So again, George R.R. Martin is unable to write a book that can be safely published as a single volume paperback. Perhaps somebody should explain to hSo again, George R.R. Martin is unable to write a book that can be safely published as a single volume paperback. Perhaps somebody should explain to him that slightly smaller novels, published more regularly, might keep the haters at bay - heck it might even make it less of a chore for him to write. As with the split of A Storm of Swords the second book was the better part of the novel. Although less markedly so this time I thought.
The first third of the book continues pretty much where A Dance With Dragons: Dreams and Dust stopped. The chapters concentrate on Theon, Daenerys, Jon, Arya and Tyrion to complete the catch-up with the parallel stories in A Feast for Crows. Only the second two-thirds really start to progress the story at all. Even then though the progress seems more limited that I'd hoped. Some of the characters almost seem to be stagnating. Martin seems to be holding some characters back from fulfilling their story-potential, in a way that starts to feel artificial. Like he doesn't want to start the next phases of their stories until the next book, but he feels he has to have them doing something to fill the chapters.
All that said, the book is still enjoyable. Martin writes these characters well. The book builds up to a good, trademark-Martin, twist. Where another character previously thought to be 'safe' suddenly gets brutally murdered completely out of the blue. Although, obviously it's supposed to be a cliffhanger, so you're not going to be totally sure until the next book. Bloody typical....more
With only five months between my reading of A Feast for Crows and this, I dread to imagine how confused readers would be who'd been forced to wait tWith only five months between my reading of A Feast for Crows and this, I dread to imagine how confused readers would be who'd been forced to wait the full five years between publications. I was confused as hell. I can see why George R.R. Martin thought he had to split books four and five this way - geographically - but I'm not convinced. This time the book focuses on the viewpoints that A Feast for Crows had ignored - concentrating on Jon, Tyrion, Daenerys, Bran and Reek (view spoiler)[(the wretch formerly known as Theon Greyjoy) (hide spoiler)] - and staying mostly around The Wall, the lands beyond The Wall and everything to the east of Westeros - is that Essos? But, for me it didn't work. I can see I'm going to have undertake a massive re-reading programme before Winds of Winter comes out, whenever that is. 2015 is my guess.
The characterisation and writing was up to Martin's usual standards, but by-and-large, the book felt like the collection of chapters that just weren't quite good enough to go into A Feast for Crows. I think a large part of this is because the story is covering the same ground as that book. A lot of what you're reading isn't exactly new or shocking. Instead it's stuff you were generally able to guess or surmise from the parallel chapters.
Combined with my previous complaint about Martin's book one of a pair, A Storm of Swords: Steel and Snow, the story is really only half the story. Instead of excitement and action, you've got a lot of Martin moving his pieces around the board of his world so that they're all in the right places for the finale. Except the finale never comes because that's supposed to be in the next half. There's no sense of arriving at the end of this book, presumably the publisher has just took a knife through the middle of the spine of the hardback edition and used that as their guide for the two paperbacks.
That said, there's a lot to like about this book. The characters you missed from the previous book are back. Tyrion is as delightful and witty as ever, Jon is further developing his third dimension and realising that being Lord of the Watch involves some hard decisions, while Theon may still be a complete shit, you do also start to feel a little sorry for him, and Daenerys continues to try and juggle the desire to be both a fierce warrior princess with her need to be a compassionate queen who looks after the people in her kingdom. In all, a good start, but not a complete novel.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Mur Lafferty was generous enough to make a bunch of her ebooks available for free earlier this year. Which was lucky, as I'd never really heard of herMur Lafferty was generous enough to make a bunch of her ebooks available for free earlier this year. Which was lucky, as I'd never really heard of her before, but I seem to be suffering from an addition to free ebooks – the downloading more than the reading so far. However, sitting by the pool, having read all but one of my real books (always keep one real book back for the flight home – nobody can tell you to turn a book off during take-off) I was searching for something new to read on my Kindle and remembered Lafferty's Heaven. The first in a series of novellas, originally presented as podcasts before being updated for the ebook format.
Firstly, it's a novella, so it's short. There are no page numbers in my ebook, but I read it in a single sitting one afternoon. But, it's fun and it tears along at a pretty steady lick to keep you reading. We start out being introduced to our two protagonists: Kate who narrates the first half of the novella, and Daniel who narrates the second half. As we're introduced to them it's explained pretty quickly that they're going to die. After all, it wouldn't be much of a story about Heaven if they didn't get there pretty quickly. Consequently, Kate introduces the characters and narrates their deaths before describing her arrival in Heaven. Initially happy, she starts to feel it's all a bit, well, dull. So she starts to challenge the boundaries of her Heaven. Eventually, Kate and Daniel are charged with a secret mission from God. A mission that could mean the end of all the Heavens – yes, even doggie Heaven. Souls are disappearing and God's apparently a bit too busy to investigate himself.
