An impassioned plea for Goodreads to stop the madness. To stop arbitrarily deleting 'reviews' just because they aren't simple book reports. To stop ch...moreAn impassioned plea for Goodreads to stop the madness. To stop arbitrarily deleting 'reviews' just because they aren't simple book reports. To stop changing the rules of reviewing without actually telling Goodreads members. To stop refusing to explain, discuss, or entertain the possibility that they might have messed up a bit here.
What started as a "complicated prank" has become a collection of essays, deleted reviews, parody reviews, personal stories and saddest of all goodbye letters. Exposing and discussing the censorship, the inconsistency and even trying to drill down into some of the data to see if there are any patterns (spoiler: there doesn't seem to be). The ebook is available from Lulu for the cost of production only, also some contributing authors have posted free to download links for the book. Download and read – it won't take that long.
I have voted for this book as a write-in vote for the Goodreads Choice Awards 2013 in both the Non-Fiction and Début Goodreads Author categories. Apparently Goodreads uses the average rating of the book to 'weigh' the validity of write-in votes (presumably as part of their decision to censor those votes - but I digress) so I've also rated the book five stars. I encourage others to do the same (even if you feel the need to re-rate the book after the awards have closed).
I leave the final word to the (former) owner of Goodreads:
"I hope you’ll appreciate that if we just start deleting ratings whenever we feel like it, that we’ve gone down a censorship road that doesn’t take us to a good place." — Otis Y. Chandler, Goodreads CEO(less)
Suze Clemitson was a voice on twitter: @festinagirl. A smart voice who obviously understood cycling and was desperate for it to get better - vocal and...moreSuze Clemitson was a voice on twitter: @festinagirl. A smart voice who obviously understood cycling and was desperate for it to get better - vocal and opinionated. When she announced that she was starting a blog of essays from the history of the Tour de France I added it to my feed reader and watched the collection grow. Unfortunately, I'm not good at reading online, so I ended up skim-reading large chunks and missing several years. My loss.
Eventually, once the blog had reached the 100th Tour de France (not 100 years since the first Tour de France of course, that was a few years ago), she hit upon the wheeze of collecting these essays up, updating a few of them with additional information regarding some recent doping revelations and questions around the new oldest ever winner of a Grand Tour: Chris Horner, into an ebook format. A bargain at £5 available from Velocast.cc. She's added new material to the blog too. It's far from just the base material for this collection, it continues to grow with new essays, articles and strong opinions.
But, back to the book itself. Split into twenty-odd chapters, each covering an 'era' of up to five consecutive years. Then each individual Tour de France has it's own section within one of those chapters. Right from the start it's clear that Clemitson's approach is going to be both personal and irreverent. From the very early tours we read about the facial whiskers that Wiggins could be jealous of and almost immediately that the Dutch "De befborstel" is the term for a moustache specifically grown to pleasure a woman – if I could just work that into a conversation at work!
What this book isn't is a list of stats, of winners and losers, lengths, heights, facts or figures. If that's the kind of Tour de France book you're after, then this isn't for you. What it is though is a series of stories that have helped the Tour into its place in history. Anecdotes, myths and legends. From the 1903 winner, Maurice Garin, through to Chris Froome's 2013 win. Clemitson makes no claim that all these stories are equally true, but surely even the most repeated (and embellished) story had a kernel of truth in it somewhere? Some are based around her own visits to watch the Tour, others taken from the extensive list of research books at the end of the book. Part memoir, part exploration of all the reasons why Clemitson is in love with the Tour. Topics explored include doping (obviously) and other forms of non-drug based cheating, but also the stupidity of some of the Tour's rules, definitions of panache, why some riders are hated and others adored.
