Archive for September, 2013

Miniature review due to absence of Internet and wifi. In fact, only now possible because phone can – sometimes – get some reception…

Somewhat uncomfortably, I finished reading this book this morning. At about 7:30. As my 12 week old daughter lay asleep in my arms. It made the final chapter particularly unnerving!

This is so much better than the Daniel Radcliffe film! A much more evocative style, a much more effectively chilling tale and a far more engaging protagonist! Sorry, Radcliffe, but no!

As a teacher, Hill is ideal as a conscious and deliberate writer who has very carefully constructed, crafted and perhaps at times contrived and overwrought her writing to recreate the style of the nineteenth century Gothic genre and Arthur Kipps’ voice. The opening paragraph running like this

It was nine-thirty on Christmas Eve. As I crossed the long entrance hall of Monk’s Piece on my way from the dining room, where we had just enjoyed the first of the happy festive meals, towards the drawing room and the fire around which my family were now assembled, I paused and then, as I often do in the course of an evening, went to the front door, opened it and stepped outside.

contains almost every grammatical structure a GCSE student needs: simple and complex and compound constructions; dependent clauses embedded with subordinate clauses; prepositional phrases; subordinating and co-ordinating conjunctions. It is a grammar geek smorgasbord! And a useful ‘hunt-the-main-verb’ teaching tool!

The main plot is followed by the film broadly (although Arthur Kipps’ family circumstances are butchered by the film): as a politely and hopeful member of a firm of solicitors, Arthur is sent to attend the funeral and organise the papers of Mrs Drablow of Eel Marsh House in a distant northern town. A woman in black appears at the funeral and Hill masterfully ratchets up the tension in a series of escalatingly horrific incidents.

Hill is a masterful writer. Her settings are wonderful and descriptions fantastic but it is the control she demonstrates which make her so powerful. At no point does she sacrifice atmosphere for gore; nor tension for explication.

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Miniature review due to absence of Internet and wifi. In fact, only now possible because phone can – sometimes – get some reception…

I bought this for my son and wanted to cast my eye over it before he read it. He is only twelve and these are zombies. My ears still ring with his squealing at the cover of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies!

I have to say, I was quietly surprised. I mean, I’m not a huge fan of Darren Shan: I quite liked the Cirque du Freak series but The Demonata left me completely cold. I was expecting lots of gore. Lots of blood. Significant amount of entrails.

What I didn’t expect was an interesting main character, B: streetwise and sassy, decent at heart, but poisoned by the father’s extreme right-wing neo-Nazi racism. Certainly, B was capable of saying and doing appalling and racist things but, somehow, Shan never diminished my engagement with or sympathy for B.

As to the zombies, they are fairly standard fare and, once they reach the town the novel is set in, things progress as you’d expect. The GQ (gore quotient) rises exponentially.

There are also other antagonists: a number of mutants who seem to be able to control the zombies and a rather creepy supervisor.

The ending contained two twists, one of which I anticipated pretty early on, the other of which I did not.

In all, I was impressed.

But I’m also glad that my son left it behind when he went back to his mum’s house: I think it is a little too old for him, personally. But I may well pick up the next in the series….!

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Miniature review due to absence of Internet and wifi. In fact, only now possible because phone can – sometimes – get some reception…

I can imagine the genesis of this novel. It seems to have started as an idea, a concept. A damned good idea but very much an idea rather than a novel.

I know nothing of the relationship or friendship between Pratchett and Baxter but I can imagine one visiting the other and conversations revolving around the sentence “What would happen if…” In this case, the conversation (no doubt swilling brandy around and a crackling fire in a cavernous chimney breast behind them) might have gone like this:

“What would happen if there were a number of worlds parallel with this one?”

“A parallel universe? Oh come sir, that’s been done before. Did you not see Abrams’ Star Trek?”

“No. No. Not one divergent world. Hundreds. Thousands. Millions. Divergent at the level of evolutionary development rather than personal tragedy.”

“Hmmmm,” swilling brandy meaningfully. “But which one would we set our story on? One where dinosaurs rule? It’s been done before.”

“Again no. Not one world. All of them! People could just… step from one to another. Like a road.”

