psutto's 111111 challenge

TalkThe 11 in 11 Category Challenge

Join LibraryThing to post.

psutto's 111111 challenge

This topic is currently marked as "dormant"—the last message is more than 90 days old. You can revive it by posting a reply.

Edited: Aug 24, 2010, 9:06 am

starting the thread - categories to follow, will be doing a step challenge for 2011

Edited: Dec 20, 2010, 5:12 am

11 Short stories, novellas and articles - Elevenses is a mid-morning refreshment such as tea and biscuits taken around 11am

10 books I want to read in 2011 that aren't in another category - Displayed on a calculator, the number 11 reads the same whether the calculator is turned upside down or reflected on a mirror, or both.

9 Books about travel or about science - A rocket should travel at over eleven kilometers per second to escape the gravity of the earth

8 Books about the natural world, set on the high seas or about exploration - The deepest point of one of the oceans of the world is 11km at the Mariana Trench

7 Books of the film - The maximum number of Oscar awards for any movie is eleven. This figure was achieved by "Titanic", "Ben-Hur" and "The Lord of the rings:return of the king"

6 Books of Rememberance, about war, history or from the past - World War I ended on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour

5 Books by New Zealand authors - The Maoris, the initial inhabitants of New Zealand, used for reckoning or accounting purposes the undecimal (base-11) positional notation system

4 Books about age or educational books - The Eleven Plus is an English school selection examination taken by 11 year olds which was abolished in most areas with the introduction of comprehensive schools. It was fondly remembered by taxi drivers and education ministers and has made a recent return.

3 Books about numbers or with numbers in the title or books in a series - Number Eleven is a prime number. (11 is binary for 3)

2 Books about prophecy, apocalypse or ancient wisdom - The Solstice on December 21, 2012—precisely at 11:11 AM Universal Time—marks the completion of the 5,125 year Great Cycle of the Ancient Maya Long Count Calendar.

1 Book about fate, coincidence or given to me to read - some people believe that when they notice the number pattern 1111 or the digits 11:11 on digital time pieces, time/temperature signs, and so on, that there is an underlying reason besides mere chance or coincidence (there's some odd people out there!)

Sep 20, 2010, 11:24 am

probably shooting myself in the foot as I'm struggling to finish my 1010 challenge with much more open categories!

Edited: Mar 29, 2011, 1:55 pm

11 Short stories, novellas and articles

1 - the session Aaron Petrovich - READ
2 - the expelled Samuel Beckett - READ
3 - the calmative Samuel Beckett - READ
4 - the end Samuel Beckett - READ
5 - my son, there exists another world alongside our own - Chris Bachelder - READ
6 -stop evolution in its tracks - John Sladek - READ
7 -the cruel redeemer lazarus morell - Jorges Luis Borges - READ
8 - transformation - Mary Shelley - READ
9 - the intoxicated - Shirley Jackson - READ
10 - the novella: a personal exploration - Jeff Vandermeer - READ
11 - the harvest gypsies - John Steinbeck - READ

Edited: Apr 21, 2011, 7:52 am

10 books I want to read in 2011 that aren't in another category

1 - how to live safely in a science fictional universe Charles Yu - READ
2 - Night of the living trekkies - Kevin David Anderson and Sam Stall - READ
3 - bldgblog book Geoff Manaugh - READ
4 - altered carbon - Richard Morgan - READ
5 - the castle omnibus - Steph Swainston - READ
6 - under heaven - Guy Gavriel Kay -For GGK March -READ
7 - the lions of al-rassan - Guy Gavriel Kay - For GGK March - READ
8 - working days - John Steinbeck - READ
9 - the dictionary of the Khazars - Milorad Pavić - READ
10 - perdido street station - China Mieville - READ

flat earth news Nick Davies - GAVE UP

Edited: May 10, 2011, 6:27 am

9 Books about travel or about science

1 - fantasy freaks and gaming geeks - Ethan Gilsdorf - READ (its a "quest" and the author travels a lot)
2 - chloroform: The quest for oblivion - Linda Stratman - READ
3 - the colours of darkness LLoyd Biggle Jr - READ
4 - reality is broken - Jane Mcgonigal - READ
5 - paranormality: Why we see what isn't there Richard Wiseman - READ
6 - seven years in tibet - Heinrich Harrer -READ
7 - the ecstatic - Victor D. Lavalle - READ
8 - yellow blue tibia - adam roberts - READ
9 - embassytown - China Meiville - READ

wizard: the life and times of Nikola Tesla - Marc Seifer - GAVE UP

Edited: Jul 6, 2011, 6:21 am

8 Books about the natural world, set on the high seas or about exploration

1 - Eels: An Exploration, from New Zealand to the Sargasso, of the World's Most Mysterious Fish – James Prosek - READ
2 - Rats - Robert Sullivan - READ
3 - the mole people - Jennifer Toth - READ
4 - the scar - China Mievilla -READ
5 - episode: a report on the accident inside my skull - Eric Hodgins - READ
6 - eaten by a giant clam - Joseph Cummins - READ
7 - the heart of the sea - Nathanial Philbrick - READ
8 - into the blue - Tony Horwitz - READ

Edited: Jun 20, 2011, 4:09 am

7 Books of the film

1 - 2001:a space odyssey - Arthur C Clarke - READ
2 - lonesome dove - READ
3 - the grapes of wrath - John Steinbeck - READ
4 - no country for old men - Cormac McCarthy - READ
5 - King Soloman's mines - H. Rider Haggard - READ
6 - Cary Grant: A biography - Marc Eliot - READ
7 - night has a thousand eyes - Cornell Woolrich - READ

the light's on at signpost - George Macdonald Fraser - GAVE UP

Edited: Mar 12, 2011, 3:48 pm

6 Books of Rememberance, about war, history or from the past

1 - pope Joan - Emmanuel Royidis, translated by Lawrence Durrell - READ
2 - the emigrants - W.G. Sebald - READ
3 - metropole - Ferenc Karinthy - READ
4 -the secret history of moscow - Ekaterina Sedia - READ
5 -who was changed and who was dead - Barbara Comyns - READ
6 - the master and margarita - READ

Edited: Jul 8, 2011, 4:46 am

5 Books by New Zealand authors

1 - electric - Chad Taylor - READ
2 - the scarecrow - Ronald Hugh Morrieson - READ
3 - Hicksville - Dylan Horrocks - READ
4 - stonedogs - Craig Marriner - READ
5 - my name was judas - CK Stead - READ

living in the maniototo - Janet Frame - GAVE UP

Edited: Jun 20, 2011, 4:09 am

4 Books about age or educational books

1 - the prime of miss jean brodie - Muriel Spark - READ
2 - black swan green- David Mitchell -READ
3 - bad science - Ben Goldacre - READ
4 - Cyclonopedia - Reza Negarestani - READ

Edited: May 30, 2011, 5:47 am

3 Books about numbers or with numbers in the title or books in a series

1 - zero: biography of a dangerous idea - Charles Seife - READ
2 - iron council - China Mieville - READ
3 - 2666 - Roberto Bolano - READ

Edited: Apr 6, 2011, 6:12 am

2 Books about prophecy, apocalypse or ancient wisdom

1 - the death of grass -John Christopher - READ
2 - the end of science fiction - Sam Smith - READ

Edited: Jun 27, 2011, 10:16 am

1 Book about fate, coincidence or given to me to read

1 - what ho, automaton! - chris dolley-READ

Sep 20, 2010, 11:34 am

so - anyone know any good new zealand authors - I've read the whale rider and once were warriors which are the obvious two I guess

Edited: Sep 20, 2010, 4:29 pm

This or this tagmash should get you started.

Sep 20, 2010, 9:07 pm

I like your factoids that go with each category! When I was little, one of my friends told me that if I saw a digital clock that read 11:11, I should make a wish. Not sure why that particular time is magical, but oh well! :)

Sep 20, 2010, 9:48 pm

Good categories and I second the great factoids!

Sep 24, 2010, 9:48 am

Thanks :-)

Oct 4, 2010, 6:11 pm

Looking forward to following your reading next year too. At the risk of sounding very unoriginal, I'm going to give you props for the factoids too!

Oct 19, 2010, 7:30 am

got to start 01/01/11 really - probably with whichever book I get for Xmas that wins the "read next" race...

unlike the 1010 challenge I'm not going to prescribe the reading but may come up with some possibles before hand

Oct 24, 2010, 6:25 am

Try Mr Pip, by Lloyd Jones.

Nov 4, 2010, 2:56 pm

Good luck with your challenge.
I have a New Zealand category this year for the 1010. I'd recommend Patricia Grace's Potiki or Ronald Hugh Morrieson's The Scarecrow. Recently published books I really enjoyed have been The Rehearsal and As the earth turns silver. I've also just had Janet Frame's Living in the Maniototo recommended to me.
For lighter reading try Maurice Gee's children's books The Fire-raiser, The Fat Man or Dylan Horrock's graphic novel Hicksville.

Nov 16, 2010, 10:31 am

22 - sounds interesting, not a huge fan of Dickens though (having been forced to do Oliver Twist at School) - do I need to know the story of Great Expectations to appreciate the book fully?

Nov 16, 2010, 10:42 am

23 - thanks :-) some intriguing choices there - I reckon a couple of them, at least, will make it onto the challenge!

putting living in the maniototo and the scarecrow on my wishlist right away...

Dec 8, 2010, 9:59 pm

Wow, I loved your trivia to go with each category.

Dec 10, 2010, 8:31 am

26 - many thanks - the internet is a truly wonderful thing ;-)

Dec 18, 2010, 5:56 am

After reading your categories, I now need someone to come along and start up a game of Trivial Pursuit so that I could score a point or two. Neato bandito idea.

Dec 20, 2010, 5:09 am

@28 - Thanks - I whittled down the facts from a few websites there were others I almost used like - "Apollo 11 was the first manned spacecraft to land on the moon" which could have fit the travel/science category etc

Jan 7, 2011, 11:18 am

Decided to not do Stars as I tended to do a lot of half-star reviews – therefore my reviews this year will be along the lines of: - Awful (generally a book will only get this if I was unable to finish it), OK (I finished it but wouldn’t recommend it), Good (Read it if you like that sort of thing), Very Good (I really enjoyed it but its not quite Brilliant), Brilliant (Go out and buy a copy now, everyone should read this book)

(Thanks to clfisha who's idea I blatantly robbed!)

Jan 7, 2011, 11:18 am

2001:A Space Odyssey – Arthur C Clarke – Books of the Film category


Incredibly it does not have a line in it that goes “I’m sorry I can’t do that Dave”!

It starts off explaining a little bit more of what the hell was going on with the man apes but it let me down by having the same “what the fu…?” ending as the film. The book, on the whole, is well written (although does seem to get a bit psychedelic & “out there” near the end). Its enjoyable enough and I had the millennium edition which includes an introduction and some talk about the film.

Overall – you’ve seen the film surely?

Edited: Jan 7, 2011, 11:26 am

How to life safely in a science fictional universe – Charles Yu - Books I want to read in 2011 that aren't in another category

Very Good

The story is that time machines exist & the protagonist is a time machine repair man who eventually does something that no time traveller should do (one of THOSE rules). The book though is really about the protagonist’s life and lack of relationships with real people. It ' s an odd book where the author has a slightly sideways view of things. The writing is fluid although the structure of the book is vaguely odd (but not ergodic)with some blank pages and some simple diagrams. The actual science fictional world is never really explained (minor universe 31 was left unfinished by whoever was constructing it and the laws of physics were abandoned when only 93% installed) . The story sometimes meanders, like the protagonist’s thoughts and it’s a fairly standard time plot. Despite all that though I read it in a few bites and really enjoyed it, it was just slightly off which prevented it being brilliant. However definitely an author to watch as this was his first novel (he has published a series of short stories that may also be worth a look).

Overall – fairly standard plot told in a fresh and interesting way

Jan 7, 2011, 2:38 pm

Overall – you’ve seen the film surely?

So, 'splain that ending for me again. ;)

Jan 9, 2011, 2:52 am

I like your comments on How to life safely in a science fictional universe , I've seen a lot of people not liking it but not saying why.

Jan 10, 2011, 5:32 am

33 - erm, er, um - nope still no idea what the star child is all about :-)

@34 - I enjoyed it - it has its faults but overall very good

Edited: Jan 10, 2011, 6:30 am

fantasy freaks and gaming geeks Ethan Gilsdorf - Books about travel or about science


One man’s quest to rediscover his inner geek

This book could have been so much better if it wasn’t for the fact that the author has big big issues with his own inner geek. His starting position (and it was probably exaggerated to make the book have some conflict) was that even reading fantasy or watching films like Lord of the Rings was infantile and only for complete saddos with no life and that playing D&D or online games was actually bad for you. He was “totally obsessed” with D&D as a kid until he discovered girls and then “wanted to be cool” and gave up any such hankerings for fantasy (somehow deciding that fantasy is bad for you). Spool forward and the author has hit 40 and is having relationship troubles and has “guiltily” watched the Lord of the Rings films which has re-sparked his latent interest in fantasy. He then undertakes a “quest” to discover if fantasy is bad for him. He attends a LARP (Live Action RolePlay), goes to a SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) grand battle, goes to a couple of gaming and fantasy cons, goes to England to meet with the Tolkein society and makes the trip to New Zealand to tour the Lord of the Rings film locations.

Maybe its because he’s an American and the labels people have are much more prescriptive than in the UK but his initial starting point is far too extreme for the book to actually be any good. He does a bunch of interesting stuff and meets lots of self-confessed geeks but his underlying assumptions and prejudices spoil everything. Its not unremitting, he does acknowledge in places that there’s nothing inherently wrong with fantasy or with gaming but in too many places he repeats the mantra that escaping from reality in any form is bad for you psychologically. At the end of the book he also repeats that he has “outgrown” his need for fantasy again infantilising anyone who has an interest in fantasy literature, film or games.

Overall – Annoying author decides that there is something wrong with the millions of people who enjoy gaming, read fantasy books or like fantasy films

Edited: Jan 10, 2011, 6:32 am

Night of the living trekkies Kevin David Anderson and Sam Stall - books I want to read in 2011 that aren't in another category

Very Good

Zombies invade a star trek convention

Suffering from flashbacks and PTSD from his time in Afghanistan Jim Pike just wants to be left alone with no responsibility and works as a security guard in Botany Bay hotel in Houston Texas. The hotel is hosting Gulfcon , a trekker convention , which starts at about the same time as a zombie infestation. It’s a rip roaring ride with action all the way as Jim attempts to save a model and his sister and her friends who are attending the con. There are lots of trek references but I found that even knowing as little as I do about Star Trek (I’ve watched it sure but am no trek trivia buff) I could still enjoy the book. Perhaps there were a lot of subtle references that I missed? If so it didn’t spoil it.

Overall – a fast paced mash up of star trek and zombies – great fun

Jan 12, 2011, 11:25 am

Eels: An Exploration, from New Zealand to the Sargasso, of the World's Most Mysterious Fish – James Prosek

Very Good

It’s a book all about Eels

The author took 11 years to write this book apparently however the story he wanted to write changed in the telling. He initially wanted to cover the eel’s lifecycle and all the ways it is eaten around the world. However the more he learned about it the more he wanted to track its influence on indigenous peoples in both New Zealand and Micronesia (although he does cover the lifecycle part – and up to date research from Japan). Along the way he stays with an eel fisherman (with whom he creates a strong friendship) and visits both New Zealand and Pohnpei (a Micronesian island where there is an Eel clan). The book is engaging and well written but a bit oddly structured as if he (or the editor?) couldn’t decide on what to include and what not to include (and I guess at the end of 11 years he must have had a lot of material on eels!). As it is, it includes eel mythology, eel biology (but not in great technical detail), eel fishing techniques, eel conservation & the world eel market.

Overall – Not your typical fisherman’s tale the book is a joy to read and he makes the subject very interesting.

Jan 12, 2011, 11:30 am

the Death of Grass John Christopher

Very Good

All species of grass (including rice, wheat, barley etc.)are affected by a virus and die out, world starvation follows

The story revolves around two brothers – one is an engineer lives in London and his brother is a farmer living in Yorkshire. When the situation in the cities becomes bad enough the engineer and an ever growing band of followers make their way across the country to the farm. Although the book is a bit dated in both attitude and language it is a very good ecological disaster story. The science is mostly plausible (although the story does include some implausible parts) and when you consider that many species depend on the grasses (including rice, wheat, barley etc) world starvation doesn’t seem that far fetched (especially for the 50's when the book was written). The overall tone is bleak with the old adage that mankind is only a few meals away from barbarism. The book contains some savage scenes and the old apocalyptic fiction question is posed – what lengths would you go to so that you and your family can survive in extreme conditions.

Overall – bleak, savage, post-apocalyptic vision with some genuinely chilling scenes

Jan 13, 2011, 6:58 am

electric chad taylor


odd thriller set in Auckland

Sam is in love with a doctor and together they sample the drugs available
from the pharmacy until Sam gets into his car high and crashes it causing his
girlfriend to a)lose her job and b) fall out of love with him and leave him.
As he tries to put his life back together he gets a job at a data retreival
company specialising in getting data off damaged hard drives. He is amazed by
the data on a particular hard drive all about turbulence written by two
mathematicians Jules & Candy and he becomes embroiled in their lives. Jules
ends up in a coma and Candy disappears and Sam attempts to find out what
happened and do something about it. At the same time, as a backdrop (and of
no importance to the plot) the city of Auckland has a power outage that lasts
a few days (hence the title of the book). Its an oddly unaffecting book that
although kept my interest till the end really didn't stick in my mind at all
and I struggle a day or two later to remember anything specific about it.

It's adverised as Noir (which it really isn't) and a thriller but it's not a

gripping story its more languid and dreamy. I also didn't really get a sense
of place and the book could have been set anywhere really, there are few
characters and they are shallowly defined. Although saying all that its very
readable and I didn't hate it.

Overall - very forgettable

Edited: Jan 14, 2011, 12:12 pm

Great reviews! I had heard of Night of the Living Trekkies but was not sure if it would be a good read or a painful one :P

Jan 14, 2011, 6:06 am

41 - Thanks :-)

it was surprisingly good

Jan 14, 2011, 12:18 pm

Wow, you're making some swift progress here! The death of grass sounds like something I'd enjoy (is that the title? Touchstones suggests No blade of grass - same book or a sequel?). I've read very little of the older (post-) apocalyptic stuff, and should be looking into it.

Jan 14, 2011, 10:49 pm

Glad to know I don't need to read Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks! I enjoy works on fanculture, but only when it's respectful and admits the meaningfulness of fan activities at least within the subculture itself, if not arguing for them more broadly.... You wrote a very good review of the book.

Jan 16, 2011, 6:09 am

@43 yep having a good Reading month :-) no blade of grass is the American title for the same book. As Id say it was a bit dated but still very good, it won 2nd prize in a competition that lord of the rings won

Jan 16, 2011, 6:12 am

44 yep I wouldn't recommend that book to anyone!

Jan 17, 2011, 8:45 am

Chloroform: the quest for oblivion Linda Stratmann - Books about travel or about science


The social, medical and criminal history of chloroform

Up until the 19th Century surgery was carried out without much recourse to anaesthesia yet when Ether, Nitrous Oxide and Chloroform were introduced this all changed – although many in the medical profession at first opposed anaesthetics because pain was seen as a necessary stimulant, mind you they also thought that pus was a good sign in a wound (its also the days before antiseptics). Stratmann is a meticulous researcher (sometimes too much of that research makes it to the page and this makes some chapters a little too dry for my liking) and covers the medical aspects – discovery, testing (mostly people tested anaesthetics on themselves, sometimes with deadly results) adequately but the book really came alive for me when she started to discuss the true life crime aspects. She spends several chapters on some high profile cases including an entire chapter on H.H.Holmes (America’s “first” serial killer) which was just fascinating. Its no surprise to me to see that after this, her first book, she has gone on to write a number of true life crime books (which tend to get very good reviews). The book covers the entire era of Chloroform use and includes many fascinating facts.

Overall - This book gives you everything you ever need to know about chloroform.

Edited: Jan 17, 2011, 8:52 am

the session - aaron petrovich - Short stories, novellas and articles


A Novella in conversation

A rapid fire conversation between two (and sometimes 3) characters revolving around a bizarre religion led by “the mathematician” a murder (of the mathematician) and the mob of people who may have eaten his internal organs. Interspersed with black & white pictures that fit the story perfectly this is a sublime short read (at 59 pages) which is pitch perfect in its language. You have to read it in one session and you’d better pay attention as its got no speech marks (as its all conversation – no description at all) and no indication of which character is speaking. (example dialogue below). Petrovich is consistently compared with Samuel Beckett in reviews of whom I know very little and have never read any of his work – perhaps its time I did?

There are truths and there are facts and then there are those rarely encountered truths that act on us as though they are facts over which we have no control.
Regardless of our participation in them?
And freed from the constraints of the manner we've used to procure them.
This, then, is an implicit truth?
Not precisely.
Is it, then, an inherent truth?
Not precisely.
Is it not, then, an essential truth?

Overall – funny and frantic – you have to read it one session…

Jan 17, 2011, 4:37 pm

Voted one of the 100 worst pick-up lines ever- "Does this rag smell like chloroform to you?"

Jan 17, 2011, 5:49 pm

@48 It's been ages since I read Beckett, but I had a few years in my twenties when I read his work in staples. As I recall, the first two books of his trilogy: Molloy and Malone dies are quite accessible and fun reads, as was Watt. I also enjoyed How it is and a lot of his shorter prose, but that's much trickier reading.

I never took any real liking to his earlier, Joyce-influenced works like Murphy and Dream of fair to middling women. I remember them as boring and hard to focus on. I should perhaps give them a try again sometime.

