Tag Archives: reading

The kind hand of The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come

I’m on a Charles Dickens mailing list. Have been for 15 years or more. A noted Dickens scholar, who performs Dickens all year, and does A Christmas Carol several dozen times a year, asked this:

After 25 seasons of touring Dickens’ solo “A Christmas Carol” there is a line which while I don’t perform it still niggles at the back of my mind. Scrooge in the “dismal wretched ruinous church yard” and pleading for a second chance says, “Good Spirit…Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life.” Dickens then tells us that, “The kind hand trembled.” The adjective has always puzzled me. Why “kind”? Is Dickens merely adumbrating Scrooge’s redemption – how I’ve always interpreted it – or am I missing something deeper and more sublime? Thank you all in advance. – John D. Huston

To me, this one scene is what the entire book is about.

The ghost of Christmas Yet To Come is the most hopeful of all of the
ghosts, and the most kind. It’s the only one that has a chance of
redeeming Scrooge. Or, rather, not redeeming him, but giving him the chance to redeem himself.

Past is reminding him of things he can no longer change. Not only that, but Past is kind of a jerk about it, rubbing his nose in the worst bits, and insisting that he see one more thing when he’s already had enough.

Present just tells it like it is. Present is even a bit of a silly comic figure, with a very short memory, and who can only see now. Except for his brief moment scolding Scrooge about Scrooge’s definition of “surplus population”, Present is all happy and bouncy. But not kind.

Future is the one who is *truly* there for Scrooge’s salvation, and so is the most kind of the three, even though it is the most frightening – frightening because it requires that Scrooge fundamentally change, and be the “fool” that he accuses Fred of being.

I absolutely love this scene. It almost brings me to tears every time.
He is, indeed, very kind. Kind enough to break the rules a little, and
let Scrooge in on the secret that he can change his future. I also
always remember Patrick Stewart’s rendition of this scene, where he suddenly grasps the reality that he can change the future, and fix what is broken. That moment when Patrick Stewart says “aaaaahhhhh!” is the climax of the entire movie. And it’s the only movie rendition that really gets that scene right.

I’m doing a reading next Friday evening for my friends – like I do every year. And there are some parts of the story that are hard to get through because of how much they mean to me, personally. The opportunity of a second chance is what this book is all about.

Wizard, by John Varley

In my continuing saga of the list of Sci Fi books that I’m working through …

I went back and read ‘Titan’, and then read ‘Wizard‘, by John Varley. I am now reading ‘Demon’, because I’m a glutton for punishment.


I did not like these books. The concept is interesting, but unabashedly borrows from other books – even having characters in the book mention how derivative it is. But there are some characters who are compelling enough that I do want to finish the third book, to find out what happens, so I suppose it’s not all bad.

The frontmatter for Wizard contains this quote:

“I’ve been saying for years that John Varley is the best writer in America. This book proves it.” — Tom Clancy

I suppose how seriously you take that depends in large part on what you think of Tom Clancy.

Anyways, what I find most distracting and irritating about this book is how much of the book focuses on sex, when it has nothing whatever to do with the story line. I imagine that an abridged version of the book, aimed at a younger audience, would be more focused on the story, and roughly half the length. I don’t think I’m exaggerating – or at least, not much. It’s not that it’s lewd or graphic, it’s just gratuitous, and weakens the story, and goes on, and on, and on.

But, yes, I’m finishing the trilogy, because that’s what I do.

The full list that I’m working through is over here.

Hothouse, by Brian Aldiss

I’ve been working through a list of SciFi/Fantasy books, which is a merging of three “top 50” lists that I’ve found over the years. I just finished reading Hothouse, by Brian Aldiss.

It was … weird, and ok. I guess I can see how some people would enjoy it. It follows the travels of group of primitive people around a post-civilization world where vegetation is the dominant life form.

I found it unsatisfying. Not much happens, and the people in the story are largely uninteresting, or, at least, Aldiss doesn’t tell us very much about them. So it’s more of a travelogue than a novel.

