what seem like random, picaresque adventures have something of a guiding hand behind them.

This isn't a book for the squeamish: there's a great deal of violence (visited on both guilty and innocent alike) and the most pleasant seeming of characters can turn rapidly bad. Thomas Josephine is at the centre of things, both morally and in terms of action, struggling to keep her vision alive, to walk in right paths and to escape the notoriety that has engulfed her (girls in the  towns she passes through are soon playing at being the Sister).  How far she achieves this is unclear, but the ending feels right for the spirit of the book.

3 December 2014

Review: The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

The Book of Strange New Things
Michel Faber
Canongate, October 2014
Hardback, 584 pages 

I bought this book from our local independent bookshop.

I have been looking forward to reading more Michel Faber for years and years.

Like his last book, The Fire Gospel, published in 2009, "Strange New Things" has an ostensibly religious theme.  Peter is a missionary, recruited by the inscrutable USIC organisation, a private company or foundation carrying out space exploration.  We never learn what the initials stand for, or much else about USIC, except that it seems to have very deep pockets, having bought out NASA's former assets following a worldwide financial crash.  USIC send Peter to a far planet to minister to the planets's indigenous people.  It isn't immediately clear why USIC wants a missionary - though we do learn eventually that it's not a "Bible in one hand, gun in the other" situation: the Oasans (or at least, some of them) have demanded a replacement for Peter's predecessor.  They are keen to hear more of the Book of Strange New Things (which is what they call the Bible). Again, we are (eventually) told why, but for much of the book it's a puzzle; Peter seems to have just too easy a time as a missionary with his willing and receptive flock and a supportive "employer" (the crew on Oasis are ordered to give him pretty much whatever he wants).

In other ways, he doesn't have such a good time.  The crew are cooperative, but emotionally distant.  Peter seems abstracted, continually forgetting what he has been told or done. Due to his forgetfulness, we're sometimes placed into situations cold, adding to the sense of weirdness that Faber skilfully applies to his alien planet - as if rain that gently explores one's body, or a featureless planet where the only landmarks seem to be regular, predictable storms weren't odd enough already.  Mysteries abound - why did the Oasans (who are friendly and happy to trade with the humans) up sticks and move their settlement 50 miles away from close to the human base?

On Earth, where Peter's wife, Bea, is left behind, things are even worse.  A string of disasters unfolds - earthquakes, tsunamis, more financial collapse, food shortages - which we only hear of secondhand through her messages to him.  (No answer is given as to whether these disasters are somehow related). There are also personal crises and tragedies. The USIC people at the base seem to be screened from these, and show little interest when Peter tries to tell them: but he also loses interest quickly, absorbed by his work among the Oasans - which takes him away for weeks at a time from the machine that mediates between him and Bea. (And why is this device limited to text messages? Why won't cameras work on Oasis?)

So a gulf grows between husband and wife, with Bea's messages increasingly perplexed, angry and despairing and Peter's increasingly cold.  He appears, in fact, very much a cold fish altogether and of the two it is Bea I found easier to relate to, Bea who I wanted to hear more about, Bea who is, frankly, more interesting.  She appears both more active than Peter - we hear a lot about the people she is helping, the difficulties in her daily life, the plans she is making.  Peter, in contrast, mooches off to stay with his congregation without even considering that he might need to take supplies with him.  Frankly, he appears selfish. Not a likeable protagonist at all - yet an interesting one.  I don't think I was ever sure whether he is desperately sad but suppressing his feelings in order to serve God; whether he is really as shallow as he seems; or whether he is playing a manipulative part (from snatches of information about Peter's earlier life this seems distinctly likely).

It's an intriguing book, a great slab of what comes over as very realist SF.  We hear almost nothing of how the spacecraft can reach Oasis; as I said above, the disasters are never explained and while the alien civilisation is imagined very well there's almost no context, no setting: we have no idea where Oasis is.  There is a here and a there. Oasis and Earth, that's all.  Is it even a new planet?  The description of the journey, the limited communications, constrained information, did make me wonder if the whole thing was an elaborate hoax, set up in a warehouse somewhere on Earth.  But the Oasans don't really fit that idea, even before one considers their bizarre language, represented in the book by its own symbols.

It isn't always an easy read.  One block for many will be Peter's (and Bea's) evangelicalism. What is Peter actually doing on Oasis and what does he think he'll achieve? I'm a Christian, but not that kind of Christian. I found myself wanting to shake him and ask "Look at what you're losing! Look at all you could be doing at home on Earth! What is the point?"

Peter's mindset is more alien to me, frankly, than that of the "alien" Oasans.  So Faber has aleady created  distance there.  I think it's brave of him to write something that uses religion as a motivating factor like this given how secular society is now. Like "the Crimson Petal and the White" there is a sense of Victorian-ness about the outlook. (Of course, The Fire Gospel also took religion seriousness, and Under the Skin set up an encounter with aliens that was in many ways a diabolical inversion of Peter's gentle preaching).

There's so much more I could say about the book - from its sheer physical beauty (the white dustjacket, with gold embossed patterns and the title also embossed on the board cover, resembles a wedding or baptism Bible) to its length (plenty to get stuck into but the pages fly by) to the enigmatic hints about Peter's and Bea's troubled early life - but I will I think just end up gushing.  This book simply bowled me over, and you should read it, if you like strange new things - and who doesn't?