The book took me a bit of a while to read – three weeks! But, that's a reflection on the amount of good reading in the book rather than it being a bit of a slog. And if long books scare you, don't worry. Just treat this as either 21 chapters or 100 essays to break it down into smaller more manageable chunks – I was managing a chapter a day. But for any fan of the Tour who wants to learn a bit more of the history and mythology of the Tour, and if you're happy to ignore the (very) occasional typo, this is a hard-to-beat collection of stories.(less)
The second book in the Louise Recommends challenge – where Louise gets to force a book on me every three months. She said Donna Tartt's The Secret Hi...moreThe second book in the Louise Recommends challenge – where Louise gets to force a book on me every three months. She said Donna Tartt's The Secret History was her favourite book – of all time – what if I didn't like it? So determined was she that, having misplaced her own copy, she went out and bought a new one just so I would have no excuse. Reading the sleeve notes it's a novel about a bunch of kids studying classics at university. Sounded pretty dull. I saved it up for a nice long flight to Boston (I hate that the flight attendants get totally overworked about reading a Kindle during take-off and landing, so now I just take at least two big paperbacks with me as well – this trip I took five, but those reviews will hopefully come later) and read pretty much three-quarters of it on that flight. The remaining chapters I raced through in the next two days inbetween exploring beautiful autumnal Boston.
Luckily, it's not dull. Far from it. It's not even really that much about kids studying classics. Instead what it actually is, is a tightly crafted murder mystery. Although without much of the mystery – we know that Bunny is going to die pretty much from the first page; and we know that the rest of the group are all party to the murder. But we don't know how it's going to happen and we don't know when. Even more confusingly, Tartt continues to break with agreed murder-mystery traditions by having the murder, that we already know about, take place slap-bang in the middle of the book. Suddenly you're left wondering what the remaining 324 pages are going to be about. But, don't worry, it's all perfectly handled. The two halves of the book are like the two sides of a hill. The first half takes us into the cast, the situation and the build up to the murder – the reasons why the characters believe the murder has to happen – then the second half is the fall-out, the repercussions (and there are always repercussions even if there's no Poirot character to sort the whole mess out with his little grey cells) and the recriminations as the group tries to come to terms with what it's done.
Our narrator is Richard Papen and, while the story revolves entirely around his experiences, he seems somewhat unreliable. He lies quite openly during his story on several occasions, sometimes drawing attention to it in his narration, sometimes just letting us spot the lies for what they are. Obviously that throws the rest of his story into some doubt, and while that's not really a problem, it does potentially add another layer of confusion. Richard is a young lad struggling to find his place at college, when he decides to apply to transfer to Hampden College: a university in Vermont. Here his need to be accepted by peer groups takes on a new life. Or two new lives to more specific. In one he's living the shallow university dream of booze, drugs, girls and hangovers, and not really enjoying it too much. In the other he attaches himself to a very select teaching group of misfit students – Henry, Bunny, Camilla, Charles and Francis – and their teacher Julian Morrow. This is the only group he teaches and his condition is that he is the only teacher they have. An already perfectly formed clique that Richard is desperate to be a part of. Actually, the whole cast of the novel are misfits, from the students, to the teachers, and even further out to the families and parents. There's barely a likeable character in the book. Yet somehow, Tartt manages to make this weird sounding book about a bunch of pretty unlikeable classics nerds who commit a murder of one of their own, and where the murder is clearly explained on page one, and has happened by the middle of the book, totally gripping. I had to put the book down frequently during those two days because I was on holiday and supposed to be out doing stuff, but I didn't want to.(less)
All this time I had been clear in my mind that George Smiley was a spy master and that John le Carré writes spy novels. A Murder of Quality, the seco...moreAll this time I had been clear in my mind that George Smiley was a spy master and that John le Carré writes spy novels. A Murder of Quality, the second novel in the George Smiley series, blew both of those assumptions away completely. While you could argue that Smiley is technically a spy, he's retired from the service. When his friend and former colleague from their days in the intelligence services, Ailsa Brimley, receives a paranoid letter from a subscriber to her magazine, The Christian Voice, the wife of a schoolteacher claiming that her husband intends to kill her. Brim is determined to make sure she investigates the claim from such a loyal subscriber and so she goes to the only man she knows who can advise her: George Smiley.
