Monday, November 23, 2020

Quick reviews - November 2020

The Vanished BirdsThe Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Whimsical first chapter that draws you in (almost more like a short story), slightly more formulaic second chapter that tries to build mystery, and a tangential third chapter that pummels you with telling, telling, telling. I lost the will to keep going.



Incursion (The Necromancer's Key, #1)Incursion by Mitchell Hogan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great start to a new series with lots of wtf moments and solid worldbuilding.





RecursionRecursion by Blake Crouch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Breakneck pacing, obsessive extrapolation but kind of pulpy for all that so the emotional impact was perhaps less than it could have been.



Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Review - Utopia Avenue - David Mitchell

 

Utopia AvenueUtopia Avenue by David Mitchell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Mostly harmless. Mitchell leaves no cliche or (rolling) stone unturned while mining his past works for ever-diminishing returns.

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Monday, July 15, 2019

Review -The Wall - John Lanchester

The WallThe Wall by John Lanchester
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Wall is about Kavanagh, filling his national service on the coastal wall that girdles the UK to keep out the Others after the world has gone to pot from the Change, which saw sea levels rise around the world and, we guess, massive environmental damage and human displacement. I say 'we guess' because the world building is short on detail. So short I thought The Wall was going into allegorical territory but if it was it didn't have a lot to say other than 'it's complicated'. And if it wasn't an allegory, the world building was unconvincing. For example it's set a little in the future and they still have TV and mobile phones but the Wall is super low-tech and the guards don't even have night vision goggles or automated defences.

It's also been compared (incorrectly by some) to 1984. Kavanagh is no Winston Smith. He doesn't question or resist. He drifts. Maybe this is Lanchester's comment on late 20th/ early 21st Century humanity. Whatever, it doesn't make for an engaging character or prosecution - through their eyes - of a particular stance.

The events that happen, while believable, alternate between being quite boringly quotidian and described in mind-numbing detail. There's also a LOT of foreshadowing in the 'little did I know I'd never see her again' vein and even though things pick up a bit in the final sequence there's zero resolution and I actually swore out loud when I read the last sentence because it was the opposite of thought-provoking, fulfilling or anything else you could hope for from the end of a really good book.

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Saturday, May 18, 2019

Review - Tiamat's Wrath - James SA Corey

Tiamat's Wrath (The Expanse, #8)Tiamat's Wrath by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

James SA Corey postponed the release of Tiamat's Wrath so they could concentrate on getting it right. It was worth the wait. Persepolis Rising (book 7) was a difficult book, bringing in a significant time jump for the lead characters and ending on a huge downer with the crew of the Rocinante fragmented: some captured, some on the run. One of the strengths of Tiamat's Wrath is how these characters - isolated and in difficult circumstances - pull themselves up to a position where they can strike back. This is one of the strongest books in the series with brilliant plot and character reveals throughout.

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Monday, May 28, 2018

The Art of Worldbuilding

I talk about worldbuilding the Lenticular, including how to use Pinterest and language to create depth and texture, over on Kerry Rogerson's blog.

Review - The Buried Ark - James Bradley

The Buried ArkThe Buried Ark by James Bradley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first Book of the Change, The Silent Invasion, channelled classic YA speculative fiction like the Tripods and Tomorrow series and ended with one hell of a cliffhanger. See my earlier review on Goodreads.

The Buried Ark picks up the action immediately after the end of Book 1. Callie is in the Zone and penetrates deeper into the nightmarish landscape with her less than trustworthy companion. The people that exist there are terribly altered. Author James Bradley is clearly riffing on The Invasion of The Bodysnatchers but manages to turn it into something darker, which is no mean feat.

Of course the deeper horror of the Books of the Change is that the Zone is a corollary for the climate change we see accelerating around us, and which is turning our ecosystem into something just as inhospitable. It's a truth the young readers of these books will have to confront in the too-near future. Speculative fiction often deals with what is happening in the real world today, and Callie is the perfect avatar for the upcoming generation who - we hope - will be able to solve the problems left them by so-called adults.

Within this uncomfortable framework, the action in The Buried Ark is relentless as Callie finds unwelcome truths about the Zone's denizens and herself before becoming embroiled in a plan to halt the Change with deadly consequences for everyone on the planet.

The ending of Book 2 is one of the most gutsy pieces of writing I've seen in a long time, doubling down on Book 1's cliffhanger and then some. Where Book 3 will take us, I have no idea, but I'm buckled in and ready for the ride.

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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Review - La Belle Sauvage - Phillip Pullman

La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust, #1)La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Well that was disappointing. I loved the His Dark Materials books and their combination of imagination, action and big ideas and I looked forward to diving into Pullman's world again with the first in a prequel trilogy.

The story of La Belle Sauvage starts promisingly enough. Lyra is a baby and has been ordered into the protection of a nunnery near Oxford. Malcolm is a likable and plucky boy who works and lives with his parents at a nearby pub and often visits the nuns. The arrival of Lord Asriel to see his daughter draws Malcolm into a battle that is raging around the baby between the Magisterium and a secret network of spies called Oakley Street.

The witches in the north have a prophecy about the baby and others want to do her harm. During a violent storm and subsequent flood, Malcolm flees with the baby and Nancy, a serving girl, in his boat La Belle Sauvage across a drowned land.

The rest of the book - 50% of the text - centres on a series of adventures the three have, which become quite repetitive and have little to no bearing on the central plot. After a few chapters of this it begins to feel like incident for incident's sake. Filler. The central plot is also vague. There's talk of Dust and certain scientific research, but because Malcolm and Nancy are not part of the Magisterium or Oakley Street, their knowledge (and ours) is limited.

The whole series of events (it's not a plot really) peters to a predictable end with the promise that something interesting or really exciting might happen in the next book. I don't think I can be bothered.

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