Wednesday 10 June 2015

Some quick reviews

The reader over your shoulder by Robert Graves & Alan Hodge

The Reader over Your Shoulder: A Handbook…

This is ostensibly a book about English Prose style – and how to be good at it. The first couple of chapters have an interesting history of English and its usage. It then gets into “principles of clear statement” using examples from, mostly, non-fiction and the entire second half of the book is a nit picking study of several authors work, highlighting the principles in action (or, mostly inaction). As is common with some of these sort of books there is more than a hint of snobbery and a feeling that, to the author, form is more important than function. The title explains that to Graves & Hodge you are writing for a reader whose understanding should be your main goal.

Overall – A good book to have to hand when editing and to bear in mind whilst writing, but as with all such things not to be set in stone

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

The book opens with a courtroom scene. A man is accused of breaking a law imposed by the conquering Sayypuri on the conquered Continentals to repress any reference to the gods. The Saypuri used to be the ones oppressed by the Continentals, with their gods, but a Saypuri invents a weapon that can kill gods, and uses it, and so the situation becomes reversed. The story is set in Bulikov, the centre of the continent (and once the seat of the gods) and revolves around the investigation into the death of a history professor. Shara, our protagonist is a fully rounded character and her sidekick Sigrud is kick-ass, I also really liked the character of the female general Mulaghesh. Shara is a diplomat/spy with personal ties to the murdered professor and her investigation reveals much more than anyone bargained for. As we progress through the investigation we also explore the fascinating history of the world, the city and the gods as well as Shara and Sigrud’s personal histories. It is a lush world, lovingly detailed, that is a pleasure to explore.

The world is the real star here, although the plot clips along it’s not so groundbreaking. It’s one of those books that you read and wonder why no-one has done it before (or if they have why have you not read it). The gods bend reality so that when they are eliminated there is a “Blink” and the history of the gods is supressed by the invaders. The writing is fresh and fantasy is rarely this interesting or compelling for me. This is no stale Tolkein homage but an interesting blend of what feel like new ideas.

Overall – A hugely enjoyable fantasy

An Egyptian Journal by William Golding

An Egyptian Journal by William Golding

Golding seems to have been ‘pursuaded’ to write this book, a journey along the Nile with his wife, on a boat. He certainly spends the first chapter detailing why he could have written the book without actually visiting and then the rest of the book complaining about all and sundry. The boat is on the verge of breaking down, runs aground in one place and is staffed by people Golding feels no affinity for and finds difficult to relate to, especially since they speak amongst themselves in a language he doesn’t understand. There is an “unspeakable” problem with the toilets, his wife is very ill during the trip and the boat doesn’t travel as far and as fast as he’d like. There isn’t enough space in the cabin and little to do at night. He spends the first few chapters complaining that they can see nothing from the boat as they travel when the Nile is in ebb and they cannot, generally, see over the banks. When they do land and perform excursions in the car carried aboard, the car is always on the verge of breaking down and Golding never seems to enjoy visiting the things the locals want him to see. At one point he is feted as a visiting author and meets the literati of the local area and then complains afterwards that he gets enough of that thing at home. In short he has a thoroughly miserable time, constantly wishing he were elsewhere, which oddly makes for an entertaining read. At the end his summing up takes a few pages to basically say – “well we went there and done that and now it’s over.”

Overall – Oddly compelling contrary travelogue

The write attitude by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

The Write Attitude (WMG Writer's…

A collection of Rusch’s blog entries about how to cultivate the proper attitude as a writer. Essentially – ‘this is how I work, it gives me the results I want, you should do the same thing as me too’. Interesting insight into one writer’s work ethic & attitude but ultimately very narrow in purview.

Overall – If you like Rusch’s blog then you may enjoy this book, which does at least frame and comment on the blog entries collected.

Explore everything by Bradley Garrett

Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City…

Part political polemic, part ethnographic study (although it is a poor one), part ‘tales of derring do’ and part biography. This book is also well produced and stuffed full of breathtaking photographs. Garrett tries to be an ethnographer of the urban exploration ‘movement’ (a very loose community exists) and his part in one of the ‘crews’. Garrett calls UrbEx ‘Place-hacking’ and it does have great similarity to computer hacking. Garrett and his fellow explorers arm themselves with cameras and scale the heights and plumb the depths of the built environment. Whilst championing the explorer’s vision of entreating people to imagine the city in a different way it also discusses the dangers (some explorers die whilst exploring) and legality (Garrett himself is arrested, as were many of the crew in a crackdown following breaking into the Mail Rail system under London).

Garrett is a writer that has the knack of making you think, and sparks the imagination, at the same time he has crafted a narrative out of several years of exploration and the relationships between the crew. The adrenaline junkie aspect, always wanting bigger, more dangerous, more illicit is dispassionately assessed and the psychology of both those that design the city and those that refuse to conform to the way the city is ‘supposed’ to be used.

Overall – Fascinating and beautifully photographed. Thought-provoking and feeds the imagination

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