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Showing posts from 2017

Annihilation: Southern Reach Trilogy 1 by Jeff VanderMeer

Apochryphal Tales by Karel Čapek

Free Fall In Crimson by John D. MacDonald

Kind One by Laird Hunt

Fup by Jim Dodge

Last And First Men by Olaf Stapledon

Consider if you will that the world was still recovering from what was to them then the Great War, the single most pointless and bloody conflict that man had ever seen. 16 million lives, both combatant and civilian, were lost, and families were indelibly marked for generations to come. So, if, at first, Stapledon's cosmological novel seems a little naive, or rather ridiculous, particularly with his predictions for the immediate political future of Europe, you might forgive him. He was, so I'm told, a committed Marxist and could see nothing good coming from the consumerist capitalism of America and its influence on the old world. In the foreword, Gregory Benford mentions that the unforgiving might like to skip to part five, so as to miss those parts to which one might take offence with the benefit of so stark a hindsight. Part five is where humans are almost totally killed off, for the first time of many.

For this book (novel would seem an odd description given it has no central…

And The Ass Saw the Angel by Nick Cave

Someone told me this novel, now nearly thirty years old (holy crap), Nick Cave's first and, possibly, his best, began life as a screenplay when he was still touring with The Birthday Present. That seems equally plausible and implausible. It is a wildly cinematic novel, narrated in flashback by the hermetic mute boy Euchrid Eucrow, who slithered into the world as one of a pair of damaged twins, the only one who survives the neglect of their first day on earth, and is vividly, viscerally visual. But it's also complicated, wildly imaginative, and at heart, finds a safer and more permanent berth in the gently revered world of literature than in the ever-changing and perfidious zeitgeist of cinema.

The story goes that Euchrid, after throwing himself into a bog into which he slowly sinks as he narrates his tale (to whom? and how?), was born, mute and unloved, into a truly Southern Gothic existence, mother a moonshine drunk, father a mean, bitter animal trapper, his community a severe…

The Little Town Where Time Stood Still by Bohumil Hrabal

Having finished within days of each other the two svelte novels Closely Observed Trains and Too Loud A Solitude, two novels which take up positions one and two on my list of favourite European novels of all time, I quickly resolved to pepper the next few months with more Hrabalobština and I purchased with intent to binge I Served The King Of England (superb!), Dancing Lessons For The Advanced in Age, and In-House Weddings, along with this double-header of stand-alone but linked novellas. For whatever reason, twelve years passed between the first of this short list and this last book.

Twelve years!

I find it difficult to describe, but much like when I think about the mid-Western novels of Percival Everett, or more recently the two Laird Hunt books Indiana, Indiana and Kind One, I experience a creeping horror and fascination born of a complete disconnect between myself and the characters of the novel, and am subject to a squally sense of pathos which can at any moment send my mood off int…

Erasmus Hobart and the Golden Arrow by Andrew Fish

It's hard and perhaps ungrateful to be critical of a book for which I paid nothing. It's also hard to work up the enthusiasm to read it. However, I was looking guiltily back through my e-reader library at all the wonderful free classic books I'd never read, not really fancying Aritsotle's Poetics or Beyond Good and Evil, when I remembered this.

And it was nothing like I'd imagined.

For some reason, the word golden had conjured some kind of mathematical construct, perhaps an unconscious association with Fibonacci, and I was sort-of expecting some kind of Beautiful Mind pastiche. What I got instead was a poor man's Doctor Who episode, without any of the BBC NOW-orchestrated dramatic tension, and a dim-watted lightbulb of an idea given life by a self-confessed fan of the author of The Meaning of Liff. I can't say it warrants a mention in the same sentence.

Alright, there are moments of snigger-worthy comedy, I seem to remember (but can find no evidence thereof cu…

UnAmerican Activities by James Miller

I don't think I was asked to honour the old convention that a freebie necessitates an honest if gently favourable review (at least I can find no written proof). I will however, name-check the generous (and possibly over-optimistic) @TheWorkshyFop, editorial director of the independent British publisher, Dodo Ink, from whose proof boxes of new November lead titles this one arrived. Thank you, sir!
I recall James Miller, specifically Lost Boys, from the dim and distant past. It may have been a commission for Waterstones Books Quarterly, or perhaps I was doing a solid for the Little, Brown sales rep. Regardless, I remember nothing about the book except being underwhelmed. From reading old reviews, it seems it had the coat-tails of the contemporaneous zeitgeist in its teeth, but one slightly savage Guardian review* points out it was pretty badly done. This might explain why I remember very little, perhaps proving Auden's assertion that, "some books are undeservedly forgotten; …

Hannah Green And Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence by Michael Marshall Smith

I was sold this book by Simon at the Big Green Bookshop in return for the money it cost plus a small donation towards operating costs and postage. 