There are no spies here, no moles, no cold war, no double-cross at Checkpoint Charlie. This is a straight up murder mystery, but one that sets up Smiley's understated detecting capabilities perfectly: a murder committed exactly as in the letter but the husband has a solid alibi. Luckily, Smiley has a tenuous connection with a colleague of the husband and sees an opportunity to take advantage of the rules of politeness and invite himself down to the school to have a poke around. Before long Smiley and the local detective are secretly working the case together: Detective Inspector Rigby the official side of the investigation and Smiley the eyes and ears in the school itself – asking the questions in a way that the police never could.
Of course Smiley's going to solve the case, that's never in doubt. And, while the story is your typical murder mystery, le Carré never really plays into that trope of letting the reader play along and pit themselves against the detective. Instead he seems to want you to just sit in for the ride, watching Smiley's methods, learning how he operates. To some extent it feels like a primer for the Smiley we can expect in the rest of the novels, but that also felt like the skill of the novel. At no point did I really want to compete with Smiley, I was enjoying the novel too damn much...(less)
There can be few better recommendations for any book than that you continuously feel the need to read excepts out to those around you, no matter what...moreThere can be few better recommendations for any book than that you continuously feel the need to read excepts out to those around you, no matter what they are doing (or what else they are trying to read themselves). "Oh, this one is great."; "Just this one and I'll stop."; "Ah, wait, this one is really good too.". I've only felt the need to do this with two books this year — this one because I was really enjoying it, the other because it was just so ridiculous in places.
The Etymologicon is a book of words. Well, technically all books are books of words (except picture books), but this one is about words, words and phrases. The origins of words more specifically. Each chapter digs into the origin of a word or phrase, starting with the phrase "a turn up for the books", and exploring it's meaning, it's origin, other words or phrases that share the same origins and wandering around in a sort of a rambling conversation that is interesting, funny, and by chance also educational. Somehow, like that word game in the newspaper, Forsyth starts the chapter with one word and manages to wind the conversation through to end on another, explaining his train of thought as he goes. This final word, then becomes the starting word for the next chapter.
Some of the chapters about two-thirds of the way through feel a little short and rushed, but in the main each chapter gave me something to annoy Louise with. The final chapter contains the clever twist-in-the-tail, ending as it does with the start phrase of the first chapter. Neatly closing the loop.
A short review, because I really can't think of much I didn't like about this book, so my complaints are minimal. Absolutely recommended even if you have only ever had a passing wonder about language and where some of our more esoteric parts of that language come from.(less)
This series just keeps getting better and better. For the third time we sail out on the good ship Rocinante and its captain, Jim Holden, and crew. As...moreThis series just keeps getting better and better. For the third time we sail out on the good ship Rocinante and its captain, Jim Holden, and crew. As we've come to expect from Holden and friends, he's right in the middle of whatever's going on – if not actually causing it/making it worse. Although the chances are he's going to do a lot of that before the book is out too. The protomolecule artefact has finished with the planet Venus and has now created a massive structure in space. A massive structure hanging in space is just going to be a lightning rod to attract all the crazies: the government crazies, the religious crazies and the just-plain-crazy crazies. Some want to understand the artefact; some want to own it or destroy it; some just see it as an opportunity for revenge.
It feels like author duo, James S.A. Corey, has been sitting at the foot of George R.R. Martin a little too long. Each chapter cycles through a series of point-of-view characters – an expanded cast over the previous novels – and this is used to good effect to narrate the story from multiple ships, from multiple governments, and even Melba's little revenge trip sub-plot. The synchronicity is a little too convenient at times – Melba's (great cover name by the way) hatred of Holden is understandable, but it doesn't explain quite how she's able to control events quite so successfully, getting the Rocinante and its crew in just the right place at just the right time. Everything just comes together a little neatly. And I still don't really feel like I've 'bonded' with the crew as much as I think I should have after three novels. Bobbie I liked immediately – these guys I still feel like I'm getting to know. So why a five-star? Because these things don't matter. The story really is that good.
