RIP John Christopher

Christopher Samuel Youd died on 3 February, aged 89, of complications from bladder cancer. To science fiction fans around the world, he was better known by the pen name John Christopher. It was as Christopher that he wrote his most enduring works, including The Tripods trilogy and The Death of Grass.

Youd was born in Lancashire, England, in 1922, and had his first book, The Winter Swan, published in 1949 under the name Samuel Youd. But it was not until his 1956 science fiction novel, The Death of Grass, that he was able to make writing his full-time career. He used the pen name, John Christopher, for this novel and other works of science fiction, including the YA trilogy that he is best remembered for — The Tripods.

Although it is his science fiction novels, particularly those for teenagers, that earned him the greatest success, he continued to write a variety of novels. He was rather prolific, often writing four novels a year. Maybe that’s why he used so many pen names. As well as Samuel Youd and John Christopher, he also wrote under the names of Stanley Winchester, Hilary Ford, William Godfrey, William Vine, Peter Graaf, Peter Nichols, and Anthony Rye. His final novel, written under the name of John Christopher, was Bad Dream, published in 2003.

I’m sad that John Christopher is gone. His books had a great impact and influence on me as a teenager. Along with Eleanor Cameron and Robert A Heinlein, he is responsible for my interest in reading science fiction.

I discovered Christopher’s books as a young teenager in the early 1980s. It all started with The Tripods trilogy (The White Mountains; The City of Gold and Lead; and The Pool of Fire). I cannot explain to you how much I LOVED these books as kid. I read them many times over, I obsessively watched and recorded the tv series that was based on them, and I even collected different editions of the books. I re-read them as an adult in 2010 and was very happy to find that I still enjoyed them (and I blogged about it — “Tripods Rule!”).

After I finished reading The Pool of Fire for the first time as a teen, I raced out to find other books by Christopher. And so I ended up reading Wild Jack, The Lotus Caves and The Guardians, all of which I liked a great deal, before discovering a new trilogy that I would end up loving almost as much as The Tripods.

English teenager, Simon, and his annoying American cousin, Brad, find themselves swallowed up by a mysterious ball of fire and transported into an alternative timeline where the Roman Empire had never fallen. In the first book, Fireball, they come into conflict with the Roman authorities and with the Christian Church. In the second book, New Found Land, they sail to America, where the Aztec civilization is still going strong. And then they’re off to China in the final book, Dragon Dance.

I’ve not read the Fireball trilogy since I was a teenager. But Christopher’s death has inspired me to put these three books onto my must re-read pile. And, since I’ve never read any of his adult novels, I think I might seek out one or two of those.

Goodbye John, Samuel, Stanley, Hilary, William, Peter and Anthony — many names, many books and so much inspiration over the years. Rest In Peace.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter

 

Check out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

Latest Post: DVD Reveiw — Project Manta

.

.

.

 

Lists

Last week, author Kate Forsyth blogged her Best Books of 2010 list. Kate reads A LOT and she reads widely. So much so, that her list is broken up into ten categories covering everything from fantasy to historical to memoir to non-fiction. It made me think about my best books of 2010 list, which I blogged a few posts ago. And now I feel the need to explain myself a bit.

For those of you who can’t remember (and who don’t want to go back and look up that post), here’s the list again:

  1. Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld (I’d also include Leviathan, which was published in 2009, but which I did not get around to reading until 2010)
  2. Trash by Andy Mulligan [read my review]
  3. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger [read my review]
  4. Wolfborn by Sue Bursztynski [read my review]
  5. f2m: the boy within by Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy

I’m not the fastest reader in the world, and with two young children and a career to maintain, I just don’t read as much as I used to. And because I only read a limited amount, I don’t read as widely as I used to. I tend to read books that I’m pretty sure I’m going to like. So my list has been put together from a much smaller and narrower set of books than Kate’s.