Oh, and the plays of course!

Jan 18, 2011, 4:38 am

@49 Groan

Jan 19, 2011, 5:48 am

@49 if I were a pedantic person I would point out that the book makes it very clear that the popular view of chloroform being basically a quick knockout on a handkerchief is false it taking 5-10 minutes by an experienced administrator to anaethetise someone into unconsiousness ;-)

Jan 19, 2011, 5:52 am

@50 - hmmm some Beckett research required for possibly a 2012 read...

Jan 19, 2011, 6:09 am

living in the maniototo Janet Frame - Books by New Zealand authors


Hard to describe book (maybe why, when reading descriptions of this book on e.g. Amazon I’ve been misdirected into reading it?)

It had all the ingredients I usually like – its eccentric, its post-modern and it’s a meditation on the writing process – all things I’ve previously enjoyed from other writers. The summary of the plot from Amazon says: “In a sweltering basement in downtown Baltimore, Mavis Halleton, writer, ventriloquist and gossip, is struggling to write her novel when an unexpected invitation arrives. The Garretts, a couple Mavis has never heard of but who admire her work, are to spend time in Italy, and offer the use of their airy home in the Berkeley hills. During her stay, an earthquake hits northern Italy, and Mavis, to her surprise, inherits the house. But, surrounded by museum replicas and tasteful imitations, she finds reality itself is on shaky ground.” See that sounds interesting doesn’t it. What is doesn’t mention though is that the entirety of this plot (as described above) doesn’t happen until a little over half way through the book – by the time I actually got to her going to Berkeley I had lost interest, actually to be fair I had never gained interest to lose! The first half of the book is semi-autobiographical (of the narrator) talking about being widowed, twice, moving to Baltimore and attempting to write her third book.

The narrator of the book is a gossipy woman and her stories have a certain quality to them like neighbourly conversations. However I’m not a big fan of gossip in real life and the stories to me are of the ilk that they lack any interest whatsoever and there is little to no connection between them except that they happen to people that the narrator knows, sometimes in a very tangential way. In one chapter a character is introduced near the beginning of the chapter and literally disappears (in a supernatural way) near the end of the chapter. The disappearance is mentioned in passing having no great effect on either the story or the characters within it although the narrator does say that these sort of things “just don’t happen” next chapter new story, the disappearing character is not mentioned again and the narrator goes on with her life as if nothing happened.

There are several chapters that are just poetry – one chapter being a poem about Yeats not being on the bookshelves in the house she is staying in. In a couple of places I had to re-read passages to try to glean the meaning from them and I’m guessing that since this was a book about the writing process this was done deliberately – or maybe she just wasn’t a very good writer and couldn’t string a few sentences together to make a coherent paragraph, I just don’t know. Everything is from the narrators point of view – we get no insights into any other character just what she thinks is motivating them or what she thinks they are thinking.

Now obviously she’s an unreliable narrator and perhaps there is some great payoff in the latter part of the book – (I read a little over half the book before giving up) the book won a fiction prize and gets 5 star reviews but I just didn’t get it. It didn’t speak to me. I’ve tried searching for other reviews before attempting to sum up my feelings but oddly, for a book published in 1979, reviews are few and far between. Perhaps, like me, people have been drawn in by those who “get it” and unable to get on with the book put it down and just walk away?

Overall – very disappointing reading, first failure to complete a book this year

Jan 19, 2011, 6:12 am

thing is, even now re-reading the review I am still tempted to try and finish the book but the first half was so undigestible that the interesting sounding plot for the second half is just too much effort and there are other shinier books on the bookshelf

Jan 19, 2011, 5:53 pm

55 Ha! It's a trap! Great review, I'm giving it a miss for sure.

Jan 20, 2011, 8:04 am

have resisted so far and started reading flat earth news as a palate cleanser...

I have a lot of travel coming up so I'll probably start the nosebreakers in a few weeks time... 2666 lonesome dove and the castle omnibus so wil definitely have a slower Feb & Mar than Jan :-/

Edited: Jan 24, 2011, 1:43 pm

hmm flat earth news was very disappointing! have read 3 novellas by Beckett and a book by LLoyd Biggle Jr to compensate!

onward with the rather excellent (so far) bldgblog book

reviews when I get some time!

Edited: Jan 30, 2011, 11:43 am

flat earth news – Nick Davies


An Award-winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media

This is a long book (a lot of which I ended up skim reading) by a journalist attempting to “expose” the fact that modern day journalism is lazy reproduction of press releases, riddled with inaccuracies and subject to the commercial skulduggery of vested interests. All in all a meaty subject to tackle. However the author is subject to the same inaccuracies and wish to spread propaganda that he is accusing newspaper and TV journalism. He never provides references and we have to take his word for everything he writes. The author also makes mistakes in what he is reporting in the book – perhaps highlighting how he, like other journalists, is now too lazy (or too busy? – the reason given in the book for how errors creep into news reports) to do some basic fact-checking. Davies seems to think that the entire world revolves around journalism, i.e. that governments only make policy based on reading the news. Obviously print and TV media are influential but are they really the be all and end all of how decisions are made in real life? If we believe him the fact that the newspapers distorted the WMD debate was the prime cause we went to war in Iraq, it’s the only reason British prisons are full and why the war on drugs policy will never be reversed.

Overall – totally biased and falsely nostalgic look at modern journalism compared to journalism 30+ years ago

Jan 30, 2011, 11:45 am

all the colours of darkness – Lloyd Biggle Jr.


Man has finally perfected a matter transmitter capable of transporting people, on its second day of operation two women fail to arrive at their destination. Private investigator Jan Darzek is hired to find out what went wrong.
An excellent premise for the story and highly entertaining first half of the book was let down somewhat by the explanation of why the women had disappeared. The book was published in 1963 in the era when the science in science fiction was mostly speculative. Because it was written in an age before personal computers or mobile phones it can seem incredibly dated.

Overall – great premise which fails to live up to its promise

Jan 30, 2011, 11:54 am

Beckett Short Number 10 – Samuel Beckett


3 Short novellas written in the 1940s

A mini-trilogy following a tramp from when he is cast out of his boarding house (in the expelled) to after the narrator starts an episode with the words “I don’t know when I died. It always seemed to me I died old, about 90 years old…” (in the calmative) to his life as a tramp (in the end). The narrator lives in a perpetual state of decay and has numerous ailments. He spends a lot of time discussing his hat and greatcoat (being somewhat obsessed with such topics it seems). The writing is very good but the stories themselves seem to meander from place to place randomly starting and ending neither properly beginning nor coming to a conclusion. I am interested in trying one of Beckett’s longer works now though.

Overall – short and odd with a macabre and oppressive atmosphere.

Jan 30, 2011, 11:55 am

bldg:blog book – Geoff Manaugh


Architectural conjecture, urban speculation, landscape futures
Collecting and expanding on the best bits of the bldgblog this is a stunningly good book of speculative non-fiction. Divided into 5 chapters (and some “interstitial essays” between chapters) the author manages to communicate his wonder of the world directly to you as you read so that you are also inspired. Everyone should read this book which is so stuffed full of ideas and real world interesting facts that it could spawn an entire library of short stories and novels. From urban exploration to the sounds cities make to re-designing the sky to fossil cities it’s an eclectic mix of articles, essays, interviews and wonderful photography. Its ostensibly about connecting architecture to everything that interests Manaugh, or as he puts it: “to discuss the architecture of Christopher Wren in the context of overgrown ruins in the Cambodian rainforest, or 20th century psychogeography - or the early writings of Rem Koolhaas… Or discuss Christopher Wren in the context of videogames or spy thrillers or the undersea fate awaiting London in 3,000 years… Talk about Chinese urban design, the European space program and landscape in the films of Alfred Hitchcock in the span of 3 sentences because its fun, and the juxtaposition may take you somewhere.”

Overall – utterly brilliant – go and read it as soon as you can. The blog can be found here:

Jan 30, 2011, 12:01 pm

End of Month 1 and 25% through the challenge!

Jan 31, 2011, 12:02 am

You've caught my interest with bldg:blog book, that one goes onto the wishlist :-)

Jan 31, 2011, 7:14 am

@64 Have a look at the blog (link above) you'll soon see if its your sort of thing

Jan 31, 2011, 8:15 am

>37 psutto:

My Brother-in-law is a serious, serious Trekkie, and I gave him Night of the Living Trekkies for Christmas, along with Shatnerquake. I imagine he will get all the obscure references, and I'm hoping he enjoys them.

Jan 31, 2011, 10:14 am

hope he enjoys them! I read shatnerquake for my 1010 - review on that thread...

Feb 1, 2011, 8:17 am

Pope Joan - Emmanuel Roídes, translated by Lawrence Durrell


Part fiction part factual biography of Pope John Viii who by legend is a woman who assumed the title of Pope whilst disguised as a man. The legend goes that she successfully disguised herself as a man to live with her lover in a Benedictine monastery in Germanic lands and when the ruse is discovered she and her lover travel widely and eventually she leaves her lover behind and settles in Rome becoming a confidante of the Pope. When the Pope dies she gathers a number of followers (her knowledge of scripture was apparently unparalleled) and was made Pope. Later she falls pregnant and the whole ruse is discovered when she dies in childbirth. (see Roides entertains throughout although the language is very dated (although translated by Durrell into modern English) and treats the heroine very sympathetically (he was excommunicated for publishing this book in the 1880s)

Overall – entertaining historical romp

Edited: Feb 1, 2011, 8:27 am

The light’s on at signpost George Macdonald Fraser


I wish I hadn’t picked this up at a second hand shop. GMF is the author of the fantastic Flashman series (amongst others) and had for me until now been a delight to read (apparently the later Flashman books go seriously downhill but I’ve not read them so can’t comment). This is a reminiscence of his life as a screenwriter working on such films as the 3 musketeers, the pauper and the prince and Superman so seemed like a good fit for my book of the film category and an interesting read. However the chapters of reminiscence are interspersed with rabid rants about how the United Kingdom has gone to the dogs in the last 50 years, how the elder generation never fought 2 world wars to let UK be taken over by Johnny Foreigner, how all Asylum Seekers are Dole scroungers, how the world would be a better place if we hang criminals, how political correctness has gone mad (quoting examples that have been proven to be urban legends) and a variety of other odious opinions seemingly straight from the pages of the right wing press like the Daily Mail.

Overall- Avoid like the plague unless your politics are somewhat right of Hitler!

Feb 1, 2011, 11:40 am

It musta been BLDGBLOG Book week last week. A couple of you'll read it. I thought it quite interesting.

Feb 2, 2011, 4:42 am

ah well Pete stole my copy after I didn't shut up about it for two weeks :) It looks a bit dog eared now too.. ;)

Feb 2, 2011, 7:54 am

:-o stealing implies you didn't get it back! I merely borrowed it ;-)

Feb 3, 2011, 8:48 am

The emigrants W G Sebald

Very Good

Novel discussing via “case studies” emigration from Germanic countries

The narrator researches the lives of 4 people all of whom have interacted with the narrator. Each of the 4 lives researched are emigrants from Germanic countries. The book is divided into 4 sections, 1 per person investigated. The narrator can be assumed to be Sebald himself although the narrator’s biography is different to Sebald’s own. Sebald was obsessed with memory and memory is a major theme in this book – he also uses his typical black and white photographs interspersed in the text as he does in his other books. Nabakov is both explicitly referenced and alluded to (mainly as the “butterfly man” ) throughout the book and apparently the characters of the book intersect with Nabakov’s real life (I didn’t spot this not knowing Nabakov’s biography). The stories are not very connected, except thematically, so that it feels like a set of loosely connected novellas instead of a novel. Due to this it wasn’t quite as satisfying a read as rings of Saturn (see my 1010 challenge) however the writing is again brilliant and a joy to read. I’ll definitely be seeking out his other books.

Overall – a meditation on the emigrant experience

Feb 3, 2011, 4:02 pm

71 Thou shalt not dog-ear thy SO:s books!

Feb 4, 2011, 9:22 am

@74 it were like that when I found it guvnor

Feb 11, 2011, 10:11 am

altered carbon – Richard Morgan

Very Good

SF detective story

In the future we will be able to swap bodies (called “Sleeves”) easily (if you have the cash) and even create backups so that you could potentially live forever (again only if your rich). Kovacs (the narrator) is an “Envoy” soldier – used to being re-sleeved who is contracted by a rich Meth (Methuselah – very old & very rich) to investigate his murder (murder is termed “organic damage”) i.e. the death of one of his sleeves which the police are treating as a suicide and have dropped the case. If you die you get put in the stack and if your rich and make regular backups you are automatically re-sleeved but only with the memory you had until the last backup. Obviously investigating a murder mystery in this sort of world opens up a lot of interesting plot twists which Morgan uses to the full. The overall plot is very good and there are plenty of gripping scenes but occasionally the pacing was off and some of the characters are very one dimensional. Women in this book are not very well portrayed either (there are plenty of female characters but they tend to all fall in love with the protagonist or try to kill him) However it is his first book and hopefully he improves in later books – I have another of his books on my TBR which has been bumped up the queue now that I’ve read this one.

Overall – Great SF plot well executed

Edited: Feb 11, 2011, 10:20 am

Reality is broken – Jane McGonigal

Very Good

Life is hard and games make it better

McGonigal is a games developer but the games she makes are “reality fixing” games – “Alternative Reality Games” (ARGs) or “Pervasive” games. The basic premise of the book is that games make us feel good and also provide us with key skills that are needed to address the big issues facing humanity like providing enough food to everyone, climate change etc. The book is split into 3 parts – the first is a pop psychology of games why they make us feel better etc. using some specific gamer emotions such as “Fiero” (pride in a difficult task overcome) etc. The second part is an overview of a number of alternative reality games – basically telling you how such games work, many of which McGonigal wrote. The last (and best) part was how games could fix reality using for example “EVOKE” a game empowering young adults in the third world.

In the book McGonigal points out that for people born after 1980 its not unusual for them to have racked up 10,000+ hours of playing video games and that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert. She contends that video games give you better collaborative skills (she calls it super-collaboration) and that the 10k hours experts have the best skills to beat some of humanities problems through collaboration. One example is the PS3 “folding@home” which is being used to understand how proteins are folded with the goal of understanding certain diseases in order to be able to treat them better.

McGonigal writes well and is passionate about games (although maybe a bit too evangelical at times – I don’t think every problem can be fixed by turning it into a game) but some of the book is a bit cheesy (or to use the author’s word hokey) which is what downgraded the rating from Brilliant to Very Good for me.

Overall – inspiring view of how games can change the world

Feb 11, 2011, 10:13 am

metropole - Ferenc Karinthy


A linguist flying to a conference in Helsinki has landed in a strange city where he can't understand a word anyone says.

The book starts with an interesting premise which is never fully explained – although perhaps a little out of date in this day and age (can you ever really get on the wrong plane anymore?). The descriptions of the un-named city are very claustrophobic and uncomfortable. The narrators constant struggles with unknown bureaucracy and not being able to get even simple things understood wear him down so that over the days he becomes less able to plan an escape or cope with what’s happening. The book for me was a little repetitive and the writing (translation?) sometimes poor which downgrades this book from a Very Good.

Overall – nightmarish and dystopian

Feb 11, 2011, 10:18 am

February definitely slower than January reading wise

Doesn't help that wizard:life and times of Nikola Tesla is a bit dry and hardgoing - am tempted to read it alongside other books but then not sure if I put it down I'd go back and it is interesting so I'm sure will reward a full read....

Feb 12, 2011, 4:16 pm

Then again, your january was pretty damn spectacular.

I had forgotten about Karinthy's book - a pal at university read it many years ago and I thought it sounded cool. Do you know it's original language?

Edited: Feb 14, 2011, 5:41 am

@80 - Hungarian I think

and yes January was a good month for books :-)

Feb 14, 2011, 7:50 am

snook in another book, took a quick break from Tesla (which I'm finding hard going)

Zero: Biography of a dangerous idea Charles Seife

Very Good

A history of Maths and Physics told through the lens of the number 0

Charles Seife tells the story of the history of numbers via the number 0, starting with how its possible to have a counting system that doesn’t include the concepts of 0 or infinity. It covers the mathematical evolution of 0 from an abhorrent number to being central to our understanding of the universe. You don’t have to have a deep understanding of maths to enjoy this book but I must admit that in the chapter on calculus (my university bugbear) the story of Newton and Liebniz was a lot easier to follow than proving how calculus works! The first few chapters and last few chapters are excellent but the bit in the middle does get a bit bogged down on trying to prove some mathematical truths rather than just report them.

Overall – very quick read (about 200 pages long) about the long history of mathematics told in an entertaining manner

Feb 25, 2011, 3:56 pm

my son, there exists another world alongside our own - Chris Bacheleder in McSweeney's 23

An odd story in the form of a letter from father to son advising him to have as much sex as he possibly can

McSweeney's for those who don't know are an absolutely brilliant series of short stories collections edited by the very talented Dave Eggers. They are all utterly gorgeously designed. McSweeney's 23 has a small book in a pouch isndie the cover as well as the dust jacket fold out into another set of stories on the back of a poster

Edited: Feb 25, 2011, 6:28 pm

Is Zero by any chance the one that has an appendix with a proof of how Winston Churchill is a carrot? That was one of my first proofs ever and I was quite enamored of it at the time. I recall it being a very interesting book.

Edited for touchstone

Mar 2, 2011, 11:55 am

84 - yep thats the one - I enjoyed it too

Edited: Mar 13, 2011, 1:41 pm

stop evolution in its tracks - odd sci-fi story about a man who starts a creatonist college - was OK but with an ending that didn't seem to fit the story

the cruel redeemer lazarus morell - short pseudo-biography of a horse thief and scam artist (who encouraged slaves to escape and resold them over and over) - an early Borges story

Mar 2, 2011, 11:59 am

a secret history of moscow - Ekaterina Sedia


A woman attempts to track down her sister who has been turned into a crow

The story revolves around Russian folklore as the protagonist (a woman
who may be suffering from schizophrenia), an artist and a policeman
discover a hidden secret kingdom under Moscow. Against the backdrop of
the upheavels of moving from a communist to capitalist society people
start disappearing by turning into birds. It turns out that all the
supernatural and folktale creatures have gone to live in a secret
place and the problem is something to do with them. This was an oddly
unaffecting book with an OK plot but no heart. I didn't really ever
care about any of the characters, most of who were fairly one
dimensional and didn't really get a sense of place from anywhere in
the novel with the real life and secret cities and the fairytale
forest being poorly described. Having finished it a couple of weeks
ago I'm struggling to remember enough about it to review it.

Overall - disappointing and unengaging

Mar 2, 2011, 12:00 pm

who was changed and who was dead - Barbara Comyns


The story of the willoweed family and the English village in which they live

After a flood the miller drowns himself, then the butcher cuts his own
throat and a fatal madness & series of gruesome deaths grips the
village. Its an odd tale, which is hard to describe, macabre and
told via the quirky characters in the willoweed family. The family is
very strange being dominated by a belligerant matriarch. Its pretty
much a small snapshot or episode in their lives.

Overall - great but eccentic writing - not to all tastes

Mar 2, 2011, 12:02 pm

the castle omnibus - Steph Swainson

Very Good

A world is threatened by giant voracious insects and 50 men and women
who are the best in their respective fields are chosen to become
immortal to battle the insects across the centuries

The story is told in the first person by one of the immortals, Comet
the messenger - a drug taking, self-centred, half-breed who is the
only man who can fly. This omnibus is the 3 books in one (but not the
prequel). The first book tells the tale of a great push by the mortal
king against the insects and the intrigues the immortals play against
each other. The second book tells the tale of the discovery of a far
away land and the third book tells of the greatest battle against the
insects. The world is very imaginative and there is also a seperate
place called the "Shift" that you can travel to with the help of
drugs. The Shift is very "new wierd" (and full of playful pun-like
language) whilst the Fourlands (where the majority of the story is
set) is more traditionally fantasy (although there are no elves or
orcs or any of that malarkey) the only "magic" is the "Circle" which
is how the Emporer grants the very best immortality. The very best
swordsman, archer, sailor architect etc. Anyone can challenge the
immortals if they think they're good enough and immortals can die by
violence. The 3 books together come to just less than 900 pages and
Swainson's writing kept me turning the pages and left me wanting more.
I was in two minds as to whether to give this a brilliant. However the
middle book was a little off and the start of the 3rd book was a bit
slow and dare I say pointless. One of the main characters of the 3rd
book - the brat Cyan is also very annoying (although deliberately so I
assume) which for me drops the overall omnibus down to a Very Good. if
I were to score each book individually it would be - Brilliant for
the year of our war, Very Good for no present like time and Very
Good for the modern world

Overall - richly imagined world well written

Mar 2, 2011, 4:31 pm

Glad you liked Swainston's books (I seem to recall rooting for them in an earlier conversation with you). My only beef with them is that there is less and less Shift as the series goes - it seems a strange waste not to delve further into the world Jant travels through in the flesh-wagon right at the opening of the first book. I liked No present like time's theme of imperialism and colonialism, which I feel was political fantasy in a neat way. But other than that, I agree that the second book is perhaps the waekest. Wasn't thrilled about the deus ex machina ending either.

You should really read Above the snowline too. Gave some great new insight into Jant and the Rhydanne.

Mar 2, 2011, 4:33 pm

@87 I've been curious about The secret history of Moscow after seeing it described as "doing for Moscow what Neverwhere did for London". But I've read a few too many reviews like yours. I'll give it a miss, I think.

Mar 3, 2011, 8:49 am

@90 - yep added above the snowline to the wishlist...
@91 - I wouldn't recommend it at all! (and not even vaguely like Neverwhere)

Mar 6, 2011, 2:55 pm

@90 - I think I'd agree with everything your saying about the Swainston's books but I also think I'd gone off the Shift by the third book and I reckon it was that Deus Ex Machina ending that did it - seemed like a very odd thing to introduce almost as if it was an idea that was going to be explored later but then never was...

