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January 25, 2008

The Rotters' Club - Jonathan Coe

The Rotters' Club - Jonathan Coe

Book 4 of my 52 books for 2008

I first became aware of this through the TV adaptation. I never actually watched it, but saw plenty of trailers and thought it looked quite interesting. It's the story of a group of schoolkids growing up in the 1970s, which is what I did, so maybe, I thought, I'd be able to identify with them, and find it a satisfying read - it also looked very funny.

However, it's a very disappointing read all round, for quite a few reasons. The first unforgivable thing is that Coe doesn't even finish the story - I had no idea that this was not a one-off book. There are several very annoying loose ends, and the publishers have cheated readers by not alerting them to this on the front cover.

The second thing is that the characterisation is not very good. I could forgive the author for leading me down the garden path by not finishing the story if I was itching to find out what happens in the sequel, but the characters are too poorly defined in my head, even after about 500 pages, for me to care that much. I struggled to remember which one was which. He's also included prologue and epilogue stories set in the characters' future which are cryptic and make little sense. These people aren't even named, and it will only become clear who they actually are the next volume. Annoying.

Thirdly, the story Coe seemed to want to tell was about how great working class Labour party supporters are and how the 1970's shafted them. He shoehorned his characters into situations where all the strikes, and IRA bombs, and Welsh nationalism struggles, and inner city riots happened to them. This came across as very forced, and his political views, unfettered by any counter arguments, jarred quite badly with mine, so the whole mishmash left me completely cold.

Though I didn't really care that much about anyone in the book, I would quite like to know what happens to them, I hate loose ends, but I'm not reading the sequel. Can someone who has please tell me?

Posted by se71 at 09:32 AM | Comments (0)

January 24, 2008

Origin - Stephen Baxter

Origin - Stephen Baxter

Book 3 of my 52 books for 2008

The third in the Manifold series, ostensibly the last, but I fear Baxter has not tidied up half the plot holes he created, and have a bad feeling he never will. In fact, there are a few new ones.

In this outing, Melenfant is back, and Emma Stoney, and Nemoto and a few of the secondary characters from the previous two volumes - "Space", and "Time" reappear also.

Baxter's astonishing trick is to have exactly the same people in each book, in largely similar but parallel universes. In each universe, Malenfant is an aging astronaut in the early 21st century, trying to get NASA to to send him to the stars. There are large differences between these universes however, and in this way Baxter explores different solutions to one of our most intriguing cosmological questions - Fermi's Paradox. Fermi asked the question - if there is life on other planets, why haven't they come here already? The universe has had billions of years for life to develop, and even at relativistic speeds there is plenty of time for us to have been visited, or contacted, by aliens. So where are they?

In Origin, two connected events change the world completely in an instant. One is that the Earth's moon disappears and is replaced by a larger red moon. This causes massive disruption to the ocean tides, and widespread loss of land and life. A smaller anomaly but no less significant is that a blue circle appears in the sky over Africa for a few minutes. Malenfant's wife Emma and some others fall into it and strange hominid creatures fall out.

Malenfant believes that Emma has been transported to the red moon by this blue circle and launches a mission, helped by Nemoto, to find her.

I loved the alternate universe theories, and the descriptions of how the universe might evolve, and why life developed on Earth, but we haven't seen it any elsewhere. I wished that Baxter would give us come conclusions, but the plot becomes more and more complex, and never does to my satisfaction. It is interesting in this area however.

But I did not love this book. The author took extreme liberties with his loyal readers, and veered into some very weird, violent and unpleasant anthopological episodes. There were hundreds of pages of unrelenting miserableness, where character's lives were torn apart, they were frequently raped and tortured and many murdered and even eaten. This served very little purpose except to show off how clever the author is in imagining new societies. It didn't advance the science fictional elements of the plot, it was shocking, gratuitous, just plain unnecessary. Readers following on from books one and two would not be expecting this, and it is unfair to change the feel of the series in this way without warning.

A disappointing 'conclusion' then, I hoped for much more. Am I mascosistic enough to persevere with the short story collection "Phase Space" set in the same multiverse? Probably.

A very slight spoiler, but my advice, unless you are a completist like me and must read every word, is to only follow the human, and higher human characters' stories, and completely ignore those of the lesser hominids. It's easy to do this, as their sections are prefaced by their names (Fire, Shadow etc). You'll save yourself some time, and get just the real SF, which is the only interesting bit anyway.

Posted by se71 at 09:57 AM | Comments (0)

January 15, 2008

Dan Fogelberg

Dan Fogelberg Official Site

So farewell then
Dan Fogelberg

Not many people in the UK even know his name, which is of course a sad state of affairs given the success he had in the 1970s and 80s. He sadly died at the early age of 56 of cancer, on 16 December 2006.

I actually discovered his music at the time the album "The Innocent Age" was released. Although some later albums were also excellent, this gatefold double was probably the peak of his career. It had "The Leader of The Band" and "Same Old Lang Syne", which are his most popular songs apart from the complete classic "Longer" (released only 2 years previously on the "Phoenix" album). "Windows and Walls" was the next album, and has my favourite song "Tuscon, Arizona (Gazette)", which is an uncharacteristically depressing and negative eight minute epic, which I love.

He was a good friend to The Eagles, almost joining their band at an early stage in their careers, and he would have fitted in there musically very well. You could compare his songs with them, and with the likes of James Taylor. He had a very unique voice though, unmistakable, very emotional, perfectly suited to the songs he wrote and performed.

There hasn't been one year since 1981 that I haven't played Dan Fogelberg's music, and only recently I had a complete renaissance of everything as I finally got them onto my MP3 player. These songs sound as fresh as ever, and if you have a penchant for pop/rock with a strong country influence, then I thoroughly recommend them. Give me a shout if you're interested.

