May 2022 Reading Thread.

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Hugh

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J.G. Ballard "The Crystal World"
This was one of those books that, once I'd finished it, kept on nagging at me, forcing me to spend two or three days digesting, trying to make sense of it. I wouldn't normally bother doing this, but the book has such a strange dreamlike quality that it's more of a trawl through unconscious recesses of the psyche, churning up unconscious miasmas in its wake, than a novel.
The basic setting:
It's dawned on the main character, Edward Sanders, a forty year old doctor at a leproserie deep in the Cameroon Republic, that he's as much a leper as any of his patients, just his illness is an inner malaise rather than an outer one. A strange letter from his former lover, a past associate at the leproserie, causes him to set off upriver in search of her, in part out of guilt, in part out of concern.
Now I'll see if I can use one of these spoiler alerts for some kind of much-abridged account of the rest of the novel, should anyone be interested...
As he nears the mining town close to where she and her husband are based, he finds there is a hushed up state of emergency: an ever-expanding area of forest has turned into crystalline structures - plants, animals, people that spend time there become immersed in these crystals. He is struck by just how beautiful the forest is, reminiscent of some forgotten paradisal world of childhood. Over time, and various adventures involving feuding colonials, and also one of those bizarre unsatisfactory Ballard romances, he finds he is increasingly drawn to the forest, as are others, including his former lover. He realises that within the forest all sense of internal conflict is reconciled. It's believed that this crystallisation is caused by time itself leaking away so that those frozen into crystal form are actually part of an eternal present. One of the saner characters (there are very few of these), an army doctor, becomes completely enveloped in crystals, but when Sanders 'rescues' him, mutilating him in so doing, he begs to be taken back into the forest. A Jesuit priest in a church deep in the crystallised zone also gives himself up to this process, telling Sanders that Christianity itself is now redundant as the forest itself has become "the final celebration of the Eucharist of Christ's body. Here everything is transfigured and illuminated, joined together in the last marriage of space and time". Although Sanders makes it back to civilisation of a kind, after time for reflection he heads back upriver knowing that he will only become fulfilled once he has become fully one with the forest.
 
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Parson

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Finished a novella, by John Scalzi, Unlocked: An oral History of Haden's Syndrome. It was a Tor giveaway. A part of three books which were lumped together because they were a kind of positive S.F. As I love positive SF it seemed a no brainer for me to pick it up and read. I couldn't finish the first. Actually, I couldn't get started because it stuck me as too weird, (I didn't read enough to feel good about saying more) but this one was the second and I enjoyed it. I started thinking that this was John Scalzi's Covid activity. It had so much in common with the beginning of the Covid pandemic that it looked plucked from life. But at least the publishing date, 2014, argues strongly against it. Fun little read.
 

hitmouse

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J.G. Ballard "The Crystal World"
This was one of those books that, once I'd finished it, kept on nagging at me, forcing me to spend two or three days digesting, trying to make sense of it. I wouldn't normally bother doing this, but the book has such a strange dreamlike quality that it's more of a trawl through unconscious recesses of the psyche, churning up unconscious miasmas in its wake, than a novel.
The basic setting:
It's dawned on the main character, Edward Sanders, a forty year old doctor at a leproserie deep in the Cameroon Republic, that he's as much a leper as any of his patients, just his illness is an inner malaise rather than an outer one. A strange letter from his former lover, a past associate at the leproserie, causes him to set off upriver in search of her, in part out of guilt, in part out of concern.
Now I'll see if I can use one of these spoiler alerts for some kind of much-abridged account of the rest of the novel, should anyone be interested...
As he nears the mining town close to where she and her husband are based, he finds there is a hushed up state of emergency: an ever-expanding area of forest has turned into crystalline structures - plants, animals, people that spend time there become immersed in these crystals. He is struck by just how beautiful the forest is, reminiscent of some forgotten paradisal world of childhood. Over time, and various adventures involving feuding colonials, and also one of those bizarre unsatisfactory Ballard romances, he finds he is increasingly drawn to the forest, as are others, including his former lover. He realises that within the forest all sense of internal conflict is reconciled. It's believed that this crystallisation is caused by time itself leaking away so that those frozen into crystal form are actually part of an eternal present. One of the saner characters (there are very few of these), an army doctor, becomes completely enveloped in crystals, but when Sanders 'rescues' him, mutilating him in so doing, he begs to be taken back into the forest. A Jesuit priest in a church deep in the crystallised zone also gives himself up to this process, telling Sanders that Christianity itself is now redundant as the forest itself has become "the final celebration of the Eucharist of Christ's body. Here everything is transfigured and illuminated, joined together in the last marriage of space and time". Although Sanders makes it back to civilisation of a kind, after time for reflection he heads back upriver knowing that he will only become fulfilled once he has become fully one with the forest.
This is a good book. Ballard also has at least one ss set in the same environment.

