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Dec 07

What I’ve Been Reading – November edition

Life is so hectic at the moment that I’m barely able to get a blog post out a month.  I’d like to blame the kids, but really I’ve spent most of my time playing and discussing and giggling over the worst cricket game ever made.  Ashes 2013:

I’ve also recorded a new episode of Writer and The Critic with my lovely co-host Kirstyn McDermott.  That should be dropping into people’s RSS Feeds or equivalent in a couple of days. And I have been reading.  Quite a few books actually.  Here’s what I thought of them.

Books You Should Go Out and Buy Right Now and Read!!!!!

Love is The Law by Nick Mamatas

I’m going to say more about this book on a future episode of Writer and The Critic, but in short I loved it.  It’s a crime novel set in the 80’s that involves communism, the Occult and a soupcon of Chasidism (it’s the first novel I’ve ever read that references Qlipha.  Madonna would be proud!).  Dawn is a fucking awesome character.  Not because she’s in your face or wields katanas or ‘takes no shit from anyone’.  But because she’s angry – justifiably so given her fucked family situation – and it’s her anger and frustration that fuels the narrative.  There’s no redemption here and no sweet endings.  Instead what we get is a short novel with the impact of a sledgehammer to the face.

Trucksong by Andrew MacRae

Just like the Mamatas this book isn’t about redemption or happy endings.  And like the Mamatas there’s an anger that drives the narrative (though nowhere near the intensity of Love Is The Law).  I’m generally not a fan of post apocalyptic novels, I think Cormac McCarthy’s The Road says everything that needs to be said about what happens to society after the shit hits the fan.  But with Trucksong I make an exception.  Partly it’s because of the world building on display.  The post cyberpunk vibe of self aware trucks and gigacities and the fusion between body and silicon.  This is the only novel you’ll ever read that has trucks shagging each other.  But really I loved this book because on a sentence by sentence level the writing is beautiful and the language – the ocker-isms that litter the novel and the neologisms – give the story a genuine sense of place.  This is Australian science fiction at its best.

Five Autobiographies and a Fiction by Lucius Shepard.

Lucius Shepard is genuinely one of the best writers in the SF/F/H field.  And I don’t mean that he writes really cool stories but that the actual writing has a depth and complexity that you simply don’t find in most genre work.  This is a collection of six novella / novelettes.  While I didn’t love all of the pieces in the collection, I was never disappointed by the writing.  If you haven’t read Shepard before – and you really should – this is as good a starting point as any.

Honorable Mentions But Still Very Much Recommended

Martian Sands by Lavie Tidhar

Time Travel.  Martian kibbutzim.  A robot Golda Meir.  This short novel is extraordinary – a bizarre mix of Burroughs, Bradbury and PKD.  And while the ending for me was a confused and surreal mess (I probably need to reread it), the questions it raises about how the Holocaust changed the Jewish people are thought provoking.  In many ways it’s a very personal novel and possibly (though maybe not) you need to be Jewish or Israeli to get the full impact.

The Maid’s Version by Daniel Woodrell

It’s described as a novel, but it’s more a novella.  It’s my first taste of Daniel Woodrell and I’ll be coming back for more.  It’s based on a true story of a dance hall in the Ozarks that burned down in the late 20s killing 42 people.  The little snippets describing the goings on of some of the people who died in the fire are heart breaking.  The language and lyricism of the novella might be off putting for some (I’d read a sample) but it hit the spot for me.

Jude Level 1 by Julian Gough

Maybe you need to be Irish to appreciate all the jokes, but I still found plenty to laugh at.  I’d describe this as Ireland’s answer to Forrest Gump but that would be a massive insult to what’s a smart, satirical novel that even foreshadows the Global Financial Crisis.  I’m still tossing up on the funniest bit of the novel – the bit where our main character is mistaken for Stephen Hawking or when he has sex on a camel.  I’ll definitely be buying the sequel.

Meh

Nova Swing by M.John Harrison

I didn’t hate it and at times I enjoyed it.  But I’m not sure I totally appreciate what Harrison is doing here.  Maybe after reading Empty Space the penny will drop.

Plastic by Christopher Fowler

I normally enjoy Fowler’s work but this simply didn’t do it for me.  For a thriller it’s far too long and there are too many side steps and tangents.  Just as I thought the book was picking up pace, the novel would stop dead to describe a part of London or reflect on the main character’s shopping habits.  Unlike Joanne Harris’, who in the foreword questions why this book never found a market (given how AWESOME is it), I think I know the answer.  It lacks focus and never seems to be entirely clear on what it wants to be.  Because it’s Fowler it’s readable and at times enjoyable.  But only read it if your a die hard fan of his work.

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