Also, my list is only of books published in 2010. When I came to writing the post, I looked at the pile of books I had read during 2010, which was divided into two groups — those published in 2010 and those published earlier. I went through the 2010 group and picked out what I thought were the truly outstanding books. There were others that were really, really good, but I chose only those that had that extra spark. It happened that there were five of them… so I made a Top 5 list. BUT, it should have been a Top 6 list. There was one other book that should have been there, but I had accidentally placed it in the ‘not published in 2010’ group. 🙁 My bad. That book is Shirley Marr’s Fury, which I’ve previously reviewed on Literary Clutter. I feel terrible at having left it out, as it is a superb read.

Now, if I were to extend that list further, and include all the books I read during 2010, it would become a Top 8 list. There would be two pre-2010 entries that I would need to include…

Human Nature (from The New Doctor Who Adventures series) by Paul Cornell, which was published 1995. One of the best Doctor Who books I have ever read. A complex tale with a very unique approach, it ended up being the inspiration for the televised two part story, ‘Human Nature” and “Family of Blood”. Well worth a read if you’re a Doctor Who fan.

The Tripods books by John Christopher. There is the original trilogy published in 1967/8 (The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead and The Pool of Fire) and the prequel published in 1988 (When the Tripods Came). I’ve previously blogged about these books, and as a set they would have taken out the Number 1 slot on my list.

And now that we’re in to 2011, I’m still reading books that were published in 2010. So as this year progresses, my 2010 list could theoretically expand even further. But I think I’ve rambled on enough about lists!

So, tune in next time for a guest post about punk music.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… or I’ll make up another list.

.

Old Books

There seems to be a bit of a reading and publishing shift happening at the moment. Everyone is talking about iPads, Kindles and e-books. Never one to follow a trend, I am instead going to write about old books.

I love old books! I love new ones too — goodness knows I certainly buy enough of them — but there’s just something extra special about old books… in fact, the older the better. The smell! The feel! The history! There’s nothing better than browsing the bookshelves of a second-hand store and coming across some discarded gem.

The favourite of my collection is an illustrated, hardcover 1908 edition of A Yankee at the Court of King Arthur by Mark Twain. I bought this book back in 1999 when on honeymoon in the UK. I found it in White Spider Books, a little second hand bookshop in Surrey. It cost £12.50. It had seemed like a good investment, given that I had never read the book but had always wanted to. And it was… I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about my teenage obsession with John Christopher’s Tripods Trilogy. Thanks to numerous second hand bookstore visits over the years, I’ve got several different editions of these books, the earliest being a 1970 paperback edition of the first book, The White Mountains.

I’ve even been known to occasionally purchase an old book simply because its old and I like the look of it. One such book is J Cuthbert Hadden’s The Bohemian Girl, which appears to be part of a series called The Great Operas. It’s a short book about Balfe’s opera, The Bohemian Girl, and includes a summary of the plot, a critique of the music, a history of the opera’s creation and production, and a biography of Michael William Balfe. It’s a small hardcover edition (measuring 120 X 150cm) with lovely colour illustrations throughout. The dust jacket is torn in half, but the book is otherwise in good condition. There is no publication date, although the text mentions an event in 1906 as being recent. I paid a grand total of $0.50 for this one.

My latest purchase is a 1912 hardcover edition of Lyra Heroica, A book of Verse for Boys. I found it in an op shop while browsing the children’s books. It stood out as the only hardcover in a shelf full of battered paperbacks. So I picked it up, and read the preface.

“To set forth, as only art can, the beauty and the joy of living, the beauty and the blessedness of death, the glory of battle and adventure, the nobility of devotion—to a cause, an ideal, a passion even—the dignity of resistance, the sacred quality of patriotism, that is my ambition here.”

After reading this sentence by William Ernest Henley, who selected and arranged the poems, I just had to buy the book. It cost me the princely sum of $4.00.

There are many other old books in my collection. And no doubt, there will be many more in the future. Oh, and in case you’re wondering — I don’t own an iPad or a Kindle. 🙂

Anyone else out there like old books? Leave a comment and tell us about your oldest book.