In truth, I'd forgotten it was on its way, and it was a fucking lovely surprise when it arrived at my desk in work, my letterbox at the time being a tad short on width and breadth and unlikely to admit a hardback plus packaging. I recall very much enjoying reading Michael Marshall Smith, and I also enjoyed re-reading him, recently, and I documented this here, here and here. This was a book for which I hadn't realised I'd been waiting for a long time. 

However, had I not the history and warm, cosy feelings safely tucked up in the nostalgia bank, I would probably not have picked this up, going solely on the cover. There's a clock, the silhouette of a small girl, and leaves, along with a colour contrast and meandering font which brought to mind something cringe-worthily reminiscent of Alexander McCall-Smith*, or the covers of Sc…

Very Good, Jeeves! by P. G. Wodehouse

Sincerest apologies, if apologies are due, for the delay resulting from my recent indolence, itself in no small part due to the very trying nature of moving oneself and one's entire life from the capital city (of Wales) to an outlying yet nearby enclave of middle-middle class respectfulness.

In short, I've moved to Penarth.

The Vale! Glory be etc. Frankly, it was that or suffer cross-city commutes four times a day, up to four days per week, at peak traffic, to fetch or deposit the boy at his new educational institution.

So, I've been busy and I've been tired.

Not too tired for Wodehouse, however–just too tired to put finger to keyboard. This collection of 11 curt but classic tales of Bertie's travails and the seemingly unerring instinct of his man, Jeeves, is peak Wodehouse. The short form leaves no great room for a long-winded run-up, and plays a straight bat (with a tongue winkingly in cheek) down wicket right into the reader's grateful hands, fairly cutting to t…

A Child Across The Sky by Jonathan Carroll

I don't have a problem, per se, with Jonathan Carroll. Indeed, I've long enjoyed hoarding his novels with a view to drip-feeding them into my life as and when the whim takes me. I have fond memories of The Land of Laughs, and even though, in parts, Bones Of The Moon annoyed me, I was uplifted and happy to have read it. 

A Child Across The Sky returns us to Bones... characters Cullen and Weber once more, this time related from the point of view of the former film director and latterly the director of a theatre company of terminal cancer patients in New York, Weber Gregston. His best friend and occasional collaborator, Philip Strayhorn has killed himself, in unusual circumstances, leaving behind him a legacy of horror movies, magical video tapes and an angel named Pinslepe, who may or may not be the angel of death and is also pregnant with Strayhorn's ex-partner Sasha, who in turn is pregnant with her and also with cancer.

Hmm.

Carroll has never felt the need to explain things,…

One Of Us by Michael Marshall Smith

It's been a lot of fun working through Marshall Smith's back catalogue once again, short stories notwithstanding, building up to the very exciting recent release of Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence which I hope very soon to devour and regurgitate for your pleasure, post-Wodehouse
Well, for my pleasure at the very least.
It also goes to show just how fallible and self-deceptive the old shallow human mind truly is. I'd almost no recollection of this one whatsoever, except for all the talking white goods (it's not all that juvenile, I promise*) which I'd assumed were actually in one of his other books.
Ah, the perils of chain-reading an author with a very pronounced style!
His three novels as MMS, first person narratives with a charmingly churlish and wise-crackingly unreliable central protagonist, could be read as three stories of the same character but taken from three discrete near-neighbour parallel universes. 
The voice is strong with this one.

Look To Windward by Iain M. Banks

I get the odd urge to revisit Iain M. Banks now and then, and after it's all over I wonder whether it'll happen again, having sated my appetite for feeling a bit dim. For nothing makes me feel stupid like a world that is intricately crafted, exhaustively described, but of which I have only an abstract perception, a vague silvery blur against the midnight black of empty space. Look To Windward is set on an orbital, a looped strip of world surrounding a hub in which dwells the Culture AI which created and curates the terrain, rivers, cities and lives of the population of millions (or billions) which live thereon. And it's under threat from a revengeful species with catastrophic justice in mind.