Mar 12, 2011, 3:55 pm

3 reviews pending - on to GGk March at last & reading under heaven am debating either re-reading lions of al-rassan or the Fionavar books again also...

Edited: Mar 13, 2011, 1:39 pm

lonesome dove - Larry McMurty


Epic western about a cattle drive from Texas to Montana

I cannot praise this book enough, it was simply amazing. I'm not a huge fan of the cowboy genre but McMurty takes an over-used trope of cowboys on a cattle drive and uses it to create a host of memorable characters, hair-raising situations and a truly epic 900+ page-turner of a book. It constantly exceeded my expectations, and confounding my preconceptions of the wild west. McMurty skillfully captures the simply unremitting harsh nature of frontier living. It's a true epic - fully evoking the grandeur of the American West in the late 1800's on the cusp of change - the bison are dying out, the indian wars are coming to an end and civilisation is creeping westwards.

Overall - a stunning book that should be on everyone's book shelf - a damn good read

Mar 13, 2011, 1:28 pm

This message has been deleted by its author.

Edited: Mar 13, 2011, 1:36 pm

paranormality - Richard Wiseman

Very Good

Psychological view of many Fortean topics such as ghosts, mind reading, out of body experiences etc.

If you've not read much into the Fortean literature in the last 20 years then this book is for you - Wiseman examines a number of "paranormal" phenomena and gives us a brief history of the scientific examination of such phenonema and then covers the latest thinking on what causes such experiences. Needless to say a book by a psychology professor is clearly in the "its all in the mind" camp so if this threatens your conception of the supernatural this may not be the book for you. For me Wiseman is an entertaining writer using humour to underline his points. My only gripe with the book is that he does tend
to repeat himself within the chapters and across the book. After explaining something he will then have a "how to" boxed text that will summarise the chapter and then after that go on to give a conclusion which also then summarises the chapter.

Overall - Good introduction to field of the psychology of the paranormal

Edited: Mar 13, 2011, 1:34 pm

the master and margarita - Michail Bulgakov


The devil comes to Moscow to cause mischief, a writer in an asylum and his lover are eventually re-united, theres a story about Pontius Pilate, its a satire about Stalinism....

Yes its hard to sum up the book as it does seem to have several almost entirely seperate parts. To me this felt like a "worthy" book and although lauded I just didn't get it. It was bitty, the parts where Satan (Woland) and his minions caused mayhem were farcical (in every sense) deliberately so as Bulgakov wanted to make fun of Stalinist Russia (apparently). The love story seemed entirely staged and unrealistic - the Master and Margarita before meeting in the story tell of how much they love each other to confidentes and then when they get back together the story hardly covers their re-union and when it does they hardly seem that enamoured. The story about Pontius Pilate is the best part of the book but is not really all that related to the other parts. It was a confusing read that leapt from chapter to chapter with no seeming coherence with a baffling cast of ill defined characters in a farcical plot. Perhaps I'm a little dim not getting all the references to Faust etc. but to my mind any book that requires extensive notes in order for you to understand the allegories is probably more trouble than its worth. In the end, for me, it was a
struggle to read to the end as it bored me.

Overall - if you think the height of humour is slapstick and are a scholar of both Stalinist Russia and the life of Pontius Pilate (or are prepared to read extensive notes about how clever the author is in referring to these in an allegorical way) then you may like this book

Edited: Mar 13, 2011, 7:21 pm

@97 Wow, interesting. I utterly loved The Master and Margerita when I was in high school - I think I read it three or four times, and it's been one of those books I'd give as an answer to "What would you bring to read on a desert island". It's been many years since I've read it now, but many images from it still stand very clearly in my mind, and I have no recollection I ever found the need for extensive notes. I remember it as a pretty fast-paced romp, rather.

That being said, my sturm und drang love for early russian modernism has fared pretty badly with some other attempts at re-reading later in life, so I'm a little wary of picking this book up again to see how it holds up. I guess I'll always love the memory of it though - one of those defining reads for me.

@94 I've already made note of Lonesome dove and will have to give it a try. Mostly because I do trust your and Claire's taste as a rule. I only wish the concept of "cattle drive from Texas to Montana" didn't sound so utterly boring...Looking forward to getting convinced, I suppose :)

Edited: Mar 14, 2011, 6:11 am

perhaps it was because I had high hopes for the master and margarita that I ended up being so grumpy about it!

yeah lonesome dove being over 900 pages long and about the wild west didn't seem so thrilling to me either but Claire loved it so much I had to read it and am so glad I did

Mar 17, 2011, 8:22 am

finished the disappointing under heaven started lions of al-rassan and I think next year I better have a category for group reads!

Edited: Mar 21, 2011, 7:03 am

under heaven – Guy Gavriel Kay


Historical fantasy about the An Shi rebellion in the Tang dynasty

Kay writes a typical GGK book and yet although each sentence is polished and the work is lyrical, like a prose poem the book itself is somewhat flat and unexciting. Usually Kay manages grand sweeping events with aplomb this time the story left me cold. The characters were mere ciphers, whereas usually Kay’s characters although larger than life are always interesting. The story follows a middle son who is caught up in the larger events that lead to the An Shi rebellion (Kay names the character An Li) when he is gifted over 200 “heavenly” horses. The first section is evocative and led me to hope that Kay was back on form after the dismal last light of the sun and ysabel but the middle 300 pages meander about with no real depth or meaning before the story picks up again for the last 100 or so pages. The central story (and character) fail to grip or even to interest you really and the rest of the characters are broad brushstrokes only. Kay was 3 books ago my favourite author whose books I would pre-order (although a song for arbonne seemed a bit of a blip!). Now I have a recognition that Arbonne wasn’t necessarily a blip (after reading last light of the sun) to wondering if he’d lost his way (after reading ysabel) to wondering if I’ll ever bother to read another GGK book ever after reading this book.

Overall - When comparing under heaven to the authors other much more impressive books it does very badly. Sadly dull

Mar 21, 2011, 9:15 am

after a bit of reading around the reviews of master and margarita there are some people that say that there are some poor translations out there - I picked up my copy in a remainders store so potentially its one of the poor translations...

I'm not keen to do a re-read though!

Mar 22, 2011, 5:50 am

Am currently reading Monstrous Creatures: Explorations of the Fantastical, Surreal, and Weird by Jeff Vandermeer from which a few articles will no doubt make it into my 1st category - short stories, novellas & articles...

Mar 23, 2011, 5:17 pm

102 And you still rate it as "good"? I thought the point of the new rating system you and Claire are using was to make things less confusing ;-)

Mar 24, 2011, 8:00 am

@105 :-) good point!

I think it fits - "Good (Read it if you like that sort of thing)" as although bad by the standard of other Kay books its still worth reading - I didn't hate it and really enjoyed some sections of the book so on the whole it was "good" - perhaps this level of review is a misnomer and perhaps "average" is a better label....

Mar 29, 2011, 2:13 pm

transformation - Mary Shelley - Good

gothic story about a rake who undergoes more than one type of transformation during the story as he loses his love and fortune through Profligacy

the intoxicated - Shirley Jackson - Very Good

Jackson has the knack of taking normal situations and spinning them into something creepy and odd - this is from the collection the lottery and other stories

the novella: a personal exploration - Jeff Vandermeer - Brilliant - this is from the collection monstrous creatures: explorations of fantasy through essays, articles and reviews Only if you want to heavily add to your wish list should you dare open the pages of this collection!

Vandermeer creates a very compelling, and personal, defence (and it seems one is needed as novellas have a difficult time getting published it seems) of the novella.

the harvest gypsies - John Steinbeck - Brilliant

7 newspaper articles Steinbeck wrote in 1936 3 years before the grapes of wrath giving an eyewitness account of the great dust bowl migration including several photographs of the migrant camps and their inhabitants. Steinbeck is obviously very familiar with his subject and writes with intelligence and passion

Apr 4, 2011, 2:55 am

almost finished working days after reading grapes of wrath and harvest gypsies - an interesting reading experience seeing the real life (well as real as newspaper journalism can be I guess) then the fiction then Steinbecks diary of writing the book

I think for the 1212 challenge I'll do the same for east of eden as there are the east of eden letters to accompany...

reviews to follow tomorrow probably

Apr 4, 2011, 3:10 am

so end of quarter round up:

28 books & 11 short stories read

2 categories filled

best of the year so far:

bldg:blog book - utterly amazing & a mine of speculative ideas
lions of al rassan - still brilliant on the 4th re-read
the session - great short one

worst of the year so far:

flat earth news
the lights on at signpost
living in the maniototo

3 books I failed to finish!

most disappointing:

master and margartita - I so wanted to like this book but it just didn't do it for me

Apr 4, 2011, 3:57 pm

got to admit defeat on wizard:the life and times of Nikola Tesla must get a better biography of him as his life is fascinating but this biography is turgid...

Apr 6, 2011, 11:26 am

the lions of al-rassan - Guy Gavriel Kay


Historical fantasy re-telling of the story of El Cid

Kay creates probably the best of his trademark love triangles in this breathtaking tale of the clash of 3 cultures. The story is about the horsemen of Jad (read Christians of Spain) re-conquering the lands that generations ago were stolen by the Star-born of Ashar (read Muslims) mainly through the eyes of a Kindath (read Jewish) Doctor. As with most of Kay’s books the fantasy element is downplayed (in fact a far seeing (remote viewer) youngster is about the only real fantasy element) but enough changes have been made to make the history different to real life.
Kay creates a story with real heart to it that manages to keep you in suspense even though you know that historically the Spanish reconquest was successful and he does this via creating some of his best characters.

Overall – stunning even after re-reading for the 4th or 5th time

Apr 6, 2011, 11:27 am

the grapes of wrath – John Steinbeck

Very Good

Powerful story about the great 1930’s dustbowl migration

The Joad family lose their farm and like thousands of other families migrate to California in search of jobs and a brighter future. The plight of the migrants is told in heartbreaking detail as along the way they are thwarted by the greed and hate of the Californians. Very controversial in its day it is still a powerful piece of writing. Interspersed with the Joad story are what Steinbeck called “general” chapters that built upon or fictionalised many of the themes of his newspaper articles collected in the harvest gypsies. I can see how in the 1930s the ending would have caused great controversy but in these more laid back times although a provoking image it no longer shocks (I feel).

Overall – rightly viewed as a classic but perhaps too much a product of its time

Apr 6, 2011, 11:28 am

working days: the diary of the Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck


Diary of the writing of the novel

This short book collects together the journal entries Steinbeck made whilst writing the Grapes of Wrath. Whilst interesting in a biographical sense (he talks about Chaplin visiting, the breakdown of his marriage and his paranoia about how the book will be greeted by the reading public) they did not really add any insight into the book itself or the creative process. Since that was what I was looking for in this journal I was disappointed and can only give the book a “Good” rating. Apparently Steinbeck does philosophise and expand on the east of eden in the east of eden letters and so I’m putting those 2 books on the list for the 1212

Overall – of some interest to those who wish to know more about the life of John Steinbeck in the period of writing the Grapes of Wrath. Less interest in those wanting to expand on the book or gain an insight into Steinbeck’s creative process.

Edited: Apr 7, 2011, 6:06 am

the prime of miss jean brodie – Muriel Spark

Very Good

Jean Brodie is a teacher whose unconventional ideas put her at odds with the other members of staff at the Marcia Blaine School in Edinburgh, as she endeavours to shape the lives of the select group of girls who form her "set".

The story is set in 1930’s Edinburgh and tells of Miss Brodie’s creation of the “Brodie set” a group of girls that she grooms to be the “crème de la crème”. It has a subtly sinister edge to it and Miss Brodie is subversively manipulative even when her set leave her class and go through school and even after school.

Overall - a short and witty novel.

Apr 6, 2011, 11:29 am

the end of science fiction – Sam Smith


A murder mystery wrapped in a disaster novel

The story opens with the British cabinet being told by those in the know that the universe is entering the big crunch – the universe has stopped expanding and is snapping back like an elastic band – instead of the big crunch taking millennia the universe and all it contains will be destroyed in a week. With a sense of futility the cabinet decide they can neither confirm nor deny that the end of everything is true. Against this backdrop a young girl is viciously bludgeoned to death and detective Herbie Watkins is determined to catch her killer despite the fact that there is no future. The mystery is in itself satisfying even though its quite run of the mill. The whole concept of the end of everything really makes you think though. The end of science fiction? Well it means the end of the future, in fact the end of all possible futures in an utterly annihilating way. As is explored via several conversations throughout the book man really does depend on there being a future for a motivation to do pretty much anything.

Overall – brilliantly written and thought provoking book

Apr 6, 2011, 11:37 am

Jeez, you're making progress! Planning on a second stepladder? Hmm, might be time for a reread of The prime of miss Jean Brody. Being only pages from completing Lord of emperors, there is a part of me that is curious to re-read The lions of Al-Rassan too. But I think I'll take a break from GGK now.

Touchstones? Touchstones?? Tochstones!??

Apr 7, 2011, 6:08 am

@116 - I may well do a 2nd stepladder or at least some bonus books :-)

Apr 11, 2011, 9:17 am

Rats : a year with New York's most unwanted inhabitants by Robert Sullivan

Very Good

1 man’s obsessive observation of Rats in an alley way in New York

Sullivan states that in order to write this book he spent a whole year observing rats in an alleyway in downtown New York within sight of the then standing twin towers. He drops a bunch of ratty facts throughout the book but its not all about rats. This could be seen as a flaw in the book if all your after is a natural history of rats but for me its what made the book interesting. He has sections on social history, some specific history of New York and some of NY’s historical characters as well as a short but fascinating history of the plague. Some of these asides are only very tenuously related to rats though. He also spends a lot of time talking to exterminators and covers the twin towers attack mainly via the lens of public health. It’s a very entertaining read full of fascinating facts.

Overall – Very good but perhaps occasionally a bit too loosely relevant to the main topic

Apr 11, 2011, 9:17 am

the mole people – Jennifer Toth

Very Good

Investigative journalism about the people who live in the tunnels underneath New York

Toth spent a lot of time investigating the various different communities of homeless people living in the subway tunnels of New York city. The book details the history of living underground, the sociology of homelessness and a number of biographies of the people she met and interviewed. The number of homeless living in the tunnels is hard to estimate but could be as many as 6000+ (one estimate in the book) which is just a staggering number. The majority of the homeless are addicts or have mental health problems and Toth does not shy away from providing full details although she does change the names of the people involved. Mostly the homeless people seem to take her into their lives and she visits many different places and communities with a small number of guides. Several of the people for whom she provides biographies die during the writing of the book. A fascinating read of the depths that man can sink to especially considering that one of the main messages of the book is that there is nothing special about the people who live underground, it could happen to anyone. The only drawback to the book is that some of the stories are a bit like tall tales but this is probably just homeless stories passed onto Toth who then passes them on to us.

Overall – Great journalism but I wonder how much of it is fictionalised

Apr 11, 2011, 9:19 am

Black Swan Green - David Mitchell


Amazing coming of age saga by the author of cloud atlas

The book covers a couple of years in the life of Jason Taylor who lives in Black Swan Green a village in Worcestershire England during the early 80’s. Mitchell captures the period perfectly and because I was the same age as the main character of the book in the same period it was all very familiar. Jason is a stammerer (although he tries very hard to hide it), writes poetry under the pseudonym of Eliot Bolivar and spends half the book trying not to be a “Gaylord” in the eyes of his peers. However bullies start to make his life hell when he leaves the secret gang of the spooks and also his stammering is exposed. In the same period his parents are going through a rough patch and his older sister leaves for university in Edinburgh. Mitchell is pitch perfect capturing school culture and Jason is a very sympathetic character and the story although nothing new in coming of ages stories is very well crafted.

Overall – A masterful coming of age story

Apr 13, 2011, 5:13 pm

@119 I love more or less anything subterranean, so this looks like a must for me! As for David Mitchell, this will not be where I start, I think. I already have Cloud atlas on my shelf, and even that won't be until 2012, I guess...

Apr 13, 2011, 10:15 pm

I recently read Black Swan Green and I thought Mitchell hit a home run. He absolutely nailed both the time period and the internal workings of a thirteen year old - not an easy thing to do!

Apr 14, 2011, 5:14 am

121 - Mitchell's books (apart from Thousand Autumns) all interlink to some extent but I've read them all out of order and enjoyed them all - the only one I've not read is ghostwritten which is on the TBR...

cloud atlas is his most famous and a good starting place :-)

122 - I agree it brought back some memories of being the same age in the same time period :-) (I remember in school we were forced to listen to the news about the falklands on the radio for the whole of one lesson because of 1 very gung ho teacher!)

Apr 19, 2011, 9:50 am

dictionary of the khazars is not a straight read so taking a short break from it to re-read perdido street station which is actually better on a 2nd read through if thats possible!

run out of "easy" categories now - suspect a few "bonus" books will start to creep in now - for example I will be reading the iron council soon and that looks to be a bonus book, unless I drop the idea of reading 54 (or at least read it later) perhaps & put it in as a "book in a series"....

decisions decisions

Apr 26, 2011, 5:55 am

seven years in Tibet Heinrich Harrer

Very Good

German travelogue from a mountaineer who escaped from a British POW camp in India to live in Tibet

Harrer was climbing mountains in the Himalaya’s when the second world war broke out and he was captured by the British and put into a POW camp. Eventually he and a few others escaped across the border into Tibet where after wandering the country for some time he eventually came to Lhasa – “the forbidden city”. He goes on to work for the Tibetan government and eventually foster a friendship with the young Dalai Llama. The book ends with Harrer fleeing the country ahead of the Chinese invasion. Harrer writes with a great eye for anthropology & ethnography and you get a real sense of what Tibet was like at this period of history and what has probably been lost irrevocably. Apparently Harrer wrote a sequel in the 80’s which I’m in two minds about reading – its going to be really sad and even though Harrer was hopeful when he wrote it, Tibet is still under communist China’s control.

Overall – a fascinating historical travelogue

Apr 26, 2011, 5:56 am

the scarecrow - Ronald Hugh Morrieson


Snapshot of small town New Zealand

The book is told from the perspective of a young boy (14?) who recounts the events of a small amount of time when a sex killer comes to town. However the sex killer story is pretty much a backdrop and the main thrust of the book is to explore the small town relationships. The book is virtually unreadable when it comes to the dialogue which is written in a phonetic style –my mind could not translate it into any accent I know – certainly (in my head) it didn’t sound like a Kiwi accent, more like Irish mixed with cockney (e.g. Oim for I’m). This for me ruined an otherwise entertaining book.

Overall – flawed and forgettable

Edited: Apr 26, 2011, 5:56 am

the dictionary of the Khazars - Milorad Pavić

Very Good

Multi-layered encyclopaedia like fiction book

A very gimmicky book. First of all its an imaginary book of dream knowledge written by Khazar “dream hunters”. It’s also an account of the “Khazar Polemic” where the Khagan (leader) of the Khazars has a dream interpreted by three different scholars, one Jewish, one Christian and the other Moslem. The book is structured like an encyclopaedia with discrete entries on different people and subjects to do with either the Khazar Polemic or the “dictionary” itself written by 3 authors - one Jewish, one Christian and the other Moslem and therefore is, in effect, 3 different dictionaries. This is not your traditional narrative and the book can allegedly be read in any order. The final gimmick is that there is a male and a female version that differ in the words in 1 paragraph. Therefore any read of this book is going to be very individualistic as there are many different possible paths through it, it’s probably the most hypertextual story I’ve read. Pavic can write and many of the short sections are very entertaining and show real imagination but the book suffers from the fact it is an encyclopaedia, in that although connected the entries don’t make a fully coherent story and obviously jumping semi-randomly through the entries according to your own path makes it a chaotic story also.

Overall – not an easy read but a rewarding one

Apr 26, 2011, 5:59 am

perdido street station - China Mieville


Stunningly good new weird fiction

There are flaws with this book – it’s a slow burn, some of the characters are mere pencil sketches and there are many loose ends when the book comes to a conclusion. However despite all that Mieville’s imagination is incredibly fertile, New Crobuzon, the city which has its heart Perdido street station, is an amazing setting full of interesting races and the story once it kicks in is gripping. Mieville lists as his influences both Mervyn Peake and H.P. Lovecraft and there are certainly some touches from both in this book. The city has its own personality and is perhaps the star of the book (like Gormenghast perhaps) and the plot of incomprehensible beings going about their business whilst the heroes of the stories struggle merely to survive and not go mad has more than a nod to Lovecraft. However it is so much more and Mieville stuffs this book with brilliant ideas that could each be used to create a standalone book – the Remade (criminals who have been punished for their crimes by having their bodies gruesomely modified and appended with strange animal- or machine-parts), the Construct Council (a self generated artificial intelligence), Mr. Motley (a criminal who is also an art lover) etc. No small review can do justice to this book & the plot synopsis when condensed seems somehow banal. Scientist studying flight accidentally releases a dangerous and exotic monster into the city which proceeds to prey on the city’s population (after itself releasing its siblings which are being used to create drugs by the aforementioned Mr. Motley). The scientist and a rag bag collection of friends and associates that include a bird man punished with flightlessness, a criminal, a journalist for a seditionist journal, a few adventurers interested "only in gold and experience", a multidimensional spider god and a garbage built artificially intelligent hive mind (the construct council) try to save the city whilst also trying to avoid the cities fascist militia. This was a re-read and I think it actually benefitted from that fact. Knowing that the beginning was slow actually made it less so as I spent more time just enjoying the world building.

Overall - A vast sprawling urban gothic fantasy – New Weird at its best.