It is stand alone, but does benefit from comparison to The Drowned World and The Drought, though I think it is possibly more interesting than either of those. Maybe Vermilion Sands is closest in spirit.
 

Danny McG

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Child Zero by Chris Holm.
So far this is like a biotech thriller set in New York after a terrible plague
Screenshot_20220511-090718.jpg
 
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Vertigo

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Finished a novella, by John Scalzi, Unlocked: An oral History of Haden's Syndrome. It was a Tor giveaway. A part of three books which were lumped together because they were a kind of positive S.F. As I love positive SF it seemed a no brainer for me to pick it up and read. I couldn't finish the first. Actually, I couldn't get started because it stuck me as too weird, (I didn't read enough to feel good about saying more) but this one was the second and I enjoyed it. I started thinking that this was John Scalzi's Covid activity. It had so much in common with the beginning of the Covid pandemic that it looked plucked from life. But at least the publishing date, 2014, argues strongly against it. Fun little read.
Not sure if you're aware but that Scalzi book is a prequel/lead in to a couple of other books Lock In and Head On. Lock In Series by John Scalzi I have been wondering about it myself but haven't yet decided that it appeals. I find I run hot and cold with Scalzi!
 

Vertigo

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Once again I've not been finding time to properly write up the books I've been reading so just a few words on each of my last couple of month's books.

March
Jack Four by Neal Asher

A good if, by Asher’s standards, a slightly simple book. It is single threaded with the entire book being from the perspective of Jack Four rather than the multiple POVs usually favoured by Asher. Otherwise, it is standard, reliable Asher with excellent action and pacing and lots of weird alien lifeforms vividly brought to life. There is a sequel that I’m looking forward to though it’s only due out in hardback this month so it will be a while before it’s at a price I will pay! 4/5 stars

Death with Interruptions by Jose Saramago
I didn’t really get on with this, my first Saramago. I was immediately put off by the abandoning of all dialogue grammar; no quotes and no paragraph breaks for each voice and few periods. The only hint being a capital letter at the start of each different voice (not much use if it begins with a capital letter anyway). As far as I can see all it achieves is to make the book harder to read. The story doesn’t really get going until at least halfway through with the first half being a long drawn-out intro to the concept of death going on strike and how that’s not quite as good a thing as people might initially think. All very surreal and weird with lots of very clever writing but it all felt a bit smug, a bit see-what-I-did-there-aren’t-I-clever sort of thing. 3/5 stars

The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal
Another good volume in this series of alternate history hard SF. My only complaint is still much the same, the two main female protagonists presented so far both have major issues that would surely have prevented them becoming astronauts and yet there they are in the first half dozen female astronauts in this alternate history. All very empowering, maybe, for people that suffer from anxiety or anorexia but at the levels these two suffer it does rather stretch my credulity. But, for me, the books survive this by virtue of their excellent hard science and engineering detail and good well told stories. 4/5 stars

Blind Lake by Robert Charles Wilson
I thoroughly enjoyed Wilson’s Spin books and this is my first book outside that series which I have also enjoyed though maybe not quite as much. He does a good line in hard SF pushed to the extreme limits. In this respect he is similar to Jeffrey A Carver’s Chaos Chronicles; both play with the possibilities of concepts at the leading edge of current science, like dark matter, quantum physics, multiple dimensions etc., pushing them in extreme but just about plausible directions. So, interesting, weird science and a good story but I do feel that Wilson tries too hard with his characterisation sometimes (not his strongest point anyway). On a couple of occasions in this book he introduces new characters with several pages of back story just to kill them off a couple of pages later. All to put a POV in a particular place to witness and event that didn’t really need a witness. Still all in all not a bad book. 3/5 stars