Kate's narration suffers from two problems. Firstly, her continued and unspoken (except to us) obsession with Daniel gets irritating pretty quickly. And, secondly, Daniel himself is a bit of a dick. Actually more than a bit. However, the second half of the novella, into the main part of the mission itself, is narrated by Daniel directly. He seems a lot less of a dick when he's describing himself – maybe there's a message for us all in there – but it could also be that once he's got a mission to concentrate on, he's just got a lot less free time for being a dick.
Lafferty's Afterlife universe is fascinating. Multiple cultural Heaven's – all interconnected – some aware of each other, and others less so. The novella wraps up pretty sharply, a limitation of the form itself, but also the initial serialisation of the Afterlife series has led Lafferty to do the same with the novellas. Heaven ends abruptly and makes it pretty clear that the mission is far from complete. The title of the next novella, Hell should provide a big clue as to the direction (if that's not enough, there's a sneak peak of the sequel at the end)....more
Another one from the Waterstones London books display that Louise and I bought too many books from (I keep thinking I've read them all then I find anoAnother one from the Waterstones London books display that Louise and I bought too many books from (I keep thinking I've read them all then I find another one in one of my many piles of unread books), The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare, this popped to the top of my to-read list after listening to Will Self chose it as his favourite cultural work on an episode of Front Row recently. He had recently re-read it, back-to-back with Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent, so I decided to do the same – see my review of The Secret Agent already published. And the parallels make sense: both published within a year of each other; both deal with the Anarchism in London at the time
My copy comes with an introduction, and a set of edited footnotes, by Matthew Beaumont. This introduction begins with the warning: "First-time readers should be aware that details of the plot are revealed in this Introduction" and like a fool I breezed past the signs – how much are they going to give away in the introduction? Turns out, a lot. More a criticism of the novel than a straight introduction it pretty much tears the whole plot apart, laying bare all the surprises and plot twists in front of the idiot reader. After the novel I think it would have made perfect sense; once I'd started it was like an accident in slow motion – I knew I should skip ahead, but I just couldn't. The footnotes though I found irritating for other reasons. Firstly, they aren't footnotes, they're at the end of the book and I hate having to flick back and forth to read the notes. If they're that important put them at the bottom of the page where I can just glance down. Secondly though, many of them just weren't that important and it felt a bit like I was wasting calories flicking those pages each time just in case the note would bring some insight that I'd otherwise miss. We are informed that "new women" is a code for feminists; that a "crême-de-menthe" is a syrupy mint liqueur; that a "screw" can refer to a cylindrical mechanical appliance or a thumbscrew; that Harrow is a public school on the edge of London or that "Albert Hall" refers to the Royal Albert Hall, a theatre in London. All facts that some people won't know to be sure, but also facts that the knowing adds so little to the story, could be inferred from the context, or flicking back to the footnote becomes a distraction.
Once we get beyond the publication, and concentrate on the text, we have a truly amazing story, the likes of which I don't think I've every read before. Gabriel Syme starts to taunt an anarchist speaker, Lucien Gregory (Beaumont is keen to point out that we're supposed to have noticed that these are Gabriel and Lucifer), for not being anarchist enough. Talking is just talking, but doing is where the real anarchists should be. Before long, after extracting a promise that he not tell the Police about anything he sees there, Lucien has dragged Gabriel along to the meeting of the London branch of the New Anarchists where he expects to be elected as the new Thursday to the Central Anarchist Council. Each following chapter peels back a layer, as first Gabriel Syme's secret is revealed to Lucien (under a promise not to tell the other anarchists), then the secrets of the Central Anarchist Council are revealed one after another as each member of the council is broken down in turn. I'm still not quite sure why anarchists feel the need to have meetings, secret codes, branches in London (or other cities) or any kind of central council. Aren't anarchists supposed to be less about the formal structures?