As a concept goes, the Masaq' Orbital has a touch of genius about it, a whimsical playground for a bored civilization, where the terra is formed for the maximum visceral excitement (or homely comforts) of the inhabitants, a place acknowledged to be at threat from the proximity of a…

Watching The English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox

I think I stole this book from a holiday cottage. I must have done otherwise I can't remember where it came from.

Regardless, it's a lot of fun. I shan't go on at interminable length about each chapter and the conclusions the author draws about peculiarly English (read British) cultural and social morés, if that's not tautological; but, it is very odd, and sometimes squeamishly embarrassing, to clearly recognise in one's self the social ineptitude, studied aloofness, distaste for earnestness and ebullience of emotion, negative politeness and burning (but generally smouldering like a peat bog fire, rather than a towering inferno) sense of justice and fair play that she so succinctly pinions under the light of curious examination. 

Where the book falls down is in matters of style. This is clearly a book for the layperson. She is trying desperately to be on the reader's side, to have a laugh at herself and her own findings, so that the reader knows she is not being …

Only Forward by Michael Marshall Smith

I'm not an effusive type. Not unless it comes to beer of course, but even then I'm not exactly the sort of chap to  rant ceaselessly on the subject. 

Wait a minute, I know you're thinking, if he's starting with a denial then he's leading up to some sort of artificial epiphanic moment where he realises he IS effusive about something! Am I right?

Nope. 

Back in the early Xennial period I read all of this guy's work, including his short double-header with Kim Newman (see the Amazon link below–for those interested in how stupid I've been in giving away most of my books a few years back, the paperback at time of writing is selling second hand for OVER £100...), including *shudder* his collection of short stories*. I even read his first couple of 'horror' novels, none of which later. They were sharp, they were slick, they were funny, and you felt they had a brain behind them. I haven't changed my mind. Re-reading them has been a pleasure, but more for th…

The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter by Rod Duncan

It's been a while since I took a crack at any so-called steam punk; longer still because I forgot I had this on my e-reader. A downside of e-books is that their very incorporeality means they cannot remind you that they are yet to be read by their presence on the night table.

It was picked up at the same time as that other rather magnificent novel from Angry Robot for a similarly magnificent price [editor's note–it still seems to be discounted rather heavily as of 23rd June 2017; see the link below!], and appears to be the first in a series featuring Elizabeth Barnabus, daughter of destitute (and dead) erstwhile travelling circus owner. Miss Barnabus is an intelligence gatherer, or rather when disguised as her own brother she is, as the Leicester in which the novel takes place exhibits a particularly Victorian attitude to the work that a young woman might enter into.

Not all like the modern, equitable, meritocratic Britain of today, no.

Ahem.

The country, divided as if into Fattyp…

Miracle Brew by Pete Brown

Assume the usual laudatory Unbound crowd-funding preamble has taken place and we're moving forward into the realms of legitimate readerly opinion making, and on with the story!

Straight into a hangover.

I can in no way blame Pete Brown for the singularly disappointing situation in which I find myself. Yes, he talks knowledgeably and enthusiastically about the wonder of beer, it's amazing diversity and unfathomable origins, the breadth of flavour and taste experience available to the adventurous drinker, and yes, hearing about such wonderful experiences that I am not currently having begets in me such powerful feelings of want, and need, and of missing out that I have to rush out and purchase lots (and lots) of exciting and unusual beers. However, he is not to blame, for the most part, for the two-week long hangover I've been having this past, well, two weeks. I can blame only myself*.



I don't have any fondness for Mr Brown. I saw him once at a book event in Abergavenny, a…

Ways To Disappear by Idra Novey

You know what? I was excited to read this. That hasn't happened in a little while. It had something about it. The cover–lovely; the hook (a celebrated Brazilian writer climbs into a tree and disappears)–intriguing; the publisher–with a penchant for travel writing, this could only be particularly evocative of Brazil, a country of interest. I was excited. I don't recall who it was recommended it, and it might very well be the Amazon algorithm, but since I earmarked it to be bought and read I was grinning with anticipation.

And now I'm grimacing with consternation. First, a spirited defence of the book. It is fascinating, and although it teases with a magical realism plot synopsis it manages to steer clear of anything mystical, for the most part, and instead is deeply rooted in a convincingly tactile portrayal of Brazil–hot, unforgiving, corrupt, and completely seductive. Emma, the translator of 'her' author, the mysterious and absent Beatriz, is believable and complex…