Thursday 21 November 2013

the pillow book Sei Shonogon


Pleasing things: finding a large number of tales that one has not read before. Or acquiring the second volume of a tale whose first volume one has enjoyed. But often it is a disappointment.

This is best viewed as a scrapbook of observations recorded as they occurred to the writer. There are a lot of lists, like the above one “Pleasing things” and thoughts on court life and the people of the court. I felt reading this that it is a book to occasionally flip open and read what comes up rather than reading it from cover to cover like a traditional book. Some of the writing is beautiful and it gives an interesting overview of the time and place.

Overall – an easy read, one to dip into

Carrie Stephen King

Pretty well known story with a couple of movie adaptations, including a new one due out soon. A girl is brought up by her very religious mother and has a telekinetic ability, she is bullied in high school and takes her revenge in a shocking manner (possibly less shocking now than it was in the 70’s). I am surprised at how much it is a Stephen King novel. That may sound strange but King's distinctive voice is in here, fully formed, some novelists take a few books to get into their stride, King hits the ground running. It also perfectly captures, what has become quite commonplace through film & TV, the horror of going to American high school and not fitting in. This is also one of the most heavily foreshadowed books, using interviews, news items and excerpts from a book of the tragedy, that I can remember reading. It works though, it keeps you turning the pages. King says in On writing that the family were broke when he got the call about Carrie and a massive advance, he expands a bit in the introduction to the Harper copy I have. I can't help but be jarred by the image of Carrie you get from the book and contrasting it against who they've chosen (both Sissy Spacek and Chloe Moretz in the remake)

Overall – still an entertaining read and a quick one

The Kraken Rises! Various


After almost a year in the planning the good people of Bristol entered the world of The Kraken Rises! These are the stories that resulted. It is worth pointing out that this was writing under extreme pressure and in a very short amount of time. Many of the participants hadn’t written before or hadn’t written for a long time and it is amazing that we got any stories at all. Due to our self-imposed deadlines there hasn’t been time to ask for redrafts or to do much more than correct typos. The brief was written mostly by Jonathan L Howard and basically posited that Bristol is occasionally visited by weird events every time there is a great comet in the sky. These are called Kraken events & our writers were challenged to come up with a story about a Kraken event. Around 30 people took part, not all of them made the deadline for the anthology, these are the stories that made the grade. Although they’re not polished, as time didn’t allow, the standard is surprisingly good.

Overall – It was great fun making this anthology, and great fun reading it

the lives of Tao Wesley Chu


The world’s history has been shaped by two opposing alien factions who cannot exist in our atmospheric conditions for long but can use animals and humans as hosts. The aliens use humans as secret agents in their war and Tao’s host Edward is one of the very best. However when the host dies in Chicago Tao has a very short time to find a new host and possesses Roen. Roen is not your obvious secret agent material, he is a low level programmer, he is overweight, has few social skills and poor hand eye co-ordination. The aliens are split into two factions both with a wish to go home, the Genjix believe that this is best achieved by pushing forward human evolution & technology via conflict, the Prophus believe that it is best achieved with peace. Tao is a high ranking Prophus and needs to keep Roen alive long enough to learn enough skills to be useful to the cause. The aliens cannot voluntarily leave their hosts, leaving only when the host dies. This is an entertaining read once you get past the set up. My main issue with this, and the modern vampire trope (and Von Daniken) is that they start with the premise that dumb old humans couldn’t possibly be responsible for all the wonderful things we are actually responsible for and aliens/vampires etc did it/are actually all the important people in history. Apart from that one niggling fact I did enjoy this book which follows the loser to hero trope and has a bunch of great action sequences and a lot of sly humour. Chu has written a follow up book called the deaths of Tao and I enjoyed this first enough to immediately seek out a copy and will be reading soon.

Overall – Entertaining alternative history SF

Vurt Jeff Noon


Alice in Wonderland & psychedelic music references abound in this high action breakneck paced SF classic about a drug called Vurt which comes in the form of coloured feathers that you ingest that take you to a variety of virtual worlds. It is written in a heavy stylised way that takes a little getting used to but once you do it is a very fast read as it keeps you turning the pages. It is very much a book of its time and reminiscent (although very different) to Lawnmower man, snow crash and other cyberpunks. We follow the Stash Raiders and our hero Scribble (who is the narrator & writer) who has lost his sister in a Vurt. There are short interlude chapters by the “Game Cat” which are fairly heavy in exposition. There are dog/human hybrids. There are Shadow people (Empaths basically) & I think the book must have heavily influenced Shadowrun. It is not a book without problems, there is the stylistic writing, it occasionally slips to the wrong side of surreal, there are plenty of dream sequences and it does seem a little dated. However it is an imaginative tour de force and a quick an enjoyable read. There is a 20th anniversary edition and it is rightly held up to be a classic example of the genre.

Overall - An imaginative tour de force and a quick an enjoyable read

surfacing Margaret Atwood


A woman is informed that her father, who lives on a remote island in Canada, has gone missing. She takes some friends with her as she goes to check on the property. The setup is good but let down by a rushed and slightly incoherent ending. I don’t have much to say about this book, it was just OK. It is very dated (published in 1972).

Overall – Meh - Forgettable

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