Tag Archives: fiction

Bibliophilic Friday: R. F. Delderfield’s To Serve Them All My Days


Good morning Everyone!

R.F. Delderfield To Serve Them All My Days

It’s 1918, and on the Western Front in Europe, millions of men are engaged in life and death struggles in the most brutal of conditions for only inches of territory.  But in the uplands of England, an elderly station master gently awakens a solitary soldier as his train pulls into the station.

With that, you have the beginning of R. F. Delderfield’s To Serve Them All My Days, an intimate fictional portrait of the inter-war career of one David Powlett-Jones, a Welsh miner’s son who obtains a position teaching history at a private school in England named “Bamfylde” after he was wounded on the front during World War I.

This book is one of my all-time favorites, a book that I have literally “read to pieces.”  The first version I owned was a paperback, which these days is growing harder and harder to hold together because I have read it so much.  I bought it in Kindle format a couple of years ago, which I suspect has greatly increased the paperback version’s longevity.

The fascination in the book lies in many different aspects.  First, there is David Powlett-Jones himself,  intense, likable, intelligent and dedicated, his growing family  and the growth he experiences throughout the book through cycles of tragedy and healing.  Second, there are the boys at the school and their relationship with David Powlett-Jones.  Who can’t love a book with characters such as Winterbourne, the millionaire’s son who paints water colors and has his own private campground on the moor to escape to when things get to be too much or Chad Boyer, who introduces himself to David in their  first class together with a fake epileptic fit.  Third, the other teachers in the school are characters in their own rights, including the headmaster, Algy Herries, who has built the life up on the moor into a vibrant world of its own, irascible Howarth, amiable and erudite Barnaby and a French master with the carefully hidden first name of “Aloysius” to name just a few.  Finally, there is the story itself, an intimate history of a man that also provides a panoramic view of the times he lived in.

One of the thrills of reading is the way it can carry you into other times, places and minds.  To Serve Them All My Days does so effortlessly, providing you with an entertaining, satisfying story that leaves you, at the end, with new friends that live in on in your imagination long after the pages are closed.

Try it sometime!  You’ll like it.

Have a great weekend!

Nancy

P.S.  If you do read the book, I’d love to hear from you to learn what you thought about it!

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Bibliophilic Friday: The Elijah Baley Detective Novels


Good morning everyone!

Sun, Summer

From ClickArt Online, by Broderbund

Take one of the geniuses of science fiction, throw in a love of detective novels, add a dash of humor and adventure, and you arrive at the three detective novels written by Isaac Asimov starring plainclothesman detective Elijah Baley and his robot partner R. Daneel Olivaw, The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun and The Robots of Dawn.  In the introductions to the first two books, Isaac Asimov explains how one of his editors, desiring another robot story, urged him to write a detective science fiction story.  The result was The Caves of Steel.

Set in a time period long after the Susan Calvin stories and the world of I, Robot, yet before the creation of the Galactic Empire that we see the end of in Foundation, the Elijah Baley novels take place in a galaxy where man has colonized fifty other star systems in addition to the Solar System.

The vast majority of humanity has remained on an ever more crowded earth, where the sheer volume of people has caused human kind to build downward, creating huge underground cities where people live their entire lives, never seeing the sun or “going Outside” as it is called.  The fifty Spacer worlds, by contrast, are relatively sparsely inhabited.  The Spacers, as they are called, see themselves as vastly superior to Earthmen – they have completely eradicated infectious diseases of all kinds on their planets, even the common cold and have natural life spans of over 300 years.  Because of the infectious diseases, the Spacers are also terrified of infection by Earthmen.  With little want on their planets as well as strictly controlled birth rates, the Spacers do not have police forces per se the way that Earth does.  There is another significant difference between the two cultures – Earth’s people do not want to use robots, but the Spacers depend upon them.  However, at the time the novels begin, robots are starting to be introduced into earth’s economy as well.  Daneel Olivaw is the first of his kind, a “humaniform” robot – a robot meant to be as much like a human being as it is possible for  a robot to be.