Hear the Wind Sing by Haruki Murakami
This is a bit of a completionist book. I have read two Murakami books now 1Q84 and Kafka on the Shore and loved them both sufficiently to go back and work my way through all his works in order. This, his first book, is nowhere near his later brilliance but it is very interesting in that the reader can see elements of the more mature Murakami already there. In particular, his style of writing about the mundane and prosaic in such an engaging and poetic manner that it somehow rises above the mundane. I did enjoy it, but any reader should be aware that it is all very stream of consciousness with really very little happening and no discernible plot. This is also consistent with later Murakami which so often seems to be more about the journey than the arrival, only mature Murakami does it so much better! Of interest is that in a forward to this book, written by Murakami much later, he says “It is with love mingled with a bit of embarrassment that I call these two works [this one and Pinball] my kitchen-table novels.” and goes on to say that he only submitted it to one publisher (a magazine) who never return the original manuscripts of rejections and it was his only copy! He states that if it had been rejected he probably would not have continued his nascent writing career! 3/5 stars

Clarissa Oakes (aka The Truelove) by Patrick O’Brian
Another excellent volume in O’Brian’s Maturin and Aubrey books. Lots of interesting action with rather more emphasis on the internal social goings on within the crew of the ship. 4/5 stars

The Reefs of Time by Jeffrey A Carver
I do love these Chaos Chronicles of Carver’s he pushes his science just as far as he can whilst still staying grounded in known hard science. Sometimes a tenuous fine line to walk but he mostly does it with aplomb and all wrapped up in engaging stories with engaging characters. I felt the ending left the reader hanging rather but, in fairness, Carver did originally intend the last two books in this series to be a single volume but they grew rather too big for that! 4/5 stars

Wool (omnibus) by Hugh Howey
I have seen very mixed reviews of this one (originally several short stories/novellas I believe) and whilst I will admit that it does at times get a bit crushingly oppressive and claustrophobic, I found the plot and characters engaging enough to carry me through. I am sufficiently intrigued to continue with the series. 4/5 stars

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
Another rather strange Japanese book and one that is a little reminiscent of Murakami in that they both have a similar ability at writing the prosaic in utterly captivating and beguiling ways. I think this book also presents an important message about people who live quite happily outside the norms of society but are constantly pressured to conform with those norms, which inevitably is going to end in tears. I wonder if this is even more relevant to Japanese culture which always seems to me to be slightly obsessed with conformity. A very good, haunting and strangely beautiful short book. 4/5 stars

Desolation Road by Ian McDonald
The forward by Adam Roberts talks about the influence of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude which, having had the hint, is really pretty obvious. However, sadly, McDonald is not the writer that Marquez was; where Marquez’s magical elements were subtle, his prose immaculate and the construction of one hundred years superb, McDonald’s magical elements are clumsy and really didn’t fit with the science fiction story, his prose rather less than immaculate and the way the whole book is constructed from dozens of short vignettes simply does not flow, giving an uneven staccato reading experience. In fairness this was, I think, McDonalds first book so maybe trying to emulate Marquez might have been a little ambitious. 3/5 stars

Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Another excellent novella length story from Tchaikovsky; he really does do this size of book very well! He introduces an intriguing set up and back story and then adds an even more intriguing mystery and the ending is remarkably satisfying considering how much he leaves (deliberately) unrevealed and still a mystery. Yet the essential elements of the story are all neatly tied up. It’s hard to say much more without giving the story away. A great little science fiction story neatly mashed up with elements of fantasy. 4/5 stars
 

Fiberglass Cyborg

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Been re-reading a bunch of Ben Aaronovitches: "Foxglove Summer," "The Hanging Tree" and "Lies Sleeping." He has this combination of easy-going style but non-dumbed-down content that I really need right now.
 

tobl

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Once again I've not been finding time to properly write up the books I've been reading so just a few words on each of my last couple of month's books.

