Shakespeare. Miniatures #1.

 The Works of Shakespeare in Miniature.

The Works of Shakespeare in Miniature.

It’s many months since I last wrote a book review, but my interest was revived recently when I visited an exhibition of illuminated and miniature manuscripts and books.

I inherited my father’s 40-volume miniature collection of Shakespeare’s plays, plus the sonnets, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. The set, with the remains of its bookcase, was stored in a shirt box for years. A year or more ago, I repaired the tiny 3-shelf bookcase. The eighty-year-old glue had crystallised and crumbled. I stuck it back together with modern glue.

Each page of each book is 50 mm by 35 mm in size, the thickness of each volume varying, but averaging 15 mm including end boards. The plays are printed on very thin paper. Sixteen sheets – i.e. 32 double-sided pages – are just a millimetre in thickness. So although the printing is perfectly readable without a magnifying glass, the whole of Macbeth, at 314 pages, is just a centimetre thick, plus end boards.

The bindings on many of the books are in a poor state. The collection accompanied my father from Scotland to Spain to Italy to India to Malaya to Brunei and back to Scotland over a forty year period. It is hard to say whether travel, tropical conditions, or the icy draughts of Edinburgh wreaked the greatest harm. It was probably a combination.

The text, however, seems physically intact. I cannot detect any missing pages, though a few are loose.


You might think that the set had been made in, say, the 19th century or earlier – the heyday of miniatures. However, they were actually mass-produced in 1932 by Allied Newspapers of Gray’s Inn Road, London. Nevertheless, there must have been considerable hand work in the bindings, and I hate to think how much it would cost to repair the bindings today. Sets and individual volumes appear from time to time in auction rooms and eBay, though most do not appear to be in their original bindings. Certainly, my set is the only complete set I’ve seen which is bound in the original red, lettered in gold.

Is my set complete? Yes. It is the complete set as published. Is it a complete collection of Shakespeare’s plays? Yes, indeed, it is. All thirty-seven plays, plus the Sonnets, plus Venus and Adonis with The Rape of Lucrece in a single volume. The fortieth volume is a biography and glossary.

As to the works themselves, they were edited by J Talfourd Blair, a reputable Victorian editor, responsible for many popular editions of Shakespeare around the turn of the nineteenth century. I think the little library has achieved its objective just by being published. Actually reading them is certainly possible, as the print is not excessively small. The small size of the little books is the chief obstacle to the reader. I attempted The Scottish Play today, and it was a severe challenge to one’s dexterity in page turning.



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Mythaxis Issue 18 – The August 2016 issue

Yet another star-spangled edition of Mythaxis has hit the Web’s virtual news stand.

Stories from a number of regulars, and a comic strip from Liam Baldwin.

Our Master Index of Stories has been updated. Readers new to Mythaxis can access all our previous issues from the Mythaxis website.

New writers are always welcome. Submission details are here. We do not pay for stories, but successful authors are awarded a prize on publication.

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Mythaxis – The Stats

We are proud of our performance as an e-zine:

  • 145 items have been published in Mythaxis Magazine since 2008
  • 17 issues of the magazine
  • 30 different authors
  • [viewed traffic] 4500 unique visitors in 2015
  • 30,000 page views in 2015 (one story per page)
  • over 10,000 page views in 2016 already

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Mythaxis Issue 17

Mythaxis Issue 17 is now available at the Mythaxis website.

One of the items is a comic strip from Liam Baldwin.

Another is a cyberpunk interactive adventure, playable in your browser.

For those who would like indexes of all stories by title and by author, the complete index is in the Mythaxis blog.



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Anathem by Neal Stephenson

anathemAnathem marks Neal Stephenson’s return to ground-breaking sf, after the rather strange and lengthy Baroque Cycle.

It is again a very large book, and there is again a preoccupation with appropriate language for the setting, which preoccupation, as in the Baroque Cycle, becomes less strictly observed as the book continues.