In the first novel, Elijah and Daneel work together for the first time to solve the murder of a prominent spaceman on Earth, while in the second novel, the two work together on the newest Spacer world, Solaria, to solve the murder of a scientist.  In the third novel, the pair meet one more time to solve the “murder” of the second humaniform robot ever created on the most prominent Spacer world of all, Aurora.

Isaac Asimov skillfully blends the genres of detective fiction and science fiction creating characters and settings that are  believable and consistent within the world that he has created.  Each novel kept me on the edge of my seat until I could find out who the culprit was.

I would not hesitate to let any child at a sixth grade reading level  or higher to  read The Caves of Steel or The Naked Sun.  I would suggest that parents read The Robots of Dawn before allowing their children and teenagers to read it, simply because the issues surrounding sexual mores and knowledge are tackled in a frank, open manner that some parents may feel is not age appropriate for those age groups.

Still, nothing beats a good detective story for an entertaining read.  Add in Isaac Asimov’s unique writing talents and a fascinating universe, and you have a combination that makes these three novels exceptionally good reads.  Whether you are a detective fan or a science fiction fan, give them a go!  You’ll be glad you did.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Nancy

Bibliophilic Friday: Robots and Foundation


Good morning Everyone!

Robot from Print Shop Professional 2.0

I have been (sort of) participating in a WordPress Challenge called “Blogging 201,” which is designed to help bloggers improve their blog.  One of its suggestions is to have at least one weekly feature, so here’s mine:  Bibliophilic Friday.  All the feature really does is give me a chance to talk about some of the many, many books that I love.  I’m not entirely sure that you can be a writer if you don’t also love to read; at least I couldn’t.

We’re going to start with  Isaac Asimov’s Robot series and Foundation series, mostly because that is what I have been reading for the past few weeks.  Many of you are probably familiar with the movie “I, Robot”, which was (very) loosely based on Isaac Asimov’s work.  The movie, however, is nothing at all like the book.  While I did enjoy the movie, as in most cases, the book is much better.  The Isaac Asimov book, I, Robot, is basically a group of short stories tied together by the theme of an interview with robotics expert Susan Calvin that traces  the history of the positronic robots in Asimov’s imaginary future world from their beginnings towards the point where they are an integral part of the world.

One of my favorite stories in the book tells the trials and tribulations suffered by a two-man field team of robotics experts whose job is to test all of the new robots that are developed by the company.  In this particular story, they have been assigned to assemble and teach a new group of robots to handle an energy beam for earth; the energy beam has to be directed “just so”, or it will lose focus and end up frying major cities such as London or L.A..  The most important jobs the robots have is to keep the beam focused during radiation storms in space.  Well, our intrepid duo puts together a robot, who, with its positronic brain, deduces that it would be impossible for the men to have created it, given how much flimsier and less intelligent the men are then it.  Instead, the robot decides that its creator is the computer running the energy beam and that the job of all is to serve it.  It also deduces that the computer creator has given the men the delusion that they created the robots out of kindness and concern for their weakened condition.  The robot also converts all of the other more primitive robots in the energy station.  When one of the men gets frustrated and says something negative (ie., expletive deleted) about the energy beam computer, the men are locked out of the control room for blasphemy. The story goes forward from there.  It is really very funny!  The other stories in the book are equally entertaining, with just the right mix of humor, emotion, intellectual challenge and sometimes even pathos.

After re-reading #25 or so of  I, Robot, I decided to read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy.  It is considered one of the cornerstones of modern science fiction but I just never had gotten around to it.  I am delighted that I finally did!

The original three novels are the kind of books that you have to stay up until midnight reading just because you can’t wait to see what happens next.  There are two prequels (actually written after the first three novels) that are just as exciting.  In the Foundation books, a mathematician named Hari Seldon has developed a system of mathematics called psychohistory that is capable of predicting the future based upon the acts of billions of individuals.  At the time of the book, mankind is spread out over millions of worlds and part of a galactic empire that has existed for tens of thousands of years, but which is about to fall.  Seldon uses his branch of mathematics, psychohistory, to develop a plan that will reduce the period of  “the dark ages” that would result from the collapse of the Empire from 10,000 to 1000 years, and the first three books are about the plan during is first 400 or so years of existence.  The prequels are, of course, about Hari Seldon and how his psychohistory and the Foundation that supported it was developed.  (There are at least two other, later Foundation novels, but I haven’t read them yet so can’t recommend them.)

