A beautiful and atmospheric novelette, perfectly formed. If I could change one thing, the thing in the cave would not explain itself, as the story has...moreA beautiful and atmospheric novelette, perfectly formed. If I could change one thing, the thing in the cave would not explain itself, as the story has already done that, but apart from that, it is almost perfect.
The live-reading, with music, is something special and wonderful. This print version is lovely, too.(less)
Dream London is a book unlike any I have read before. It's as if the author had thrown together Dark City, Brazil (the Terry Gilliam Movie), a dash of...moreDream London is a book unlike any I have read before. It's as if the author had thrown together Dark City, Brazil (the Terry Gilliam Movie), a dash of Yellow Submarine, and a dose of Neil Gaiman style urban fantasy into a concoction that is dream-like, unpredictable, surreal, and yet strangely hypnotic and quite readable. Female readers be warned: the dream-world presented here is quite misogynistic and definitely extremely sexist in its aesthetic / tone / fundamental architecture. But it's also aware of the fact, and this is being highlighted many times in the book (just as all the 'ethnics' are being condensed into stereotypes).
The basic plot is that Captain James Wedderburn, former soldier and current pimp, suddenly attracts the interests of various entities - a Cartel, a crime overlord (the Daddio), spies, and Angel Tower - the building where Dream London is being made. The city has somehow been sold, and is shifting, geographically, but also in time and flavour, and people are changing. Everyone is becoming a stereotype. The women become whores and cleaners and other archetypes. The men become football hooligans or pimps or men in suits. Everyone finds their humanity shrinking as existing traits become honed into archetype-level one-dimensionality, and Dream London has a certain, sleezy, seedy, almost steampunky aesthetic it is growing towards. And in that strangely drifting London, some people want to reverse the drift, return to modernity, while others want to capitalise on the changes, and everyone suddenly has an interest in getting Captain James Wedderburn to act as their catalyst / agent / hero.
But, as any dream, the story ebbs and flows and shifts and changes. It circles around, but when it revisits a location or a character, they are different from the way they were before, and like any nightmare, there is no way to escape, just a slowly building sense that something ominous is about to happen.
Dream London became harder to stick with the longer the story continued, because the dream-like nature is not just authentic but also frustrating. Just as movies like The Fall and Brazil and perhaps even Casino Royale slowly drift into surrealism and with it, narrative discomfort, so Dream London flows steadily away from a clean premise and into an atmosphere that isn't quite right. The grand finale is perfectly dream-like, too.
I thought the book was very well-written, imaginative, and authentically dream-like - in some ways, a masterpiece. But, just like a semi-nightmarish dream of running and frustration, it has an aftertaste. There is much to enjoy here, and much cause to cringe and fret, too.(less)
A journalist has a chance encounter with a confident, gung-ho adventurous American, and decides to join the American's quest to cross from Chile to Ea...moreA journalist has a chance encounter with a confident, gung-ho adventurous American, and decides to join the American's quest to cross from Chile to Easter Island in a reed boat, inspired by Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki adventure (which never actually landed on Easter Island).
The book reads like someone telling a yarn to his mates. It's chummy, everyone's improvising, a bit inept, and hugely reliant on luck. The quest is about as wise, responsible and well-prepared as the adventures in the Hangover movie series, but there's less humour.
It's not really a scientific thing: it's people having an adventure for adventure's sake.
Once the only vaguely skilled person left the team (frustrated with his companions' habit of winging it and lack of preparation / forethought, and the resulting delays), the narrative lost a lot of interest for me. Basically, I didn't really like any of these guys all that much, as I could not respect them.
It's not a bad book, but it doesn't really have anything much to say. A bunch of bumbling young men seek adventure and succeed mostly through luck. The end.(less)
Starts off with pace aplomb, but after a while, the by-the-numbers revenge plot, numerous lengthy fight / battle scenes and repetition of refrains gri...moreStarts off with pace aplomb, but after a while, the by-the-numbers revenge plot, numerous lengthy fight / battle scenes and repetition of refrains grind quite noticeably. The dialogue stops sparkling and the book grates to a long-overdue end. It's not Abercrombie's best, not by a long shot. Readable, but tending towards the average in quality.(less)
Seed to Harvest is a series of four novels, collected together in one volume. The third book is essentially a standalone novel, while the fourth ties...moreSeed to Harvest is a series of four novels, collected together in one volume. The third book is essentially a standalone novel, while the fourth ties it and the first two books together.
