Remembering England, 1979 Part 2

1979_07GBOxfordBlogOur second week in England (and Wales) began with a train ride from Paddington Station, London to Oxford, where we checked into our rooms at the Turf Tavern, a wonderful and very old pub tucked away on a back street. I don’t think they rent rooms anymore, but it was great then. In Oxford we visited as many of the famous colleges as we had time for in one day. Continue reading

Remembering England, 1979 Part 1

BritBulletin1In the 1970s I had a group of about a dozen good friends that I spent a lot of time with, one from grade school (Tim W, still friends), some from high school, some from Rutgers College, near where I lived in Highland Park, NJ, where those friends had gone to school. During 1978 we started discussing the idea of a trip to England together. I’m not sure who started it, but by a year-end party at my apartment, I agreed to be the one to make plans. As above, I put those plans into a series of six “British Bulletins” I typed up and mailed out to everyone interested. This was great fun, I think trip planning can be nearly as interesting as the trip itself. Those wanting to go waffled, and by the time I needed to make reservations in April, we were down to three going: myself, and two Lindas. Linda R. made her own travel plans from her home in Vermont, I booked charter flights for Linda C. and myself out of Newark, NJ for June 30th, and we met Linda R. in London. I had written to a few small hotels and bed and breakfasts at each of our trip destinations, and mailed out reservation deposits. Unfortunately, it was a time of great labor unrest in England, with many labor strikes and demonstrations. As we arrived at some of our rooms, we found they either hadn’t received our deposit yet, or it had just arrived, due to a mail carrier strike! But all the hosts were very helpful, and if they didn’t have rooms for us, they found them at a neighbor’s house, so that all worked out fine. Here’s my write up of the places I had made reservations: Continue reading

And Then I Read: SMALL GODS by Terry Pratchett

small-gods-2Having read the “Wee Free Men” series by Terry Pratchett, which I enjoyed thoroughly, and one Discworld one-shot, I decided to read another of his books that’s more part of the main Discworld mythology. This one seemed recommended by many readers, as a good way to get a handle on Discworld. And, as it involves and explains the many gods of the series, it succeeded in that.

At first I found it not too engaging, though, as none of the characters appealed to me. The story takes place in Omnia, largely in a great city devoted to the worship of their god Om. But we soon find that god has fallen very low. He’s stuck in the body of an ordinary tortoise, and only one person can hear his voice: a simple-minded acolyte named Brutha. As it turns out, while nominally the god of Omnia, in practice no one really believes in him anymore except simple, faithful Brutha. Om and Brutha begin a long process of trying to change that, and soon find themselves on a visit to the distant land of Ephebe where many gods are worshipped, but more credence is given to philosophers, who are granted all kinds of special treatment. The leader of Omnia’s Inquisition is a nasty and powerful man called Vorbis, and he’s planning to overthrow Ephebe. He soon discovers that Brutha has special powers of memory: he remembers everything he sees and hears, and Vorbis enlists Brutha in his schemes, to the dismay of both Brutha and Om, still in a tortoise, still trying to get some respect.

As the book went on, I began to enjoy the characters of crochety Om and idiot savant Brutha, even as I rooted with them against Vorbis. There are plenty of twists in the plot, and a large amount of Pratchett humor in the book. In all, I enjoyed it, though not as much as others I’ve read.


And Then I Read: A SONG FOR ARBONNE by Guy Gavriel Kay

SongArbonneCover painting by David Jermann.

It’s been a while since I read a fantasy novel by Guy Gavriel Kay, and I’d forgotten how good he is. The setting is essentially medieval western Europe, with countries similar to France, Spain, Germany, etc., though with just enough differences to make it fantasy. The book has a remarkable amount of symmetry. First there are opposing belief systems. Arbonne, the France-like country is the home of courtly love, and their main worship is to a female deity and female preistesses. Gorhaut, the Germany-like country to their north follows the more common male-deity worship and warlike attitude. They think Arbonne is soft and sissy to be ruled by women. The ruler of Arbonne is an elderly woman, the ruler of Gorhaut a young male with ideas about invading Arbonne and conquering it. His chief advisor is the patriarch of their religion who eggs him on in this plan, as he dreams of destroying the goddess of Arbonne and her priestesses.

That’s just backdrop. The main characters are drawn from all the classes of Arbonne, from traveling musicians and swords-for-hire to important dukes and sons of kings. There is plenty of intrigue, romance and action, and the stories of the main characters, who at first seem to have little or no connection to each other, gradually intertwine and form a rich tapestry of human life that is fascinating to read. There are battles, tournaments, midnight raids, assignations, songs and poetry, political intrigues, smoldering affairs, assassinations, carnivals, death marches, duels, dalliances, drinking, deadly poisons, and just enough magic to make things interesting without it being an easy solution to problems. The book is divided into four sections named for the seasons, another nice piece of symmetry, and the year the main story takes place is one that will forever change this world. If you’re a fan of “Game of Thrones,” here’s a book that handles some of the same material equally well without the soul-crushing cruelty and unhappy endings for many of the characters, though certainly there’s some of that too.

Really well done and highly recommended.

And Then I Read: ASTRO CITY 18

AC18Image © Juke Box Productions.

Crackerjack, the battered character above, and Quarrel, his partner in crime fighting and life, also above, are the focus of this issue, but Quarrel gets the most attention. They’ve been doing this for many years, and while attending the retirement dinner for one of their comrades, questions of hero longevity are the topic. Crackerjack is a wise-cracking optimist, with no plans to quit, though events suggest he might be losing his edge. Quarrel finds herself questioning her own life decisions, leading to a long flashback/origin that I found quite interesting. Great art and writing, as usual, by Busiek, Anderson and Ross.