Apr 26, 2011, 1:20 pm

Good to know that Perdido stands up well to a re-read. New Weird is certainly an area I want to explore more of. I know that Jeff VanderMeer is well regarded and City of Saints and Madmen has made my wishlist but not sure who else to check out. Any suggestions?

Apr 26, 2011, 5:57 pm

I heartily recommend Jeffrey Ford's Well-built City trilogy (starting with The Physiognomy, and K.J Bishop's The etched city. Steph Swainston's book on the Fourlands (starting with The year of our war) are well worth checking out too. And VanderMeer is about as good as it gets!

Apr 27, 2011, 4:00 am

I can only echo what Gingerbreadman has put. Vandermeer is brilliant and you should read all the Ambergris books.

Stepan Chapman's the troika and the traitor or the san veneficio canon By Michael Cisco are also worthwhile reads

Vandermeer also is a sometimes editor of various collections and he did one of New Weird which collects short stories from those involved in the scene which may be worth tracking down...

Apr 27, 2011, 5:27 am

Thank you both. My wishlist grows again. *sigh*

Apr 27, 2011, 5:50 am

Don't worry The Troika is out of print ;-)

Apr 27, 2011, 6:34 am

132 that happens a lot here doesn't it ;-)

@133 but you can probably get it on abebooks...

May 1, 2011, 10:31 am

Managed to snag a copy of what ho, automaton on early reviewers so guess that fits my fate category :-)

May 1, 2011, 7:49 pm

Congrats! :)

May 2, 2011, 5:18 pm

ER books outside the US! Crikey!

May 3, 2011, 5:03 am

137 - I know! I guess UK is in a privelaged position...

May 3, 2011, 8:46 am

hmmm looking at the next few books I want to read and looking at my challenge categories and not seeing a match...

time to get the crowbar out!

May 3, 2011, 10:13 am

the scar – China Mieville


Second Bas Lag novel

Set in a period directly after the events of Perdido Street station but only tangentially related to them. This is the story of Armada a floating city of lashed together ships that lives by piracy. Two of the rulers of the city (which is divided into different sectors with different leaders) decide on a plan to summon an “Avanc” (Think miles long fish like creature) to go to “the scar” a fracture in the reality of the world. Although there were some trademark interesting ideas in here Mieville completely failed to create any characters with which you could have any sympathy with. Bellis Coldwine is the main protagonist and is totally passive and merely observes events that unfold around her being manipulated by more than one of the other characters. Unlike PSS the scar felt overly long – it took a long time for the plot to kick in and unlike PSS there was no real world building to enjoy whilst waiting for the plot. I didn’t hate the book, there were some set pieces I really enjoyed and some of the ideas were thought provoking but on the whole it’s a bit limp as a novel.

Overall – real lack of conflict and passivity of the main character spoil a potentially interesting premise

May 3, 2011, 10:14 am

Iron Council - China Mieville

Very Good

Third Bas Lag novel

The story is set during a war between New Crobuzon and Tesh, two of the greatest cities of Bas Lag. At the same time there is a lot of social unrest as New Crobuzon struggles to fund the war in men & material. Against this backdrop is told the story of the Iron Council – a breakaway community living on a train in a kind of slaves revolt against New Crobuzon. Several people led by one who was previously one of the leaders of the Iron Council leave New Crobuzon to find the Iron Council to warn it that New Crobuzon now know where they are and wish to destroy them. However when they find out that there is pretty much a civil war in New Crobuzon against a loose collective against the fascist New Crobuzon parliament forces the Iron Council decide it is time to return to New Crobuzon in order to join the struggle. I suspect that this book is very close to Mieville’s political experiences – a well known socialist Mieville must have experienced the factionalisation of the politics of the left that prevent them presenting a feasible opponent for the middle and right political parties that dominate British politics.

The story here was much better than the one in the scar and additionally it was also a 100+ pages shorter and I managed to read it in a few days rather than the 7+ days it took me to get through the scar therefore I’d recommend if you liked PSS to skip the scar and go directly to iron council !

Overall – much better than the scar not quite as good as perdido street station

May 3, 2011, 1:01 pm

I'm quite amazed that you could read them back-to-back like that. I usually need a couple of no-brainer reads before I could do something like that.

May 5, 2011, 2:59 am

142 - I had been putting them off for a while so once I'd started I was determined to finish...

May 5, 2011, 5:56 pm

I agree with your ranking of the three books. I've never quite seen what the strong advocates of The Scar are basing it on. I've seen more than one rating that book the highest. I love the glimpses we get from other weird cities in Bas-Lag in The Scar, but there is just something lacking when it comes to story.

May 6, 2011, 8:32 am

Going to read embassytown next so hoping that's a PSS rather than the scar :-)

May 9, 2011, 8:39 am

episode: A report on the accident inside my skull – Eric Hodgins

Very Good

Eric Hodgins was a novelist and journalist who at age 61 in the 1960’s suffered a stroke, this is his story of the after effects of that stroke

Hodgins covers his “episode” with honesty and a little humour although a couple of chapters cover his suicidal urges and his being committed to a psychiatric institution for his major depression. Hodgins made his living as an editor, a publisher and a writer so when he suffered a stroke (and was no longer able to spell or to use a typewriter) this was a major blow. Also being told that he was “lucky” that the residuals of the stroke were “minor” didn’t help apparently. This was an impulse buy for me in a 2nd hand shop and I bought it as my brother in law had recently suffered a stroke. There’s not much medical insight in the book – apart from how backward medically the 1960’s seem now, but plenty of insight on how one person coped with a massive life changing event. Although extremely dated I think the opinions and insight to the US medical system are probably still relevant today – i.e. the cost of medical care, the choices facing people who are not able to fully look after themselves but not hospitalised and not willing to live in a home etc. (Difficult to say since I don’t live in the US)

Overall – interesting point of view reportage applied to one man’s stroke

May 9, 2011, 8:41 am

yellow blue tibia – Adam Roberts

Very Good

Light Sci Fi/alternative history novel

A group of sci fi authors are gathered together at the end of WW2 by Stalin to “concoct a story about aliens poised to invade earth” as once the USA is defeated the Russian people will still need an enemy to unite them in a common purpose. However then new orders come from Moscow they are told to drop the project and forget everything about it. The story then follows one of the authors through alcoholism and into the 1980’s, where he has abandoned writing and is barely earning a living as a translator. He is called in to translate for some American Scientologists and then gets caught up in a plot where seemingly the story that he was partly responsible for is starting to come true.

The basic plot is “what really happened” at Chernobyl. Roberts is a good writer but the book doesn’t quite live up to the premise so I’m hesitant on giving this book a “Very Good” as I feel that it is a bit too average to deserve it. However it’s an enjoyable, if shallow, read so am being generous. So if your going to buy this book based on the hype (it was shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke award) then you may be disappointed.

Overall – enjoyable read with a great premise let down by the run of the mill plot

Edited: May 9, 2011, 4:01 pm

Bonus short stories:

the daemon lover - Shirley Jackson - a woman awaits her wedding day and goes out to seek her fiance - Very Good

like mother used to make - Shirley Jackson - a tidy man is visited by his untidy neighbour - Very Good

the third Bear - Jeff Vandermeer - a village is terrorised by a man killing bear - Very Good

the quickening - Jeff Vandermeer - A little girl and her Aunt (who is her guardian) find a talking rabbit - Very Good

finding Sonoria - Jeff Vandermeer - A man hires a detective to find an unknown country after getting a stamp from the Republic of Sonoria which he cannot find on any map - Brilliant

the improbable imposter Tom Castro - Jorge Luis Borges - a bereft mother is gulled into thinking a simple minded man is her long lost son - Good

the widow Ching - pirate - Jorge Luis Borges - short biography of a female Chinese pirate - Very Good

Shirley Jackson stories from the lottery and other stories
Jeff Vandermeer stories from the third bear
Jorge Luis Borges stories from collected fictions

May 10, 2011, 8:46 am

received what ho!, automaton today so thats next on the TBR after 2666 :-)

May 14, 2011, 9:26 am

Looking forward to your review on 2666! I'm planning to tackle that mountain during my summer holidays, so it'll be a month and a few weeks yet!

May 15, 2011, 12:59 pm

I "may" finish it by then! Have finished the first book but have been distracted by the pile of comics I bought at the Bristol comic expo yesterday....

May 16, 2011, 6:43 am

the ecstatic – Victor LaValle

Very Good

A Schizophrenic’s tale

Anthony James has flunked college and his family (grandmother, mother & sister) find him answering the door naked. They take him home with them into their care although they may not be mentally competent either. What follows is a very odd story where the 315 pound Anthony is forced to diet by his mother, seduces an equally large lady & drives his family to a “miss innocence” beauty pageant. On the way he writes a book about B movie horror films and gets a job cleaning houses. As the family has a history of mental illness and Anthony is known to have a problem the reality of the story or indeed his experiences within the story are in question. However this just makes it all the more interesting.

Overall - Quirky without being saccharine this is a very interesting reading experience.

May 16, 2011, 6:44 am

Embassytown – China Mieville


Science Fiction story set in the city of the title, which is in an obscure and difficult to reach part of the universe, where humans live with several “exot” species including the dominant species on the planet – the enigmatic “hosts”

The story follows Avice Bennon Cho an “Immerser” (someone who can stay awake in the Immer which is Mieville’s version of “hyperspace”) when she returns to Embassytown with her new husband Scile, who is a linguist. Avice is also a Simile, the Hosts use humans to create similes to be able to express certain ideas. This status along with a fortune accumulated due to her travels means that Avice is part of Embassytown’s elite. The story revolves around the concept of Language – the Hosts speak in two voices and in order to speak to them genetically engineered “doppels” are used as ambassadors. The Hosts grow bioengineered machines which they then trade with the humans who share this bounty with the wider universe. When a new ambassador from the “out” arrives everything changes. Mieville’s vision and imagination are huge here and the story is both interesting and exciting. Mieville is clearly using semiotics as a plot driver and a lot hinges on a fairly esoteric conceptual idea but that in no way detracts from the fact that this is definitely a page turner.

Overall – blows away most other sci fi I’ve ever read – a very mieville book and a very accomplished one too

May 16, 2011, 4:11 pm

I need to read something by Victor LaValle and more from China too. Thanks for your comments on them both.

May 20, 2011, 9:23 am

154 - Read anything you can by LaValle!

May 20, 2011, 9:29 am

after a short hiatus I am back reading 2666 which I'm about 1/9 of the way through....

still I have some business travel next week so should be able to break the back of it then

I think I'm sorted on most of my unfinished categories but am having problems with New Zealand authors (I only have 1 on the TBR Stone Dogs and need another 2) so any recommendations apart from the ones in messages 22& 23?

I'm also now thinking about bonus categories as I should complete the challenge in 10 books or so...

May 23, 2011, 6:28 pm

You make it sound like 2666 is heavy going. Hm, I found The savage detectives a good holiday read last year, despite it's bulk. I wonder if this is very different in style? I'm really asking only because I plan to read it on the beach and such, during my vacation. As for Embassytown and LaValle, I'm already standing in line to get on that train!

May 24, 2011, 6:14 am

Haven't read any other Bolano so can't really compare. 2666 is mixed, the first book is very good, the second was a struggle but was less than 100 pages so not too bad the third book again very good but sadly the 4th is a real drag and took a lot of effort to get through, not quite finished yet (about 300 pages left) but so far the 5th book is good

it's probably just going to get an average rating from me but I know some people rave about it though

am likely to finish it on the plane tomorrow so will give a full review Thursday hopefully

May 31, 2011, 8:24 am

Bad Science – Ben Goldacre

Very Good

A practising doctor and epidemiologist exposes how CAM (complimentary and alternative medicine), pharmaceutical companies and the media all use “bad science”

Ben Goldacre tells you how to conduct proper evidence based clinical trials, gives you information on how the Placebo effect works and how this can be taken into account by those conducting clinical trials. He also covers a little statistical theory and therefore gives you the tools to spot where others have failed to conduct proper research. He uses this information to show how complimentary medicine, nutritionists, HIV deniers and the pharmaceutical industry all try to pull the wool over our eyes. Oddly even though he has a few chapters on the big pharmaceuticals and a direct quote from the book being “are the pharmaceutical companies evil?, Yes!” many of those that knock this book on the internet accuse him of being an agent for the pharmaceutical industry – clearly they’ve not read the book. The book has a few problems – occasionally Goldacre is a little too strident and he does tend to repeat himself but this can be forgiven as he is clearly outraged by what some people get away with (the chapter on HIV is a good example). Lets face it though the reason there is an alternative medicine is due to the fact that western medicine lets many people down & perhaps therefore Goldacre in assuming he is arguing from a moral high ground may sometimes be mistaken.

Overall – Excellent edutainment giving you the tools to spot bad science

May 31, 2011, 8:26 am

2666 – Roberto Bolano


Posthumously published epic

This is really 5 connected novellas rather than 1 book. Each novella follows different characters, although some characters appear in more than 1 novella. The first book is about a group of critics who become friends through a love of an obscure German author with an odd name - Benno von Archimboldi. Archimboldi is a writer that does not give interviews and no-one seems to know much about him. Eventually the critics learn that Archimboldi, who is in his 70’s, has gone to Santa Teresa for purposes unknown and they go to see if they can meet him. Some hint of the killings in Santa Teresa is given in part one but the many killings of woman are covered through different character’s eyes in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th books. The 5th book is a chronological telling of Archimboldi’s life and ties things together (in a way) by telling you why he went to Santa Teresa.

The first book is very good and gave me great hopes for the book which the second dashed. The second part takes a minor character from the first part and then meanders and ultimately goes nowhere with him adding neither to the plot nor making an interesting aside – still this bit was only 60 odd pages so is a minor niggle. The 3rd book is back on track and on story following a journalist sent to Santa Teresa to cover a boxing match and as good as the first book. The 5th book is an interesting enough read but doesn’t quite tie the previous 4/5 together in a wholly satisfactory way. My main problem with the book is the 4th book which is over 300 pages of very repetitive half page to 2 pages long reports of the woman who have been found, many brutally raped, dead. Interspersed with some details of the police men investigating. There is also an unresolved incidental serial criminal that defiles churches but that sub-plot goes nowhere (is he linked to the serial killer(s)?). Obviously the repetition is deliberate and the characters in this section have been designed to take a back seat. That’s all well and good but it doesn’t make it an easy read, in fact it makes it a real struggle to turn the pages. Not because the crimes are horrible (although they are) but because of the repetition – eventually you read without taking it in which is perhaps the effect that Bolano was going for – I’ve seen one review that says its based on a real life city where 100’s of women have died in a similar manner. The overall effect is numbness and a wish to get to the end of the book as soon as possible so you can move on to reading something else.

Its not a simple book, its not an easy book, although it was mostly easy to read, and its not unfortunately a finished book as Bolano died before it was completed. Now this doesn’t mean that the story is unfinished but it does mean that it’s a draft in want of polishing.

Overall -Occasionally its very very good and occasionally its very very bad but on the whole its readable and enjoyable.

May 31, 2011, 11:57 am

I have been thinking about getting a copy of Bad Science, I am glad that you enjoyed it! May have to add it to my wishlist now :)

May 31, 2011, 3:55 pm

@160 Good review. I still look forward to reading it this summer, but put your objections behind my ear. Will be interesting to compare later!

Jun 1, 2011, 3:51 am

@162 - yeah its worth reading I think, I do wonder if it would have been truly a great book with a little more editing...

Edited: Jun 1, 2011, 3:53 am

deleted due to duplicate

Jun 2, 2011, 6:24 am

no country for old men – Cormac McCarthy

Very Good

A man stumbles over a drug deal gone bad and escapes with a suitcase full of money

Llewyln Moss is out hunting and stumbles across the fallout from a drug deal where the two sides have wiped each other out. He finds a suitcase full of money and takes it and realises that his current life is effectively over and he goes on the run. Anton Chigurh is a hitman that seeks to reclaim the money who leaves a trail of bodies wherever he goes. Sherrif Ed Tom Bell follows along witnessing the carnage. If you’ve seen the film you get little in the way of surprises from the book as the film is actually quite faithful. Interspersed with the action sequences, where the body count is racked up by Chigurh, are some musings by the Sherrif about law, drugs and violence with a “this country has gone to the dogs” style message which explains the title (which I suspect the author firmly believes in as he was an “old man” when he wrote this book).

Overall – A dark and bloody vision exploring the classic moral dilemma of finding a lot of money – does it matter where the money comes from?

Jun 2, 2011, 2:52 pm

I really liked The road when I read it a few years back, but strangely I think I looked upon it as an another notch on my post-apocalypse belt rather than the introduction to a new writer. I should really look into reading more of McCarthy.

Jun 3, 2011, 4:09 am

Yeah me too - he has a sparse style that I quite like. I think his other books are not very similar to those two though...

Jun 3, 2011, 7:54 am

I have tried and failed to read All the Pretty Horses, slow and meandering is quite an understatement.. not sure where to go after that, I don't fancy No Country for Old Men.

Jun 6, 2011, 6:25 am

Hicksville – Dylan Horrocks


Leonard Batts, a comic critic, trying to research the life of a famous creator of US superhero comics, Dick Burger goes to Hicksville New Zealand Burger’s hometown.

Hicksville is a town with an utter dedication to the comic medium in all its forms including many foreign comics. Every one who lives there is a comics aficionado and there is the greatest comics library in the world but Leonard finds that mentioning Dick Burger is greeted with hostility by the town’s inhabitants. The art is OK (if a little static) and the story is good, although after putting it down half way through I then for a few pages got confused between two of the characters (who looked very similar). The back story of why Hicksville is the way it is was missing –or failed to stick in my memory if it was explained and Horrocks liberally peppers the story with many of the most famous comics creators. In the end the drawback to the story is that you need to care that comics are no longer “art” and are now an “industry” and also to get how clever Horrocks is you need to know an awful lot about the comics industry and I’m guessing I missed a lot of the references.

Overall – enjoyable quick read but not without problems

Jun 6, 2011, 6:26 am

King Solomon’s Mines – H. Rider Haggard


Elephant hunter Allain Quatermain is hired to guide Sir Henry Curtis to find his lost brother who is searching for the legendary lost diamond mines.

First published in 1885 and very much a book of its time - there are 2 female characters, one an evil hag, the other a beautiful handmaiden, the characters casually slaughter a group of elephants for their ivory & the fun of it, the indigenous peoples are all savages (although there is a “noble savage” in the character of Umbopa. Enjoyable enough but has its problems, I mean why did all the Africans speak in “thee & thou” style speech? Haggard is also a great lover of lists and has several throughout the book e.g. a few times he lists the guns & other equipment the explorers have with them etc. Still it’s an easy enough read a bit of a ripping yarn so its faults are forgivable.

Overall - This is an adventure story with burning deserts, evil savages, diamonds and a stiff upper lip attitude.

Edited: Jun 6, 2011, 9:05 am

@ 170 -- I enjoyed King Solomon's Mines when I read it also. I wonder if the African characters use "thee & thou" because they learned to speak English from missionaries who would have been using the King James Bible? No idea whether this is true or not -- or whether there is any real reason for the "thee & thou" speech -- but it's an interesting question!

Jun 6, 2011, 9:42 am

@171 - I assumed it was stylistic choice by Haggard since all the "thee and thou" stuff was "translated" Zulu which only Quatermain spoke..

Jun 6, 2011, 2:46 pm

@ 172 -- That does seem more theory was pretty farfetched!

Jun 6, 2011, 3:24 pm

173 I like your theory better though :-)

Jun 6, 2011, 6:25 pm

This is the Quatermain from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, I guess? I had a hunch he was a literary figure, but haven't enocountered him bofore.

Jun 7, 2011, 3:12 am

@175 - yep thats the one - Haggard wrote a series of Allain Quatermain books in the late 1800's

Edited: Jun 8, 2011, 5:14 am

Bonus short stories - the regret of cause and effect - Andrew Goodman

A collection of 4 shorts about Decisions and Consequences

My favourite was the 2nd "the right thing" which was very plausible.

A very good quick read, he has another collection I'm going to check out too, apparently looking for a break the stories are better than some published ones I've read so it's only a matter of time I reckon. A bargain at less than £1

Jun 10, 2011, 10:54 am

Cary Grant: A biography – Marc Elliot


Biography of the quintessential Hollywood leading man

Cary Grant was born Archie Leech in Horfield, Bristol in 1904. After working backstage in the local theatres he joined an acrobatics group and when the group toured New York in the 1920’s he stayed in the USA. Eventually he got a break into film in the 30’s and went on to star in over 70 films and be one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Elliot has certainly done his research and along with details on each of the films Grant made (although brief they were informative) he also covers the stars sometimes odd private life. Grant had a long term gay “marriage” with Randolph Scott (they lived together for many years) as well as 5 marriages and each are covered in the book. Rumours of Grant being a spy during the second world war are covered and the author has had access to some FBI reports. Grant’s addiction (if that’s the right word) to LSD is also covered. Grant doesn’t always come across well, he seemed to have a pretty flawed character but he did stick to his principles and was one of the few Hollywood insiders that stood up for the targets of the McCarthy witch hunt.

Overall – a fascinating read

Jun 20, 2011, 5:14 am

the heart of the sea – Nathaniel Philbrick

Very Good

The story of the whaling ship Essex which was sunk by a whale in the 1800’s

Philbrick has done extensive research and using the stories as written by 2 members of the crew he weaves a gripping narrative of the disaster. The whaling ship Essex was as famous a story in its day as the Titanic is now. The events inspired Moby Dick by Herman Melville, who spoke to surviving crew members. The ship is sunk after being rammed by an angry sperm whale in the Atlantic a far distance from any islands. The crew escaped the wreck on 3 whaling boats and sailed several thousand miles before rescue. On the way they run out of food resort to cannibalism, have raging thirst and reach the urine drinking stage. Along the way Philbrick enhances the raw facts with the results of studies into starvation and a very vivid description of what happens when you die of thirst. He also covers the history of whaling & Nantucket and whale anatomy.