Finally, for those smart enough to resist the urge to read spoiler introductions, but not to resist the urge to read spoilers in Goodreads reviews (view spoiler)[I'll just say that Syme gets elected as Thursday instead of Lucien, Syme is also a policeman, all the members of the Central Anarchist Council turn out to be undercover policemen, and Sunday, the leader of the council, also turns out to be the leader of the police force (hide spoiler)] – so there!["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Waterstones had a display of books set in London and we bought a few. I think this is the last one I had left to read, only to discover that the bookWaterstones had a display of books set in London and we bought a few. I think this is the last one I had left to read, only to discover that the book isn't set in London at all. London features heavily in the book as somewhere they want to get to — in fact they want to get through London and out to the coast — but starting west of London they never quite make it. That said, their quest to reach London still makes the city feel like a character. Just out of scene, aspirational, but a character that they keep searching for and referring to.
48 years before a test explosion in space leaves the whole world sterilized. Once the sickness settles down and the radiation deaths slow down the world is left with an ageing population – an ageing population that can't have children. Algy and Martha were just children during the year of sterilization. Now, in their 50s, they are the youngsters in their community. Their leaders are increasingly old and increasingly paranoid, so they decide to take off, head down the Thames, and try and get to London, then hopefully onto the coast beyond.
Aldiss presents the touching tale of the travels of this group, as they pick up a handful of other disaffected community members on their way out, the story is also interspersed with flashbacks as we find out about Algy's and Martha's childhood meeting and their time in Douche (Documentation of Contemporary History – England). More touchingly, we come to understand how important the lack of any children has become to these people. As they grown older there is no one to look after them, as they die there will be nobody to replace them. Everybody lives with the knowledge that, as a species, we are dying out. Phantom pregnancies, rumours of freak shows of deformed half-human children, and con-men offering all sorts of life extending treatments all seem to spring out of this desire for things to be different. Even Douche itself is the vain hope that humanity needs to make sure there is some legacy, even if it's only information, to leave for the children that everybody hopes will come again if the radiation levels fall and somehow the sterility is reversed before they're all too old to even have children, let alone raise them....more
Waterstones was having a promotion of books featuring London and I'd heard good things about China Miéville so I added it to the pile. What I hadn't aWaterstones was having a promotion of books featuring London and I'd heard good things about China Miéville so I added it to the pile. What I hadn't appreciated was that Un Lun Dun is in fact a children's book - maybe aiming for a slightly younger audience than the young-adult novels that seem so popular at the moment. While it's a whopping 521 pages, the print is somewhat large and the text is liberally littered with little sketches of something from that point in the story.
Once I got over the 'disappointment' that this wasn't a 'proper' novel, I was able to settle in to it pretty quickly. And it's a truely delightful story. Subverting and referencing so many of the genre tropes, it's a book that is literally packed with fabulously clever ideas. The worry is always that when an author is so keen to fit clever ideas into a novel that the plot and characterisation will suffer - not so here. Mieville has a clear plot laid out where two young London girls find themselves in a parallel Un Lun Dun world. Before long, of course, we find out that Un Lun Dun is a city in dire peril - although luckily there is a prophesy that a young girl, and her friend, will appear and save them. So far so predictable. And that's when Miéville takes his cue to start messing with the rules...
Delightful, again, is the key word for this book for me - the story, the characters (especially the vast cast of secondary characters) and the drawings too. Nothing feels wasted, nothing feels dumbed down for 'the kids'. My only real complaint is the use of 'youth language' - the "inits" just felt a little too forced, and a little too frequent. If this is how China Miéville writes children's books I'm going to have to add some of his older fiction to my to-read list....more
"Later, as he sat on the balcony eating the dog, Doctor Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment b
"Later, as he sat on the balcony eating the dog, Doctor Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months."
A casually disturbing opening line had me pretty much hooked from the start. While dystopian-future books are currently all the rage in science-fiction circles, this is more of a dystopian present. Although possibly seeming far fetched when it was written in 1975, now in 2012 high-rises are springing up all over the docklands area of London. Ballard presents us the first of such high-rises, built just near where I live - it's set in an unspecified dockland area north of the river on a bend. Sounds pretty much like Victoria Docks or somewhere very near there.
The titular high-rise, is the first of a two high-rise development. Once the tower is full, slowly things start to go wrong. Lift's break down, electricity supply failures, etc. Initially the residents blame these failures on the development itself, but before long they're blaming each other. Then then trouble really starts as the residents form into gangs and the whole apartment block descends into Lord of the Flies style chaos.
Living in an apartment block, the whole story rang all too true. The slightest problems with your neighbours rapidly escalate into all kinds of bitter blame games. Rubbish in the wrong bins, late night parties or parking in the wrong parking spaces - all things that you start to believe your neighbours are doing deliberately to annoy you.