The truly strange thing about this though is that, after three full-length novels and two short stories, it really only feels like Corey has just gotten started. All three novels stand up perfectly well as novels in the series, but it suddenly becomes clear that the world-building that Corey has been doing so far was only the tip of the iceberg (or the tip of the available universes in this story). Suddenly, the artefact (presumably) is opening up a whole myriad of further universes to explore and world-build in. I'm looking forward to it...(less)
Mark Hodder's debut novel, The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, or should that be Spring-Heeled Jack? The front cover says hyphenated, the insid...moreMark Hodder's debut novel, The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, or should that be Spring-Heeled Jack? The front cover says hyphenated, the inside says not. The page headers suggest hyphenated again, but the actual text contradicts. Obviously, this confusion isn't really a big enough deal to spoil my appreciation of the novel, but it's certainly something to ponder while reading. Luckily, the book is engrossing enough that for most of it, thoughts of hyphenation almost totally left my mind. The first in a trilogy, Hodder brings us a tale of mystery in a post-Victorian steampunk world. Something has happened to change history, Queen Victoria has been assassinated, and we're into an Albertian society instead. All the Victorian greats are here, although with their own little twists: Richard Burton (not the actor) is our detective hero, there doesn't seem to be any end to this man's talents – fencing, exploring, speaks dozens of languages, good at dressing up and now special agent for the King; Algy Swinburne is our poet sidekick – daring, over-excitable and an algolagniac (a condition where his body interprets pain as sexual pleasure); Isambard Kingdom Brunel has started a society of Technologists – pushing the advancement of technology with no constraints who have invented steam powered penny farthings and rotorships amongst other things; Florence Nightingale is the leader of the Eugenicists – giving us wolfmen, brain transplants and human-panther hybrids; Charles Darwin is the brains – in fact he has two brains thanks to Florence. There's no useful idea-stone left unturned in this novel, it's all here jammed in together. Along with time-travel, swearing parakeets, a secret union of chimney sweeps and even little Oscar Wilde the newspaper boy is enjoyable (if a little unnecessary maybe bearing in mind how much other stuff is already crammed in this novel).
Burton has been engaged by the King and Lord Palmerston, the Prime Minister, to investigate the wolfmen sightings (they are abducting the chimney sweeps) in the east-end as a sort of a detective without portfolio. After suffering a confusing attack by Spring-Heeled Jack himself the two cases eventually (and obviously) become one. The level of research throughout this novel just adds to the enjoyment – details from all the characters 'real' lives are incorporated – even the period bogeyman, Spring-Heeled Jack, is built into the story. Each character has layers built over the top of that reality as they adapt to the new timeline. The Libertines, Rakes, Technologists and Eugenicists all spring forth from one changed event in the past and carve their way into the new future.
The only minor flaws were some awkward chapter transitions. Chapter 13 didn't make sense to me immediately as it appeared to jolt back in time and cover the same ground as the previous chapter. Initially I thought they'd printed the chapters in the wrong order, but after forging on and some frantic page-flipping-back I realised that it was a slightly awkwardly done literary device. Half way through the book, the point-of-view completely switches to that of the eponymous villain Spring-Heeled Jack himself in Part Two. We find out who he is, where he came from and what he's trying to achieve. Initially it felt a little forced, an attempt to avoid the cliched exposition from the villain to the hero (or victim) just before he's beaten, that detective fiction so often suffers from. I wasn't sure about it at first, but actually it made sense as there's just too much story for Jack to get through any other way and provides a much more sympathetic insight into Jack that exposition ever could.