Overall – A fascinating book full of information and at the same time a gripping adventure

Jun 20, 2011, 5:15 am

Night has a thousand eyes – Cornell Woolrich

Very Good

Classic noir tale about predestination

Detective Tom Shawn saves rich girl Jean Reid from a suicide attempt one night and draws her story out of her. She tells a strange tale of prophecies that have come true and of the man that tells them and the prophecy that is currently ruining her and her father’s life. Shawn gets the police involved and the prophecies are investigated as an elaborate scam. It’s a bleak book, full of dread and suspense and is masterfully written. The plot is a little thin, the book is a little dated (written in 1945) and the characters are sometimes a little over the top but Woolrich is such a great writer that this barely detracts from your reading enjoyment.

Overall – Highly recommended noir

Jun 20, 2011, 5:24 am

Cyclonopedia - Reza Negarestani


From the back of the book – “At once a horror fiction, a work of speculative theology, an atlas of demonology, a political samizdat and a philosophic grimoire”

This is one of the oddest books I’ve ever read, although the old trope of hidden writings discovered by someone and published is used. Near the beginning of the book there are a couple of characters introduced who discuss the papers but soon the “story”, almost non-existent in the first place, is basically dropped.

The writings of Dr. Hamid Parsani, described as a renegade Iranian archaeologist, are treacle thick especially at the beginning of the book which is the most difficult reading I’ve ever struggled through. However the beginning is important if you want to understand the rest of the book.

Parsani’s main hypotheses include the fact that oil is alive & feeds war machines in order to create more desert upon the Earth and the Sun has a rotten black twin in the centre of the Earth and the Earth itself wishes to be immolated by the sun. Along the way he uses Lovecraft, Iranian (and Middle East) history & demonology, the theories of Deleuze & Guttari (French philosophers) and a confusing and obscure glossary to elucidate his ideas.

The book is full of novel ideas and makes you think however Negarestani as Parsani writes in prose that’s as gluttinous as the oil that pervades all of his theories and it’s a long hard slog to get to the end of the book with plenty of references to the dictionary and the glossary at the back of the book (which itself is written in language thick as porridge). I also found myself visiting the websites mentioned hoping that they would add clarification (mostly not) and tried to get an overview of Deleuze & Guttari's ideas (also difficult reading) and yet I feel I only understood a fraction of the writing (I'd like to think it was over half though!)

There is a lot to read between the lines here and this is possibly why you get so many varied interpretations on what the book is actually about.

Would I recommend it? probably not and yet I'm glad I read it...

Overall - It is experimental, its difficult to read, its brilliant and its awful

Jun 22, 2011, 3:53 am

psutto, I haven't finished Cyclonopedia. Actually, I haven't even dipped into it lately. It kept distracting me. First, I was trying to figure out the author's intentions which was a wild goose chase. Then, I started meshing the Gaia hypothesis with oil as a living entity. That blew a brain fuse. Pretty soon my thoughts were anywhere but on the book. I guess it's good that the book sent me off on strange mental tangents. I'll probably delve into it again some time in the future. The analysis of Islam as a desert religion was an interesting jaunt also. Congratulations on finishing the book.

Jun 22, 2011, 4:22 am

@182 - it was a long strange and difficult journey!

Jun 23, 2011, 5:06 pm

@181 Wow. Ponering when I might find time and patience for such a book, and postponing it for my 2050 category challenge read...

Jun 24, 2011, 4:35 am

Ha yes, you and me both! I was put off after Pete cant reading passages of it out loud

Jun 27, 2011, 11:09 am

what ho automaton! – Chris Dolley


Mash up of P.G.Wodehouse (Jeeves & Worcester) and steampunk

As with many other mash up’s it’s a bit of a one trick pony but its also enjoyable enough. I missed a lot I guess by never having read Wodehouse although I have had a brief glimpse through the Fry & Laurie adaptation (not that I ever watched a full episode). The book consists of the novella “What Ho Automaton” and a book “Something Rummy this way comes”. The general gist is that Reginald Worcester (the Bertie Wooster character) who acquires a steam powered automaton man servant Reeves (the Jeeves character). Unfortunately I just didn’t find it that funny, and I’d never really been attracted to the Wodehouse either which admittedly should have put me off. I guess like pride, prejudice & zombies and other books of that ilk you should be a fan of the other half of the mash up. I got it because of its steam punkness and although a fairly fun read in the end it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

Overall – If you like Wodehouse AND steampunk you’ll love this

Edited: Jun 27, 2011, 11:10 am

into the blue – Tony Horwitz

Very Good

The author becomes obsessed with Captain Cook and travels to the South Pacific to visit some places Cook visited

Telling the story of Captain Cook’s three globe spanning sea journeys between 1768 and 1779 via the author’s own travels looking for evidence of Cook in some of the places he visited. It's entertaining writing although the author kind of gives up on following the intrepid Cook for the 2nd voyage – saying he didn’t want to do the cold stuff (Antarctic) but is back on track for the 3rd trip visiting Alaska and Hawaii. Along the way you get a lot of biographical info as well as some sociological insights into island cultures (e.g. Niue & Tahiti). It's light hearted and the author is often joined by a British ex-pat friend who lives in Australia and the two tend to drink and eat their way around the various places they visit.

Overall - Part biography, part travel writing, all good fun

Jun 27, 2011, 11:26 am

Haha, thanks for the review of What Ho, Automaton! It sounds like something I'd like.

Jul 1, 2011, 6:28 am

@188 - hope you enjoy it, it is well written!

Jul 1, 2011, 6:32 am

I've just got to finish eaten by a giant clam and am going to start on my name was judas and that will be the challenge completed!!

so will be doing a 11 books mini challenge soon....

Jul 6, 2011, 6:22 am

on my last book for the challenge....

Jul 6, 2011, 9:29 am

Considering some of the books that you've read this year, that's some achievement. Congratulations!

Jul 6, 2011, 6:43 pm

Wow, congratulations on being nearly done!

Jul 7, 2011, 2:52 am

Wow, that's some impressive speedy reading. Congratulations!

Jul 7, 2011, 9:24 am

@192-194 - many thanks

I'll now be doing a TBR bookshelf category and seeing how many books I can reduce the TBR by before the 12/12 challenge!

I will try to fit them into the above categories as bonus reads....

Edited: Jul 11, 2011, 5:57 am

Jul 8, 2011, 5:53 am

stonedogs – Craig Marriner


Standard drug heist story where “the brotherhood”, some stoner friends, come across information about a major cannabis haul that they decide to steal

The story follows some friends who have set themselves up as anti-capitalist activists, although they mostly spend their time getting stoned. They come across information that a local gang have set up an outdoor cannabis plantation and decide to rip it off to get rich. A very familiar heist plot is told well with the novelty of the gang culture set up in Rotorua, which is a refreshing setting, and interspersed with the anti-capitalist musings of the main character. The last act is a bit disappointing and feels very under-developed when compared to the rest of the book – almost as though it’s a few roughly sketched out scenes thrown in at the end, this bumps the book down from a Very Good to Good in my opinion.

Overall - The beginning is a bit slow but once it gets going the book is very good, however the last act squanders the set up.

Jul 8, 2011, 6:22 am

my name was Judas – C.K. Stead


Taking the premise that Judas didn’t kill himself but fled to Greece and lived to 70 and this is his memoir

The story of Jesus is told through Judas’s eyes – with Judas being a boyhood friend of Jesus deciding to follow him and become a disciple because of the death of his wife in childbirth. Told in a matter of fact way and subverting the gospels its an interesting exercise in “what if”. Some of the miracles that Jesus was supposed to have performed are told through Judas’s eyes to have very down to earth explanations and are mostly exaggerations and coincidences. Judas becomes increasingly concerned that Jesus is insane, with a god complex and attempts to divert him from the path he’s taken which brings him into conflict with the less intelligent and more credulous members of Jesus’s entourage who start to believe Jesus is the messiah hence the fact that Judas is cast as the Betrayer by the gospel writers. The whole feeling is very much that Jesus started a cult of personality and then through feedback from those that followed him came to believe in his own divinity.

If you’re a believer this is probably not a book for you (I’ve seen one review that says “This is an affront to everything that I believe about Jesus!”) and if your not a believer you may not be familiar enough with the story of Jesus to get all the references

Overall – interesting quick read

Jul 8, 2011, 6:27 am

eaten by a giant clam – Joseph Cummins

Very Good

Series of short biographies of travelling scientists who made a contribution to our understanding of the natural world

Mainly concentrating on the naturalists of the 19th century this book has a 4-5 page biography of 25 different scientists. Each story surveys the life and career of the scientist, with the main focus being career highlights and their most striking adventures. Some of these people are truly remarkable and some I’m not sure why they’ve been included. There are some notable omissions – Darwing, Galton etc. but I’m guessing the author preferred to concentrate on more obscure scientists. The book is well written and the biographies are stand alone mostly very good, there are a couple of dull ones in there though. Several of the biographies did make me want to find out more about particular scientists. The book doesn’t read well if you try to read one biography after another as they are quite similar – naturalist of some description travels to far away land, has adventures, brings back specimens.

Overall – some exiting tales of derring do from the great naturalists of the 18th to 20th century

Jul 8, 2011, 6:28 am

And that completes the original challenge - 55 books and 11 short stories

Next week I'll do a half year summary...

Jul 8, 2011, 10:25 am

Congrats! I look forward to the summary and I'm glad you're continuing to post with the bonus additions.

Jul 8, 2011, 11:12 am

I am so glad we didn't have a bet that you would finish first ;-)

Edited: Sep 20, 2011, 11:15 am

Bonus Books - 1

short stories, novellas & articles
i - the third bear - Jeff Vandermeer - READ
ii - the lottery & other stories - Shirley Jackson - READ
iii - the collected fictions of jorge luis borges - Jorge Luis Borges - Reading
iv - best American fantasy - edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer -READ
v - mcsweeneys Enchanted chamber of astonishing stories - Reading
vi - revenge of the lawn Richard Brautigan - Reading

Edited: Jul 21, 2011, 4:36 am

Bonus Books 2

Books that don't fit another category
i - on the death and life of languages - Claude Hagege - READ
ii - all quiet on the orient express - Magnus Mills - READ
iii - the lost machine - Richard A Kirk - READ
iv - infected - scott sigler - READ
v - the etched city - K.J. Bishop - READ

Jul 11, 2011, 5:57 am

Bonus books 3

Books about Travel or science
i - the rider - Tim Krabbe - READ

Jul 11, 2011, 6:01 am

Hey Pete, a big congratulations on finishing the challenge! Hope you stick around for the rest of the year anyway? Perhaps go for the full 11 in 11?

Am about 1/3 into 2666 - towards the end of Fate's book. Am enjoying it a lot so far - also the second book that you found meandering, which to me was a pretty chilling account of descent into psychosis. Am approaching the fourth book with some wariness though. Hope to disagree with you there too, of course :)

Jul 11, 2011, 6:22 am

Half year review:

still the books that were best & worst at my quarter review are almost the same as the ones for my half year review:

best of the year so far:

bldg:blog book - utterly amazing & a mine of speculative ideas
lions of al rassan - still brilliant on the 4th re-read
the session - great short one

to which I'd add black swan green, perdido street station, embassytown, the rider & the lost machine the last 2 I will get round to doing a review for soon!

worst of the year so far:

flat earth news
the lights on at signpost
living in the maniototo

luckily I don't need to add to this list much wizard: the life of Nikola Tesla maybe as I didn't finish it

most disappointing:

master and margartita - I so wanted to like this book but it just didn't do it for me

weirdest book:

cyclonopedia - its just bizarre!

easiest category to finish - "books that don't fit another category"

hardest category to finish - "books by New Zealand authors" strange but I really struggled with that one and I don't know why

Jul 11, 2011, 6:25 am

@206 - thanks! yep am sticking around - hope you enjoy the rest of 2666 I do think the man can write and am going to grab other books by him when I can - my TBR runs into more books than I've read so far this year though so may be a while before I get round to it...

Edited: Jul 14, 2011, 4:32 am

Bonus books 4

Books about numbers or with numbers in the title or books in a series
i - retribution falls - Chris Wooding - READ

Jul 12, 2011, 3:05 pm

Eaten by a Giant Clam sounds interesting, thanks for the review! Will add that one to my wishlist. Sounds like a great book to read a little at a time.

Jul 14, 2011, 4:31 am

210 - yep, although its not particularly detailed but enough to give a flavour of each scientist

Jul 21, 2011, 4:38 am

the third bear - Jeff Vandermeer

Very Good

Collection of Vandermeer's short fiction

Most of these stories have been published before in a variety of publications, including a couple of novellas but have not been available in a Vandermeer short collection till now. The stories are a good example of Vandermeer's writing including a story about trying to change the world with stories, a story about a talking rabbit and the title story of the third bear which is very creepy. If your a Vandermeer completist you'll probably already have the situation, the surgeons tale and appoggiatura but the book is still worth getting for the other stories.

Overall - a fine collection of shorts

Jul 21, 2011, 4:38 am

on the death and life of languages - Claude Hagege


One linguists anguished plea to save the world's endangered languages

Twenty-five languages die each year; at this pace, half the world’s five thousand languages will disappear within the next century & probably sooner as their disappearance appears to be accelerating. Hagege gives a broad introduction to linguistics outlining what constitutes a language, how languages disappear etc and then using extensive examples (including but not limited to aboriginal languages, latin, Yiddish & Hebrew (as an example of languages come back from the dead) and native American tongues) goes on to show that the death of language is a calamaty on par with the extinction of animals. Sometimes dry but never boring this is probably a book if your already interested in linguistics rather than a book for every one.

Overall - an impassioned appeal to save many languages under threat

Jul 21, 2011, 4:39 am

all quiet on the orient express - Magnus Mills


Typical Mills - a brooding story with a creeping sense of something wrong

Our story finds a motorcyclist at a camping site in the Lake District at the moment all the other campers have left. There is a real sense that nothing is quite what it seems from the very start. Our protagonist stays on at the campsite taking on more and more casual work for the owner whilst spending his evenings doing the owner's daughter's homework and drinking in the local pub. He agrees to paint the boating lake's boats by Christmas and becomes ever more embedded in the village life. Those that have read the restraint of beasts will be on familiar ground here and Mills masterfully paints a story with many possible interpretations with a deft touch.

Overall - another brilliant black comedy from Mills

Edited: Jul 21, 2011, 4:42 am

the rider Tim Krabbe


Classic tale of road cycle racing

Tim Krabbe is a chess player and author of the vanishing amongst other novels, he is also a cyclist who took part in over 300 road races. Its a blow by blow account of one particular race but also an exploration of the sport of cycle racing and the characters that take part. Although I had only a passing knowledge of the Tour De France (as the most famous example of road cycle racing) I was hooked from beginning to end. Its one of those books that when you reach the end you can't think of one thing that would improve it. Utterly amazing by turns psychological, philosophical, quintessential sports fiction & occasionally surreal its a must read and immediately makes it onto my best books list.

Overall - Perfect account of the psychological and physical effort required in road cycle racing

Jul 21, 2011, 4:43 am

definitely going to seek out more by Tim Krabbe

Aug 1, 2011, 5:52 am

More bonus books read

last call - Tim Powers (book about fate/coincidence/luck)
Tuscany a history - Alistair Moffat (educational book)
the windup girl - Paolo Bacigalupi (book I want to read that isn't in another category)
zoo city - Lauren Beukes (book I want to read that isn't in another category)
a room with a view - E.M. Forster (Book of Rememberance, about war, history or from the past)

Aug 1, 2011, 5:53 am

Reading currently - Book about travel or about science

Notebooks from New Guinea - Vojtech Novotny

Aug 1, 2011, 5:56 am

reviews soon....

heres one that I missed posting for some reason

the lost machine - Richard A Kirk


Great example of New Weird storytelling with fantastic illustrations

Kirk creates a strange but evocative world where a man wrongly committed of a heinous murder escapes from prison and goes on a quest to confront the real killer. This is a beautifully produced novella that includes a number of brilliant pencil drawings by the author. The world building is done with just the right mix of suggestion and explanation to make you want to explore it more.

Overall - short but perfectly formed

Aug 1, 2011, 6:09 am

@219 Sounds wonderful!

Aug 1, 2011, 6:14 am

I recently had The Windup Girl recommended to me as a potential birthday present for my partner. I ended up buying him 2 other books instead, but for future reference (christmas will roll around very quickly!) I'll look forward to reading your thoughts.

Aug 1, 2011, 7:58 am

220 - highly recommended!

221 - I mostly enjoyed it but it does have its problems - will do a full review soon!

Aug 3, 2011, 8:30 am

last call - Tim Powers (book about fate/coincidence/luck)
Very Good

A story about Poker, chaos magic, tarot, Egyptian myth, archetypes

Scott Crane is rescued from having his father use him in a ritual involving tarot cards and is brought up by a professional poker player. When he takes part in a strange game called assumption his step family abandon him and his life slowly goes downhill. Skip forward a few years and Crane discovers that the assumption was another tarot ritual and his life is in danger and so starts an adventure to which he ropes in his next door neighbour. I thoroughly enjoyed this book although its not as tightly plotted as it should be and didn’t quite have enough plot to fill its 600 odd pages. Just seen that it’s the first in a trilogy so will look for the others. It’s the first Powers I’ve read and he can certainly write urban fantasy so am going to check out some of his other books.

Overall – didn’t quite live up to the premise & a little bit too long

Aug 3, 2011, 8:31 am

Tuscany a history - Alistair Moffat (educational book)

The book starts well with a little information about Tuscany and the draw it has on the “Inglesi” but after a couple of chapters the author had to draw in so much of what was happening elsewhere in Europe that it felt a little unfocused. After the great style of the first 2-3 chapters he also strayed into a drier “this person did this in this year” which was a little dull. It may have improved later on but life is too short to perservere with books your not enjoying

Overall – very dull

Aug 3, 2011, 8:32 am

the windup girl - Paolo Bacigalupi (book I want to read that isn't in another category)

Fairly standard sci fi fare set in the 23rd century when the oil has run out and genetic engineering has caused starvation (sterile seeds), new people (called “Windups”) and deadly diseases that have killed millions

Anderson Lake is in Thailand looking for its seed stock whilst running a factory as a cover. Jaidee is the “Tiger” of the ministry of the environment who with Kanya his dour assistant is attempting to prevent unsanctioned immigration of biological material. Hock Seng is a “yellow card” Chinese asylum seeker who works for Lake and Emiko is the windup girl of the title who has been created in a lab to serve humans and is working as a prostitute. These characters all in some way are involved in a power play between the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Trade which eventually explodes into violent conflict. Through these viewpoint characters we see the conflict played out. Bacigalupi’s writing is mixed in this, his first, book and the book has a number of flaws that bumped it from Very Good to Good. The world building isn’t wholly plausible and until the plot kicks in proper is pretty much all to see as the characterisation is a little light (deliberately so I assume). However the second half of the book is much better. I do wonder if I’d found this without hearing so much hype if I’d enjoyed it more?

Overall – over-hyped but still enjoyable book

Aug 5, 2011, 3:19 am

Thanks for your review of The Windup Girl, I think I might drop it down my potential presents list a little bit.

Aug 7, 2011, 2:15 pm

Thank you for the review from me as well! I have this one on mount TBR, but it is buried until 2012 most likely :P

Aug 8, 2011, 2:44 pm

@226 &227 thanks for dropping by

I am so behind on reviews must find some time to catch up soon

Finished war with the newts just started cold skin

Aug 10, 2011, 6:35 am

trying to catch up on reviews!

Aug 10, 2011, 6:35 am

Infected - Scott Sigler - Books that don't fit another category

Very Good

Body shock horror story

Something is turning people into violent lunatics and when they die they turn into goo covered skeletons within a very short time so CDC investigators can’t investigate properly and find out what’s causing it & why are triangles involved again?. The book is mainly told from the perspective of ex professional American Football star “Scary” Perry Dawsey who becomes one of the infected. The book pulls no punches and is pretty gruesome in parts making me wince more than once in sympathy with the main character. The plot speeds along and the pay off at the end of the book is suitably impressive. Just seen that there is a sequel too so that’s going straight on my wish list.

Overall – entertaining schlock horror

Aug 10, 2011, 6:35 am

the etched city – K.J. Bishop - Books that don't fit another category


New Weird story

The story follows two main characters Gwynn and Raule starting in the Copper Country where they have both been part of a failed revolution and have met up again by chance whilst both drifting. The two are at first hunted by the “Army of Heroes” in the Copper Country and Gwynn decides to make for the city of Asmoil and leave the Copper Country and having nothing better to do Raule joins her. In the city the two basically go their separate ways with Gwynn using her medical knowledge to help the poor and Raule becoming an enforcer for a slaver. Eventually they are thrown together again when the son of the slaver is hurt. It’s a brooding book that starts with a very good prelude in the Copper Country but once the pair reach the city very little happens for a long period of time but a lot of the nothing is necessary set up for the dénouement. I found myself enthralled at the beginning then bored for a long period of the book then enthralled again at the end. The book is very uneven and some parts seem to be fairly random and added just to deepen the theme although many parts are evocative. It does seem to be the only novel by Bishop and I feel that although flawed is interesting enough for me to track down more of her writing. If she can produce a better plot then her writing would be great.