The only annoyances with the book were a couple of Americanisms - elevator rather than lift for example - and an annoying misprint half way through the book that duplicated the first half of a sentence at the expense of the second half. Neither of which really detracted from a fascinating idea that's excellently told....more
The Book of Dave isn't here to make your life as a reader easy. It's a book that kicks sand in the face of the casual, more easily distracted, reader.The Book of Dave isn't here to make your life as a reader easy. It's a book that kicks sand in the face of the casual, more easily distracted, reader. I first started it back in 2008, and I wasn't focused enough. The book became harder and harder to follow. So I gave up, less than a quarter of the way through, and popped it back on the shelf. Since then it has sat there, like a guilty secret, a book by one of my favourite authors – unfinished. Calling to me, mocking me, asking me if I felt happy with it sitting there unfinished on my bookcase.
It wasn't that I didn't like the book, I always wanted to finish it. But, the book is written in a deliberately confusing style and I got distracted. The chapters alternate between a 'present day' (early 2000s) and a future, post-apocalyptic, time. Both stories are set in London, but one is the London of the 1980-2000s, and the other is the London of the 500-520s AD (After Dave). The present-day story tells the tale of a London cabbie, Dave Rudman, a somewhat pathetic character who it seems you are to both pity and feel disgusted by, as he meets a woman, has a son, gets divorced, and has a total mental breakdown. During that breakdown Dave writes a book, his manifesto, and he buries it in the Hampstead back garden of his estranged wife for his son to find. The future chapters tell of a small village, Ham, where Hampstead used to be. The rest of London is flooded, and Dave's book has been discovered several hundred years ago before, and somehow, the ravings of a depressed cabbie have spawned an entire religion.
Not only do the chapters alternate between the two parallel stories, they also jump around in time. Neither story is told in a linear fashion, although both stories jump forwards and backwards in parallel. If this isn't going to be confusing enough, both stories are written with a phonetic approach to dialogue. The present-day characters speak a phonetic cockney that frequently has to be read aloud (at least in your head) to understand it. However, the future dialogue, Self has taken to a totally different level. Again, the dialogue is written phonetically, but it's a made-up 'mockni' language. As a crutch, of sorts, for the poor reader, Self has provided a glossary at the end so you can keep referring back to that when you hit a word you don't understand. But even then, lots of words aren't in the glossary. Some of these you can guess from context, others you have to read aloud (in your head isn't always good enough – cue strange looks on the bus), sometimes in a funny cockney accent, before your brain will make the connection and the conversation will become clear. As a final nail in the coffin of easy to understand dialogue, Self has dispensed with any form of quotation mark and instead you have to rely entirely on context to understand where the spoken sections start and stop. To be fair, the lack of quotation marks isn't nearly as limiting as you'd think – I soon barely noticed them not being there – and while the regularly flicking back to the glossary is hard work at first, as the book progresses you find yourself needing to do it less and less (so long as you're not getting distracted while you're reading that is).
The book is maybe a little longer than it needs to be, and maybe a little bit more confusing than it needs to be. But, the premise of the story is fascinating, and Self's love of language for its own sake shines through. The parallels between the two stories is expertly done – the more you read, the more you spot the hidden clues and connections. So many parallels could be explained just by the presence of the book of Dave, the future culture has been built entirely around his warped view of the world, their language is a degeneration of the already obtuse cockney spoken, and presumably written, by Dave himself. But Self takes it still further. You notice that some characters in the two stories have very similar names. Initially, I assumed this was coincidence, maybe they named themselves after people in the book, but as the story unfolds you realise that the parallels run much deeper than that. I'm glad that I forced myself to go back to it, and glad that I persevered when even this second reading seemed to be going so slowly – two weeks to read less than 500 pages is very slow for me....more
Piers Anthony is the man who just can't let a good finished series lie. Initially a trilogy, the Apprentice Adept series ends with Phaze and Proton sePiers Anthony is the man who just can't let a good finished series lie. Initially a trilogy, the Apprentice Adept series ends with Phaze and Proton separated forever, with no possibility of renewed contact. Five years after finishing the first three books, Anthony returns to the series with another trilogy and a final stand-alone novel. I read the initial trilogy back in the early 90s, and re-read them in 2011 in preparation for finishing off the series with these later books. Although nearly two years since I finished Juxtaposition it has been 20 years within the story. Stile and Lady Blue have raised Bane; Citizen Blue and Sheen have produced and raised their robot child, Mach.