The book was an unexpected gift for Christmas last year from the missus, bought on the basis of one of those little bookshop recommendation cards. Proof, if it were needed, that bookshops do have a use and sometimes those unexpected recommendations can turn out to be gems.(less)
Old Man's War
was consistently at the top of my Goodreads recommendations page, I had read the description and taken note of the rather...moreJohn Scalzi's
Old Man's War
was consistently at the top of my Goodreads recommendations page, I had read the description and taken note of the rather high average rating. However, it looked like a variation on Joe Haldeman's
The Forever War
, so I passed and just added it to the end of my very long long-list and promptly forgot about it. In October, the Humble eBook Bundle included it along with a couple of other books I liked the look of, so for a bargain price of my own choosing, it got bumped to the bottom of my to-read list. But, it was only when The Sword and Laser group chose it as their bookclub read, and made a convincing video, that it sounded like more than I had assumed.
And, of course, it was. How wrong I had been to put it off so long. Instead of riffing Forever War, it appears to have more in common with Robert Heinlein's
(a book I haven't actually read for some reason, but the film is a guilty pleasure). John Perry is an old man of 75. His wife had died a few years earlier, but previously they had both signed up for the Colonial Defence Force – the CDF only takes American recruits once they reach the ripe old age of 75. Perry doesn't know why or how – nobody does. But signing up for 2–10 years means that the CDF must have some technology for extending life. Maybe that's why so many 75-year-olds sign up. Over 1,000 other people sign-up in the same group as Perry. But it's a jungle out there, during the first year, they are told, 40% of them will be killed.
Human colonists need defending, and the CDF is the muscle they need. Defending human colonies against aliens, and making pre-emptive attacks against alien colonies to allow more human colonies. I'm not quite sure how Earth is so insulated from what's going on outside. Apparently the CDF has little compunction attacking alien planets – why aren't they trying to return the favour?
Military science fiction has a tendency to end up falling into patterns of troop movements and military strategy over characters and relationships. Scalzi presents a number of characters, in the clique The Old Farts, who are centre of the story. Their training, friendships, and even losses. There's a slightly awkward set piece where Perry starts to fall apart after slaughtering a large number of small, defenceless, aliens. But, overall, Perry is a well-written, rounded and enjoyable character. A 75-year-old widower, coming to terms with his new lease of life, while trying to balance that with his new role as a soldier.
Also, especially for military sci-fi, there's a lot of humour. Both in the story and the characters. Not jokes as such, although Perry does seem to fancy himself as something of a undiscovered comedian, but the sort of humour that any group of people working together develop. Scalzi does like to throw in a couple of other surprises, especially with the character names – I spotted recruits with the names Gaiman, McKean and even Bender; I can't believe there weren't others that I missed though. Already added the next in the series –
The Ghost Brigades
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 book...moreWaterstones 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.(less)
"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.(less)
I never really thought of myself as a 'Russian Literature' kind of guy. But this was another one of those books that my father bought me, during my un...moreI never really thought of myself as a 'Russian Literature' kind of guy. But this was another one of those books that my father bought me, during my university years, when he was, I assume, trying to improve me (I have since realised that this was a regular enough occurrence to create a shelf, father-improves-me, to immortalise the collection). Obviously, my university years are behind me now by some way, so I figure I've put reading this one off for long enough.
I came to Gogol's Diary of a Madam and Other Stories with absolutely no idea what to expect. In fact, I hadn't even really considered that the title implied a short-story collection rather than a novel until I picked the book up to read it. I had however assumed that Russian meant heavy, dense writing, but instead I was in for a shock. The stories were simple, everyday ideas, almost folksy; given a witty narration and light on heaviness. The style felt almost British to me (like we're the only nation who do wit). Maybe the translator, Ronald Wilks, brings more to the stories than he gets credit for?
The collection comprises five shorter stories, and it opens with the good stuff. Diary of a Madman is definitely the story that brings the five stars for this book. It is told through the diary entries of a lowly civil servant as he descends into madness and over-imagination – he falls in love with his boss's daughter; reads letters written by her dog; and realises that he's next in line to the recently vacated throne of Spain. Again, my test of any awesome book is that I need to read bits out to people nearby (in a moment of serendipity this time it was my father) and while the later stories didn't quite pass that test, Diary of a Madman did in spades.