The novels start with the meeting of two virtually immortal people, a long time ago (18th century, I think) in Africa. One is Doro, a man whose soul travels into other bodies (and whose previous host bodies die / are discarded). The other is Anyanwu, a woman who has near-infinite abilities to heal her own body, and read her own DNA, understand what each cell is doing, and how to heal / regenerate / rejuvenate herself. Doro is much older - thousands of years older - and has been breeding people with supernatural powers into little (quite incestuous) communities in order to cultivate their supernatural traits. He decides to conquer and control Anyanwu, and the first novel is essentially about the relationship between them.
The second novel, set in the 1970s or so, is about a young woman who is the most powerful result of Doro's breeding programme, and who becomes a power to contend with.
The third novel is about an invasion by an alien parasitical micro-organism which changes the physical properties of the humans it infects, and permanently alters their offspring.
The fourth novel is about people from the breeding programme, and their power struggles, while in a world-wide war with the people who are infected with the alien organism. Humans without superpowers have become nothing more than slaves.
Reading these novels, it becomes very clear what themes interest Octavia E. Butler: power, control over others, the mechanisms of slavery. Every single one of the books is about people imposing their own will and control on others, with motives that range from mean-spirited and petty to survival instinct, from lust for power to a desire to protect humanity or protect family. In essence, these are all novels about enslavers and the enslaved.
Unfortunately, the novels aren't nearly as gripping and powerful as Kindred (by the same author), which doesn't bother to metaphorise slavery into supernatural fantasy, but simply transposes a modern couple into the past through time travel. Kindred is a masterpiece. Seed to Harvest is comparatively weaker, because none of the characters are entirely human. Super-powered people using super-powers to enslave are less scary than men using mundane violence. The fantasy elements create a distance between subject matter and impact on (this) reader's empathy.
I must also admit that I did not really find Anyanwu's character convincingly developed after the first book - I think her story in the second book was wasteful and disappointing.
I'd still recommend the author highly - but I'm really glad I read Kindred first: it's a much, much better novel than this series.(less)
I've read one (or two?) Val McDermid novels previously, which left me with a vaguely positive memory & impression that her novels are at the upper...moreI've read one (or two?) Val McDermid novels previously, which left me with a vaguely positive memory & impression that her novels are at the upper end of thrillers.
Sadly, The Mermaids Singing isn't at the upper end of anything. It's a blandly written, predictable, fairly boring serial killer thriller, derivative and with a by-the-numbers plot and a villain who seems more or less stolen from a much more famous serial killer novel. Disappointing and very bland.(less)
Starting out with a whopper of a premise (person wakes up without memories, surrounded by dead bodies, and has instructions from her own former self a...moreStarting out with a whopper of a premise (person wakes up without memories, surrounded by dead bodies, and has instructions from her own former self about what to do), The Rook is a novel that's not afraid to entertain. A tongue-in-cheek tone, plenty of action scenes, and a world full of superpowers, secret organisations, hijinx and adventures. It's very light reading, thin on worthiness, big themes, and even characterisation. (Even by the end of the book, many of the characters and names seemed quite interchangeable to me). It's not even very good at convincing anyone of its setting: it may nominally take place in London (and the rest of Britain), but it never feels as if the author has actually set foot in the city (or the island). The plot has a tendency to get a little lost among big setpiece action scenes, and some of the side plots are pure distractions with little purpose.
It reads like a comic book / action movie.
But it also reads like fun. I'd recommend it for a light-hearted diversion.(less)
I don't usually read any books set in the world of US slavery - Uncle Tom's Cabin was just about the extent of my reading thus far. But then, Kindred...moreI don't usually read any books set in the world of US slavery - Uncle Tom's Cabin was just about the extent of my reading thus far. But then, Kindred isn't a typical slavey novel.
Dana is a 26-year-old woman living in 1976. She's recently married to a white man. And one day, she gets dizzy and finds herself elsewhere, watching a little boy almost-drown. She saves his life and gets beamed back to 1976. Soon, the rules of her travels become transparent: whenever the boy is about to die, she is transported across space and time to save his bacon. Whenever she fears for her life in that world, she is returned to 1976.
The plot follows the logic of the story consistently, intelligently and entertainingly. The characters all seem believable. It's not challenging to read, but intelligently written with a lot of thought about what slavery is, how it works, how it changes people - both the slaves and the slave owners. It feels completely authentic and believable all the way through. It's a novel about power relationships and how power corrupts. The story is tense and gripping and smart.