Overall – disappointing and flawed novel but with occasional flashes of brilliance

Aug 10, 2011, 6:35 am

Retribution Falls - Chris Wooding - Books about numbers or with numbers in the title or books in a series


Steampunk tale about sky pirates

The Ketty Jay captained by Darian Frey and crewed by a collection of misfits seems like a very familiar place. If you’ve seen Firefly then you have a good idea of the type of ship Frey runs. He does odd jobs basically to keep himself in drink and drugs and cares little for the crew. Taking a job that seems too good to be true turns out to be too good to be true and Frey & crew are blamed for destroying the ship they were about to rob. Pursued by the law and a bounty hunter that turns out to be Frey’s ex jilted bride the crew try to work out the conspiracy they seem to have become involved in. The first half of the book fairly flys along being everything you’d want from a light hearted steampunk adventure. Unfortunately the later part of the book does a bit of a mood change and tries to be gritty and realistic and is much darker in tone. When it was tongue in cheek it got away with the Captain being a misogynist in a jokey manner however later in the book when everything gets more serious he becomes a deeply dislikeable character which you are somehow made to collude with due to the 3rd party narration. In addition the protagonists are a little too stupid twice falling for something that they shouldn’t have been stupid enough to fall for once which was annoying.

Overall – Great half a book that’s let down seriously by the second half

Edited: Aug 10, 2011, 8:10 am

Thanks for your review of Retribution Falls. I've been curious about that one.

Aug 10, 2011, 12:41 pm

@ 232 -- The reviews of this book definitely have me intrigued! Despite its flaws, I think I'll give it a try. I mean, SKY PIRATES! And I loved "Firefly."

Aug 11, 2011, 10:04 am

zoo city – Lauren Beukes


Urban fantasy noir tale set in South Africa

Zinzi December is a Mashavi, that is a person with a spirit animal (in her case a Sloth). Having a symbiotic spirit animal is a mark of a criminal and yet it also gives you a power. Zinzi’ power is finding lost things but she doesn’t do missing people. Being an ex-addict Zinzi also has debts with bad people and runs e-mail scams as a method of paying it back. She is desperate for cash and takes on a missing person case, one half of a pop duo who has gone missing. This fairly standard missing person noir tale is given two exotic spins – firstly the spirit animals and the world that Beukes has created and secondly it happens in South Africa. Interspersed throughout are news stories and flavour pieces that help build the world. Beukes writing is very good and manages to make the tired missing person trope interesting and the book also reflects many South African issues – AIDS, refugees from failed African states, poverty etc.

Overall – if you like noir and urban fantasy you’ll love this

Aug 11, 2011, 10:04 am

a room with a view – E.M. Forster

Very Good

Classic tale of love and Italy

Lucy Honeychurch and her older cousin and chaperone Charlotte Bartlett are on holiday in Florence. There they meet a variety of people including the Emersons a father and son who don’t seem to fit the same circle of society. After a series of incidents that culminate in Lucy being kissed by George Lucy & Miss Bartlett leave for Rome. The second half of the book is set in England where Lucy is engaged to Cecil and the Emersons come to stay in the same village where they live. The book is a comedy of manners as well as being a love story and also a witty social commentary about England and the English of the early 20th century (the book was published in 1908). It feels like a period piece and yet the writing is somehow timeless.

Overall – Charming short classic novel

Aug 11, 2011, 10:04 am

Notebooks from New Guinea - Vojtech Novotny

Very Good

Musings from a Czech biologist working in Papua New Guinea

Vojtech Novotny is an entomologist who lives in PNG researching the insect life of the tropical forests there. His notebooks are a selection of short essays comparing and contrasting life in New Guinea (with some wry anthropological musings) with life in the Czech republic. The insights are told with a warm wit and reveal that the author is also a keen observer of human nature. The essays are varied from the establishment of cargo cults to the dangers of driving in PNG. The book also has a number of illustrations by a local artist.

Overall – entertaining part travelogue, part philosophical musing full of interesting anecdotes.

Aug 11, 2011, 10:04 am

war with the newts – Karel Capek

Very Good

Czech sci fi from the 1930’s about the discovery of a race of sentient newts

A modern parable and satire of the political situation in the mid 1930’s. In Sumatra a race of large salamanders are discovered who are bipedal, dextrous and have a surprising capacity to learn human languages. First they are put to work finding pearls but once the market is flooded and their original discoverer passes away businessmen soon hit upon the idea of using the newts as an underwater workforce. Obviously being dystopian fiction things go wrong, nations decide to expand their coastlines, newts are trained for military use etc. A good proportion of the book is news clippings, academic reports, journal extracts etc on the newts which seeks to give the satire a realistic edge.

Overall - Somewhat dated but still good speculative satire

Aug 11, 2011, 10:05 am

cold skin – Albert Sanchez Pinol

Very Good

Weird tale about a remote island, two men and monsters

A man seeking isolation takes a job as a weather observer on a remote Antarctic island which has but two buildings – the weather observers house and a lighthouse. The lighthouse is inhabited when the man arrives by ship by a semi catatonic man. The man Resolves to stay even though the previous weather observer is nowhere to be found. The island is therefore without escape or hope of rescue until the relief is due to arrive in 12 months time. When darkness falls the mystery of what happened to the old weather observer seems clear….

Overall – may be described as “old weird” being an almost Lovecraftian tale

Aug 11, 2011, 3:52 pm

Glad to see you catching up on those pesky reviews. Only one of which is on my tbr shelves alread that I'm pleased to see you enjoyed, Zoo City. Hopefully I'll be getting to that one later this year.

Aug 12, 2011, 3:58 am

Zoo city sparked my interest when I saw Claire's rating of it, so it was good to read a review on it. Sounds like it could be for me. Someone else here has also been talking about, and loving Capek's book. I've held the Swedish edition it in my hands many times, but due to a cover only a mother could love, I've never picked it up. Sounds interesting though!

Aug 12, 2011, 3:59 am

By the way and just out of curiosity: What was the last book you and Claire deeply disagreed on?

Aug 12, 2011, 9:02 am

Hmm Pete has a far better memory than me (but since he has gone camping in the rain I cant check). I *think* it was How to live safely in a science fictional universe which was so bad I couldn't finish but he thought was ok (although he could be just being nice since it was a present).

Aug 15, 2011, 4:26 am

@242 - good question I didn't hate retribution falls as much as Claire, not sure if that came out in the review or not...

I'm sure there are others

I really did like how to live safely in a science fictional universe

generally though I won't read some of the books that Claire reads and she'll stay away from some of the books I like reading...

Aug 15, 2011, 9:23 am

@244 read more Raymond Chandler :)

Aug 17, 2011, 4:47 am

Just finished this is not a game review to follow soon.. Have the luxury now of picking something off the TBR choices, choices

Aug 22, 2011, 7:25 am

also finished hide & seek my first Ian Rankin and have started vertigo by W.G. Sebald and although have struck one off the TBR I visited a book festival at the weekend and added a few more to the TBR...

Aug 22, 2011, 8:23 am

hide & seek – Ian rankin


Run of the mill murder mystery

Rankin can certainly write and I was never bored reading this book, the 2nd Inspector Rebus mystery (of which there seems to be 16 more). I had this on my TBR for a while – mainly due to the fact that I saw Rankin do a talk when his graphic novel dark entries (a John Constantine novel) came out (he was paired with Neil Gaiman in a Q&A session which is the real reason I was there) and also as the novels are set in Edinburgh which I’ve visited several times for the festivals in August. So as I was jumping on a plane to go to Edinburgh again I grabbed this book as in flight entertainment. Rebus is a detective inspector in Edinburgh (with a love of fine wines as his detective quirk – you know all detectives have to have quirks). The crime he’s investigating in this book is the death of a junkie which Rebus is clever enough and cares enough to see it as a piece in a larger murkier puzzle which spoilers I won’t reveal. There is a plot device reason he has the time and inclination to investigate this mystery (which includes the tired old trope of the detective being suspended whilst on a case).

Overall - a by the numbers mystery plot – enjoyable enough fluff

Aug 22, 2011, 8:24 am

this is not a game – Dave Szulborski


A guide to Alternative Reality Games

Szulborski is a “puppetmaster” (a kind of cross between a referee and D&D dungeon master) for a number of ARGs (Alternative Reality Games) and has written this guide as both an introduction to the genre and a guide on running ARGs. When the Spielberg film AI came out some trailers and posters included a credit for a Jeanine Salla as “as Sentient Machine Therapist”. One of the trailers included an encrypted telephone number which if you called it and followed the instructions you would receive an e-mail saying “Jeanine is the key” and other trailers had the message “Evan Chan is dead” and so started the ARG that came to be known as “the Beast” & also defined this “new” genre of game that deliberately blurred the line between game and real world. Players attempted to crack the puzzles to find out how Evan died using the more than 30 websites created for the game, players had also had live phone conversations with a game character and participated in Anti-Robot Militia rallies in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Szuborski covers the history of ARGs using real examples including the Beast, what ARGs are and their possible future. He then gives you a guide to creating ARG puzzles and a sample ARG. One thing though he seems to think that no-one has ever worked with a genre where the audience/player helps create the story through their interaction with the game before so has obviously never heard of tabletop or live role playing before!

Although well written I never got a very good idea of what it’s like to play an ARG – a genre of game I’ve pondered trying. From the outside it still seems that you need some real world IT skills to even give it a go and the puzzles seem very difficult (most are solved by the community of ARG players working together – for some games the community is in the thousands). Most ARGs start with a “rabbit hole” (reference to Alice in Wonderland) which draws you into the alternative reality of the game which are sometimes highlighted on websites like It’s a draw and a barrier to me that you have to be in the right place at the right time to have a go at these games. They seem to involve a lot of Instant Messaging and crunching HTML trying to find hidden messages.

Overall – interesting historical view on Alternative Reality Gaming.

Aug 23, 2011, 6:20 pm

Infected and War with Newts are going on my wishlist, thanks! :)

Aug 24, 2011, 7:38 am

@250 - hope you enjoy them!

Aug 26, 2011, 2:14 pm

Finished vertigo and am flitting from short story book to short story book which means I've also finished the lottery and other stories which is one of the books I've been dipping into between novels

Aug 30, 2011, 8:49 am

vertigo W G Sebald

Very Good

Being an exploration of memory – part fiction, part travelogue

Sebald does something similar to rings of Saturn here mixing a travcelogue (this time in Italy) with fiction and historical facts. The book revolvesa round Milan, Verona, Venice and the Alps and in its meandering explores Kafka, Stendhal and Sebald’s own personal history. Interspersed in the text are Sebald’s trademark photographs and pictures that add to the flavour of the novel. Perhaps not as easily accessible as rings of Saturn being set in places I’ve seldom visited as opposed to England it is still a very engaging reading experience. There is no one quite like Sebald and if you have liked his other works you will like this one.

Overall – very odd, thought provoking and compelling

Aug 30, 2011, 8:50 am

the lottery and other stories Shirley Jackson

Very Good

Collection of short stories

This is a very mixed bag of some very short and some not so short stories on the whole many more good stories than mediocre. It includes the title story the lottery which caused a sensation in 1948 and is now seen as a classic of the short story genre. Most of the stories offer a perspective on or a brief moment in a life. The stories focus on people that are generally not in step with society and the major themes are loneliness, desperation and fragility.

Overall – a set of very readable psychological tales

Aug 30, 2011, 8:51 am

atlas of remote islands Judith Schalansky


50 remote islands drawn in detail with a brief prose piece on each island

The author spent her childhood in East Berlin and longed to travel. Her only escape was via reading atlases and now she has created her own. In the Artic, Antartic, Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans she has detailed 50 islands. On one (A4) page are her perfect maps and on the opposite page a short description or story about that island. I can do no better than quote the back of the book to say what the stories are about – “Rare animals and strange people abound: marooned slaves and lonely scientists, lost explorers and confused lighthouse keepers, mutinous sailors and forgotten castaways”. Plenty of places here I’ve never heard of and plenty of interesting history and biography. On the one hand perfectly sized and yet on the other it left me wanting more. Absolutely brilliant – if you have any interest in remote places you should go out and buy this right now!

Overall – Brilliant armchair exploration

Aug 31, 2011, 2:25 am

My bookshop has this, and I've flicked through it a number of times. Maybe I'll get around to buying it soon, nice review.

Aug 31, 2011, 3:54 am

You had me at "50 remote islands...". A must-read for me.

Aug 31, 2011, 4:01 am

@256 & 257 - I definitely recommend it

Sep 1, 2011, 6:41 am

finished what the f*** did I do last night by Rowland Rivron and started just my type

hmmm seem to be on a non-fiction kick at the moment...

Sep 3, 2011, 4:51 pm

Decided to do a mini challenge and see how many books I can read until the end of th year that are about my home city Bristol or are set in Bristol or are written by Bristol authors....

But first having finished just my type I'm going to read three to see the king by Magnus Mills because it's there :-)

Edited: Sep 5, 2011, 7:33 am

Now reading things unborn by Eugene Byrne which is partly set in Bristol

There's no reviews yet so I'll make sure to add one when I'm done

Sep 5, 2011, 7:51 am

Faisollus – Kate Charles


Caveat – I’m not a big fan of YA and prefer my literature to be a bit grittier. This does not mean this is a bad book – just that its faults are genre related i.e. I didn’t like the simplicity and naivety

Faisollus is an e-book which I read on a kindle app. The premise being that the people of the world of Aleameth (which doesn’t trip of the mental tongue when reading) are in danger of their world ending due to the sun putting out ever greater amounts of radiation. One scientist realises that the planet will soon be uninhabitable and comes up with a plan along with his sister to set of in an ark. He is a master of “coding” which is basically digitising people and his sister is a master in rocket science, lucky that, together they build a ship and plan to code as many people as possible to escape. However they are opposed by a religious order called “The Higher Will” who believe in “accepting the dictates of Aleameth and its environment, whatever that may mean. Followers believed that should they eventually be poisoned by their own planet they would be rewarded after death for their humility and acceptance”. Now I had a slight problem with this considering that everyone lived in covered cities (as the sun’s radiation was enough to poison everything that wasn’t covered) – obviously the religion wasn’t powerful enough to stop that major piece of engineering & its adherents weren’t that zealous to not live in covered cities. I also had a bit of a problem with the science – poison and radiation are not the same thing maybe the author simplified things here. The people of Aleameth have an ancient taboo against violence and conflict calling it “Forcing” which is a bit of a plot device at times. Despite its flaws I enjoyed several sections of the book although in other sections my suspension of disbelief was stretched to breaking point. Maybe fans of YA will love it?

Overall – not for me but not a bad book as such

Sep 5, 2011, 7:52 am

what the F*** did I do last night – Rowland Rivron

Very Good

Rowland Rivron describes himself as an “accidental comedian” since he started his career as a Jazz drummer. He is perhaps not as much of a household name as those he’s worked closely with – being one half of Raw Sex with French & Saunders and Dr. Scrote on the Jonathon Ross show or a Groovy Fella with Jools Holland but is a recognisable face nonetheless. I first became a fan when he did the Bunker Show, basically a clips show with guests – the idea being that the guest would say what he’d like to watch in his bunker if the bomb went off (it was based on desert island discs). This was an anarchic show on around about the time I’d get back from the pub as a student and seemed very funny at the time (its not aged well and also you shouldn’t really watch it sober!). The book covers his whole career (spending very little time on biography before he starts drumming for a living) and the title of the book alludes to the fact that his career is mainly fuelled by alcohol and he has to catch up with all the people he’s worked with to ask them what happened when they worked together as he’s forgotten. Rivron comes across in his own words as a bit of a hellraiser up for doing anything for laugh and the book is suitably peppered with madcap antics. Loosely organised in chapters that reflect what he was working on and who he was working with at the time the writing does have a tendancy to jump around and sometimes mid paragraph one story segues clumsily into another. Despite that though it is a good read and a bit of personal nostalgia remembering such programs as The Young Ones, Saturday Zoo, the Groovy Fellas, the Bunker Show, Riveron (where he interviewed people whilst floating around in the Thames), French & Saunders etc.

Overall - a very readable summary of Rivron’s career

Sep 5, 2011, 7:54 am

just my type – Simon Garfield


It’s a book about fonts and typography

The back says – “Just my Type is a book of stories” and I was expecting the author to bring the stories of fonts and their designers to life which I thought sounded really interesting. However only a certain amount of the book is about that, the rest was about what the difference is between one font and another - as an example “Albertus looks slightly theatrical, and at larger sizes its capital B (with its central bar tapering to a fine point), its upper case O (thin sides with a hugely gawping lopsided central bowl and” blah blah blah…. I didn’t want the dull technical typography bits as they got in the way of telling us about the people who designed the fonts e.g. the couple who designed the font for British Motorways and the way they tested that font for readability or about Eric Gill (designed Gill Sans amongst others) who was a bit of a satyr and conducted ceaseless sexual (sometimes incestuous) experimentation and recorded it e.g. "continued experiment with dog….and discovered that a dog will join with a man” . I wanted to learn more about the typographers than the typography and sadly the book didn’t deliver. However if your really interested in the differences between different fonts, what your choice of font says about you/your work or the history of typography (how type is made – hot metal to letraset to computer fonts) then this is the book for you

Overall – disappointing as it wasn’t what I expected

Sep 5, 2011, 7:55 am

three to see the king – Magnus Mills


Allegorical work in a fictional setting.

Our un-named narrator lives in a tin house, on a wide plain, with few neighbours and spends his days moving sand and listening to the wind. Then a woman arrives and moves in with him and his neighbours start to visit a bit more than they used to and then everything changes. Much more allegorical than his previous books but told in the same sparse style this is a brilliant book that I devoured in a single sitting. Yet again a description of the plot does the writing no justice at all.

Overall – another Mills masterpiece

Sep 8, 2011, 10:13 am

Best American fantasy – edited by Jeff & Ann Vandermeer


So-so collection of short stories

The introduction says that these are the stories that stuck with the editors after reading them but now that I’ve finished I’m hard pressed to remember any of them in order to do this review. Along with a couple of other short story books I usually do a “palate cleanser” after each book I read of reading 3 or more short stories before moving onto the next book and as this has about 30 stories I’ve been reading it for a while. Without it in front of me I can’t really name more than a couple of the authors (and those are the ones I’ve heard of) and the most outstanding story (by Brian Evenson) I’d read in another collection. I didn’t hate the book and I finished almost all the stories (1 or 2 I confess bored me on the first couple of pages so I skipped them) but nothing really stood out and no singular story impressed me. Many of the stories had little or no fantasy elements (not even magical realism) which seems a little odd in a collection called best fantasy.

Overall – forgettable collection of short stories by mostly authors I’ve never heard of and have no interest in finding out more about.

Sep 8, 2011, 5:27 pm

Now I need to read Atlas of Remote Islands :P Thanks!

Edited: Sep 26, 2011, 6:35 am

Candidates for the Bristol mini challenge:

things unborn - Eugene Byrne -READ
suncaller - B.John Shaw Liddle - READ
The Last Llanelli train - Robert Lewis - READ
Life and how to live it - Daniel Mayhew - READ
In the hands of the living god - Lillian Bouzane - READ
Satan's Kingdom - Pip Jones - GAVE UP
Treasure Island - R.L. Stevenson -READ
Phonogram - Keiron Gillen (Vol 1&2)
Robinson Crusoe -Daniel Defoe (although not set in Bristol supposedly Defoe met the man it's based on in a Bristol pub and it gives me an excuse to read it)-Reading
Bristol short story prize anthology 4-Reading

Sep 12, 2011, 10:23 am

finished Suncaller and am wondering why it doesn't appear on LT at all - it is on Amazon UK

Sep 12, 2011, 11:18 am

things unborn – Eugene Byrne (Bristol mini-challenge)


Police procedure thriller in an alternative history world

Eugene Byrne lives in Bristol and although only part of this novel is set in Bristol I reckon it fits my mini challenge. This was also a re-read for me but one after a substantial enough number of years (it was published in 2001)it was enough time to have forgotten a lot of the detail. It’s an alternative history book where the world had a nuclear war in the 1960’s. Since that time and in countries most heavily affected by the “Atom war” people who died prematurely through history are being brought back to life. These “Retreads” appear where they died, at the age they died, but cured of any disease or injury they may have had. Against the backdrop of post Atom War Britain we follow a band of policemen led by Scipio Africanus, a Retread slave (not the famous Roman general) who is a Feudal War hero (the feudal wars happened after the Atom war and are basically a re-run of the English civil war) who, when investigating a murder, stumble upon a conspiracy. The book is full of interesting characters and set in a fascinating world and a definite page turner. It left me wanting more at the end and a real desire to further explore the world that Byrne has created. His strength is in the characters from Africanus (based on a real slave buried in a graveyard in Bristol), “Queen Dick” (Richard the 3rd who steals every scene he’s in), Guy Boswell the WW2 fighter pilot, Jenny Pearson the WPC Boswell is assigned to & the famous Rake the Earl of Rochester & many more in a world where intrepid Victorians investigating the Retread phenomena in a steampunky style rub shoulders with characters from WW2 as well as Puritans and all manner of other historical characters.

Overall – Fantastic alternative history romp.

Sep 12, 2011, 11:20 am

suncaller – B. John Shaw Liddle (Bristol mini-challenge)

Very Good

Army of Darkness meets Narnia

Set in the fictional village of Copley “Near Bristol” allows this to fit my Bristol mini-challenge. Mortimer “Hopeless” Hope is a pretty normal 16 year old ne’er do well struggling to keep up in school: he is no good at sports and never gets the girl. He lives with his Aunt (so it’s assumed he’s an orphan although this isn’t really explored until much later in the book and even then is only barely referred to) and he suffers from nightmares where he is wearing a porcelain mask with a sunburst symbol upon it. Turns out that he’s special and the result of a deal done between mysterious entities to create an opponent for someone known as “Cambrian”. So in order to come into his inheritance (of power) he travels to the world of Pandul where he meets a cast of masked helpers representing various archetypes/parts of his subconscious. The world of Pandul is threatened by an army of undead “Horrorphages” and Mortimer is the one chosen to lead the last stand against them. Whilst he’s busy learning how to fight etc Cambrian is back in the real world making Copley hell on Earth. Although it has a hoary old plot and uses the tired trope of someone from our world travelling to a fantasy world the book is very well written. The characters (especially the real world characters) are well drawn and although you kind of know where it's all heading it's an enjoyable enough journey getting there.

