Just read, The Midwich Cuckoos, John Wyndham

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I am on a roll. Now that I’ve finished my history course and am on a summer break from study, I’m determined to make a good dent in my books ‘pile of shame’. I picked up The Midwich Cuckoos the other night to read in bed, didn’t get very far, then returned to it yesterday morning to read on way to work and pretty much had to finish it when I got home last night. It’s only just over 200 pages long and unputdownable. The Spectator jacket quote sums it up very well. Beloved says I’d seen the film adaptation, The Village of the Damned and while I remember the Children, I didn’t remember how it all ended or much of what happened. Must have seen it a while back or fallen asleep. I’d been wanting to read more John Wyndham since I read The Day of the Triffids last year and was struck with its humanity, simplicity of style and language and, at the same time, it was unsettling and intelligent. The same can be said of The Midwich Cuckoos. Again, I thought how best selling authors and Hollywood film makers who tackle science fiction or even just write thrillers could learn a thing or two (actually many things) from classic authors such as Wyndham who was economic with words and more powerful for it. I’d urge anyone who reads only contemporary science fiction to look at Wyndham. I’m certainly going to get his other books and I wouldn’t have come across him if it wasn’t for The Guardian’s 1,000 novels everyone should read list. I come to this list again and again – it’s not perfect, no list is, but it has brought my attention to many authors I’ve never heard of or wouldn’t have come across without some guidance. The list and the science fiction literature exhibition at the British Library, which we went to a few years back and which prompted Beloved to get some other classic books. I say ‘other’ as I’ve not allowed myself a glimpse of what he has yet, have my own ‘pile of shame’ to worry about for the present but I do look forward to the prospect of further exploration.

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Just read, The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard

IMG_0497Very clever little book this. I say ‘little’ as it is short but quite powerful in a sense that reading it was very atmospheric, immersive, almost primeval. It took me a while to get into it but all of a sudden it’s as if I was in a tunnel, hot and sweaty, feeling the pulse of the sun and the humidity of the jungle, all while sitting on a bus going home from work on a cold winter evening. Great read and I do hope people are still reading this. Quite often, with so many new books, people forget to look at mid 20th century classics, which is a great shame. I do love a post apocalyptic scenario but have mostly been reading more recent books until The Guardian published their list of 1,000 novels everyone should read four years ago. I copied the list and have been reading from it since, often making notes if I come across a particular author elsewhere. The British Library had an exhibition of sci fi literature a while back for example, Beloved got some books that he’d seen there and I’ve also slowly started looking beyond Iain M. Banks, Margaret Atwood and William Gibson. Another blogger, Joachim Boaz reminded me of The Drowned World and recommended some other classic sci fi titles and I’m very grateful.

It’s very rewarding reading these ‘older’ books although it has meant that my books ‘pile of shame’ is ever growing. Still, am quite pleased with how many books I’ve read this month. Just not allowed to buy any more until I’ve read that massive book about the history of the Mediterranean by David Abulafia. Why oh why did I not wait for the paperback…

Just read, The Age of Miracles, Karen Thompson Walker

IMG_0486This book had some decent reviews a few months back so I thought it might be a good holiday read. I like the premise of it – the earth is slowing down, each day lengthening by half an hour or so until days and nights each become 60 hours long. It is set in the very near future and observed by an 11 year old girl. The slowing has huge consequences for all life on the planet and nobody knows the cause or how to stop it. I liked how the slowing was experienced by a young girl and that her observations and experiences mainly revolve about going to school, her loneliness, her immediate neighbourhood rather than some big ideas but at the same time, this is also what limits the book – some of the ideas just seemed a bit superficial and not fully developed. I also found the book very short although it doesn’t seem that thin from the photo – it’s 370 pages long but with big, widely spaced font so it only took me a couple of days to read. Nevertheless, a good concept, sort of a post apocalyptic scenario without an actual apocalypse and an enjoyable read. I also loved the fact that the author wrote it in the mornings before going to work.

Am now giving science fiction a bit of a break and have started Rose Tremain’s Restoration, love Charles II period and I very much enjoyed some of Tremain’s other books.