Anyways, on to the next book. I’ve included the list below, if you want to follow along. Stared books are those that I’ve already read – many of them before I encountered the list. I’m only on #3 of the ones that I hadn’t read yet when i started. Give me a few more years …

* A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller (1960)
* A Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne (1864)
* A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1962)
* Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank (1959)
* Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)
* Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (1968)
* Dune by Frank Herbert (1965)
* Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (1985)
* Foundation by Isaac Asimov (1951)
* Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison (1966)
* Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1949)
* Old Man’s War by John Scalzi (2005)
* Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke (1972)
* Ringworld by Larry Niven (1970)
* Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein (1959)
* The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979)
* The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury (1951)
* The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (1969)
* The Stand by Stephen King (1978)
* The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (1898)
* Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (2005)
* Ribofunk by Paul Di Filippo (1996)
* Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (2007)
* Hothouse by Brian Aldiss (1962)
A Fire Upon the Deep (1992), by Vernor Vinge
Acme Novelty Library #19 by Chris Ware (2008)
Behold the Man by Michael Moorcock (1969)
Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks (1987)
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (1999)
Earth Abides by George R. Stewart (1949)
Embassytown by China Miéville (2011)
Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold (1988)
Glasshouse (2006), by Charles Stross
He, She, and It (1991), by Marge Piercy
Hyperion by Dan Simmons (1989)
Kindred (1979), by Octavia Butler
Logan’s Run by William F. Nolan & George Clayton Johnson (1967)
Man Plus by Frederik Pohl (1976)
Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement (1954)
Newton’s Wake (2004), by Ken MacLeod
Nor Crystal Tears by Alan Dean Foster (1982)
Odd John by Olaf Stapledon (1935)
Pattern Recognition (2003), by William Gibson
Perdido Street Station (2002), by China Mieville
Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson (1993)
Ring Around the Sun by Clifford D. Simak (1953)
Roadside Picnic / Tale of the Troika by Boris & Arkady Strugatsky (1972)
Sarah Canary (1991), by Karen Joy Fowler
Solaris by Stanislaw Lem (1961)
The Bohr Maker (1995), by Linda Nagata
The Chrysalids by John Wyndham (1955)
The Death of Grass or No Blade of Grass by John Christopher (1956)
The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester (1953)
The Dispossessed (1974), by Ursula LeGuin
The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard (1962)
The Female Man by Joanna Russ (1975)
The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett (1955)
The Mount (2002), by Carol Emschwiller
The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut (1959)
The Sparrow (1996), by Mary Doria Russell
Venus Plus X by Theodore Sturgeon (1960)
When Worlds Collide by Edwin Balmer & Philip Wylie (1933)
Wizard (1979), by John Varley


As you may know, I participate in a project called SFShorts where we write Sci Fi in 140 characters or less. It’s a lot of fun.

A few weeks ago, a new member was added to our team, one Hugh Howey, who is an actual real-life science fiction author, not just a wannabe like me. This was very exciting, but I hadn’t actually read any of his stuff yet. At Elizabeth’s recommendation, I purchased Wool – all five parts – for my Kindle, and on my recent trip, I started reading it.

Wool is a post-apocalypse dystopian novel. Folks live in a subterranean silo, and the rules have to be pretty strict to keep things working smoothly in a completely sealed environment. This gives all sorts of plot opportunities. It is, in short, a gripping book, which I read all the way through and was left wanting more MORE MORE!!!

Hugh is a wonderful story teller. His characters are real people, not flat single-feature personalities, and you truly identify with folks – the good guys and the bad guys – in a way that many authors simply can’t achieve.

I will be buying everything Hugh writes, and pestering him to write more. You should too. This is really great stuff.

By the way, for those looking for good books for kids, I should mention that the language is a little on the salty side in Wool, so use your judgement here. Better yet, read it yourself first, and figure out what your kids can handle.