Overall – promising first book

Sep 12, 2011, 11:42 am

Great review of Things Unborn! It sounds like a book I would really enjoy.

Sep 13, 2011, 5:25 am

Me too! Looks out of print, unfortunately...

Sep 13, 2011, 8:47 am

@273 - thats a shame - seems to be some available via abebooks though...

Sep 13, 2011, 8:53 am

Not sure what international p&p is like on Abe books though.

Sep 15, 2011, 6:32 am

The last Llanelli train – Robert Lewis – Bristol mini-challenge

Very Good

Disturbing modern noir

Lewis has created a character (Robin Llewelyn) very much on the edge – all the Noir tropes are there, alcoholic PI, femme fatale, taking what seems to be a simple case but turns out to be much larger and more complicated than first thought etc. Everything though is given a much grittier more realistic slant – Llewelyn is a proper alcoholic in a very self destructive way which almost ruins everything he attempts to do. The femme fatale is a prostitute working in a massage parlour and the plot? It’s a request from a Mrs Dixon to entrap her husband in an infidelity with video evidence. Llewelyn being desperate for money accepts the job without asking too many questions and that’s where his real problems start. The book is occasionally uncomfortable reading and Llewelyn lives a life that has not only gone off the rails but is careening out of control which only gets worse as the plot progresses. Lewis is an accomplished writer and the book is the first in a trilogy and I’ve immediately put the other two books on my wishlist. Perhaps there was a bit extra for me in the book as it’s set on the mean streets of Bedminster and Redcliffe in Bristol with several trips to Old Market Street, which in the late 90’s when the book was set was a seedy district of massage parlours and dodgy pubs and where I happened to live at about the time the story was set. Llewelyn visits several pubs I’ve been in, stays for a night at a hotel I’ve been to and the entrapment is set up in a hotel that hosts a comic book convention I go to every year so I was easily able to envisage the locations where the story was set.

Overall – A very dark and potentially depressing but brilliantly written noir about drinking and despair

Sep 19, 2011, 9:46 am

added a few more candidates to the Bristol mini-challenge including of course treasure island which was written (alledgedly) in one of Bristol's pubs (called the Llandogger Trow) & fits today's piratey theme (Bristolian is the original pirate accent - yaaarr)

Sep 20, 2011, 11:30 am

bonus reads:

short stories, novellas & articles

i - the third bear - Jeff Vandermeer - READ
ii - the lottery & other stories - Shirley Jackson - READ
iii - the collected fictions of jorge luis borges - Jorge Luis Borges - Reading
iv - best American fantasy - edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer -READ
v - mcsweeneys Enchanted chamber of astonishing stories - Reading
vi - revenge of the lawn Richard Brautigan - Reading
vii - the lost machine - Richard A Kirk - READ

Books that don't fit another category
i - on the death and life of languages - Claude Hagege - READ
ii - all quiet on the orient express - Magnus Mills - READ
iii - the lost machine - Richard A Kirk - READ
iv - infected - scott sigler - READ
v - the etched city - K.J. Bishop - READ
vi - the windup girl - Paolo Bacigalupi - READ
vii - zoo city - Lauren Beukes - READ

Books about Travel or science
i - the rider - Tim Krabbe - READ
ii - Notebooks from New Guinea - Vojtech Novotny - READ
iii - atlas of remote islands - Judith Schalansky -READ

Books about numbers or with numbers in the title or books in a series
i - retribution falls - Chris Wooding - READ

Books about fate/coincidence/luck
i - last call - Tim Powers - READ

Educational Books
i - Tuscany a history - Alistair Moffat - READ

Book of Rememberance, about war, history or from the past
i - a room with a view - E.M. Forster - READ

Edited: Nov 6, 2011, 3:13 pm

Ones I've failed to categorize so far!

war with the newts – Karel Capek - READ
cold skin – Albert Sanchez Pinol - READ
hide & seek – Ian rankin - READ
this is not a game – Dave Szulborski - READ
vertigo - W G Sebald - READ
Faisollus – Kate Charles - READ
what the F*** did I do last night – Rowland Rivron - READ
just my type – Simon Garfield - READ
three to see the king – Magnus Mills - READ
things unborn - Eugene Byrne -READ
suncaller - B.John Shaw Liddle - READ
The Last Llanelli train - Robert Lewis - READ
Life and how to live it - Daniel Mayhew - READ
In the hands of the living god - Lillian Bouzane - READ
Satan's Kingdom - Pip Jones - GAVE UP
Treasure Island - R.L. Stevenson -READ
Phonogram - Keiron Gillen (Vol 1&2) -TBR

Sep 20, 2011, 11:33 am

so far then an extra 32 on top of the 55 I did for the main challenge so I'm definitely up on last year

Sep 21, 2011, 2:26 am

Congratulations on a great reading year ... and there's still more than 3 months left :-)

Sep 21, 2011, 4:59 am

281 - thanks!

Sep 21, 2011, 11:23 am

in the hands of the living god – Lillian Bouzane


Epistolary novel written from the point of view of John Cabot’s wife (Cabot sailed from Bristol in 1497 and discovered mainland America & was first to realise it was a new continent)

The novel is written as a series of diary entries in the 1490’s interspersed with letters to and from various family members, family friends and of course between husband and wife. If you already know everything about John Cabot, his voyages of discovery (and those of Colmbus, Vespucci etc.) and Renaissance Italy this is the book for you. If you don’t know anything about those subjects your unlikely to find much in this book to broaden your knowledge and this is my main problem with the book – when I saw that it was written by someone who had been on the 500th anniversary trip aboard the Matthew I thought I was in for an insight into sailing in the 1490’s and what it was like to cross the vast oceans and come across new lands. What you get instead is a noblewoman’s life in Venice (and later in the book Bristol & a short section on pilgrimage to the Holy Land) of composing music for the church and managing her money and estates with occasional diary entries saying in essence “I miss my husband” or “I hope my son is OK at university”. Although Bouzane has created a realistic narrative of family life in the beginning of the great age of discovery it just wasn’t what I wanted. I’d like to explore the story of the explorers further and will be looking for other books to fill in the gaps this book has left me questioning….

Overall - The book is well written and vaguely interesting but really not what I was looking for

Sep 21, 2011, 11:24 am

life and how to live it – Daniel Mayhew

Very Good

Nick Hornbyesque tale of struggling musicians who are making “the breakthrough album”

Jacob, a bit geeky & hardworking, and Reilly, uncompromising and lazy, form the band Serpico whilst sharing a flat in Bristol. Reilly goes on a drink fuelled binge and writes 12 songs that are brilliant which will form the album “Life and how to live it” (a homage to a REM song) however making the album requires £10,000 which the two don’t have. After a scam involving a friend the two finally manage to record the album and through luck get the interest of an agent of a music label who wants to hear them live and they set up a gig in Bristol. There’s a lot of visits to the pub, a playstation world cup and a love interest for Jacob as well as details of the humdrum jobs the pair have to bulk out the story. There is much humour to be had with Reilly who Jacob meets shouting abuse in a cinema whilst watching Titanic and who is opinionated beyond belief. To me there was a slight lack of verisimilitude in some sections and required a bit of effort for suspension of disbelief although Bristol seemed much more recognisable in this book than in any I’ve read in the mini challenge so far

Overall – enjoyable enough tale of trying to make it in the music business

Sep 21, 2011, 8:54 pm

Thank you for posting your review of In the Hands of The Living Gods. Based on your review it sounds like something I might enjoy. Sorry it didn't turn out to be what you were expecting.

Sep 22, 2011, 4:49 am

@285 it's certainly well written and I was never bored with it

Sep 22, 2011, 4:55 am

Need 1 more Bristol book to make the 11....

Sep 23, 2011, 3:33 am

Got Bristol short story prize anthology 4 to make the 11th Bristol book

Sep 26, 2011, 6:36 am

Satan's Kingdom Pip Jones


Gave up reading this after the second chapter due to the fact it was so dry and boring!

Sep 26, 2011, 10:07 am

Treasure Island – R. L. Stevenson


Classic tale of Pirates and Treasure

A pirate from Captain Flint’s ship who has his treasure map stays at the Admiral Benbow Inn and when he dies Jim Hawkins (who becomes the cabin boy – another trope) finds the treasure map and so begins the adventure. Sadly I’d never read this classic before although have seen a variety of adaptations. It’s a rollicking adventure tale that has had a massive impact on what we all think of when we think of pirates. Treasure maps marked with an X, parrots saying “pieces of eight”, 1 legged pirates (Long John Silver), the black spot etc etc. Although the language is a little dated it really doesn’t make the story any less readable (I’m currently reading Robinson Crusoe which is more of a struggle although older by a 100+ years).

Overall – If your at all interested in pirates I think this is a must read!

Sep 26, 2011, 10:09 am

taking a short break from the Bristol mini-challenge as satan's kingdom was rubbish and robinson crusoe didn't immediately grab me (although I will read it) and am reading john dies at the end by David Wong...

Oct 7, 2011, 8:20 am

hmmm still not managed to read robinson crusoe am part the way through the bristol short story prize anthology and was distracted by other books - reviews below...

Oct 7, 2011, 8:20 am

john dies at the end – David Wong

Very Good

Comedy horror as two Slackers take on the demonic/chthuloid entity Korrok

Our unlikely heroes imbibe a strange drug – known only as soy sauce and become aware of a parallel world and an invasion by the entity Korrock (a variety of spellings). Armed with homemade weapons, including a nod to the film dog house making a flame thrower out of a giant water pistol (or did dog house steal it from Wong?) & a baseball bat with a bible gaffa taped to it the two battle a variety of evil entities including wig monsters and shadow men. Its pleasant enough reading with just the right blend of comedy and horror but its fairly episodic (it was written in instalments) and it sometimes suffers from this – the flow being off in places.

Overall – enjoyable comedy horror

Oct 7, 2011, 8:21 am

the end of Mr. Y – Scarlett Thomas


Existential thriller about the 4th dimension

Ariel is a phd student doing a thesis on an obscure Victorian author who’s final book is cursed - he died before it was published and a variety of those involved with the book also died. The book is incredibly rare with only 1 known copy locked away in a bank vault. So when she finds a copy in a local second hand bookstore she immediately buys it (of course the bookseller didn’t know the value). This launches her on an adventure which includes an exploration of human consciousness. There are plenty of references to scientific theories (Einstein, many worlds hypothesis, the nature of time, quantum mechanics), some philosophy and language theory as well as a bit of theology thrown in for good measure. This is one of the things where Thomas doesn’t quite pull it off with these musings occasionally derailing the story with clunky exposition. There are other problems with the book (lots of reviewers mention that Ariel is a pretty unlike able character) but I really enjoyed it until quite near the end where it seemed that Thomas didn’t know how to end it, it didn’t seem to fit with what had gone before and then the epilogue by itself made the book drop from Very Good to Good!

Overall – flawed but interesting, could have been amazing in the hands of a better storyteller

Oct 7, 2011, 8:22 am

the rats – James Herbert

Very Good

Mutant rats invade London in this horror classic

Big black rats lose their fear of humans and develop a taste for flesh. A classic “what if” from the UK master of horror. Published in 1974 it has mostly withstood the test of time although the bit where the hero is looking for a phone with vandalised phone boxes frustrating his search is almost a lost trope in this day of mobile phones. Herbert pits the rats and man in a battle using a series of vignettes introducing a number of characters who die in a bloody way a few pages later. The horror is a little tame by today’s standards and a random teacher (the protagonist) being accepted at the heart of the government response (and at one stage almost rubbing shoulders with the PM) stretched credulity. I read this in the early 80’s (as a rats trilogy collection) and played the point & click adventure game on the ZX Spectrum and it really fired my imagination. Re-reading almost 30 years later its lost a lot of its impact but its still a fine (and quick) read – I may revisit the other two in the trilogy also…

Overall – a classic horror tale which spawned many imitators (remember slugs?) which is still very readable today.

Oct 7, 2011, 9:51 am

John Dies at the End had previously popped up on my Amazon recommends list but I've never really considered picking it up before. I guess I'll have to find a place for it on the wishlist now.

Oct 8, 2011, 2:34 pm

I've not yet read Scarlett Thomas. Flea gave up halfway through The end of Mr. Y as it failed to engross her. I have Our tragic universe on my list for 1212 and guess I'll put this one on hold for a bit. John dies at the end sounds like great fun though.

Edited: Oct 10, 2011, 5:54 pm

the end of mr y was her first book I think?

john dies at the end was a complete impulse buy in a book store (dangerous places those!) because the back blurb amused me - its variable but entertaining...

am currently reading wild: An elemental journey but have had a very busy couple couple of weeks so am reading it slowly...

Oct 15, 2011, 12:40 pm

Having finished wild: an elemental journey and it being international Dorothy dunnett day

I've started the game of kings

Oct 15, 2011, 8:25 pm

Hope you enjoy it. Interesting that there is a Dorothy Dunnett day, she's more of a big deal than I knew!

Oct 18, 2011, 10:41 am

300 - its good so far

Oct 19, 2011, 3:24 am

wild: An elemental journey – Jay Griffiths


Part travelogue, part philosophy about the search for the Wild in 5 places – Air, Fire, Water, Ice & Mind

Griffiths spent 7 years living this book travelling to meet indigenous peoples in several different areas of the world looking to experience the “Wild”. Partly a travelogue of her experiences in these places and partly a philosophical ramble on the nature of nature and wild places and the role of wilderness in politics, sociology, history, poetry etc. For Air she is in West Papua mountain climbing, for Fire in Australia with the Aborigines in the bush, for Water with Sea Gypsies in Southeast Asia, for Ice with Innuit in Canada and for "wild mind" she covers the subject of comedy. The book is repetitive in its philosophy – city = bad, wild place = good, woman = “in touch with nature”, man = “out of touch with nature”, Christianity = bad, indigenous religion = good and this shaves those stars off from what would otherwise be a fascinating travelogue. I found myself glazing over when she repeated some point for the umpteenth time only starting to enjoy it whilst she covered such things as whale hunting with the Innuit or mountain climbing in Papua. She’s overly fond of the word c*nt which is sprinkled liberally within the book since it’s the “magical mysterious part of being a woman” and whilst trying to point out how bad tourism is for indigenous peoples she sees no problem with her visiting these same places basically as a tourist, albeit one with an agenda and a notebook. Her environmental activism is a little on the naïve side – basically pointing out many things that are of course wrong like cutting down the rainforest but offers neither an alternative nor an understanding of why we are in the position we are in, it’s a very black and white “this is wrong and the people who do it are evil”

Overall – Mixed philosophical and physical journey writing, a little too naïve and repetitive for my tastes

Oct 26, 2011, 9:30 am

Read game of kings and dark property and just started dark matter so some reviews to provide soon

Nov 4, 2011, 11:17 am

2 weeks away with work haven't helped me keep up with reviews!

Nov 4, 2011, 11:19 am

game of kings Dorothy Dunnett

Very good

Historical novel set in Scotland just after Henry the eighths death

Dorothy Dunnett I think was a little in love with her hero Lymond who returns to Scotland at the beginning of the novel (and the series of 6 books) leading a band of oulaws. The book started slowly (the only reason it gets a very good rather than brilliant) and meanders pleasantly for around 200 pages. Once the plot kicks in properly though it becomes gripping and a bit of a page turner. The only books that I have read that have a similar feel are Guy Gavriel Kay’s (who admits he’s a massive fan). Throughout the book she liberally throws in French, Latin and Spanish phrases which could be off putting I suppose. The plot is suitably convoluted but where she shines is in the characters. A brilliant first book and one I’m keen to follow next year with the rest of the series.

Overall – historical fiction at its best

Nov 4, 2011, 11:19 am

dark property Brian Evenson

Very Good

Bleak horror tale told in a sparse style

Intelligently written with an individualistic use of language Evenson weaves a dark depressing tale of cannibalism and resurrection. No summary of the plot could do it justice and the only comparison could be with Cormac McCarthey’s the road although they are very different books something about the style is reminiscent.

“They nudged each other and whispered together, regarding her, softly agiggle until one twin cracked out in loud laughter, pointing at her. Her stone struck the socket of his laugh-clenched eye. He drew in a wheeze of air, lamented his affliction in a language lost in the maze of her ear. Blood slecked the harsh upper rim of the orbit, seeped down the superior eyelid, diffused across the surface of the eye.”

Overall – Stark and told in a sparse style an interesting short book

Nov 4, 2011, 11:20 am

Dark Matter Michelle Paver

Very Good

Creepy and spooky arctic horror

Between the wars Jack is struggling to survive in a dead end job and jumps at the chance of being the wireless operator for an arctic scientific expedition to Spitsbergen. A creeping sense of dread increases as the expedition travels to the abandoned isolated place chosen for scientific exploration. Building the tension as the arctic winter approaches you are drawn into the mind of the narrator through his diary and therefore experience his horror of being left alone in the dark.

Overall – gripping and atmospheric horror

Nov 4, 2011, 11:20 am

night call from a distant time zone Herbert Lieberman


Thriller written in the early 80’s about a banking collapse caused by rogue trading

Charles Daughtry is a foreign exchange trader moving money through currencies to make money for the bank he works for. Hiroji Sujimoto is the owner of that bank who sets up a number of illegal currency swindles which brings the bank to a crises that Daughtry must try to avert. Rogue trading and banking crises are pretty well known now but I get the impression that they weren’t when this book was written. Lieberman spends too much time explaining the esoteric art of Forex (foreign exchange) and I quickly glossed over the details but don’t think you need to know them to get the plot which boils down to “will the bank survive and will Daughtry lose his job”. Lieberman fails to bring his main character to life although the nemesis Sujimoto is interesting Daughtry is not and I struggled to sympathesise with him – he is a loner with no friends whose only pastimes are recreating historical battles in his basement and creating mathematical puzzles for himself.

Overall – A thriller with little in the way of thrills

Nov 6, 2011, 7:21 am

308 A general problem this- the crooks often seem so much more interesting than the heroes.

Thanks for another push towards Dark matter! Hope you get some time at home now :)

Nov 6, 2011, 2:50 pm

Wow! By my calculations, you are on track to read 498 books this year- give or take a coupla hundred. You might even get the TBR pile down to zero.

Nov 6, 2011, 3:20 pm

@310 if only :-o

I got distracted from the Bristol mini challenge too! Must get back to that and read phonogram

Got a couple of more reviews pending for the rather wonderful gone away world and the fascinating the family that couldn't sleep

I think I'd need to read as many books as this year and have at least a year without buying or being given any books to get the TBR to zero though...

Nov 7, 2011, 11:39 am

the family that couldn’t sleep D.T. Max


Medical mystery, political commentary & scientific exploration of prions

This tells the story of a family that suffers from FFI (Fatal Familial Insomnia) which was a complete medical mystery until recently and how the diseases of Kuru (in cannibals tribes in Papua New Guinea), Creuzfeldt Jakob Disease (CJD) and BSE helped identify why members of a certain Italian family were falling victim to a disease that baffled the medical community and was seen as a family curse. Victims inherit a tendency to manufacture prions in their own bodies. These accumulate and destroy the brain's sleep centres, resulting in sweaty, hollow-eyed demented death. In order to tell their story the author covers much of what is known about Prion diseases discovered through research into Scrapie, Kuru, CJD & BSE by its sometimes maverick researchers – for example Carlton Gajdusek laid the groundwork in working out what caused Kuru but was also an enthusiastic paedophile who graphically recorded his sexual exploits with young Fore (a Papua New Guinea tribe) people in his laboratory diaries. D. T. Max weaves all this information into a engrossing narrative that shows that although we now know much more about Prions there is still much to learn and it appears that we may not have learned our lessons from the BSE crisis (hence the political commentary). Protein mis-folding is a hot topic in medicine now with possible applications to a great many diseases including Alzheimer’s, Huntingdon’s and Parkinson’s.

Overall – A fascinating medical detective story

Nov 7, 2011, 11:44 am

the gone away world Nick Harkaway


Dystopian thriller

After the initial set up of the band of heroes and a little world building the novel then skips to a memoir that takes a while to get somewhere, although it’s also entertaingingly written and not all the asides and tangents are irrelevant. Then it gets really interesting and the last half of the book is a page turning delight. Trying to sum up the plot will immediately involve spoilers – so don’t read too many reviews before diving in. The book fairly fizzes with great ideas and it is fast moving and sometimes surreal so it may feel a bit much sometimes and you may wonder if he can carry it off. Stick with it though and the many different threads are satisfactorily dealt with by the end. There’s so much here to like with mysterious ninjas, gong fu, mimes, a failed state hosting a multi-party war, pirates, the many different hells and so much more.

Overall – Brilliantly written, hard to categorize & full of amazing ideas

Nov 7, 2011, 6:16 pm

Glad that both you and Claire have enjoyed The Gone-Away World now. It was an entertaining ride for a debut novel.

Nov 8, 2011, 5:37 am

314 - yep really good, looking forward to reading his second which is out early next year

Nov 8, 2011, 5:45 am

siberian education Nicolai Lilin


a "memoir" of growing up as a siberian criminal living in transnistria

I didn't get very far in this book before giving up. Its poorly written and obviously fabricated. A friend gave me this to read and now I have that awkward situation of having to give it back and saying I hated it! After 60 odd poor pages I wondered if it got any better and went to read some reviews and see that my gut feeling that it was tall tales and creative memories was borne out

Overall - avoid this one

Edited: Nov 12, 2011, 8:39 am

I think I'll officially give up on Robinson Crusoe and having finished phonogram and phonogram: volume 2 as well as the Bristol short story prize anthology 4 I think I'll declare my Bristol mini-challenge over. Reviews to follow.

