November 12, 2010
March 5, 2010
Well, normally this infrequently-updated blog is about books, but today I wanted to show the entire world (i.e. less than one person who reads this) exactly what happens when you attempt to enact the ultimate cliché — in other words, stick your foot down a rabbit hole and destroy all the ligaments.
Three weeks of sick leave ensued. And, whilst ordinarily three weeks off work would be a Time Of Joy And Rejoicing, three weeks sitting down with your foot elevated, unable to sleep because the slightest move twinged a mangled sinew and being completely confined to a chair is not actually huge amounts of fun.
Currently, it’s still somewhat fat and swollen but the bruising has dissipated, except on the other side of the ankle where it pierced all the way through the joint. Walking is randomly difficult: there’s a particular foot angle that hurts considerably but I don’t know what it is and thus can’t avoid doing it.
On the plus side, got a lot of reading done and will hopefully motivate soon to get some of it up here on the blog. 🙂
December 23, 2009
Omnibus edition of Stephen Baxter‘s ‘Mammoth’ trilogy. The world as told from mammoths’ purview in the past, the present(!) and the future, when mammoths have been reengineered and are populating Mars. Enjoying very much, albeit I think I have learned as much as I need to about the many uses of mammoth dung now.
Baxter writes hard science fiction, has a degree background in it and it shows. There really is a new, mad idea on every page, though: sometimes the sheer weight of information makes you want to take a step back and shake your head for a mo’.
The ‘Destiny’s Children’ quartet is relatively uplifting, with Exultant and Resplendent being some of the best sci-fi I’ve ever read. Exultant in particular unequivocally sets out the joys of actually trying to fight a possible future space war, where relativity and distance often mean that battles and consequences thereof can actually happen… er, before they’ve happened. And effective commanders can actually use this to make sure that terrible defeats that have already occurred — don’t occur. It’s heady stuff.
Space is a new world appearing on damn near every page and exhausting / exhilerating to keep up with.
Moonseed is an initial nod to the John Wyndham-esque ‘end of the world’ scenario, although a cosy catastrophe (which Wyndham was often, erroneously I believe, accused of writing) it is most certainly not.
And Titan is the most monstrously nihilistic and depressing epitaph to our current concepts of intrasolar travel I’ve ever read. Which did not make it a bad thing, by the by, but some of the scenes actually set on Titan made me… well, after the carrot poisoning bit I did check my feet. Don’t let the words here put you off, though: you need to read this book, if only to see how space travel really shouldn’t be done.
Birthday present to myself. Huge coffee-table tome with over 500 cover artworks (and many other standalones) of Stephen King‘s publishing history. Including a great deal of Dark Tower material and some new and exclusive pieces. Relatively in-depth interviews with artists and input into King’s writing history, a little of which I hadn’t come across before. Marred only by a few spelling / text-setting errors, which I can forgive more because it’s a small press. Recommended if you can afford it (and you’re a foaming-at-the-mouth-like-Cujo fan of King, like me).
Else? Probably seventy or eighty books since I last updated this. If I get a chance, I’ll try to pick out some of the worthies soon.
Picked up PM2 again after a lag of some months. Found my voice immediately, which was pleasing. The past three days, little bits here and there in between other things (like work) have added another 3201 words and 17 pages to the total… which currently stands at 222 pages, 43,865 words.
With no end in sight.
March 23, 2009
The Night Sessions, by Ken MacLeod.
Intriguing police procedural, set a few dozen years in the future and predominantly in Scotland. The Earth’s groaning in the wake of some fairly nasty climate change problems, resulting in a pair of massive space elevators being constructed to facilitate vast, floating solar barriers in an effort to mitigate UV radiation. Robots are becoming relatively commonplace and some of them are developing artificial intelligence, which is something of a problem for the general community as they don’t quite know how to deal with it — or integrate them properly into society. Add to this the fallout from the Faith / Oil War, which has effectively banned religions of all kinds, and we have a very interesting world postulated.
Into this mix we have the bombing murder of a man who turns out to be a Catholic priest, a title which has no official standing in this new world and has cause for potential future political ramifications, especially since religious terrorism has effectively been wiped out by the ‘winning’ of the Faith War. Casualties with ‘underground’ religious affiliations begin to mount as the protagonists, a Scottish police inspector and his robot aide-de-camp (once-combat mech) Skulk, desperately try to work out what is going on — and whether extremist religion is making a monstrous comeback as a very significant anniversary approaches…
Enjoyed very much. Particularly liked the fairly harsh, albeit balanced, treatment of religion — it effortlessly segued into an e-mail meme that’s circulating at the moment that’s very resonant and powerful: a picture of the World Trade Centre twin towers with John Lennon’s words: Imagine no religion beneath it. The story isn’t horribly politically correct (it can’t be with that type of subject matter) and doesn’t mince words as it beats down on the religious, the authorities and the fundamentalists alike.
