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Showing posts from 2016

Jupiter War by Neal Asher

Zero Point by Neal Asher

The Departure by Neal Asher

Mr Rinyo-Clacton's Offer by Russell Hoban

It’s been a while, yes, I know. I’ve been around. You still living out by the airport?
Back to books, and specifically the eighth work of the Hobanology, Mr Rinyo-Clacton’s Offer, ostensibly a novel of another Faustian pact, but in reality, more in tune with the perspective box of Samuel van Hoogstraaten, to the illusory calm of which narrator Jonathan Fitch flees in moments of disquiet. Fitch, having lost the love of his life Serafina due to her discovery of his serial infidelity, is slumped drunkenly, a discarded marionette, in Piccadilly Circus tube station. Into this blurred tableau walks the diabolic Mr Rinyo-Clacton, charming, mischievous, disgusting and compelling, who offers Fitch a million pounds for the pleasure of harvesting his life at the end of a year. Fitch accepts and the deal is sealed with some forced buggery.
The money proves nothing like the salve to his wounded soul that he wishes it were. Instead, he seeks out Serafina, only to find that she too has suffered the se…

Camouflage by Joe Haldeman

I picked this up, along with Russell Hoban and Robert Westall, in my favourite bookshop in Hay (being told at the time that my three modest purchases had tipped them over the £500 mark for the day - huzzah). At home, I rushed to my shelves to show my other Haldeman novels the new addition, only to realise in horror that I'd previously donated The Forever War trilogy to my local Oxfam back in 2012 and I sat down in disgust. But not for long. 

I've come to realise that I might have read quite a lot of what I read for the wrong reason - as far as books go I wanted only to have wallpaper in the rooms of my house that screamed intelligence, sophistication, a critical appreciation of what it is to be human and alive in these trying times, and I thought the only way to do that would be to have walls lined with classics, with oblique and post-modern fiction, with challenging and difficult works by challenging and difficult authors. But you can have all that and more, most importantly e…

The Cats Of Seroster by Robert Westall

So, first the facts. Set in a fictionalized France of the sixteenth century, this young adult fantasy throws an English wanderer, 19 year old Cam, in amongst large, thinking, reasoning cats, descended from lineage that stretches back to Ancient Egypt, called Miw, who have been gently (and not so gently) directing the humans of their city and its surrounds for countless centuries, using their telepathic powers. Periodically however, they have had need to call upon the powers of the Seroster, a quasi-mythical warrior and cat-friend, reincarnated as the need arises, and whose gigantic sword and people-slaughtering capabilities are occasionally required to slaughter foes and scatter enemies and so forth. After the usurping of the ducal seat in the aforementioned city by some rather crude and un-cat-friendly types led by a rapacious fellow by the name of Little Paul, the Miw are forced into action, and Cam's part in the story begins!

Now the context. Many* might wonder why I've thro…

Empire Of Booze by Henry Jeffreys

When it comes to books from Unbound I am entirely likely to go easy on them, from a criticism-point-of-view. They are, after all, trying to do something amazing in the publishing world and I'm all for that, indubitably. That said, when I pledge for books whilst in thrall to drink, occasionally, when they do finally make it into print (if at all), they are not quite as amazing as I had drunkenly expected.

As an example, I proffer Empire Of Booze. I think I'd been at some sort of literary event, where someone or other was sloshing around either hedgerow cocktails or exciting, hipster 'craft' beers, and not only did I indulge myself both with the tasters on offer, I immediately bought their book, and I also chucked twenty or thirty quid at this, as it was sympathetic to my contemporaneous desire for more of the same.

Now, don't think that I'm saying this is a bad book; it is certainly not! Rather, it is informative, entertaining, enlightening, enjoyable and accessib…

A Cigarette Paper's Thickness, by G.R. Buchaillard-Davies

It's November, so you can bank on two things:
1) I will be sporting facial hair for no discernible reason
2) I will pretend to write a novel so I can feel better about myself

I do myself a disservice - I'm growing facial hair because I like it. 

Anyway, just so you know and are not *titter* disappointed at the lack of activity on this blog in the next thirty days, I shall be beavering away, re-reading my manuscript, removing most of the curse words and cutting down on the gratuitous verbosity in an attempt to craft a passable ebook, for self-publishing in the not-too-distant future. Indeed, I've already mocked up a cover design. What larks! Cart before the horse as always. 