The first chapter of the novel is almost entirely exposition, and not particularly well done exposition at that. I thought I had a pretty good handle on the ending of the previous trilogy and where everybody was, but reading the exposition in Out of Phaze made me doubt what I remembered and managed to confuse me no end. Robots now have serf status on Proton and aliens are also an accepted class of serf. The catch-up is presented to us as the young robot Mach explaining his world and his family to a new alien, Agape, he finds himself having to entertain at the game. Obviously, with the worlds split apart forever, Anthony has to find a way around his ending. This time, instead of any ability to physically move from one frame to another, we find that Mach and Bane – if they both want it and happen to be in the exact same place at the same time – are able to swap places psychically. Yeah, that's a lot of ifs, buts, conditions and coincidences.
Initially, Mach is surprised to find himself in the Phaze frame, and the fact that he is almost unprepared to accept what has happened means that he comes close to dying a number of times almost immediately. Bane, however, we find out when we switch to his PoV was really the instigator for the switch. He had been using his magic and tracking a sort of psychic 'feeling' of Mach to home in on his location. Almost immediately, both Bane and Mach fall in love with their counterpart's female friends (strong flashbacks to the first trilogy here) – Bane with the alien Agape and Mach with the unicorn Fleta. As with seemingly all Piers Anthony, there's a strong undercurrent of sex in the story. Bane appears to have indulged in a reasonable amount of casual bestiality with both unicorns and vampires. Mach has to indulge in a fairly heavy bout of bestiality with Fleta while she is in heat, in order to stop her having to leave to find another herd to 'service' her. It's never quite clear whether all this sex is while she is in her unicorn or human shape, but I'm hoping it was the latter. Meanwhile Agape almost immediately expects Bane to 'teach her the ways of human love' and he doesn't waste a bunch of time.
While the novel felt strongly that it was an attempt to extend the series beyond his original plan and consequently repeated a lot of those ideas, tweaked slightly. Somehow in spite of all its flaws, I enjoyed it....more
The first, and eponymous, novel in the Halting State series – Charles Stross's stories set in a slightly futuristic Edinburgh. Scotland is now an indeThe first, and eponymous, novel in the Halting State series – Charles Stross's stories set in a slightly futuristic Edinburgh. Scotland is now an independent European state; the Police wear augmented reality glasses connected up to CopSpace; and a gang of Orcs have robbed a bank. A bank in a computer game. Think World of Warcraft (I assume, although I have seen the adverts), and a bunch of Orcs stealing game items from the safety deposit boxes in the game. Obviously, like now, these in-game items have actual value in the real world – the news is always keen to tell us tales of people buying and selling in-game stuff, on eBay, out here in the real world. Unfortunately (for the company that runs the bank) somebody decides to call in the police rather than keeping it quiet and our story begins.
We follow the story through three point-of-view characters – Sue, a sergeant in the Edinburgh police; Elaine, an auditor at the company that insure the company that run the bank, she is brought into the case due to her gaming hobby and then the rest of the team promptly dump the case on her; and Jack, a recently sacked genius game developer, just back from a somewhat bleary trip to Amsterdam to try and forget his firing, who is brought in as a consultant to the auditor Elaine as he just happens to have exactly the right skills. Initially, we're introduced to them apart; with Sue in Edinburgh, Elaine in London and Jack in Amsterdam but it's pretty obvious that they are all going to meet up before too long. And this is where it gets messy.
Each of the characters take turns to tell the story – first Sue, then Elaine, then Jack; and back to Sue again. However, each of the three points-of-view are shared with us in a second-person narrative. Instead of the much simpler "Sue did this, Elaine did this, Jack did this, someone else did something else" we're treated to repeated shocking leaps from inside one character on to the next. Each one, in turn, described to us as if it were us – "You do this, then You do that, then you do the other". Which would be less confusing if it were just one character for the book, but with three characters, you have to mentally keep track of which character you're supposed to be. There are fewer clues in the prose than with other narrative styles.
I can see why Stross thought it would be cool. With the major theme of the novel being immersive gaming it took me back to those choose-your-own-adventure books as a child – "You are standing in the nave of a seventeenth-century church, its intricately carved stone surfaces dimly illuminated by candles." etc. And to be fair to him, it kinda is a little bit cool. I think Stross is the only author I've ever read to use the technique (choose-your-own-adventure books aside), but it does get a little frustrating at times. And I'm not convinced it was every cool enough to justify the second book, Rule 34, being written in the same style.