The collection continues with The Nose the story of a man who wakes up one morning missing his nose. As something of a cocksman, his nose is suggested to be a metaphor for his more sensitive area, but it seemed more to me to be a deliberately ridiculous and pointless story, one that he could use to cock a snoot at the censors of the day, suggesting that there is nothing left worth writing about if all literature is to be censored. The Overcoat is another one of Gogol's more famous stories, and is the tale of an inconsequential civil servant who saves for a new overcoat. While mocked for the old overcoat, the new one makes him popular. The story seemed a little too long in the build up, although I wondered if that was deliberate to drag out the tension. The last two stories, How Ivan Ivanovich Quarrelled with Ivan Nikiforovich and Ivan Fyodorovich Shponka and His Aunt were amusing, but didn't feel up to the standards of the first three. Maybe Gogol's more at home with stories of nobody civil servants that he is with more middle-class landowners.
All the stories are of everyday folk and strange personalities. Gogol seems to have something of a preoccupation with civil servants, noses, geese and overcoats, as each of these items feature in multiple stories. Also, all the stories feature some narration which breaks the fourth wall. Gogol is telling us the story, but it's also a conversation with us as well.(less)
Coming to Caliban's War I struggled to remember what happened in Leviathan Wakes. It was nearly a year ago that I read it, and judging by my 4-star r...moreComing to Caliban's War I struggled to remember what happened in Leviathan Wakes. It was nearly a year ago that I read it, and judging by my 4-star review of it I must have liked it, but I couldn't really remember any of the key points of the previous book. Something to do with a protomolecule or something. I wondered if I should reread that book first, or just hope there'd be enough exposition in this book to tide me through.
While I decided not to go back and reread Leviathan Wakes, I was also glad that Caliban's War didn't in fact feel the need to do a 'previously on...' section. Instead you're dropped straight into a new story, set a couple of years after the events of Leviathan Wakes and focussing again on Jim Holden and his crew aboard the Rocinante, this time more of a sci-fi-political-thriller than the sci-fi-murder-mystery of the previous novel. With the death of the other central character at the end of Leviathan Wakes, Detective Miller, a hole opened up for a PoV character. Instead, Corey fills out this gap with three new characters. Each character takes turns narrating in a chapter-PoV style that George R.R. Martin has made famous recently. And, as one half of James S.A. Corey is, in fact, George R.R. Martin's assistant maybe that makes more sense.
Firstly we are introduced to Bobbie Draper. A Martian space marine, her introduction to the protomolecule situation comes on Ganymede. Somebody has tried to weaponise the substance (again), creating a super soldier who takes out Bobbie's entire team before self-destructing. Unfortunately, before she can report back to her superiors this leads to an escalation of the stand-off between the Martian and UN forces orbiting Ganymede into an all-out shooting match.
Praxidike Meng is a botanist on Ganymede. Responsible for part of the food production from Ganymede - which is the food basket of the Martian and Outer Planets. A single parent, his daughter, Mei, one of a number of imuno-compromised children on Ganymede, is kidnapped just before fighting breaks out on the surface. Surely this can't be a coincidence.
Finally, Chrisjen Avasarala, a political player in the UN. As assistant to the undersecretary of executive administration she has an enormous amount of power. However, she likes to hide behind her appearance as a little old grandmother figure. She needs to find out who is trying to weaponise the protomolecule and stop them before more people die. At the same time she wants to understand what's happening on Venus (where the protomolecule ended up at the end of Leviathan Wakes) and work out why she's being sidelined and lied to by her own administration.
Between the four of them they need to work out what's going on. Who is trying to weaponise the protomolecule? Who are the good guys and the bad guys - the UN, the Martians, or the OPA? What has happened to Mei and the other kidnapped children? And what is the connection between everything going on and the evolving protomolecule on Venus?
