Bassam Alemam

INPRNT often showcases awesome artists I had never heard of before..

I’m particularly taken by Bassam Alemam‘s pictures; he combines wit and intelligence with a gorgeous, easy, graceful style. Hilariously whimsical pictures sit uneasily side by side with disturbing, political images of war and oppression.

https://www.facebook.com/bassamalemamart

http://bassamalemam.blogspot.co.uk/bassamalemam

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Locklear

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5 x 8 cover 1

I’m just setting up my Victorian adventure novella on Amazon.. here’s a preview of the front cover.

If anybody would be interested in reviewing it for me, let me know by email: androktone@hotmail.com
I can send over the PDF or ebook version and once your review is up on Amazon I’ll send you a signed physical copy to say Thank You!

The illustrations are by Tatjana Larina – she’s an awesome artist and takes commissions.
https://www.facebook.com/tania.art.studio
https://www.odesk.com/o/profiles/users/_~0176c45f238510a3ae/

You can buy pieces of her art here:
http://www.redbubble.com/people/taniaartstudio
http://www.zazzle.com/taniaartstudio

bar(sepia)

Book review

This week I finished Cory Doctorow’s “For the Win”. Cory makes the majority of his books available for free here: http://craphound.com/ftw/download/. I did buy mine, for the e-reader. It was less than £4.

“For the Win” is a sort of a sequel to “Little Brother”. There aren’t any common characters, but they’re both near-future, real world books. They both feature young, brave, uncompromising computer literate protagonists and oppressive, heavy handed governments. Where “Little Brother” is concerned with American state surveillance, “For the Win” is more global – it explores the lives of Chinese and Indian “gold farmers” – young people who play massive multiplayer online games in order to earn gold and specialist items which they can then sell, for real money, to players in the west. To make this more interesting, Cory has spun the wheels of the future round a few turns, positing a scenario where the games are now so vast that their economies are as large as those of small countries. The action happens where the work in these games intersects with real life sweatshops.

What makes these young adult books is that Cory explains in detail about the economic, financial and technical ways in which the world ticks. in “Little Brother”, he explains how surveillance gait recognition cameras work and how you could fool them, how you can encrypt messages and use the Onion Router or make your own sub-internet wifi network that doesn’t go through an ISP. He lists resources in the back of the book. This is basically a toolkit for baby hackers. In “For the Win”, the explanations are financial, but they make sense of the economic crisis. As a reasonably well educated adult reading this, I don’t feel condescended to, just interested.

Another common vein running through Cory’s books is his unshakeable optimism that whatever the ills of the world, the internet can fix them. Whether it’s bringing workers together to support each other globally, providing people with a way to communicate without being spied on, generating income for the dispossessed, Cory’s characters adapt, notch up their intelligence, and use the internet and technology at its bleeding edge to ride the scary changes the world is currently going through. They’re uplifting. I’m certainly giving them to my children to read.

ftw_uk_big

In a complete volte-face, the book I am currently reading is by “Wood Fables”, by an 19th Century naturalist called Richard Jeffries, and the protagonist is  Bevis, aged, so far as I can tell, about 5 years. He is currently deep in conversation with a squirrel.

More book reviews

I just finished “Wives and daughters” by Elizabeth Gaskell (for free ebook, see the link below.. it is 700 pages though!)

It was written in the 1860s (she was a contemporary and friend of Charlotte Bronte), but set in 1820. It’s very delicately observed and sweetly felt, and you grow to feel quite indignant on behalf of the long suffering Molly even as you can’t help yourself liking the thoroughly bad and unrepentant Cynthia.

This is a comfortable goose down quilt of a book -the pace is very gentle and you feel lulled and lured into a world of good, kind doctors and clumsy gentleman farmers, ascerbic countesses and gossiping old dears. Mrs Kirkpatrick is a wonderfully shallow character and much gentle fun is poked at her complete lack of self awareness – however she never gets her come-uppance – in fact everybody is redeemed – Mrs Gaskell seems far too kindly to let any of her characters come to harm. Even Preston, the cad, has excuses made for him and behaves in quite a gentlemanly way when finally confronted.

I was saddened to find that this was her last book and she had not managed to finish it before she died, but I think it’s pretty obvious what was going to happen next. I don’t think Molly could cope with many more setbacks before finally getting her man.

There was a sense of how limited and frustrating life was to a girl of reasonable family – ruination lurks in every corner, the only safe activities being the reading of novels like this,  and the endless hopeless embroidering of one’s trousseu.

It also made me think how in those days, in most novels there are at least a few characters who “take to their beds” and die of un-diagnosed conditions, rents supported by their parish.  Contrast and compare with the way we treat the ill and the poor today.. shame on IDS and ATOS.

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http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/gaskell/elizabeth/wives/

His arms are full of broken things – PB Parris

I bought this in a charity shop (as the only other reviewer I saw, at Goodreads, said) and it looked as if it would be impenetrable, so I left it for some months before picking it up in a fit of ennui. I wish I had read it earlier – it’s a beautiful, delicate book and it’s introduced me to the poetry of Charlotte Mew, who until then was just a name to me. I am not normally much for poetry but read together with her life story even I cannot fail to see the beauty and strength in her poems, the subtle rhythms and unpredictable patterns, and the way she penetrates to an uncomfortable truth without being twee or strident.
The book attempts to tell her story from her own eyes, based on her correspondance and poems. I don’t know how accurate the depiction of her early life, her awkward sexuality and stunted romances, but it’s compelling reading – feeling, gentle, never lurid. She was born in 1869, one of seven children, three of whom died early and two of who were committed  – due to the history of mental illness, she and her surviving sister Anne pledged never to marry. They supported themselves and their mother with their art and writing – unusually for women at that time. But the life was hard, and shortly after Anne died, she went herself to an asylum, where she committed suicide. Poor Charlotte! If she had lived in a different time she would have had more friends, more fame, more love and life.