Just finished Castro and am Currently reading packing for mars

Nov 15, 2011, 7:46 am

belatedly here are some reviews

Nov 15, 2011, 7:48 am

phonogram – Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie


David Kohl is a phonomancer – a magician that uses music for magic. His patroness is an aspect of “the Goddess” called Britannia – i.e. Brit Pop and he is sent on a mission from the Goddess to find out what’s happened to Britannia since she’s died. The artwork is very good and its cool to see bits of Bristol I recognise and its nice that the locations are mostly places I’ve been. It’s a bit heavy handed & obscure on the musical references but I collected the individual issues and each one has a glossary and bit about the musical references and influences in the back – I would have been lost without that as wasn’t really interested in Britpop – Oasis vs Blur etc. when it was happening. Its obviously music that is very important to Gillen and Mckelvie.

Nov 15, 2011, 7:57 am

phonogram: volume 2 – Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie

Very Good

After a shorter (4 issue) run of suburban glamour by McKelvie which went in a different direction (and I only collected the first 2 issues and gave up) McKelvie and Gillen get back together for a third collection confusingly called Volume 2 (unless I have the publication dates wrong - its the order I bought them?). This one concentrates on a night club on indy night with 3 rules – no male singers, everyone dances and no magic. Then we see the same events from many different perspectives (1 per issue) including some old (David Kohl & a few other characters from the 1st Phonogram) and some new. This is still heavily referencing music but it’s a much tighter story and in concentrating on character is much more successful.

Overall – much better than the first

Nov 15, 2011, 7:59 am

Bristol short story prize volume 4 – Various


Every year for the past 4 years (and there will be a fifth in March 2012) there is a Bristol short story prize. Its £7 to enter and there are little in the way of rules (theres a minimum and maximum word count) established authors and newcomers alike enter and the best 20, the prizewinning 3 & 17 more are collected together in a book and sold via Bristol’s booksellers. It’s a very mixed bunch, mostly non-genre that make it to the book. Some are very good (notably in this collection “The bovine histories” by Ian Burton) and some are not my thing at all.

Overall – established authors and first timers in an eclectic mix

Nov 15, 2011, 8:00 am

the sense of an ending – Julian Barnes

Very Good

Short book about memory and history

Barnes crafts a very fine tale that takes but a few hours to consume. It's one man’s reminiscences of a particular time of his youth – the end of school days and going to university and of his relationships, with friends and girls. As the story within the reminiscences unfolds we see that this is more an exploration of how we construct our own private history, how we affect others and how we fictionalise events that don’t necessarily fit our perception of them. It’s a quick read beautifully written that may make you think and possibly question your own history for what is fictional and what is fact.

Overall – many layered deconstruction of one man’s memories

Nov 15, 2011, 8:00 am

castro – Reinhard Kleist

Very Good

Graphic novel version of Castro’s biography

Covering most of his life in pictures through either reminiscences to a journalist by those who know him or the journalists own experiences. All of modern Cuba’s defining moments are covered – the failed rebellion and the successful revolution. Castro and Che’s friendship. The Cuban missile crisis etc. Obviously a graphic novel is stripped down with much of the detail lost and I don’t feel I learned much new from reading this but the art is very good and it’s a good summary but shouldn’t be a primary source.

Overall - good introduction but your after detail look elsewhere

Nov 15, 2011, 8:01 am

packing for mars – Mary Roach

Very Good

If there was a manned mission for Mars what would we need to sort out scientifically before it happens?

There’s not much about Mars in the book or even about what you need to pack on a spaceship so the title is a little misleading. Happily though you get a thorough introduction to some less discussed aspects of space travel and things that have been difficult in the short missions we’ve made to space in the past which will be even more difficult if and when we go to Mars. Roach describes psychological experiments, the first animals in space, space food and space toilets in vivid detail. Its all reported in a fun and interesting way and its really about the human aspects of going into space.

Overall – informative and entertaining

Nov 15, 2011, 8:25 am

I plan to read Packing for Mars next year. Glad to see you enjoyed it!

Nov 18, 2011, 6:37 am

Buzz Aldrin what happened to you in all the confusion? Johan Harstad


A strange and entrancing memoir

This is a story about loneliness, about the desire to be invisible and allow others to take the glory, about the Faroe islands and the Caribbean, about mental health and living at odds to society. Its about taking buses and thinking you don’t exist, about listening to the Cardigans over and over again, about being able to sing beautifully but not wanting to draw attention by doing so. Its one Norwegian man’s thoughts and experiences about all these things in a long meandering style. I really enjoyed the book but I think its one you have to be in the mood for and I can understand the negative reviews. I think either you’ll find some charm in the collection of oddball (and lightly drawn) characters and the unfolding story or you will find it unbearably twee and depressing. Apparently its been made into a TV series in Norway – no doubt a film will follow. I find myself not quite sure why I’m giving this a brilliant rating but think I mainly experienced the book at a visceral level – it certainly annoyed me in places, made me smile occasionally, had some poignant moments and often made me reach for wikipedia.

Overall – Redolent of dark northern countries with a dark theme but thoroughly enjoyable

Nov 18, 2011, 6:41 am

Miss Peregrine’s home for peculiar children Ransom Riggs

Very Good

Jacob’s grandfather tells him tall tales about the orphanage he grew up in and the strange and wonderful children that lived there, he even has some strange photographs to prove that there was a levitating girl, or a boy who could make bees fly out of his mouth. It’s the photographs liberally sprinkled throughout that really elevate the story into something special (they’re all found vintage photos). There is a mystery and Jacob goes to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where the orphanage is, to investigate. Usually I don’t really get on with YA as it’s a bit simplistic for my tastes and a lot of YA seems to be about wish fulfilment - e.g. the orphan that turns out to be the chosen one. Around half way through the book I was a little disappointed that this was basically the same old wish fulfilment again and it got a little bit like a junior version of the X-Men. However after a bit of dip mid way the story picks back up and there’s enough interesting stuff happening to forgive the books flaws. Some flaws are that occasionally the text seems to be contrived to fit the photos and of course the adults are too dumb to really notice what’s going on.

Overall – more towards the adult end of the YA market with great photographs – if you like “dark” YA you’ll love this

Nov 18, 2011, 6:45 pm

Another stack of great reviews. Noting Harstad's book especially - also bacause it sounds like it could help me tick off a hard on for the Europe Endless challenge. Books set in the Faroe Islands aren't too common.

Nov 19, 2011, 6:42 pm

I guess they're not that common!

Nov 28, 2011, 10:52 am

catching up on reviews

Nov 28, 2011, 10:52 am

Sleepfaring Jim Horne


A journey through the science of sleep

Horne spends the first few chapters repeating information (as if he believes the reader will be too stupid to get it the first time) and the rest of the book saying “on which subject I’ll detail more later” – not a very satisfying way of presenting information. Why introduce something into the text only to say “I’ll tell you more about this later” which is OK once or twice but in some parts of the book its once or twice per page –which became very annoying! Instead of explaining what sleep is and going from there Horne starts off discussing why animals sleep (we don’t really know), if plants sleep (not really) and how and why its difficult to investigate sleep including some details on people who have stayed awake a long time – its not until chapter 13 that he actually gets round to explaining what sleep is! However despite the structural problems with the book and the lack of good editorial control it does actually have a lot of interesting stuff in there.

Overall – not a brilliant introduction to the subject of sleep

Nov 28, 2011, 10:54 am

the code book Simon Singh

Very Good

The history of codes and codebreaking

Singh starts the book by showing how codebreaking can be a life and death matter covering Mary Queen of Scots plot to assassinate Elizabeth the first. He then goes from there to cover a fascinating history of codes, code makers and code breakers as well as a diversion of a chapter which discussed cracking Egyptian Heiroglyphics and Linear B. The evolution of codes is dealt with in a thorough and well explained manner such that it was relatively easy to follow – even when he explained the diabolically intricate Enigma machines! (he covers the achievements of Bletchley park & Turing in particular as well as the work the Poles did on breaking Enigma before the war) I would have given this a brilliant but sadly its now out of date – published in 2000 before the war on terror and his last chapter speculating on the future could be revisited. He also does not include mobile phone encryption which I thought a bit of an oversight. However despite this it’s a really enjoyable read showing that codes went from the preserve of linguists to something mathematicians were the acknowledged experts to computer encryption (taking in a few famous names along the way – Babbage broke the “unbreakable” code of his day for example). In the back of the book there are lots of resources for finding out more as well as a few code challenges for the reader.

Overall – Brilliant but out of date but still recommended for anyone interested in the subject

Nov 28, 2011, 10:54 am

inverted world Christopher Priest

Very Good

SF classic about a city being winched along on tracks through a devastated world

The city is called Earth and we join Helward Mann as he leaves the Creche to become an apprentice to the Guild of Future Surveyors. During his apprenticeship he has to spend time with the other guilds and through his eyes we learn all about the city, its history and the reason why it must forever move to reach “the optimum”. Include some mind bending mathematics/physics as a plot point and you have a classic SF tale. I wont spoil the plot by trying to detail it further but the story cracks along at a good pace and its an interesting society that Priest builds although somewhat sexist.

Overall – classic science speculation

Nov 28, 2011, 10:55 am

The Red Tree Caitlin R Kiernan

Very Good

Psychological horror

Sarah Crowe is an author who takes herself from Atlanta to New England ostensibly to write a new book but more to recover from a personal tragedy. In the house she rents she discovers an unfinished manuscript by the previous tenant, who committed suicide. As she delves deeper into the history of the sinister tree that is on the land of the cottage she has rented and is the subject of the manuscript it begins to haunt her dreams and affect her waking world. The history sections are very good covering local lore and superstition including the tragic stories of others affected by the tree I just don’t think the book fully succeeded in the modern day and failed to get the atmosphere quite right. Still it was an enjoyable enough read that Id recommend.

Overall – interesting but not very atmospheric chiller

Nov 28, 2011, 10:55 am

Lonely Road Nevil Shute

Very Good

1930’s love and mystery story

Commander Stevenson is a WW1 war hero although scarred in body and mind due to what happened in the war. He is also fairly rich (owning a shipping company) and lonely due to never marrying having been turned down by several women. The first chapter is according to the author “experimental” and is a fevered mix of dream and real life as Stevenson crashes his Bentley whilst drunk. Whilst convalescing Stevenson returns from a holiday in Scotland and on a whim spends a night in Leeds where he meets Mollie at a Palais de Dance where she is a girl you can hire to dance with you for a sixpence. What follows on from this is a series of coincidences that form what is described on the back of the book as an “adventure romance” involving gun running, the international communist threat and a relationship across class divides. Shute is a master storyteller and many of his recurring tropes can be ticked off in this book, although you can substitute boats for aeroplanes in this one, despite one of the secondary characters is a round the world aviator. Since it was published in 1932 its obviously very dated but like the rest of the books I’ve read by him its aged well and its dated in a deliciously British black & white film sort of way.

Overall – tight and gripping story from a master

Nov 28, 2011, 7:11 pm

You've been busy with some rather eclectic reading!

Nov 29, 2011, 1:04 pm

Yep trying to reduce the TBR of the books that don't fit my 12/12 which I'll be starting fairly soon

Nov 30, 2011, 6:10 am

slow chocolate autopsy Iain Sinclair

Uncategorizable & Unfinished

The back reads: “follows its central character Norton through the underbelly of London’s history. Trapped in space – within the city limits of London – but not in time, Norton is present at dark deeds in Deptford at the time of Christopher Marlowe’s death to the East End at the time of the murder of Jack the Hat.”

It’s a stream of consciousness “novel” (and I use quotation marks to signify that it may not count as a novel having no plot) where the consciousness in question is like an epileptic in the middle of a grand mal seizure. This was my second attempt to read this and discovered that after the first difficult chapter there is a second difficult chapter then a third difficult chapter etc. I then skipped to the graphic part and these were just as difficult although with some great McKean pictures. Then I just ran out of steam and gave up because Sinclair’s text is very chewy and also hard to digest in lots of short spiky sentences.

Overall - It’s a prose poem and I simply didn’t get it

Nov 30, 2011, 9:41 am

Slow chocolate autopsy stays safely off any reading lists of mine. Difficult chapters are fine when you are rewarded with the 'now I get where the author is going with this', etc. It sounds like this is a slog that never improves.

Nov 30, 2011, 11:05 am

Too bad about Slow Chocolate Autopsy -- it's certainly a great title!

Dec 1, 2011, 5:11 am

It may eventually get somewhere but I doubt it, I wasn't prepared to slog through more of it to find out though!

Sinclair has written several books and they seem to universally get marmite reviews (people either love or hate) so will be avoiding his others even though some sound interesting psychogeographically...

Dec 2, 2011, 11:14 am

Professor Moriarty Kim Newman

Very Good

Literary mash up of Sherlock Holmes and a lot of 19th Century books

Newman stands the Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes canon on its head and has Sebastian “Basher” Moran narrate (in the Dr. Watson role) the adventures of Professor James Moriarty in a found manuscript. Its an episodic book with a number of adventures each a take on one of Holmes’s e.g. A Volume in Vermillion, The Hound of the D’Urbevilles etc. Along the way Newman ropes in Wilkie Collins, Bram Stoker, H.G. Wells and a whole host of familiar 19th century characters such as Carnacki and Raffles and plots such as the moonstone and war of the worlds. Its all great fun especially the Red Planet League story and the mother of all cursed gem stories. Basher Moran is a Flashman-esque narrator who brings the stories to life with a sly humour. The episodic nature lets it down a bit and a couple of the stories rely too much on the Holmes version especially the last story – “The problem of the final adventure”. If you’re a fan of 19th century fiction you’ll get a lot more from this book but it does work as a standalone.

Overall – Great fun tongue firmly in cheek Victorian adventure yarns

Dec 12, 2011, 7:07 am

Going to wind this thread up as starting on the 12/12 however have another few books to review first so will catch up on them soon!

revenge of the lawn by Richard Brautigan
collected fictions by Jorge luis Borges
chaos by James Gleick
down the rabbit hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos
Desolation Island by Adolfo Garcia Ortega

I'll also do a years wrap up here after the reviews

Dec 12, 2011, 9:20 am

Right then, I'll stick around for a while longer :)

Dec 12, 2011, 12:55 pm

Hi, glad you liked it. Actually I'm massively stoked that you didn't hate it! My first ever attempt at writing a book, that was.
All your criticisms are completely valid - if I was writing this story now, I'd make several structural changes, but I'm glad the story still hangs together, and that it entertained you for a bit.

Dec 12, 2011, 2:13 pm

Hey Kate

Good to see you on LT!

When's your next novel out?

Dec 12, 2011, 7:14 pm

@344 - I will find time to do it honest!

Dec 13, 2011, 8:11 am

down the rabbit hole Juan Pablo Villalobos

Very Good

Novella about the daily life of a drug lord seen through the eyes of his 7 year old son

Narrated by Tochtli who loves hats, guillotines, samurai and dictionaries it tells of his wish to add pygmy hippos to his small collection of animals on his fathers estate. His father is a drug baron and Tochtli shares his house with hit men, dealers and visits by corrupt politicians. Its a very short book, more a novella, but it leaves a lasting impression and is a mostly authentic voice, albeit Tochtli is an unusual child, but then he would be wouldn't he. Highly recommended, no summary does it justice and its best read in one sitting I feel.

Overall - unusual look at the life of a drug baron

Dec 13, 2011, 8:11 am

chaos James Gleick

Very Good

explanation of the key ideas in the new(ish) science of Chaos and how they were discovered

Gleick covers the ideas that revolutionised a number of disciplines from meterology & fluid dynamics to biology through mathematics starting with Lorenz and the so called Butterfly Effect in the late 60's through Mandlebrot and Strange Atrractors to the founding of the new science of Chaos in the late 70's. Some of the mathematics is a little esoteric but even though I've not really had to crunch any quadratic equations or Trigonometry since University Gleick does an admirable job explaining the basics without having to delve into the crunchy bits. Blending the biographies of the movers and shakers in the field of Chaos with the historyy of the experiments and discoveries they made this could have been a dry scholarly book but Gleick manages to make it very readable, almost a story.

Overall - great history of the new science

Dec 13, 2011, 8:12 am

Revenge of the Lawn Richard Brautigan

Good/Very Good

Mixed collection of short stories

Brautigan was a voice of the beat generation, and later the hippies of his home in San Francisco. He was a poet and novelist and this book collects together his short stories. Some are very good, some are very bad, most are readable, all are very short - the book is 173 pages long and there are over 60 stories. Brautigan is often surreal, is fond of parody and black comedy and has a personal turn of phrase which shows his poetical leanings. Recommended if you like his other works - I have several unread on my TBR which will likely go onto the 12/12.

Dec 13, 2011, 8:15 am

Collected Fictions Jorge Luis Borges


The complete short stories

Borges was born in 1899 and lived until 1989 and from the 1920's onward wrote numerous short stories, essays, screenplays and edited numerous anthologies. Gathered together in this volume are all his short stories. The longest piece of fiction he wrote was "The Congress" in 1971 which is 14 pages long. Obviously its very hard to summarise the complete fictions of one of the masters of the short story. Borges thought that if you couldnt explain an idea in a short story it wasnt worth exploring and he disdained the novel. The stories range from biographies of famous or not so famous people in a universal history of iniquity published in 1935 to his most famous mythological/magic realist stories in e.g. fictions 1944 and shakespeare's memory in 1983 where he explores time, mirrors, labyrinths and tigers. Also some historical fiction from Argentine and Uruguyan history. Not all the stories are brilliant but there are a great many that are so that the whole collection deserves a "Brilliant" rating. Borges was hugely influentianal and when reading his stories many of them will have familiar themes and concepts that others have taken and also explored. If you have any interest in the short story as a medium search out Borges most famous stories and read them.

Overall - one facet of an amazing career in one book - I'm now going to seek out the companion the complete non-fictions, I'm very much a Borges fan

Edited: Dec 13, 2011, 8:19 am

Desolation Island Adolfo Garcia Ortega


One man narrates his quest about an obsession with Desolation Island in the Straits of Magellan

"What a cruel scenario of clouds and coasts that threaten and promise so much, Griffin suddenly exclaimed, raising his glass and standing up in front of me, offering a macabre toast. I drink to you, scenario of so much desire and disappointment, he said, of so much drama and bliss, of suffering, torments, scares, rescues, voyages, I drink to you, shipwrecks, struggles, loves, massacres, revolts, I drink to you, whims, hopes, spoils, glimpses, plans, strategies, misfortunes, loneliness, yes, a toast to you, accursed, fascinating place."

In Maderia our narrator meets a man called Griffin and spends many days listening to his story of his obsession with the Desolation Island of the title and his quest to reach there inspired by a photograph of his granparents embracing a strange automaton which now resides in the Punta Arenas museum. Along the way there are many, oh so many, digressions and tangents of stories within stories, biographies within biographies and the sometimes bizarre history of the tip of South America. Bringing in notable fiuctions, such as moby dick and a host of characters both real and imagined including some famous and some not so famous who are all roped into a rambling meandering story. The strength or weakness of the book depending on your view is that it covers so much and spends so long getting to the point of Griffin's story as to his journey and his arrival and what happens when he finally reaches his long dreamt of destination however that would have been a much shorter poorer novel than the rich tapestry of tall tales we have here.

Overall - possibly a frustrating read (if you want straight narrative) but very rewarding

Dec 17, 2011, 2:20 am

You've convinced me to add the Borges books to my 12in12 short fiction category.

Dec 18, 2011, 6:43 pm

>353 avatiakh: Good move, I think!

Dec 24, 2011, 8:16 am

@353 hope you like them!

Time seems to be flying past at the moment, I hope to do a years review before the year is out though!

Edited: Dec 27, 2011, 10:13 pm

I said it upthread but I'll say it again- 2011 turned out to be a hell of a reading year for you. LibraryThing should award you a Power Reader badge. Here's hoping the juggernaut rolls on into 2012.

ETA: I never did finish Cyclonopedia... you get a badge for finishing that one too.

Dec 29, 2011, 6:56 am

I agree with VG - a great reading year for you! And a strong candidate for "Most dangerous thread to visit" for me :) Gott slut (Happy ending) as we bleakly say here in Sweden, see you in 2012!

Dec 31, 2011, 6:02 am

Thanks guys, let's hope 2012 is even better!

Damn end of the year and still haven't had time to wrap this thread up,hope to soon

Edited: Jan 4, 2012, 3:57 pm

End of the year stats:

Total # books 126
By Male authors 103
By Female authors 11
By mixed authors 2
Fiction 90
Non-Fiction 36
Awful 7
OK 3
Good 33
Very Good 57
Brilliant 22
Mixed 2
Uncategorised 2

Most memorable books - lonesome dove, Bldg:blog book, Embassytown, end of science fiction, atlas of remote islands, desolation island

Strangest read (ever) -cyclonopedia

Worst book lights on at signpost (so odious I never want to read any of his fiction ever again)

That's it, off to the 12/12 now

Aug 1, 2014, 10:43 am

This message has been flagged by multiple users and is no longer displayed (show)
I was diagnosed of this HIV deadly disease a friend of mine introduce Dr Lawrence to me and I actually did contact him after he has prepare what he said he will do and he sent it to me and I used it according to his prescription after one week I went to the hospital to check my status again because I was feeling differently from the way I used when I was tested POSITIVE to my greatest surprise the status was NEGATIVE the medical doctors there was surprise and I have to tell the whole world about this if you are still having this similar problem I recommend Dr Lawrence to you +2348143988536