The interaction of robots and people was also compellingly drawn, especially the sensitive and awkward issue of incipient artificial intelligence spreading like a slow virus through otherwise non-sentient machine workers… and the hideous potential for fundamentalist religious extremism to infect even the inhuman.
It becomes a bit chaotic towards the end (and not a little nihilistic either), but in the main MacLeod keeps all of the many balls he’s juggling in the air and the effect is, for the most part, mesmerizing. Definitely recommended.
…unfortunately, unlike the following three:
The Caryatids, by Bruce Sterling.
Well, I liked the cover…
This is a mad, sprawling, incoherent future-tech-dying-planet-eco-disaster, er, splat of a novel. One of those books where the ideas outpaced the story — in fact, the story seemed almost nonexistent, or at most very flimsy indeed. Four clone women in different situations, bred to be avatars of now obsolete technology, trying very hard to… nope. Didn’t get it. Doesn’t mean others won’t, but for me The Caryatids fell very, very flat: it was like a future-tech wiki and a Greenpeace screed met in a bar, fell in lust over a few cigarettes and then went home and tried to shag out a story before realising they were sexually incompatible. I applaud the intent, loved some of the ideas, but the whole didn’t work at all…
…rather like Palimpsest, by Catherynne M. Valente — and I’ll be brief with this one. Style over content, and of the latter there was none. People dream their way into a fantastical world, the trigger to enter (no pun intended) is sex with someone who bears a tattooed map of this oneiric wonderland. And then… nothing happens except a few weird sights, incomprehensible rituals and/or conversations, and a desperate neeed/want, like drug withdrawal, to stay there forever.
Not I. Unfortunately I wanted to leave from the moment I first got there, and am still somewhat surprised I persevered through to the end. If dreamy, poetic but ultimately meaningless prose and ridiculous, improbable characters desperately seeking escape into a world that makes no sense and is drawn about as clearly as a charcoal sketch on a blackboard is your thing, then go for Palimpsest and good luck. I like a little story with my opium musings, thanks….
…and that brings us to the titular ‘urgh’, which I will keep short and sweet:
Brian Keene’s Castaways.
- Apparently a homage: Jack Ketchum’s Off Season and elements of Richard Laymon’s original ‘Beast House’ trilogy;
- Apparently a homage: the television game-show Survivor;
- Has cannibal Neanderthal monkey monster rapists in it;
- And the most cardboard-cutout characterisation and phoned-in plot, complete with astonishingly out-of-place and romance-novel happy ending I’ve ever had the misfortune to read…
Sorry. Awful. I used to like Brian’s work a lot, but some of his recent work… well, I love horror, but for some reason I don’t seem to be his audience anymore, because his last couple have been indifferent to me, and this one was dire. From someone who absolutely loathes reality shows like Survivor, being unable to give a positive report on something that was essentially panning the TV genre is sad indeed.
‘Kay then. Next time it will be all good, rather than some good and some urgh, promise. 🙂
March 19, 2009
An impulse buy that took me completely by surprise, Walter Moers’ The City of Dreaming Books has kind of crashed into the top levels of my favourite books ever and left me blinking, dazed and astonished, in its wake.
Moers is a German author predominantly of childrens’ books whose works are only relatively recently being translated. His main trope is a fantasy world called Zamonia which is populated by a near-infinite variety of weird and wonderful lifeforms and is a world of endless, well, weirdness.
Quoting from Amazon.com via Publisher’s Weekly here, the plot in a very strained nutshell:
German author and cartoonist Moers returns to the mythical lost continent of Zamonia in his uproarious third fantasy adventure to be translated into English (after 2006’s Rumo), a delightfully imaginative mélange of Shel Silverstein zaniness and oddball anthropomorphism à la Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. Optimus Yarnspinner, a young saurian novelist, embarks on a quest to track down the anonymous author of the most magnificent piece of writing in the whole of Zamonian literature. Traveling to Bookholm, the legendary City of Dreaming Books, the naïve Yarnspinner falls victim to Pfistomel Smyke, a maggotlike literary scholar who poisons Yarnspinner and abandons him in the treacherous catacombs miles below the city’s surface. Stranded in an underworld steeped in terror-inducing myth and home to more than a few bizarre inhabitants, Yarnspinner undertakes a long and perilous journey back to the world above. Enchanting illustrations by the author compliment a wonderfully whimsical story that will appeal to readers of all ages. (Sept.)