.. every chapter has a fascinating piece of her poetry, like a jewel.
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KEN  – by Charlotte Mew

The town is old and very steep
    A place of bells and cloisters and grey towers,
And black-clad people walking in their sleep—
     A nun, a priest, a woman taking flowers
     To her new grave; and watched from end to end
     By the great Church above, through the still hours:
         But in the morning and the early dark
The children wake to dart from doors and call
Down the wide, crooked street, where, at the bend,
         Before it climbs up to the park,
Ken’s is in the gabled house facing the Castle wall.
When first I came upon him there
Suddenly, on the half-lit stair,
I think I hardly found a trace
Of likeness to a human face
     In his. And I said then
If in His image God made men,
Some other must have made poor Ken—
But for his eyes which looked at you
As two red, wounded stars might do.
He scarcely spoke, you scarcely heard,
His voice broke off in little jars
To tears sometimes. An uncouth bird
     He seemed as he ploughed up the street,
Groping, with knarred, high-lifted feet
     And arms thrust out as if to beat
          Always against a threat of bars.
     And oftener than not there’d be
     A child just higher than his knee
Trotting beside him. Through his dim
     Long twilight this, at least, shone clear,
     That all the children and the deer,
        Whom every day he went to see
Out in the park, belonged to him.
         “God help the folk that next him sits
         He fidgets so, with his poor wits,”
The neighbours said on Sunday nights
When he would go to Church to “see the lights!”
     Although for these he used to fix
     His eyes upon a crucifix
     In a dark corner, staring on
    Till everybody else had gone.
    And sometimes, in his evil fits,
You could not move him from his chair—
You did not look at him as he sat there,
     Biting his rosary to bits.
While pointing to the Christ he tried to say,
    “Take it away”.
     Nothing was dead:
He said “a bird” if he picked up a broken wing,
     A perished leaf or any such thing
     Was just “a rose”; and once when I had said
  He must not stand and knock there any more,
  He left a twig on the mat outside my door.
     Not long ago
The last thrush stiffened in the snow,
    While black against a sullen sky
       The sighing pines stood by.
But now the wind has left our rattled pane
To flutter the hedge-sparrow’s wing,
The birches in the wood are red again
       And only yesterday
The larks went up a little way to sing
       What lovers say
   Who loiter in the lanes to-day;
   The buds begin to talk of May
   With learned rooks on city trees,
        And if God please
       With all of these
We, too, shall see another Spring.
But in that red brick barn upon the hill
    I wonder—can one own the deer,
And does one walk with children still
        As one did here?
        Do roses grow
Beneath those twenty windows in a row—
        And if some night
When you have not seen any light
They cannot move you from your chair
        What happens there?
         I do not know.
       So, when they took
Ken to that place, I did not look
After he called and turned on me
His eyes. These I shall see—

To read her poems, free: http://www.poemhunter.com/charlotte-mary-mew/

I could not find a free ebook, but it is worth buying: http://www.amazon.co.uk/His-Arms-Full-Broken-Things/dp/0670873152

Project Gutenberg

I have been meaning to write about this for a while: since I got my smartphone and ereader I have been voraciously downloading and reading books. Because I am cheap, I have been downloading free, out of copyright books – and I’ve discovered some real gems (which I am quite ashamed to say I had never heard of before – this is for the benefit of people like me who like a good read but had a comprehensive education 😉

Here are a few I really enjoyed (they can all be found on project gutenberg at http://www.gutenberg.org/)

Greenmantle, John Buchan
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/559
published 1916, a rip roaring British adventure romp – the hero is behind enemy lines, seeking out the mysterious “Green Mentle”, I am halfway through the book and he has already defeated a teutonic god named “Stumm” using only his fists and his plucky English wit, and he has just called a Turkish man “an infernal little haberdasher”.

Rebecca of SunnyDale farm -Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin, 1903
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/498
ike Anne of Green Gables, but I like Rebecca better. Especially her poems. There is something a bit unsettling going on with Mr Ladd but I guess people didn’t view things so suspiciously 110 years ago.

Three men in a boat – Jerome K Jerome 1889
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/8204
I am surprised I hadn’t read it earlier, it is just a joy. Three men and Montmorency the dog squabble their way up the Thames, in a leaky fishing boat. One of the first and best travel guides.

The people of the abyss – Jack London 1903
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1688
Jack didn’t just write brutal adventure novels involving dogs who like to bite each other, he was also a social commentator – he went slumming around London to try to understand why people were so poor and stunted and miserable and depraved, and then he wrote about it. Very illuminating especially given the current restraints on welfare. I would say it was critical reading actually.

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists – Robert tressel 1913
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/360
You might have read this already, or been bored in the pub by someone who has. It’s a fictionalised study of working life in England in the 1900s and the protagonist seems to be the only person who understands the simple marxist theory that the people who own the means of production, unconstrained by the government, can get everyone else to work for them in awful conditions for barely enough to live on. It does hammer this home a bit but it’s eye opening (zero hour contracts?) and there are a few really beautiful pieces in it. It’s obviously a work of love and it’s been tremendously influential and I should really have read it before.

more later!