Just read, The Hydrogen Sonata, Iain M. Banks

IMG_0484Every new Culture novel by Iain M. Banks is welcomed by a whoop and I like to read them as soon as possible. Hugely enjoyable, so fabulously imagined, just a great little bit of escapism – although they tend to be quite heavy (physically) so perhaps ‘little’ not the best word to describe them. Having purchased The Hydrogen Sonata a couple of months ago, I’ve finally read it. This is the best bit of Christmas holidays – the amount of time I have for making friends with sofa, blanket and books.

The book, by the way, was very enjoyable and well imagined, funny too in places, just not quite as fabulous as some of the others. I do love it when Culture novels heavily feature ship Minds, which The Hydrogen Sonata did, just thought perhaps the story was a tiny bit weak. Not a disappointment by any means, just not one of the best. Have also realised that I’ve never read Use of Weapons, which seems to be a favourite with many Banks Culture lovers so have got that too. Won’t be reading it straight away though as ‘pile of shame’ of unread books has grown quite a bit with some lovely Christmas presents.

The other book I’ve also just finished but not posting separately is Niall Ferguson’s Colossus about America and (un)imperialism. Had it for ages (‘pile of shame’) and it bore some relevance to the course I’m doing at the moment so I thought I might as well read it. It was pretty good too.

Just re-read, Excession, Iain M. Banks

I planned a ten mile walk yesterday, worked out the route and transport to and from and then it rained, rained, rained. So instead, I spent the day on the sofa re-reading Excession by Iain M. Banks.

 Why Excession when there’s a new Culture novel out? Well, to be honest, I looked up the new novel on Amazon and the reviews and, some Banks fans posted that Excession was one of their favourites and I knew I’d read it before but could not remember what happened in it at all. So I read it again. Getting yourself lost in a Banks Culture novel is a very indulgent way of spending a Sunday, I love the worlds, the various creatures/ life forms and their ways of life but I think, above all, I love the imagination and the eccentric ship Minds. So, Excession was fun to read again.

Over the years, I’ve read most Culture novels, now I buy them pretty much as soon as they come out in hardback for the sheer joy in being immersed in these alien worlds. Can’t quite decide whether to get hardback or kindle version of the new one though and, it turns out that there is one other Culture novel I’ve never even read… Not quite sure how that happened and will have to be corrected. At the same time, my rather large ‘pile of shame’ (books it’s taken me ages and ages to read) is only being reduced at a very slow rate even though I’ve been reading loads over the past few months. This is what always happens, I show best intentions to get through all these books but am very easily distracted into making yet more lists of books I ‘need’. Guess I better make a deal with self – if I can read a Penelope Fitzgerald (have 2 waiting) and the Kate Summerscale divorce scandal one along with finishing Niall Ferguson and at least getting through some of of Michael Wood’s Conquistadores (both of these are ‘helpful uni reading’) then I can do an Amazon order at the end of the month and get lost in another Culture novel. Ambitious…

Just read, World War Z by Max Brooks

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I saw this film the other week, have forgotten the name of it now, it had lots of zombies in it. I was expecting it to be pretty bad but there wasn’t anything else interesting on telly and in the end, the film was pretty decent. Not all out action, more of a human story, how people and society in general dealt with this apocalyptic scenario where their world was infested by zombies. It had no stars, it was a simple, effective and quite a melancholy film. I thought of it the other day, am reading Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles for the first time and it’s pretty intense. I needed a break from it and i wanted a quick and easy read, so remembered that beloved had read World War Z a while back and said I should read it too. First of all, I thought it was a graphic novel, like Walking Dead and I fancied reading a graphic novel. It wasn’t and, as I started reading it I thought those silly Hollywood people could never make this into a good film. No wander the one they’ve been making with Brad Pitt has been beset by problems. The book is a collection of testimonies and cleverly conceived. Supposedly written ten years after the zombie plague was brought under control, the central character, never seen, travels the world collecting testimonies of those who survived the outbreak, the breakdown of society that followed, the focused effort to return to some sort of normal existence, extermination of zombies and establishment of new societies. For example, Cuba emerges as a world power, while North Koreans simply disappear. Without going into too much detail, I liked the different situations, I very much liked the concept, the book was a bit let down by the fact that many characters had the same voice although I liked the fact that ten years after the war, each survivor was still very much affected with what had happened. I can easily see why someone would want to make it into a film but I think it would work much better as either a series, focusing on one scenario per episode or a documentary style film with individual narratives. Beloved tells me that there is a graphic novel from the same author with a different setting so may look at that too. Don’t think I’ll want to see the film.