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The Child Garden by Geoff Ryman

We're all hurt. But not hurt by the fall.
If art has taught me nothing else, then in all the world, in every situation, it feels like every single person is conflicted by the need for stability and the inescapable contradictions of the mutable self. We're idiosyncratic. We're unpredictable. We vacillate. We waver and flip-flop. We believe we hold deep-seated philosophies and morals, profound ethical positions and beliefs, and yet these can be unseated at any given moment. We want things we know are bad, and we desire things we probably know will make us miserable, or at least definitely not ameliorate our misery, no matter how shiny or expensive. In the Buddhist sense, it is our desire which leads to suffering. That's a hard thing with which to come to terms. And yet many significant advancements in science and technology come not out of actual necessity, but out of desire; a desire to help, a desire to heal, a desire, ironically, to stop suffering; a desire to murder as many of our enemies with little cost to our allies. Arguably, these desires go against our nature. We evolved to the beasts we are, and now we desire to artificially develop further, quicker, smarter, with no long view of the consequences. 

Personally, I'm ambivalent, as I imagine most people are, to this artifice. I desire more comfort at home; year-round tropical fruit on the shelves; a cure for all fatal diseases. And yet I know food should be seasonal, that we evolved eating only those things we could grow or kill ourselves. I know a larger more comfortable sofa might mean facilitating sweatshop textile manufacture in a third world archipelago. But what of disease? What if disease serves a purpose?

The Child Garden posits a future London, nay, world, where cancer is cured, by the coating of proteins with sugar, or 'candy' which prohibits the spread of corrupted genetic information. The population is cancer-free! Unfortunately, it appears that cancer served an essential function and without it, the lifespan of a human is halved to approximately thirty-five years. Although now able to photosynthesise for energy, humans can no longer afford the luxury of a childhood, so learning is advanced exponentially, utilising viruses which share knowledge like implanted tech, so that children can contribute to the workforce. And each mind is 'read' by The Consensus, which is a repository of all human knowledge, and which makes decisions for the good of all, in place of a government; to quote The Orb, 'A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld'. An ultimate socialist dystopia. 

Quite science fiction-y so far, eh? That's not all! The world is depleted of natural resources, particularly metal, so the Consensus is mining the galaxy and beyond through the use of 'angels', gravitational beings capable of riding the strings of interdimensional webbing that stretch across the universe, joining everything together.


Remarkably, for such a huge concept, this is not even the main strand of this quite amazing narrative. For our protagonist is Milena Shibush, a Czech immigrant who is immune to the viruses. She, of all people, shunned and ostracised as a child, lacking implanted social conformity, fearful of the discovery that she has never been 'read', is the key to the survival of the human race. She learns, the hard way, to live like everyone else, tries to accept the viruses, to no avail. She falls in love with a genetically engineered woman but can't articulate this for fear of her 'bad grammar' coming to light. But in her love she discovers purpose, and works towards the production of the most ambitious musical project the world has ever seen, and in the process comes to the attention of the Consensus, which, having become self-aware, realises that she is the one thing it lacks, the one thing that could put an end to its gargantuan loneliness, and the one thing that can bring back cancer. That's right–by the end of the book, the people of London are cheering the return of cancer.

That's some synopsis let me tell you. AND, so you're conscious of the enormity and excellence if this novel, it barely does it justice, if at all. While I've concentrated on the literal aspects, the practical narrative of the book, it develops themes of love and loss, of music and poetry; it challenges the reader to consider his or her own sense of self-worth; it reaches far and wide across the panoply of human experiences and flips them like cards on a table. It's sad, moving, (I didn't get the Dickensian humour the cover touts, but you might), and thoughtful. It's also damning. We don't know what we're doing.


How's about that then?

Metaliterature - what meaning to have is this for meaning?

Not a review this time, more of a curiosity. It seems I'm receiving lots of hits from Russia (Здравствуйте России!) from people searching for the definition of "metaliterature". As such, it is something of a bespoke word, created to fit a need and probably not yet recognized outside literary theory / criticism circles (Merriam-Webster Online certainly don't like it). I was wondering what they typed in to end up here, so, for fun (it's not fun, sorry) I thought I'd bung it in Google Translate and see what came out. As it turns out, one needs a little hyphen for the rather ponderous machine to understand it, and even then only does half the job (meta seems to be meta in any language). 
Incidentally, below is, ironically, a Google Chrome Thesaurus definition* of "meta":

met·a Adjective/ˈmetə/
(of a creative work) Referring to itself or to the conventions of its genre; self-referentialInterestingly (not interesting, sorry) it says this for the full term, t…

Under The Dust by Jordi Coca

So, wheel of fortune, count to 29, pin the tail, freebies off of peeps on Twitter etc. etc. Whatever the methods sometimes employed to pick the next book in my intertextual experience, the one that brought me to Jordi Coca brought me to a whopping great slice of nostalgia. Before I'd even opened it, it brought to mind Richard Gwyn, himself a published poet, author, biographer, translator and course director of the MA Creative Writing course at Cardiff University, who I recall for some odd reason gently encouraging me to read this novel, and by whose own work I was quietly impressed at the time. He was also an advocate of Roberto Bolaño, another writer in whose work I can immerse myself but from which I emerge drained, as mentioned previously. Before that, though, there is this sticker on the front, declaring 'Signed by the Author at Waterstone's'. It is indeed signed by Jordi Coca, not adding any particular intrinsic value to the book, not for me anyway, but more impor…

Hereward: The Last Englishman by Peter Rex

By all accounts, Hereward was the guerrilla scourge of the invading Norman armies in eleventh century Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, famous for isolating and dismembering members of the Norman nobility who strayed too far from home, and also for trashing Peterborough and hiding on an island. Called variously (and often erroneously) The Wake, The Exile or The Outlaw, his infamy was such that families in search of noble English lineage have usurped his "heroism" for their own glory even until this very day. Rex delights in highlighting one author's particular folly, entitled Hereward, The Saxon Patriot, in which Lieutenant-General Harward attempts to run his antecedents right back to the loins of the eponymous gentleman-rogue. 

Having only read the introduction to Peter Rex's myth-busting (and often ill-edited) work, I was already struck by an initial thought which ran thus: if as Rex asserts Hereward was the son of Asketil Tokison, a descendant of a wealthy Danish family …

A Death In The Family: My Struggle Volume 1 by Karl Ove Knausgaard

I sit here, wearing my limited edition Knausgaard t-shirt, immensely grateful to the kind people at Vintage Books for their surprising gift of the first four novels (and aforementioned t-shirt) simply as a result of being able to post a comment on their YouTube Vlog. There may have been a hidden agenda, considering I'm a book blogger (What, interrobang, a book blogger, interrobang and so on...) but I prefer to believe they picked me at random. Because I'm ace. 
Nonetheless, I had no idea what to expect of these books. I did do a little reading, and found lots of very interesting articles about Karl Ove Knausgaard, including this entertaining one in the Wall Street Journal. But in all honesty, nothing prepared me for reading them, and I can see why they cause controversy and consternation wherever they are translated (which is pretty much everywhere).
First off, being intelligent and perspicacious readers as I trust you all to be, you will no doubt have spotted the whole Godwin&#…