I read the two out of order, but that certainly didn't matter. While Rule 34 is set in the same universe and uses one of the non-PoV cops from this story, there is no dependency or spoiler potential. Of the two I preferred this one. The second-person narrative seemed less awkward here. The use of geeky terminology seemed less forced. I think Halting State is just a better story. I think I may have overrated Charles Stross's Rule 34. I liked it too, but I'm not sure I really liked it as much as this one....more
The fourth Bourne novel, but the first without Robert Ludlum at the helm. Sadly it shows, and Eric Van Lustbader's inexperience shines through. InexpeThe fourth Bourne novel, but the first without Robert Ludlum at the helm. Sadly it shows, and Eric Van Lustbader's inexperience shines through. Inexperience, or possibly pressure from the publishers to get the book out there. Lustbader seems to feel nervous in the early parts of the novel and falls back on some overly purple-prose and alliterative-adjectives to cover up the lack of action. Instead these become a huge distraction themselves. Once the story kicks in the 'style' becomes much less obvious and Lustbader seems to find a pace he feels more comfortable with.
For no apparent reason Jason Bourne, as David Webb, is targeted for assassination by Khan (an uber-assassin (view spoiler)[who also believes he is Bourne's long-dead son (hide spoiler)]). However both Khan and Bourne are being played against each other by a shadowy, power-hungry, figure – Spalko – who is pulling their (and other people's) strings for his own, unknown, purposes. They are led a merry chase from the US to France, to Hungary and then on to Iceland for the well-telegraphed anti-terrorism summit.
While the story is exciting, and you're always rooting for Bourne (and at some points for Khan too), the story between Bourne and Khan is almost totally unconnected to the story with Spalko and the Icelandic summit. Spalko triggers the Bourne/Khan sub-plot, but it serves no purpose toward his main objective. He would almost certainly have stood more chance of success if he'd not tried to get Bourne involved at all. Bourne would have stayed at home mourning the deaths of his friends, but that would have been it.
After four novels of the series, we're all pretty aware that Bourne is a super-spy. His training from Conklin in Vietnam made him the best in the world. Yet, repeatedly, Khan is able to follow him without Bourne noticing. Khan is able to 'guess' the direction Bourne has taken. And all to often, Khan manages to get to where Bourne is going before Bourne does. Pretty impressive when you're following someone. Even more impressive when you're following someone who isn't too sure where he's going himself.
Finally, further proof to me that this book was a rushed job, with the Ludlum estate pressuring Lustbader to get something out there quickly to capitalise on the success of the Bourne Identity film, was that the book having been split into three sections, had them labelled: parts one and two, but followed by book three? The book reeked of rushed cashing in – the only saving grace being the somewhat exciting pace of the story.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
With both lesbians and a stereotypical black reverend from the West Indies, Unnatural Death was always going to generate strong opinions in some revieWith both lesbians and a stereotypical black reverend from the West Indies, Unnatural Death was always going to generate strong opinions in some reviewers. The lesbian characters are generally handled by Sayers side-stepping the subject completely. They are friends, companions, even devoted to each other, but the L-word is never used. It's clear to us what they are, just as it's clear to us that one of them has murdered the other – the only questions are how and why? I think Sayers tries to side-step the race issue as well – the Reverend Hallelujah Dawson is a convenient hook for the story. A character that can be both foreign and illegitimate (to avoid the inheritance issues) as well as somebody the reader can find above reproach (as a reverend) but who the characters and storyline can easily try to frame exactly because he is all of those things. The side-stepping works much less well here though, some of the descriptions and choice of words will leave a modern reader cringing. Obviously, Sayers is a product of her time – as are her characters – aren't we all though?
The novel otherwise is my favourite Lord Peter Wimsey story, so far. Clouds of Witness fell short for me due to the lack of regular doses of both Wimsey and Bunter. Along with Parker, they are much more apparent in this story. Driving the story forward much more than previously – sometimes dangerously so. Maybe this is just part of Sayers becoming comfortable with Wimsey and his cast of regulars – this is only the third book in the series after all. Instead of the conventional who-dun-it formula, Unnatural Death is more of a how-dun-it. We know pretty early on who the villain is, mostly because everybody who's investigating it has clearly made up their minds – it couldn't be anyone else unless Sayers really has got a weird twist at the end – instead Wimsey is trying to find out why (I mean, a little deeper than just for the money) and how she killed her partner....more
Everybody with even a passing acquaintance of cycling as a sport has probably heard of Eddy Merckx. Anybody who has an interest in the sport will alsoEverybody with even a passing acquaintance of cycling as a sport has probably heard of Eddy Merckx. Anybody who has an interest in the sport will also know that Merckx was the greatest cyclist the sport has had – 'The greatest there is; the greatest there was; the greatest there ever will be' to steal (and change) a line from Bret Hart. What I didn't realise until I read this book was quite how great that great was. That such a cyclist doesn't seem to have written an autobiography, let alone had it translated into English, seems like a great oversight. An oversight that William Fotheringham and Daniel Friebe both seem to have decided to resolve; both releasing their own biographies of Merckx in the same year. I'm sure I'll read them both eventually but, due to some birthday book vouchers last year, I got to read Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike first.