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This is really only scratching the surface. What this book is, is a love letter to literature and books in general, and anyone who loves books, reading, dusty old tomes, libraries and bookshops (hmmm: me) will be transported upon delving in. Amidst these pages you will find cities and buildings composed entirely of books, Booklings that spend their lives memorising the works of authors and speaking only via their words, living books, poisonous and killer books, monstrously armoured BookHunters, Rube Goldbergian steampunk book machines… it goes on and on and on, with every page a mad new idea. Profusely illustrated, too, which is very useful given some of the wildly bizarre denizens Moers has thought up to people his incredible world.
Although it’s technically childrens’ literature, anyone can read it. There are some elements that are quite violent, à la the Brothers Grimm, and it’s a doorstopper of a book (which was marvellous, because I didn’t want to leave the world). Conceptually and linguistically (aside: the translation seems brilliant), there are some elements that small children wouldn’t follow either — which just means more for the rest of us. Do not ignore Bookholm because you might think it’s just for kids: it is so, so not.
Loved it so much I gave away my first paperback copy to another booklover and tracked down a hardback for myself. This is the sort of book that deserves to be a dusty, much-loved old book on an ancient wooden shelf — in the nicest possible way.
Can’t recommend this one enough, and the moment I laid my ink-smudged fingers on it and cracked the first chapter, I immediately began BookHunting the rest of Moers’ translated ouevre — which arrived yesterday. 😀 (Can’t wait… and you shouldn’t either)
March 18, 2009
Not dead! Really! Just really, really busy. Actual content will appear again soon. Have read many books. Very good ones, too, like the Temeraire series, Dan Simmon’s Drood and Stephen Hunt’s ‘Jackals’ ongoing (Court of the Air, The Kingdom Beneath The Waves and the not-read-yet The Rise of the Iron Moon). And lots more. Yes.
Just busy. I feel guilty now.
To assuage this guilt-ridden feeling, I destroy your brain present you with pictures from the world’s greatest film, which is all about the attack of a giant space mutant chicken:
January 22, 2009
Another gem from the steampunk canon (cannon? heh heh oh forget it), George Mann’s The Affinity Bridge is a rather full-throttle Victorian potboiler of a murder mystery, set in a world of airships and brass automatons, clockwork technology and steam-powered road ‘trains’, all tied together rather neatly and gruesomely… and with a very effective twist at the end that I probably should have seen coming, and didn’t.
It follows a case — rather, two cases initially seeming quite separate — being investigated by Sir Maurice Newbury, former soldier in the British Army (and, incidentally, the only man known to have survived a bite from a particularly virulent Indian plague which turns people into flesh-craving revenants) and current antiquities expert-cum-investigator-cum-occultist, and his assistant Veronica Hobbes, a surprisingly forthright and capable woman whose actions and abilities scene-set the coming of the suffragettes. Allied with Newbury’s oldest friend, Chief Inspector Charles Bainbridge of Scotland Yard, they become involved in the issues of a string of murders perpetrated in Whitechapel by a glowing spectral policeman and an airship crash in the middle of London from which the pilot has mysteriously vanished. The latter case has an added complication: Queen Victoria herself (who continues to live and breathe somewhat past her prime via huge, hulking, steam-bellowing machines infibulated into her body) has asked that Newbury investigate it, with potentially serious political ramifications.
What follows is pure adventure, mixed with a very healthy dollop of violence and a fascinatingly realised world where the expected and the unexpected alike blur like the septic fog that perpetually clouds the Londons streets. A spreading plague of bloodthirsty dead Victorian workers, clockwork automata rewired as killing machines, lightning weapons and gruesome vivisection are only some of the treats you’re in store for in this tale: there’s much more packed in this compact little hardcover, and once you crack the cover you’ll be reading it ’til the wee hours, unable to pull away.
Mann’s writing style has been criticised a little for being plain and unadventurous; I didn’t mind it in the least and found it suited the breakneck pace of the story — I certainly couldn’t fault his sense of description which, whilst minimalist on occasion, eerily evoked the world and characters he was building and put across faultlessly some gruesome, evocative and fantastical scenes. This isn’t childrens’ literature though, unlike the previous post: although there’s no sex the violence is, on occasion, quite brutal and detailed.
If you’re fascinated with this particular genre or just want a phantasmagorical adventure story, you can’t go wrong with this one. Very recommended, and I’m now impatiently waiting for the next one…