And so The Long Earth may have come about. There is an infinity of Earths. Some people can step across naturally and intuitively; some can train themselves to do so; some can do so with the help of a device; and some can’t step at all.

It is a great concept. The economic and political implications would be vast and are touched on here. Surfaces are scratched. In an economy where scarcity denotes value, what has value when there are an infinite supply of resources?

At its heart though, this is an exploration novel: our somewhat anti-social hero Joshua Valienté, whose mother had spontaneously stepped during labour, gave birth to him and stepped back leaving him alone for a for a few moments before popping back to recover him, embarks on a voyage with an allegedly sentient computer called Lobsang to explore.

The majority of the novel follows them stepping across over two million Earths of primarily identical empty landscapes. There is an effort to vary the Earths: some are watery, some are frozen, one has no moon and another has no Earth. But the novel is, necessarily, episodic as a result with some effort to suggest threat or pressure ahead of them.

Joshua was a reasonably interesting character. Born as he was, he had a natural affinity with the multiverse; but also a natural antipathy to crowds of people. He also came across as mildly Aspergers in his discomfort with people and liking of rules and following them. Lobsang was, frankly, annoying.

Was this a good book? I suppose so. It is an interesting concept with a huge amount of potential. But nothing much happened. And the characters weren’t enough here to carry the novel fully without more plot.

I will probably read the next book, The Long War to see where they take it – after all, there were a lot of scenes to set! I’m intrigued enough to give them another opportunity but I’m hoping the result isn’t quite so self-indulgent as this!

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Miniature review due to absence of Internet and wifi. In fact, only now possible because phone can – sometimes – get some reception…

There was quite considerable hype about this book online which led to my getting it: phrases like Bondesque and Bournesque appear to have been coined in order to describe it.

It is a commitment of a read at well in excess of 750 pages! But it also rattles along at a very good pace: it is structured in four parts of fourteen, fifty-one, seventy-two and fifty-two chapters in each. That makes one hundred and eighty-nine chapters of four pages each. Not a very scientific approach – nor a terribly literary one – but an indication of pace.

Personally, I thought Part One was the strongest: our narrator, Pilgrim, was called to a seedy motel to advise on a particularly unpleasant murder. It is written in an effective and familiar CSI-style: slick, professional and effective in what it does.

From this starting point, the narrative entwines various threads into a solid rope. We learn of Pilgrim’s own background as a member of a shadowy secret service investigating the secret services prior to 9/11 and the twin towers’ destruction; we learn about the backstory of a character known as The Saracen – a name that possesses somewhat chilling connotations of American demonisation of the Arab world. Pilgrim and The Saracen become embroiled in the sort of high stakes cat-and-mouse hunt across international borders to avert a huge terrorist threat to the USA.

Some reviews I’ve read have compared this with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. It is not in that league by a long shot: Pilgrim is a far less engaging or damaged character that Lisbeth Salander; the writing is more slick but also more conventional and familiar and perhaps cliched.

In conclusion, this was a decent, competent and effective espionage thriller. There were no real surprises. No really compelling characters. A significant hint of Americanism which, depending on your tastes, could jar – it did with me! Overall… a classic summertime boys’ beach read.

Miniature review due to absence of Internet and wifi. In fact, only now possible because phone can – sometimes – get some reception…

I teach.

Summer holidays are great times to read.

I expect to get a lot read so I thought this was an apt time for the next instalment of Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series.

It took the whole eight weeks! All of them. Admittedly, having new baby did impinge on reading time but not by that much. And it was a slog!

At his best, reading Martin is like watching chessmen being manoeuvred around a chess board at the pace of the Wars Of The Roses in real time. But this…?

This was like pulling teeth. None of the more engaging characters were present: Jon Snow was absent, Tyrion was absent. And who did we get in their place? Arya was reasonable as a character. But Brienne wandering around aimlessly searching for Sansa needed an editor’s red pen; Sansa herself and Petyr Baelish both needed a slap; and Samwell Tarly. Samwell Tarly. Stop whining and grow a pair!

I am currently in two minds whether to continue with the series, this book was so tedious!

Even in a series where Winter Is Coming is essentially the tag line, I had not expected its pace to be so glacial!