Should you feel motivated to support my Kickstarter campaign, please note I haven't got one. Instead, please harass and harangue me at every opportunity so that I am suitably motivated, and if you do want to throw your cash around, then there are far more worthy causes than me and my hirsute face. This c…

The Memory, Sorrow and Thorn Trilogy, by Tad Williams

I mused recently, rashly and publicly about the derivative nature of most fantasy fiction opuses. Unfortunately, for me, I was guilty of a sweeping generalisation that left me open to a convincing challenge, which duly arrived courtesy of Deborah Beale on Twitter, or @MrsTad as she is known. She told me in not so many words that I was a buffoon and to go away and read Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Mr Tad before making any further egregiously similar mistakes, tenderly qualifying her praise with the caveat that it's a slow starter. So, having being goaded into committing what amounted to two months of my reading time to this trilogy (or tetralogy if you wanted to buy the last volume in two constituent parts, Siege and Storm), I have come to the conclusion that I was right all along.
That is NOT to say that these three/four novels are diminished by the presence of archetypal characters, races, situations and events and which are to be found littered throughout such luminary fantasy wor…

The Dog Of The South by Charles Portis

Charles Portis currently serves as my literary palette cleanser. Between long, meaty meals of literary or indeed any sort of fiction wherein my patience and stomach is tested to the max, a sweet, sharp bowl of Portis resets my flagging will ready for the next serving. His sorbet is a particular blend of surrealism and realism, all usually hung on a mythological hero quest.

Ray Midge is just one such 'hero', whose own personal quest might carelessly be derided as rather meaningless–he's out to find his car, and with it, his wife and her ex-husband with whom she's run off. Not that he particularly wants her back; he just loves his Torino. With only a box of silver cutlery and his credit card receipts he tracks the fugitives to Mexico, where he meets dyspeptic dipsomaniac Dr Reo Symes, owner of the eponymous and defunct bus The Dog Of The South, and who requires a ride to Belize to see his mother so he can talk her into bequeathing to him a plot of land in the middle of a …

The Résumé by Simon L. Read

Firstly, I must disclose that I read this at the behest of someone who may or may not be the author. I assume he is, although it's not clear. It was made available for free in return for a review of equally ambiguous nature.

"The planet had become a giant sheet of framed paper, unquestionable."

So relates the unreliable narrative of Tedwin torX Jnr, detective and possessor or the titular résumé. It is one of many shallowly profound statements that ping around this surreal concept novel, a time-travelling parody of a police procedural and dated futuristic Dada-esque nonsense piece. The forward, by a fictitious film historian, places this as a novel written in 2016 that somehow influences a film of the same title released in 1994, the references to which seep into the public consciousness and become ubiquitous in the years that follow. The action kicks in straight away with the archetypal 'chief' chewing out our narrator before unloading a shotgun into his own face. …

To Green Angel Tower: Book 3 of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, by Tad Williams

Please go to The Memory, Sorrow and Thorn Trilogy post for a review of this novel.

Stone Of Farewell: Book 2 of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, by Tad Williams

Please go to The Memory, Sorrow and Thorn Trilogy post for a review of this novel.

The Dragonbone Chair: Book 1 of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, by Tad Williams

Please go to The Memory, Sorrow and Thorn Trilogy post for a review of this novel.

Familiar by J. Robert Lennon

Having neatly tucked away Breakfast of Championsonce more, I was drawn as if by the divine hand to an article at Electric Literature* which lead me in turn to Familiar by an author unknown to me. The article may have read thusly: Like Vonnegut, Lennon is able to defy genres; Familiar appeals to a variety of readers, from the sci-fi set to the literary fiction elite. Also like Vonnegut, there’s even a Kilgore-Troutian moment in which the universes of the writer, reader, and protagonist briefly and spectacularly collide.
Of course, it may not have done. Regardless, I was intrigued.
I have written before of the strange feelings inspired by the selection of a novel by an as-yet unread author. Do I go overly dramatic and find meaning in every word, or do I stand back, detached and disapproving? In J. Robert Lennon's case, I was ambivalent as I began, distrusting his words, but I was quickly swept up by the sheer narrative impetus. I remained cool, but the story fairly zips along. 
It's…

Happiness Is Possible by Oleg Zaionchkovsky

I woke in the middle of the night last night desperate to remember something I'd half-dreamed, but I lost it. It went something along these lines–that sometimes when you pick up a novel, from an author you've never read before, it's like meeting a new person for the first time: you're either constantly on guard so as not to miss or misinterpret something or, worse, read into everything something which is ostensibly not there; or else you end up seeing them straight, only the surface registering, and you risk missing out on all their subtle complexities. I find this a lot of the time. 

But then there are those authors who surprise you; authors whose words strike a chord, whose prose is comfortable, simpatico, inspiring immediate and lifelong friendship and devotion.

Of course now you're expecting me to lump Oleg Zaionchkovsky into one of the two camps and complain or wax lyrical about his relative merits or lack thereof. Oddly enough, he falls in the gap. 

I've rea…

The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton

There has been plenty written over the 108 years since publication of G. K. Chesterton’s most famous novel, a novel that has never once been out of print in all those years, so to attempt to add to the weight of critical acclaim is futile. In fact, rather than read the rest of this post why not go and download it for free, read it yourself, and then check out The American Chesterton Society. Go on!