And tune in next time for a post about food.

Catch ya later,  George

PS – Follow me on Twitter.

Tripods Rule!

The Earth has been invaded — conquered by aliens in huge walking, metal tripods. For generations the people of Earth have been kept under control by caps — metal mesh, implanted into the flesh of a person’s head when they turn 14 years of age. Once capped, people loose their curiosity and creativity, become docile and feel compelled to worship the Tripods. But not everyone is capped. There is a resistance movement of free people, hiding out in the White Mountains, gathering more to their cause and searching for a way to defeat the invaders.

I discovered John Christopher’s Tripods Trilogy when I was a teenager in the early 1980s. I fell in love with it. I read the three books — The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead and The Pool of Fire — many times over. When the BBC turned the first two books into a television series in the mid-1980s, I watched it eagerly, recorded it on VHS and re-watched the tapes until they practically wore out. And then, in 1988, there was a new book — a prequel, When the Tripods Came. With all the recent talk of a new film based on the first book, I thought it would be a good time to revisit my teenage obsession.

I am very pleased to say that I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading the books. I still have the copies I bought in 1983 — a terrific set with covers that lined up to form a large picture — as well as several different editions. Like a true obsessive I went through a phase of collecting different editions of these books… and there have been many.

The original trilogy follows the adventures of an English boy, Will Parker, who teams up with two other boys to escape the capping and set off in search of the free men of the White Mountains. By the end of the first book, after a long and dangerous journey, they reach the mountains. In the second book, there is an undercover mission into one of the Tripod cities to discover the alien Masters that drive them and to look for weaknesses. And the third book is all about the defeat of the Masters and their Tripods.

Originally published in 1967/8, these books hold up pretty well by today’s standards. They are exciting, well plotted and thoughtfully conceived. The writing style is a little dry and dated, particularly when it comes to the dialogue, although somehow is seems to work just fine. An interesting thing to note is the almost complete lack of female characters, apart from an occasional love interest.

The prequel, When The Tripods Came, published in 1988, is quite a different kettle of fish, with several major female characters and a more easy-going writing style. The main character, however, is again an English teenage boy, Laurie. The story follows him and his family as they try to escape the mind-control being used by the aliens to subjugate the people of Earth. Given that this prequel is all about how the Earth came to be conquered, you could expect a dark and hopeless tale… but it’s not. The story of this family and their escape concludes with hope and sees the seeds of the resistance that will feature in the trilogy, being sown.

I’m now part-way through the 1984/5 BBC series, which has been released on DVD. The series made numerous changes (some that worked, others that didn’t) and although somewhat dated in its look and feel, it is still highly entertaining. The musical score by Ken Freeman is a particular highlight, and the effects (especially the close-up model work on the Tripods) better than the average BBC stuff from the same era. The big disappointment of the series, however, is that it was cancelled before the third book could be filmed, leaving the story incomplete and the characters facing a bleak future with a very down-beat conclusion.

Apparently, Disney acquired the film rights to the Tripods in 1997, and finally, in 2005, announced that pre-production would soon begin with Australian director Gregor Jordan at the helm. Jordan has said in interviews that the film will remain faithful to the books and that the only significant change he intends to make is to swap one of the main characters from a boy to a girl. The film is currently slated for shooting in 2011 and release in 2012. I can hardly wait!

Anyone else out there read the Tripods Trilogy? Or seen the series? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

And tune in next time to find out what my kids have been reading.

Catch ya later,  George

PS – Follow me on Twitter!

Random literary quotes

Last time it was first sentences. This time, I’m quoting memorable bits from anywhere within a book or short story. These are just the quotes that have come to mind while putting together this post. Given the vagaries of my memory, there are bound to be other bits I should have quoted… but hey… with my memory the way it is, consider yourselves lucky to be getting this!

As with my last post, I’m listing the sources at the end of the post so you can all play guess that quote.

1.