There was enough exposition to remind me of the previous novel, but never so much that it felt forced. There were no info-dumps, no characters telling their life-stories so we can all be reminded of the previous novel. I recommend you read it first as so much more will make sense in this one (especially the final line twist), but it doesn't feel quite so much of a sequel that this story is dependant on the first. I think in a large part, that's why this sequel - unusually for a sequel - read better for me than the first.(less)
This is the ending that book three should have had. The first half, A Storm of Swords: Steel and Snow, just wasn't strong enough to stand on its own....moreThis is the ending that book three should have had. The first half, A Storm of Swords: Steel and Snow, just wasn't strong enough to stand on its own. But that's okay as the second half more than makes up for it. From the off, there are bodies. Not just secondary characters either, but people we thought were going to be key players in The Game.
A number of characters get built out a lot more as well. Jamie continues his transition to three-dimensions with the start of a conscience. Stannis starts to come out of his shell a little and Petyr's role in the history so far starts to make a lot more sense – he did warn us not to trust him!
As a combined single book it would have been a five star rating, as part two more than rescues any failings in part one. I strongly suggest reading them back to back, and thinking of them as one logical book, if you're going to buy them individually.(less)
Sweeney and Wheeler, two detectives who couldn't be more different yet seem to compliment each other perfectly. One a northern ex-cop, the other a sou...moreSweeney and Wheeler, two detectives who couldn't be more different yet seem to compliment each other perfectly. One a northern ex-cop, the other a southern ex-journalist. Together they tease and taunt each other through the exceedingly random series of cases they get. While Joop Wheeler is easily my favourite of the two characters, Greg manages to write them both as unique, credible and likeable characters. Each case is enjoyable, not only to find out how the case is resolved (and there are twists, don't worry) but to enjoy how they get there.
It seems obvious that Greg enjoys writing these characters, and that feeling rubs off onto the reader. Hopefully his other Sweeney and Wheeler novel will get a rerelease...(less)
A book I'd been hoping to read for a while. It was on my birthday list and my sister, and her husband, were kind enough to oblige. As I unwrapped it (...moreA book I'd been hoping to read for a while. It was on my birthday list and my sister, and her husband, were kind enough to oblige. As I unwrapped it (remembering to use my grateful face) my sister shared two thoughts with me. Firstly, she was surprised that I had asked for a Margaret Atwood book as she really didn't see her as my 'type of author', and secondly, why was Margaret Atwood writing a book about science fiction - after all, she didn't really write science fiction.
My sister likes to speak her mind - she might even be thought to sound a bit 'superior' to the untrained ear (she is a university lecturer after all, whereas I am much less well educated), she did also describe my Goodreads profile as a list of books she wouldn't want to read - but she's right, I've never ready any Margaret Atwood before, and feminist literature wouldn't normally be my go-to genre. After my first question as to how she would categorise The Handmaid's Tale left her a little more subdued we got to the reason why I wanted to read this book - Atwood is an author that, according to many science fiction reviewers, clearly seems to write science fiction, yet she's reputed to have voiced a somewhat disparaging view of the genre on at least one occasion - something along the lines of 'science fiction is characterised by talking squids in space'. Obviously, the actual interview is not available online - at least I couldn't find it - so the context of the discussion is hard to gauge. The quotes you can find are, selectively edited down, on the sites that seem to by the hardest on her view. So what to think. Luckily, just in time, Atwood kindly decides to write a book that describes "her lifelong relationship with the literary form we have come to know as 'science fiction'". That should answer my questions ...
The book is broken down into three sections - firstly an autobiographical section, the titular 'In Other Worlds', describes Atwood's introduction to books, her obvious love and fascination with science fiction as a genre, with comics, through her university and post-graduate writings. These are more than nostalgic memoirs though, as much as she'd like to sidestep it in the introduction, it is the beginnings of an academic study of science fiction. Her understanding, and biases, of the genre term science fiction, mythologies, theologies, utopias and dystopias. Ending with an overview of her three science/speculative fiction novels - The Handmaid's Tale, Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood.