Posted by se71 at 05:31 PM | Comments (0)

January 04, 2008

I Am Legend

I Am Legend

First of all, I want to say that I really enjoyed watching this. It's the first real grown-up movie I've seen on the cinema screen for years, so maybe it's impact on me was greater than it might be for a more frequent multiplex visitor. I came out feeling I'd seen something quite special, and thinking Will Smith was a much better actor than I'd ever expected.

Having said all that though, and looking back with a more level head, I do have some reservations. I want to know what that Bob Marley stuff was doing in there. I want to know what god had to do with it; those butterflies bother me. And I want to know what the zombies ate when they couldn't get a bit of Will Smith.

Yes, it's a zombie film. And like 28 Days/Weeks Later, they are fast zombies - really fast. Will Smith plays Robert Neville, the last human survivor in New York of a plague that killed nearly everyone worldwide. He shares the city with his dog, some wild animals that have ventured back from the countryside, and zombies, which are infected humans who didn't die but lost their sanity and are frenzied killers. Luckily, they cannot come out during the day, and hide in the dark, so Neville is free to roam the city.

A series of flashbacks fills in the story for us on how the disaster happened, as Neville tries to find a cure and only just manages to retain his sanity in the empty city.

The film looks very good, obviously far surpassing the 1970's version with Charlton Heston called "The Omega Man". In the main it stays true to that story, and to the novel on which it is based, though
I was a little disappointed with the ending. This doesn't stop it being a very watchable and enjoyable film.

Posted by se71 at 01:28 PM | Comments (0)

2008 Book List

Rather than wait till the end of the year, I'm starting my list of books I read in 2008 now. I only managed about 30 last year, and am aiming for 52 this year. Please give me a prod if you see the total slipping.

Midnight Falcon - David Gemmell

The Rotters Club - Jonathan Coe (currently reading)
On Chesil Beach - Ian McEwan (currently reading)

Total 1

SF/Fantasy - 1/1
Women authors - 0/1
Published this year - 0/1

Posted by se71 at 01:21 PM | Comments (0)

Midnight Falcon - David Gemmell

Midnight Falcon - David Gemmell

Book 1 of my 52 books for 2008

This is the second in the Rigante series of heroic fantasy, a sequel to "Sword In The Storm" but much more like a continuation of the same novel than a different story. The action takes place around 20 years after the first volume. It largely concerns Connavar's illigitimate son Bane, and his attempts to make sense of his life.

A full review is somewhat unnecessary, everything I said about The Sword In The Storm holds true here. It's a fantastic book and resolves all the loose ends very satisfyingly.

Posted by se71 at 12:58 PM | Comments (0)

January 02, 2008

2007 Book List

Everyone else is making their lists of books they read in 2007, so here is mine, with some analysis.

A Song Of Stone - Iain Banks
A Spot Of Bother - Mark Haddon
Becoming An Ironman - John Collins
Black Swan Green - David Mitchell
Forever Odd - Dean Koontz
Ghostwritten - David Mitchell
I Capture The Castle - Dodie Smith
Moon Tiger - Penelope Lively
Notes On A Scandal - Zoe Heller
Number9Dream - David Mitchell
Pilgermann - Russell Hoban
Pride And Prejudice - Jane Austin
Promise Me - Harlan Coban
Pushing Ice - Alistair Reynolds
Schild's Ladder - Greg Egan
Set In Stone - Robert Goddard
Small Steps - Louis Sachar
Space - Stephen Baxter
Stardust - Neil Gaiman
Sword In The Storm - David Gemmell
The Broken Shore - Peter Temple
The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins
The Husband - Dean Koontz
The Road - Cormac McCarthy
The Tenderness Of Wolves - Stef Penney
The Testament - John Grisham
The Two Minute Rule - Robert Crais
Three Men In A Boat - Jerome K Jerome
Time - Stephen Baxter
Truckers - Terry Pratchett
Unless - Carol Shields
Unnatural Causes - PD James
We Need To Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver

Of the approximately 30 fiction books, around 1/3 are SF/Fantasy, 1/4 are crime/mystery, 1/4 are by women authors. Only three books are by authors who are not still alive, and nearly half were first published in paperback 2007. So I'm mostly a genre reader, and like picking up new things off the bookshops shelves. Over half the books I liked a lot, and would recommend to friends to read; of the rest, some were averagely good, some passed the time, and four I'd rate as really awful.

Overall I'm pleased with the choices I made. I've discovered some good new authors, cemented my love of hard science fiction, completed all the David Mitchell books, and all the Alistair Reynolds ones currently in paperback.

For 2008, I need to read more back catalog Iain Banks and Terry Pratchet. I want to keep up with Alistair Reynolds and Iain Banks' new SF, avoid quite so much pulp crime fiction, finish off series I'm currently in the middle of from Stephen Baxter and David Gemmell (and maybe even return to the Peter F. Hamilton Night's Dawn trilogy that I abandoned after the first huge volume). Talking of long books, I once read 700 pages of "War and Peace", it might be time this summer to start over and complete it this time. I also need to review my progress through the BBC Big Read list of 100 novels that I promised myself I'd finish one day. And of course, I have to give myself some leeway to pick random new novels from "3 for 2" offers in Books etc. Inevitably, I'll get suckered into some popular bestseller that will turn out to be complete pants (Ukranian tractors anyone? Da Vinci Code?), but even that gives me the curious satisfaction of being able to slag the book off with complete authority.

Reading is great, and my train journey gives me as much as two hours a day to do it during the week, so I'm going to aim higher in 2008 and see if I can get through one book a week this time.

Full 2007 Listing

Posted by se71 at 11:25 AM | Comments (0)