One fascinating development since Asimov wrote the Foundation novels is that something approaching psychohistory seems to be developing today.  There are people working on developing models that will use all of the data, chatter, discussions and decisions out on the Internet in order to predict future geopolitical events.  Google  and Bing already do some predicting on an individual basis – if you’ve ever noticed, while you’re writing a search query, they busily try to give you choices on what you are trying to ask based on what they predict your questions to be.

So, for you science fiction fans out there, what is your favorite Isaac Asimov science fiction book?  If you are a fan of some of his non-fiction work popularizing different sciences, let me know which one of those are your favorites!  I can’t wait to hear from you!

Have a great day!

Nancy

A Funny Short Short – The Ultimate Consumer Complaint of the Future!


Good morning Everyone!

Today, I am sharing with you a short, short story that I wrote last year.  Enjoy!
 
 
 
Robot from Print Shop Professional 2.0
 
Customer Service
Interspace Robotic Corporation
800 New England Way
Venusian Colony #5 
 
Dear Sirs: 
 
Thank you for accepting the return of your Model 3300 Robotic Clone. I am writing to provide you, as you requested, a more specific description of the problems we encountered with the robot.
 
 As promised, the Model 3300, whom we named Gertrude, was a hard worker with detailed knowledge of nutrition, household chores, home repair, and yard work, looked human, and contained an additional logic booster chip which allowed her to make decisions in the best interest of our family without constantly being given specific orders. The problem was that Gertrude was incapable of understanding that, on occasion, the less logical choice was better.
 
 
For example, while Gertrude was correct that vacuuming at non-peak hours was good for the environment, placing less strain on the electrical grid, no-one in our family got any sleep on Tuesday and Friday nights during her 2:00 a.m. house-cleaning sessions. And while shaving the dogs certainly cut down on the amount of dog hair floating around various rooms, I am not sure the dogs have yet gotten over the trauma of being shaved bald in 2.0 seconds flat.
 
In addition, although I have often fantasized about placing my children under house arrest when they fail to clean their rooms and do their homework, and the electronic monitoring bracelets Gertrude designed were quite clever, we found that the Department of Human Resources, Child Welfare Division, had problems both with house arrest and the electric shock the bracelets delivered when one of the children would violate the terms of her confinement. 
 
As another example, the research on nutrition Gertrude performed, and her presentation to the family, was flawless, but after seven days of tofu, fruit and berries for meals, the entire family began to sneak out to stuff ourselves with cheese fries and chocolate sundaes, at least until the location bracelets were placed on the children.
 
My husband has been threatening for years to place Astroturf instead of grass on our yard, but the Covenant Enforcement Committee objected strongly both to it, and the plastic flowers and bushes in front of the house. The members also were singularly unimpressed with Gertrude’s dissertation on individual liberties under the United States Constitution when they came to discuss the issue. 
 
The final straw came the day we returned home from a week’s vacation to find that the wooden floors and carpet throughout the house had been replaced with industrial strength concrete and drains strategically located throughout the house so that the floors could simply be hosed down instead of vacuumed or mopped. The floor and carpet installers both admit that Gertrude did an excellent job, as did the locksmith we called in to bypass the lockout system she placed on our air conditioning system to prevent the thermostat from being set below 82 degrees, but we are not looking forward to the payments on the second mortgage we now need to fix everything back the way it should be. 
 
 
Accordingly, we returned Gertrude to you. 
 
 
Sincerely,
 
Jane Smith
 
P.S. The Covenant Enforcement Committee has asked me to remind you that the restraining order will stay in effect for 10 years.
 
 
 
 
 
Have a great day, everyone!
 
Nancy