However, for my own personal reasons I want to record my reaction. The quick plot summary, if that’s even possible, sees rebel-against-rebelliousness and poet Gabriel Syme inveigle his way into the supreme council of anarchists ostensibly to uncover a murderous plot. He soon discovers that all is not as it seems and there’s even a big surprise at the end (sign-posted clearly throughout). It’s a spy novel, a detective novel, a novel filled with caricatures and symbolism, but also a novel that I found to be supernal, in both senses of the word (ironically but also coincidentally flaunting one …

The Baen Free Library

It's not often you come across something for nothing these days, and as such, when I do, I spend so much time squinting my eyes and pursing my lips and looking for the catch, the catch, that I often lose sight of the wonderful generosity of the act, or indeed run out of time to take advantage of the opportunity. Much like MIT's OpenCourseWare through which you can access ALL the course material they produce, for every single subject taught - cynical bastards I thought, and now I'm entirely and unjustifiably prejudiced against them.

BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT etc., I was looking for something dumb and fun to throw about on the bed in my mind after exhausting myself with the effort of satisfying the metafiction of John Barth, when I came across a set of short stories from 2011, published, for free, gratuitously, by publishers Baen, and accessible, without cost, charge or remuneration, indeed for free through their website; that's right, you can download straight from their websi…

The Moonshine War by Elmore Leonard

I borrowed this book from a colleague at work and as such can't quote directly from the text, or even go back to prove I've not made a whole heap of stuff up–darned memory is playing up these days yes siree and so forth. But as near as I can remember, this little ripper is set in prohibition-era [insert redneck country town here], and is the story of one man who, thanks to strongly held principles and damned ornery stubbornness, goes to war with bootleggers over his father's not-so-secret stash of eight-year-old moonshine whisky. And that's pretty much it.

Of course, if you dig a little you'll come to realise it's a perfect example of Leonards own rules of writing. Nothing is extraneous; each sentence pushes the narrative onwards through the dramatic crisis and explosive finalé. No-one expounds, anguishes, gasps or grumbles; they merely say what they have to say. Characters are never described except by other characters. And at no time does it ever sound like wr…

Acts Of The Assassins by Richard Beard

Enthralled as I was by the re-telling of the Lazarus story, from the viewpoint of the titular resurrectee, one of the most entertaining tales I've read affectionately appropriated from the Christian Bible, I was bemusedly unprepared for Beard's latest reimagining: for I hadn't clicked that this was the story of what came after the ascension of Jesus.

Thankfully so! Having read a review by Philip Hensher in the Guardian where he points out the absolute futility of transmogrifying the crucifixion and resurrection story into the popular crime procedural form, it probably would have put me off in a small way. However, blundering in blindly, I twigged pretty quickly but it was a very pleasant surprise and made me want to find out if Gallio could figure it all out before everyone died. I can only imagine my sigh of disdain had I known this up front. I am, after all, sinfully disdainful.

Instead I was treated to a wryly amusing novel, situated both in the present and the past, an …

The Development by John Barth

I have a great deal of respect for John Barth. Even casual readers of these pages might notice the regularity of his appearances, generously spaced as befits a writer whose words require some significant effort of his readers. His insouciant love of wordplay, of use of subtext, and the meta-meta-meta [ad infinitum]* nature of some of his fiction makes me giggle with delight.

But on with the story! Or nine stories to be exact, and each is a window into life at a fictional but easily identifiable tidewater settlement of retirees, in which those seeking towards-end-of-life sanctuary find themselves in an awkwardly contrived and flimsy community at the turn of the century and indeed the millennium. There's a peeping tom (or is there?), spouses die, children are killed, an octogenarian stabs himself before his friends gas themselves in the garage, and of course there are innumerable community meetings and dinners and toga parties. Over it all hovers the opaquely implied threat of Tidewa…

Breakfast Of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

In days gone by, when repeatedly pressed about what my favourite book might be, a banal question seeking an impossible and crude reductionist answer to which I was usually rude in response, I would offer Breakfast Of Champions as a pacifier. 

I first read it in University, and it has, to some degree, influenced how I think and feel about a lot of things. Strikingly, I've never wanted to re-read it. Perhaps I was afraid I'd find fault the second time around and wanted to uphold it as a paragon of meta-fiction. Perhaps, but then I'm a relentless consumer of fiction and was always on to the next consumable work, never having time or inclination to go back.

So in the spirit of a more considered and thoughtful phase of my life I decided I wanted to read something that once made me feel good.

I'd clearly not remembered it very well.

But before that, I'm amazed I've gone *mumbles* years without once mentioning Kilgore Trout in my reviews, even in passing. The same goes fo…