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Showing posts from June, 2018

Books of Note

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

Not surprisingly, like a lot of John Darnielle’s music, particularly those songs on the album The Sunset Tree (Pale Green Things springs to mind and is very much worth listening to), his writing only slowly reveals itself and its narrative direction. Not in any turgid or tedious fashion, but rather in an unhurried, gentler and more thoughtful way. Universal Harvester rolls gently along its path with only a few disconcerting and probably deliberate hiccups. It starts in Iowa in the 1990s with a young man, still living at home with his father but unable to leave because of the weight of his mother’s death, years before, in a car crash. The trauma tethers Jeremy and his father together like the gravitational pull of a dead star in a comfortable and predictable but numb orbit, but it’s never something that either of them can discuss openly.
Jeremy works at a VHS rental store, so we’re assuredly early-Worldwide Web era. His job is simple, repetitive, and keeps him and his father in entertai…

The Wild Places by Robert MacFarlane

You don’t need me to tell you how totally wonderful this book is. You’re no doubt so far ahead of me on this one that anything I could add would be as spit is to the ocean.
It’s erudite, but not condescending or patronizing; it kindles a fire that is latent in us all, even in those who refuse to acknowledge its presence, one which burns for a connection to nature and the natural world; and it made me want to climb straight up the nearest tree.
But you knew that already.
It also re-opened for me the door to Roger Deakin, one of my forgotten heroes, an author and pioneer who lived his love of the outdoors to the extent that it most often crept indoors. A man whose short relationship with MacFarlane brought tears to my eyes as they explored the world together.
I have added Wildwood to the teetering pile of books on my bedside table.
So, to fill up some space not being used to extoll the virtues of his prose or the wonderful subject thereof, I thought I’d mention the fact that I…

High-Rise by J.G. Ballard

Ballardian Architecture. It’s a thing, so I’m told. And I don’t doubt it. He did so love to explore the psychologies of gated communities, and the utilitarian, Brutalist monstrosities such as La Défence and Trellick Tower (particularly, given fictional architect Anthony Royal is likely an avatar of Trellick’s architect Erno Goldfinger, who rumour has it was turned into a Bond villain as a result of his building an awful modernist house near to sometimes-Hampstead-neighbour Ian Fleming, but did, in fact, live in the penthouse suite of the nearby Balfron Tower for a few months, before moving out). High-Rise itself is the fourth in a tetralogy of early explorations of such structures and their communities. In his last, loosely grouped tetralogy, Cocaine Nights, Super-Cannes, Millennium People, and Kingdom Come he returns to this thematic exploration and the types of people who choose to live in these communities.

And they’re worth exploring.

Indeed, anyone who has seen recent series like T…

Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

You may recallthat I’m a fan of Jeff VanderMeer. You may recall also that I mentioned the dreaded epithet “genre fiction”.
I did.
Well, I can’t lie, it may be. If you have to put it somewhere I guess that’s the place. I’ve read quite a number of Amazon ‘reviews’ of his work in my time and a few names keep coming up in the context of front-runners for the top “new weird” writer, most notably China Miéville. I would argue VanderMeer’s work more than bears the comparison (if you’ll pardon the pun, Mord fans), but yes, he does tend to inhabit this odd space at the edge of science fiction between post-apocalyptic fiction and the, some might say, insignificant sub-sub-genre of ecological fiction. But to push him in there and lock the door would be to do both him and yourself a disservice.
The world of Borne is a post-apocalyptic, post-ecological-melt-down landscape, where humans are few and far between, where your neighbours are more likely to be feral, bio-engineered children or a bear the si…