Finally, the third section, 'Five Tributes', contains five works of science/speculative fiction. Each a short story in a different vein. But each more, or less, science fiction (or speculative fiction if that's what you'd like it to be):
Cryogenics: A Symposium explores the risks, and costs, of having your head frozen to be woken up in the future. Told from the point of view of a conversation at a dinner party. What happens when it all goes wrong? If you can't afford to have your whole body frozen, maybe you can only afford your head? Definitely science fiction here - there's science - going wrong - and it's in the future.
Cold-Blooded explores a first-contact situation. Except they've come to us. And they're insects. Eventually they come to communicate with us, but they don't understand us, we're just too different. Science fiction again. Aliens, space travel, and giant talking insects (no squids though).
Homelanding is about an alien tour or an apparently backward world. Where the tour is treated as a museum exhibit. More aliens, possibly not on earth. Again pretty sure this is science fiction.
If we left a time capsule for the future. Long after we're dead. Long after the planet is dead. What would it say. Time Capsule Found on the Dead Planet is the letter in the time capsule. Sounds like more far-future stuff, presumably an alien is reading it. Yep, it's science fiction.
The last story is more complicated. The Peach Women of A a'A is a short story, told by a character in one of Atwood's own novels, The Blind Assassin. Recursive. While the novel isn't science fiction (I don't think - I haven't actually read it), the character telling the short story is an author of pulp science fiction - asked for a story with a happy ending this is what he produces. It tells the story of two men involved in the defence of Earth against the Lizard men of Xenor. As they are shot down and about to die, they are rescued by the peach women of the title, who heal them and proceed to tend to their every want. Of course, as a true utopia, having everything you want gets pretty boring (eventually) and they (or the protagonists of the containing novel) have to decide if they should stay in the happy world of A a'A or break out of the utopia to almost certain not happiness. Aliens, space ships, morphing peach women aliens, lizard men. All pretty standard science fiction.
Two appendices close the book out. A letter to a school district that had tried to ban The Handmaid's Tale, and to the students and teachers that fought it. And a discussion of the impact of pulp science fiction covers, "bountifully endowed" women wearing skimpy chain mail tops, on her characters and her own fiction.
Overall, this is an absolutely fascinating book. A real insight into Margaret Atwood's preferences, theories, and biases about the science fiction genre. I entirely understand where she's coming from, the term has become loaded, is restrictive, and makes for uncomfortable classifications for a large number of works. Personally, I think the whole thing is a bit of a storm-in-a-teacup, but I enjoyed finding out a little bit as to why Atwood may (or may not) disagree with me. Which brings me to my two niggles. Even combined they aren't enough to dent the 5-star rating this book deserves, but ... For all the words in the book, it doesn't ever seem to answer the two key questions I went into the book with - why are you writing the book and how does it, specifically, tie into the annoyance that parts of the Internet seem to have with the squid comments? And, if you don't totally like the genre labels that we have do you have a clear idea of the taxonomy that you'd like to see instead? Both of these questions felt, to me, skirted around somewhat and not directly addressed. And secondly, if Atwood thinks that the genre label science fiction is too limited - why does she feel the need to, when discussing The Island of Doctor Moreau, state "... the book is certainly not a novel, if by that we mean a prose narrative dealing with observable social life."? Although phrased as a question, it doesn't read like one, and seems to imply that Atwood would almost like to limit the term novel itself as a kind of genre - one that would not apply to most science fiction (or even speculative fiction). In fact, earlier on in the book she describes her own three SF books as "novel-length ustopias". Aren't they still novels?(less)
The Classic Douglas Adams novel. An adaptation of his own original radio series.
Arthur Dent's house is about to be destroyed. Luckily, his friend Ford...moreThe Classic Douglas Adams novel. An adaptation of his own original radio series.
Arthur Dent's house is about to be destroyed. Luckily, his friend Ford Prefect appears to let him know not to worry, actually the planet is about to be destroyed. We just hadn't seen the planning application... And so the story continues, for this book and the remaining novels in the trilogy, in Adams's trademark style of surreal situation and dry wit. Depressed robots, two-headed presidential lotharios and an engine that produced improbable events as a waste product...(less)