Covering the full range of Merckx's career – from his early amateur races when other riders would often not bother turning up when he rode; the first rider (and still only?) to win the amateur world championship and the professional world championship (which he won three times); winning the Tour de France and the Giro in the same year – three times no less – even taking all the jerseys; through his career changing crash; and ending with his retirement. His win rate was prolific, according to Wikipedia he won at least 25% of the races he entered for seven straight years, peaking at 45% in 1971. Numerous times in the book, Fotheringham explains how Merckx charged off to win races that he clearly didn't need to, just because he could. Although Fotheringham's journalistic background shows through in what is a hugely researched and fact rich book, he does manage to stop it being a dry read, although this is more due to his choice of source material than his prose per se. What he does do though is step back and let the story tell itself around the facts and figures.
I thought I knew a bit about Merckx, although he was a little before my time (he retired before I was 10). I was a cycling fan – I'd read articles about the man before. But I'd barely scratched the surface of either the races he won or the depth of his career. A must read for any fan of cycle sport, now I need to snag a copy of Friebe's Eddy Merckx: The Cannibal and read that too......more
This book broke my heart. Twice. Pantani was one of my favourite cyclists to watch - not always sensible or successful, but when he attacked, he couldThis book broke my heart. Twice. Pantani was one of my favourite cyclists to watch - not always sensible or successful, but when he attacked, he could be like poetry on a bike. Unfortunately, like Pantani, this book is inconsistent, and only 'good in parts'. Firstly, as others have pointed out, the first third of the book is a struggle to read. Rendell has obviously been meticulous in his research. Interviewing people, who I'm surprised would be willing to speak to a journalist. And that shows. But somehow that passion for the subject never quite translates onto the page. Instead what we get is a pretty disjointed list of facts and quotes. Interspersed in a way that makes a dry presentation just confusing. In his appendix, Rendell admits that that book was delivered under very tight deadlines and it certainly shows in the first third of the book. The notable redemption is the incredibly fair and balanced way Rendell treats each of his sources - quotes that are obviously coloured, biased, or frankly misleading are presented without disection. You never feel that he's using or looking down on his interviewees, they are all part of the story of Pantani, and all have their own reasons for wanting to remember things the way they do.
The middle section, where Rendell has Pantani moving from his amateur career into the professional peloton, undergoes a stark change of style. I wonder if this is the point where Matt is able to write from his own direct experiences, rather than relying on the interviews of the first third. Suddenly, the passion that Matt threatens to write in the first third appears here. We get the same detailed and balanced explanation of Pantani's career, but the confusing sections of quotations are significantly reduced, and there is a strong sense of being there as Pantani races to his wins and as he crashes and burns in the losses. Here we are introduced to the beginning of Pantani's downfall. The rumours of drug use, the pschological problems, the managers and support staff who seem more interested in keeping him racing than keeping him sane. Throughout it all, Rendell continues his same presentation of facts as a balanced account, not actively judging, but leaving the reader to decide for themselves. While the drugs and the psychological problems aren't really going to be a surprise to anybody even vaguely interested in Pantani, I was surprised during this section, to get the feeling that Rendell was hinting at a possible homosexual leaning for Pantani - although never actually stating it - a suggestion that he also returns to in the appendix where he says there were rumours at the time.
The final section broke my heart again. It describes, as best it can, Pantani's descent into the personal hell that led to his eventual death in that hotel room. The repeated missed opportunities to take action to help Pantani, completely ignored by those in position to help him. Each time preferring to ignore the problems, sweep them under the carpet, assume they'll just disappear if not really dealt with. Family, management, friends, colleagues. All of them fed his addictions, ignored his psychological problems and forced him to keep cycling even though he was in no condition to do so. Rendell may not judge them, but I found it hard not to after reading this book....more
Having just read Lee Child's Echo Burning, Bob Quinn's Talisa Creek felt very familiar. Both set in the same location - a small farm in Texas. Both feHaving just read Lee Child's Echo Burning, Bob Quinn's Talisa Creek felt very familiar. Both set in the same location - a small farm in Texas. Both feature Armadillos. Both feature abused wives. Both feature very nasty land owners. While Echo Burning had Jack Reacher as it's protagonist, Talisa Creek starts our introduction to Drummond "Drum" Chase. Drum is an English journalist who travels to Talisa Creek to find his estranged brother - John. The comparison is interesting though, as Quinn appears to be trying to step into the same mould as Child with this thriller.