The City's Son is a young adult urban fantasy novel set in London. Its main characters are Beth, a streetsmart girl, and Filius, the son of the absent...moreThe City's Son is a young adult urban fantasy novel set in London. Its main characters are Beth, a streetsmart girl, and Filius, the son of the absent goddess of the city. After being kicked out of school, Beth seeks out her usual hide-out, an abandoned railway line. She encounters a ghostly train, after which she finds herself in other-London, Un-Lun-Dun, Neverwhere-London, the city inside the city, where spirits roam, statues are alive, scaffolds are scaffwolves, streetlamps have personalities and tribes...
It starts out pacey and keeps up a decent pace throughout, as Filius takes Beth along, wandering from tribe to tribe to try to gather their support for an upcoming war against his mother's nemesis, Reach. The story is quite entertaining and the world interesting enough. This is urban fantasy closer to Neverwhere, Kraken and Un-Lun-Dun in atmosphere: it's not really London at all, but a fantasy world which simply shares some of the place names and some of the aesthetic. (Of all the urban fantasies in London, only Ben Aaranovitch's Peter Grant series does it masterfully, interweaving the different worlds in a way which is believable)
One of the things which I found quite pleasing at the start is that one of the side characters, Pen, is a Muslim teenage girl, who's basically just a regular teenager with a somewhat more conservative family. There are not enough characters like her in novels - or at least, not enough of them in novels that are about something else.
On the other hand, the novel had some aspects which I found uncomfortable. Aside from the many characters who die (or, worse, are permanently mutilated in some way), there is a rape sub plot. That did not feel right at all, to have a minor sub plot about sexual abuse and rape, treated with little seriousness and more or less a shrug... then I started wondering whether it might not be a bad thing to handle rape that way in a novel. If rape is very common, and if (real world) victims have to find ways to cope and get over it, does it help if it's always a person-defining horror in stories? Should it just be something that happens to fictional characters before they shrug and move on? I don't know - it still feels somehow insensitive / blase to just throw it into a light entertainment urban fantasy tale for teenagers.
I think it's likely I'll buy the next book in the series, but I find myself hoping it'll churn through fewer characters and be a bit less brutal: this book treated its world with affection and its characters with a cheesegrater.(less)
A pleasant, pacey, popcorn-literature read. I enjoyed it enough to probably continue reading the series, but it isn't so memorable or iconic that I se...moreA pleasant, pacey, popcorn-literature read. I enjoyed it enough to probably continue reading the series, but it isn't so memorable or iconic that I see myself becoming a loyal, addicted fan.
There are some odd quirks - sometimes scenes change / move forward in time without really making this clear, sometimes characters don't seem like coherent entities, but people who swing quite wildly between different modes. Simply put, sometimes things happen that don't really match what happened before, as if certain events (and character actions) were cut in a bit clumsily.
Also, there are a few too many unexpected rescues that come from nowhere.(less)
Ultimately, this book / novella was not for me. I quite liked the idea of a turkey revolution, and the creation of a turkey socialist republic.
Unfort...moreUltimately, this book / novella was not for me. I quite liked the idea of a turkey revolution, and the creation of a turkey socialist republic.
Unfortunately, I did not like the turkeyspeak spelling - some hard-to-read cousin of LOLcat with a slight hint of German in there (or so it seemed to me, my eyes noticing every "und"). The spelling meant the book was not really suitable for bedtime reading (too much brainpower required), but the simplicity of the tale & humour meant it did not really satisfy me on the commuter trains. It's a bit odd, to have most of your brainpower taken over by the deciphering of the language, only to find that the ideas inside are a bit thin. Almost like reading a lesser Mieville novel.
On the other hand, I quite enjoyed it at the start, and, being very short, if you can adjust to turkey spelling more easily than I can, it's a breeze to speed through. If there had been a bit more tension / conflict / a plot arc, I might have persevered. But the book basically consists of short episodes, with no real through-line, and each episode is really a satirical sketch. One of the things which makes a story a story is that you have an anticipation of where it will go, an objective or a looming threat on the horizon. The Littel Read Book had neither - each episode exists in its own little bubble, and so there is not a huge lot of impetus to keep reading if boredom ever sets in. (less)
Sequel to The Last Dragonslayer. Pacey, good-natured, tongue-in-cheek fun, with a sense of whimsy and a general light-heartedness that makes it a plea...moreSequel to The Last Dragonslayer. Pacey, good-natured, tongue-in-cheek fun, with a sense of whimsy and a general light-heartedness that makes it a pleasure to read. (less)