As Yone had predicted, it was deserted — tourism was a thing of the past, along with parliaments and television chat shows, universities and churches, human disorder and human freedom.

2.

The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.

3.

He looked at her as though seeing her for the first time, and kissed her as if they were not yet married.

4.

Teddy and Vern slowly became just two more faces in the halls or in 3.30 detention. We nodded and said hi. That was all. It happens. Friends come in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant, did you ever notice that?

5.

In the space it took to read the few dozen words, Danny learned two crucial things, vital to learn at any age but so powerful to have at fourteen: that you always had to grant unlimited possibility, and that happy endings were as fleeting as you let them be.

6.

She was a lovely lady, with a romantic mind and such a sweet mocking mouth. Her romantic mind was like the tiny boxes, one within the other, that come from the puzzling East, however many you discover there is always one more; and her sweet mocking mouth had one kiss on it that Wendy could never get, though there it was, perfectly conspicuous in the right-hand corner.

7.

All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others

8.

The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

9.

I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this! One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture — a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees — very gradually — I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

10.

I’ve been on quite a trip, though I don’t have much to show for it — a book of Rolling Stones’ lyrics, some coins with Arabic writing on them, a headscarf with crocheted fans around the edge. I’ve learned how to say “bread” and “water” in eight different languages and I can swear in Dutch.

11.

Fa’red was not the sort of wizard who muttered arcane spells over foul-smelling cauldrons in dark cellars. Although he was a very inventive man, his ideas far exceeded his ability to carry them out personally. As such, he had learned to delegate work.

12.

‘You asked me once,’ said O’Brien, ‘what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.’

13.

“And as their lips met, everything changed.”

Got a favourite quote? Leave a comment and share.

And tune in next time to find out about Celapene Press.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Here are the books:

1. When the Tripods Came, John Christopher, 1988.

2. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Dauglas Adams, 1979.

3. “Add a Dash of Pity”, Peter Ustinov, from Add a Dash of Pity and Other Short Stories, 1958.

4. “The Body”, Stephen King, from Different Seasons, 1982.

5. “The Saltimbanques”, Terry Dowling, from Blackwater Days, 2000.

6. Peter Pan, JM Barrie, 1911.

7. Animal Farm, George Orwell, 1945.

8. Animal Farm, George Orwell, 1945.

9. “The Tell-Tale Heart”, Edgar Allan Poe, 1843.

10. Sugar Sugar, Carole Wilkinson, 2010.

11. Drangonfang, Paul Collins, 2004.

12. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell, 1949.

13. Gamers’ Quest, George Ivanoff, 2009. — Yeah, yeah! I know! Shameless plug. 🙂

Clutter, clutter and more clutter

My little blog bio proudly proclaims: “Bookish bloggings from the cluttered mind and bookshelf of Melbourne author, George Ivanoff.” I feel the need to explain.

My mind, my bookshelf (actually, that should be bookshelves, plural) and, indeed, my life, are cluttered. I work in a clutter. I share an office with my wife (a graphic artist). The office is divided down the middle by desks and shelving. Her side is neat and organised, as indeed, is her mind and approach to work. My side is … well … cluttered. (Am I overusing the ‘c’ word?) My shelves are piled with random collections of books, magazines, papers, DVDs, video tapes (Eeek! Old technology!) toys, cinema cups and unclassifiable paraphernalia. Every inch of my desk is taken up with something … anything. I submit, for your appraisal, Exhibit A:

My mind and my approach to writing approximate the look and feel of my workspace. My mind is rarely devoted to just one thing at any given moment. For instance — what am I reading? I am currently part way through the following:

  • John Christopher’s Tripods trilogy
    I’ve finished the first two books, The White Mountains and The City of Gold and Lead. Just the final book, The Pool of Fire, to go. Oh, and I’ll then read the prequel as well — When the Tripods Came.
  • One Step Ahead: Raising 3–12 Year Olds by Michael Grose
    I’m Dad to a 1-year-old and an almost-7-year-old, so I need to occasionally dip in to these sort of books in order to maintain my sanity. Or, at least, attempt to maintain my sanity. (Somewhere down the track I’ll have to do a post about finding the time to write while looking after kids.)
  • Issue 42 of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine
    I’m not a regular reader of this magazine. I got this issue because there’s a full-colour ad for Gamers’ Quest on the back cover. But, so far, I’m really enjoying the mag and even contemplating a subscription. Highly recommended if you’re into science fiction and fantasy, short stories.
  • The February issue of Oz Kids in Print
    This mag is published by the Australian Children’s Literary Board. Again, I’m not a regular reader. I’ve got this issue because it contains one of my articles.
  • The April issue of Victorian Writer
    This is one of my regular reads, as I’m a member of the Victorian Writers’ Centre.

Okay, that takes care of reading. What about writing? Here’s a round up of what I’m currently working on.

  • I’m just finishing up the second book in a series of kids’ reference books about nutrition. This book is about fibre but I’m not allowed to use the word ‘poo’, even though the book is aimed at second grade level. What do I use? Faeces? Digested waste material excreted from the bowels? Number twos? Doo-doo? My mind is spinning with euphemisms.
  • Tornado Riders
    This is a teen novel that I’m working on. At the moment it’s still very much in the planning stages as I scribble ideas, character outlines and scene snippets in my notebook. Whether it is ever completed, and then whether it is ever published, remains to be seen. After all, I have a draw full of unpublished (probably unpublishable) stuff that I feel to urge to add to occasionally.
  • Answers to two sets of interview questions for two different websites about the writing of Gamers’ Quest. One day I’ll write a post about what it’s like promoting a book.
  • And then, of course, there’s this little blog, which I’m planning as a twice-weekly endeavour.

So there you have it — a little insight into the workings of my cluttered little mind. But what about all of you out there in the blogosphere? Are you cluttered? Are you uncluttered? Have you ever de-cluttered? Leave a comment and share your experiences.

Now, as a final note (and simply because I feel the need to use that word one more time), may I say — embrace your CLUTTER!

Tune in next time, when you’ll hear me say: “Enough about me! Time to talk about a book!” And that book shall be The Star by Felicity Marshal.

Catch ya later,  George

Hello world!

I have been um-ing and ah-ing about blogging for some time now. You know, the usual sort of self-doubting questions most writers indulge in every now and then. Should I do it? Will I have enough things to blog about? Will I have enough time to do it? Will anyone out there actually read it? The part of me that wanted to blog was beginning to win out when this Boomerang Blog opportunity presented itself. I took it as a sign from … um … someone. And so here I am, inflicting my thoughts upon the unsuspecting denizens of cyberspace.

I have a cluttered mind and a cluttered bookshelf, so there’s a high probability of randomness on this blog. But I’ll start off by stating some of my literary likes so that you’ll have at least some idea of what may show up in my posts.

I love picture books. I have two young daughters, so I read a LOT of picture books. And guess what? Picture books aren’t just for kids.

I love science fiction and fantasy and horror (although not the blood and guts, splattery type horror). I quite like vampire fiction… but I feel the need to say that Twilight is not my cup of tea. Edward who?

I write books for kids and teens. I read lots of books aimed at kids and teens. Man, there’s some amazing stuff out there aimed at this market. So I’ll probably write about these sorts of books a fair bit. And I’ll probably write about the process of writing as well.

My favourite Aussie authors include Richard Harland, Carole Wilkinson and Terry Dowling. My favourite o/s authors include Neil Gaiman, Poppy Z Brite and John Christopher. I’ll most likely write about these people and their books at some point.

And now for a list (I like lists). My favourite books from 2009:

Oh, one more thing… I’m a Doctor Who fan. Yes, I know — it’s a tv show, but there are Doctor Who books as well, so you can be guaranteed of at least one Doctor Who post at some stage. So just deal with it!

Right! I think that’s enough for my first post. Tune in next time, when I’ll tell you all about my clutter.

Catch ya later,  George