Yes, I read Twilight. I wanted to be informed before dismissing it as teenage-girl boyfriend/girlfriend tripe masquerading as a vampire novel.

So, now that I’ve read it – it is indeed heavy on the tripe, light on the vampire. After reading Anne Rice, or Dracula, or anything else in that genre, this doesn’t really measure up.

After enduring about 80% of the book (according to the Kindle) there is a couple chapters of really good action, with something of a promise of character development that doesn’t quite develop, and then it goes back to the boyfriend/girlfriend tripe. Rather disappointing, and not promising enough that I’d consider reading the rest of the series.

But at least I’m no longer calling something rubbish that I haven’t read.

Book 26 – Atonement

This one has been on my list for quite some time – Atonement, by Ian Mcewan.

I loved it, although it took some perseverance to get to that point. The first third of the book reads like Jane Austen writing in the 1930s – all society, who’s related to who, who’s marrying who, who makes how much money, and who’s in parliament. Tedious. It was a struggle to get through it, but I’d heard it was worth the effort.

Another tip: Don’t read the summary of the movie before reading the book. In typical Hollywood style, most of them give away the one great surprise of the book. This is why I never watch previews.

The story is gripping. The characters are dreadful and very believable, and I greatly enjoyed it. Recommended.

Book 25: Men At Arms

We recently finished reading Men At Arms, which is the 15th Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett. The books in this series vary in quality, and this is one of the best yet. The characters in this book are ones we already know and love, and they’re drawn more human (or Dwarf, as the case may be) than before.

We really love this series. (have I mentioned that before?) On finishing this book, we made an attempt to start I Am The Cheese, but after a chapter or so, started in on Soul Music.

Book 23 and 24: Uglies and Pretties

S has had these books for a while, and hasn’t gotten around to reading them. I’d seen some good reviews, but had largely delegated them to the “books for teenage girls” category. We audio books for S for our trip to New Jersey, so when I drove down to Florida a few weeks ago, I listened to them to pass the time – Uglies on the way down and Pretties on the way back.

They are post-apocalyptic dystopian kinds of books, both criticizing the way we live now, as well as presenting an even worse, Brave New World mixed with 1984 kind of future. Brilliant. I’m really looking forward to finishing Specials, which we started on the way back.

Book 22: Warriors: Into The Wild

Z has been bugging me for some time to read Warriors: Into The Wild, and I have been avoiding it because I rather assumed it was rubbish. Or, at best, that it was aimed squarely at 10-year-old boys, and I would find it tedious and silly.

It took forever to get started, but the setup was worth the wait. Also, this book was the setup for an enormous series, so presumably a lot of setup was required. Anyways, by the end, I was starting to care about the characters, and will probably read the next book in the series.

The concept is that a house cat joins one of the forest clans of wild cats and becomes one of them. However the “ignorant outsider as excuse to explain stuff” technique is not overused, and you’re mostly allowed to learn about things by watching, rather than by being lectured by the other characters. (See: Harry Potter.)

While it will likely be a while before I get around to it (my list is long, and growing) I will almost surely read the next book in the series at some point.

Book 21 – Tess of the D’Urbervilles

I finished Tess of the D’Urbervilles several weeks ago and have been thrashing around since then trying to start something else. I’ve started several books – Barchester Towers, The Bourne Identity, The Mayor of Casterbridge, and now Jude the Obscure – and just not felt that they were worth the time to finish.

Anyways, Tess made me angry pretty much the whole way through. I presume that this was Hardy’s intent – to get me outraged about injustice. The way that everyone in the story accepts the injustice as though it was the right and proper thing was very irritating.

I think I like Dickens’ way of calling out injustice with caustic sarcasm over this style of writing about it as though it is proper, and thus making me angry both at the injustice and the author. I wonder, however, how folks at the time received it. I expect that large parts of the audience missed his point entirely, and thought it was merely an inoffensive story.