March
Jack Four by Neal Asher

A good if, by Asher’s standards, a slightly simple book. It is single threaded with the entire book being from the perspective of Jack Four rather than the multiple POVs usually favoured by Asher. Otherwise, it is standard, reliable Asher with excellent action and pacing and lots of weird alien lifeforms vividly brought to life. There is a sequel that I’m looking forward to though it’s only due out in hardback this month so it will be a while before it’s at a price I will pay! 4/5 stars

Death with Interruptions by Jose Saramago
I didn’t really get on with this, my first Saramago. I was immediately put off by the abandoning of all dialogue grammar; no quotes and no paragraph breaks for each voice and few periods. The only hint being a capital letter at the start of each different voice (not much use if it begins with a capital letter anyway). As far as I can see all it achieves is to make the book harder to read. The story doesn’t really get going until at least halfway through with the first half being a long drawn-out intro to the concept of death going on strike and how that’s not quite as good a thing as people might initially think. All very surreal and weird with lots of very clever writing but it all felt a bit smug, a bit see-what-I-did-there-aren’t-I-clever sort of thing. 3/5 stars

The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal
Another good volume in this series of alternate history hard SF. My only complaint is still much the same, the two main female protagonists presented so far both have major issues that would surely have prevented them becoming astronauts and yet there they are in the first half dozen female astronauts in this alternate history. All very empowering, maybe, for people that suffer from anxiety or anorexia but at the levels these two suffer it does rather stretch my credulity. But, for me, the books survive this by virtue of their excellent hard science and engineering detail and good well told stories. 4/5 stars

Blind Lake by Robert Charles Wilson
I thoroughly enjoyed Wilson’s Spin books and this is my first book outside that series which I have also enjoyed though maybe not quite as much. He does a good line in hard SF pushed to the extreme limits. In this respect he is similar to Jeffrey A Carver’s Chaos Chronicles; both play with the possibilities of concepts at the leading edge of current science, like dark matter, quantum physics, multiple dimensions etc., pushing them in extreme but just about plausible directions. So, interesting, weird science and a good story but I do feel that Wilson tries too hard with his characterisation sometimes (not his strongest point anyway). On a couple of occasions in this book he introduces new characters with several pages of back story just to kill them off a couple of pages later. All to put a POV in a particular place to witness and event that didn’t really need a witness. Still all in all not a bad book. 3/5 stars

Hear the Wind Sing by Haruki Murakami
This is a bit of a completionist book. I have read two Murakami books now 1Q84 and Kafka on the Shore and loved them both sufficiently to go back and work my way through all his works in order. This, his first book, is nowhere near his later brilliance but it is very interesting in that the reader can see elements of the more mature Murakami already there. In particular, his style of writing about the mundane and prosaic in such an engaging and poetic manner that it somehow rises above the mundane. I did enjoy it, but any reader should be aware that it is all very stream of consciousness with really very little happening and no discernible plot. This is also consistent with later Murakami which so often seems to be more about the journey than the arrival, only mature Murakami does it so much better! Of interest is that in a forward to this book, written by Murakami much later, he says “It is with love mingled with a bit of embarrassment that I call these two works [this one and Pinball] my kitchen-table novels.” and goes on to say that he only submitted it to one publisher (a magazine) who never return the original manuscripts of rejections and it was his only copy! He states that if it had been rejected he probably would not have continued his nascent writing career! 3/5 stars

Clarissa Oakes (aka The Truelove) by Patrick O’Brian
Another excellent volume in O’Brian’s Maturin and Aubrey books. Lots of interesting action with rather more emphasis on the internal social goings on within the crew of the ship. 4/5 stars

The Reefs of Time by Jeffrey A Carver
I do love these Chaos Chronicles of Carver’s he pushes his science just as far as he can whilst still staying grounded in known hard science. Sometimes a tenuous fine line to walk but he mostly does it with aplomb and all wrapped up in engaging stories with engaging characters. I felt the ending left the reader hanging rather but, in fairness, Carver did originally intend the last two books in this series to be a single volume but they grew rather too big for that! 4/5 stars

Wool (omnibus) by Hugh Howey
I have seen very mixed reviews of this one (originally several short stories/novellas I believe) and whilst I will admit that it does at times get a bit crushingly oppressive and claustrophobic, I found the plot and characters engaging enough to carry me through. I am sufficiently intrigued to continue with the series. 4/5 stars