The basic setting is that, on the planet Arbre (which may be an alternate Earth), philosophers and scientists, rather than monks, are walled up in monastery-like institutions called concents. Religious practices take place in the outside world, not in the concents. Extreme conservatism and ritual characterise life in these institutions. Stephenson engages in considerable discussion of logic, cosmology, mathematics, set theory, and philosophy, which make the start of the book rather slow, and a number of the complex concepts are consigned to Appendices.

The pace speeds up when visitors from another cosmos appear in a spacecraft that looms rather threateningly, and the story sets off in a new direction.

Eventually, parallel worlds become the theme of the book, and provide its (quite convenient) denouement. But the journey to the end of the book is an entertaining mix of mind-bending concepts and well-described action. Above all, the book is crammed full of cool new ideas.

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Neal Stephenson – The Baroque Cycle


Neal Stephenson is usually categorised as a science fiction author, on the basis of his two early books – Snow Crash and Diamond Age, though the bulk of his work is more philosophy than sf. He wrote The Big U, a sort of lampoon of university life and Zodiac, an eco-warrior novel, before Snow Crash. Subsequent to Diamond Age, he has written, among other fiction and articles, In the Beginning was the Command Line, a treatise on computer Operating Systems, Cryptonomicon, a dramatised and fictionalised history of cryptology, and The Baroque Cycle, a dramatised and fictionalised history of 17th century science. His subsequent work has included sf, a co-authored fantasy and a cyber-thriller, so he does not lack variety.

The Baroque Cycle is a 3000 page supernovel in three volumes: Quicksilver, The Confusion and The System of the World. (Subsequent editions sub-divided the whole oeuvre into more volumes)

In summary, Neal Stephenson writes extremely well. He understands how to deliver a fast-paced narrative. Like Umberto Eco, he does have a habit of delivering big chunks of research. But the story never falters while the lesson is delivered, and the research is never bungled as far as I have been able to determine.

Although I guess each of the books in the Baroque Cycle – Quicksilver, The Confusion and The System of the World could be read as free-standing novels, the trilogy only makes sense as a 3000 page work.

There is so much in the books that I hardly know where to start. Among the fictional characters are Jack, a vagabond; Eliza, a courtesan; Daniel Waterhouse, who seems to be immortal. The real historical figures (whose behaviour is obviously fictionalised to an extent) include Isaac Newton, Leibniz, The Duke of Marlborough, half the crown heads in Europe at the time, many aristocrats, and the vast majority of the pantheon of early scientists.

The Great Fire of London, the formation of the Royal Society, the Jacobite turmoil over the British crown, Alchemy, Slavery, Newcomen’s Steam Engine, the Spanish treasure galleons, the birth of banking and currency, the French court, conditions in the near East, India and Mexico, developments in science and cryptology, the Holland of William of Orange, the Siege of Vienna, sewer design, mining, refining, weapons technology, Olde London. You are spared nothing in the background to this lengthy, often incomprehensible, always fascinating, behemoth of a story. It was not always compelling, but I never felt the urge to ditch it.

Quite frequently, I felt that I did not know what was going on. Usually my curiosity was satisfied in due course. There were periods of directionlessness and inconsequentiality which slowed the whole thing up. There were so many characters that one could lose track. Quicksilver had a handy appendix. The others lacked the reference material.

My chief criticism of the entire work was the language. A very few words and expressions were picked on and rendered in archaic form, occasionally speech was in period character, but the effect was spoiled by near-universal use of modern vernacular, not only in narrative, but in speech. It jarred with me. I longed for consistency.

My chief plaudit is that Neal Stephenson really knows how to write a gripping narrative, and there were several episodes which read beautifully. I particularly enjoyed the numerous battle scenes, and the details of the English penal system.

It is an ambitious masterpiece, only very slightly flawed.

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Issue 15 of Mythaxis is out now

The November 2014 issue of Mythaxis is out now. Eight original stories of fantasy and science fiction. Enjoy.

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