As a debut, self-published, novel I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting. The spate of self-publishing recently appears to have led to a large increase in the number of books being published - and the quality isn't always that even. Editing (or lack thereof) is a regular complaint, and this book is no different. Too many typos and malformed sentences; sections that probably confuse the reader more than adding anything to the story - the introduction for example. That said, Talisa Creek is a solid entrance for a new author, Quinn redeems himself with some solidly interesting characters and a suspenseful plot that keeps you guessing to the end - I genuinely feared that it might not come good in the end......more
Many years ago my dad went through a phase of trying to improve me - sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. One of his attempts was this book. HMany years ago my dad went through a phase of trying to improve me - sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. One of his attempts was this book. He bought it for me as a present back in 1986. Twenty-six years later, I've just read it, and I don't think it worked.
Willy Loman is a salesman at the end of his career and his life. A life he's spent chasing 'the American Dream' apparently pretty unsuccessfully. He's full of big dreams and an over-exaggerated sense of past achievements. His family all seem to buy into this vision, yet they seem to be living a pretty hand-to-mouth existence. Willy and Linda's children, Biff and Happy, both seem to have struggled to live up their father's optimistically high expectations for them - Biff is an itinerant farm-hand and Happy is a office assistant. Biff is struggling to come to terms with the fact that his choice makes him happy but disappoints his father, while Happy appears to be heading down the route of emulating his father's behaviours. These mismatches, between what he believes he should have and what he actually has, also appears to have driven him into a state of clinical depression.
As other reviews have already suggested, I imagine this works much better on the stage than on the page. None of the characters are particularly likeable, or even that interesting as individuals. Hopefully the benefit of a cast brings a level of depth to the characters that allows the play to work....more
James Bond returns after ten years away in this light, but entertaining read, License Renewed. I say License Renewed because I got the American prinJames Bond returns after ten years away in this light, but entertaining read, License Renewed. I say License Renewed because I got the American printing, replete with freeways and all the expected mis-spellings, the original British version was called, correctly, Licence Renewed. Bond is called in to assist MI5 and Special Branch with an investigation into a known terrorist who's entered Great Britain. M puts Bond in, undercover, independent of them both, and before you know it tracing a terrorist has led Bond into a mad-scientist scheme that puts the world's nuclear power stations at risk of total meltdown.
The Americanisation of my copy seems somewhat apt though as the character of the novel is also somewhat out of kilter with its past. The Bond of John Gardner is much more modern, more confident, more reliant on gadgets – "gee-whizzes" as Gardner would have them (he claims in his introduction to have gone to some lengths to ensure the accuracy of all of Bonds gadgets) – and consequently much less fallible and much less believable (he is also a less cruel Bond which may suit some readers better). In fact, it seems like Gardner may have spent too much time studying the Bond movie canon and not enough on the novel. That said, I guess it's not all bad. Roger Moore (my least favourite Bond actor) was at the height of his Bond run at the time and Gardner's Bond looks positively Daniel Craig next to Moore in For Your Eyes Only which came out the same year.
The ten year gap is also odd. Rather than just ignoring it completely, Gardner deliberately explains this away as the British government's attempts to diminish the role of MI6 – M has only managed to keep Bond on in his old role by changing the name of the Double-O division to the Special Services division, leaving Bond as the only remaining 00 agent with a license to kill, but also leaving much less work than Bond really needs to fill his time. However, with this book coming out in 1981, and Colonel Sun having been published in 1968, that actually leaves a gap of 13 years. Gardner appears to be trying to place his book slap into the 80s, and ends up trying to drag the previous books from the 60s into the 70s. I don't understand why he bothered, and I don't understand why having bothered he didn't make the dates actually match up.
It's fun though, I raced through it pretty quickly and I definitely enjoyed myself while reading it. But, like Amis, he isn't Fleming, nor is this Fleming's Bond. In fact, Amis was a lot closer. Gardner did manage to write 14 Bond novels though, so hopefully he improves. I'm sure I'll find out....more