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
Another rather strange Japanese book and one that is a little reminiscent of Murakami in that they both have a similar ability at writing the prosaic in utterly captivating and beguiling ways. I think this book also presents an important message about people who live quite happily outside the norms of society but are constantly pressured to conform with those norms, which inevitably is going to end in tears. I wonder if this is even more relevant to Japanese culture which always seems to me to be slightly obsessed with conformity. A very good, haunting and strangely beautiful short book. 4/5 stars

Desolation Road by Ian McDonald
The forward by Adam Roberts talks about the influence of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude which, having had the hint, is really pretty obvious. However, sadly, McDonald is not the writer that Marquez was; where Marquez’s magical elements were subtle, his prose immaculate and the construction of one hundred years superb, McDonald’s magical elements are clumsy and really didn’t fit with the science fiction story, his prose rather less than immaculate and the way the whole book is constructed from dozens of short vignettes simply does not flow, giving an uneven staccato reading experience. In fairness this was, I think, McDonalds first book so maybe trying to emulate Marquez might have been a little ambitious. 3/5 stars

Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Another excellent novella length story from Tchaikovsky; he really does do this size of book very well! He introduces an intriguing set up and back story and then adds an even more intriguing mystery and the ending is remarkably satisfying considering how much he leaves (deliberately) unrevealed and still a mystery. Yet the essential elements of the story are all neatly tied up. It’s hard to say much more without giving the story away. A great little science fiction story neatly mashed up with elements of fantasy. 4/5 stars
you read Saramago? you have my sympathy. i don't touch him with a 5 meters pole and i'm portuguese. he his worst than fantastic realism by gabriel garcia marquez or isabel allende and those are bad enough
 

Dave Vicks

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Philip K. Dick Paycheck 1953.
Kafka The Metamorphosis.
And Don DeLillo COSMOPOLIS.
AUDIO.
 

Bick

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The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal
All very empowering, maybe, for people that suffer from anxiety or anorexia but at the levels these two suffer it does rather stretch my credulity...
Sounds ludicrous - I think that back story would put me off.

Hear the Wind Sing by Haruki Murakami
This is a bit of a completionist book. I have read two Murakami books now 1Q84 and Kafka on the Shore and loved them both sufficiently to go back and work my way through all his works in order. This, his first book, is nowhere near his later brilliance but it is very interesting...
Try A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance, Dance, Dance, two I enjoyed as much as any of his.

The Reefs of Time by Jeffrey A Carver
I do love these Chaos Chronicles of Carver’s he pushes his science just as far as he can whilst still staying grounded in known hard science. Sometimes a tenuous fine line to walk but he mostly does it with aplomb and all wrapped up in engaging stories with engaging characters. I felt the ending left the reader hanging rather but, in fairness, Carver did originally intend the last two books in this series to be a single volume but they grew rather too big for that! 4/5 stars
Great to hear as I'm also reading through these books. The last two volumes are indeed one novel, split into two.
 

Danny McG

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Bad Actors by Mick Herron, the latest in his Slough House series....I'm just hoping it's an improvement over his somewhat dull previous offering
 

Parson

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Not sure if you're aware but that Scalzi book is a prequel/lead in to a couple of other books Lock In and Head On. Lock In Series by John Scalzi I have been wondering about it myself but haven't yet decided that it appeals. I find I run hot and cold with Scalzi!
I did not know this was a prequel. Not sure I'm intrigued enough to look them up, but thanks for the info.
 

Vertigo

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you read Saramago? you have my sympathy. i don't touch him with a 5 meters pole and i'm portuguese. he his worst than fantastic realism by gabriel garcia marquez or isabel allende and those are bad enough
:ROFLMAO:Yeah, well you've got to try these things out for yourself occasionally!
 

Vertigo

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Great to hear as I'm also reading through these books. The last two volumes are indeed one novel, split into two.
I found the shift in style from the first book to the second one a bit jarring but after that you've pretty much got the measure of what the books are about and they become pure joy; he gets a great balance of exciting action, intriguing science and likeable characters with a touch of clown to some of them.
 
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