The journey has begun
My first Booker prize read.
The journey has begun
My first Booker prize read.
I must admit that this is not my first attempt at reading this book. I attempted to read it when it first came out, but Dnf’d it. However, that was during a really bad reading slump. So, I thought, since it was on the list, I’d give it another go.
I managed to read it this time. I found that it dealt with some really topical issues, such as: Brexit and its aftermath, Jo Coxes murder, immigration, and the hassle of doing anything in this country if you don’t carry five sources of i.d. around with you at all times. The inclusion of these topics made the work feel prescient and timely. But, the shear mass of ideas; together with its non-linear form and shortness, made it feel very busy and overwhelming. At times, I felt lost, and disengaged, from the story and characters. Not a bad read, but not a satisfying one either. I can see why it’s on the list and I fear that it will be on the short list. However, I will feel really disappointed if it wins.
So, I promised you a review of this book and here it is. First, a caveat, I read this book as part of my awards read. The good thing about this reading method is that you occasionally find books that really surprise you, surpassing your expectations. The down side is, that you are just as likely to come across books that simply weren’t written for you. Books that are written in a writing style/voice that leaves you cold or a genre that you just don’t get on with. This book falls into the latter camp. If you like what I call ‘mainstream genre” fiction you will like this book. But, I prefer books that have a more experimental structure and/or lyrical language style. So, this book is not for me.
“Aliens have conquered Earth, but they haven’t conquered humanity—yet. A young army conscript battles for survival in this action-packed futuristic thriller that will appeal to fans of Halo and Inglorious Bastards.
People used to wonder if we were alone in the universe. Well, we’re not. Not by a long shot. Aliens come in all shapes and sizes, and even the good guys are likely to haunt your nightmares. And oh, you’ll have nightmares, even after you leave the service. If you leave the service.
Devin is a reluctant conscript to an alien-run army: when the Accordance conquered Earth, they said it was to prepare against the incoming alien Conglomeration forces. But as Devin travels to the dark side of the moon for boot camp and better acquaints himself with his so-called allies, his loyalties are increasingly tested. Because the enemy of the enemy is not always a friend. Sometimes…” http://www.simonandschuster.co.uk/books/The-Darkside-War/Zachary-Brown/The-Icarus-Corps/9781481430357
“I stood at attention. My boots dug into the sad, scraggly patch of open field that was all that remained of what had once been called Central Park, and I remembered standing in the middle of a baseball field here, once. A long time ago.” Page 1.
This book had a diverse range of characters. The characters represented different ethnic groups. There were interesting girl/women characters. The characters had different levels of power/privilege. They came from different political perspectives and had very different views on how to deal with their alien conquerors.
To me, this novel felt disjointed. It felt like it was divided into 3 distinct sections; each of which opened questions that weren’t satisfactory answered. The first section, a rebellion narrative, was an interesting look at how earthlings would deal with an alien invasion, asking how many would rebel and who would acquiesce; for what reasons? It would have been interesting to explore these sections further. But, then we and Devin are whizzed into space and intro the second section of the novel which is set in a kind of boot camp; where earthlings are tested, trained and killed by their alien overlords. This could have been an interesting look at conquest and how people can fight for their overlords. It could have been an interesting look at the differing earthlings and how they survive this environment and the social conditions that they found there. To a limited extent it was. But, that was short. Since, then we were catapulted into section three and into a tradition alien shoot out; which, I found really boring.
As you see from the quote at the beginning of this review, the writing was workaday/mainstream. Which, while did work as first person narration from a teenage boy and made the work easy to scan, made the text feel boring to a reader who prefers a more lyrical/ experimental form of prose. To me the professionalism of the writing wasn’t exciting and didn’t feel like the speech of a young boy under stress. Surely, Devin’s speech would have been more fragmented, and less structured. So, if you like YA type books with fairly diverse characters, set in a dark space landscape, then this book is for you. But, this book was not for me.
Published January 28th 2015 by Hamish Hamilton
“It is quiet out here today, the only sounds that disturb the silence those of the wind, the occasional squalling cry of the birds. Down by the water an elephant seal lies on the rocks, its vast bulk mottled and sluglike; around it tracks of human activity scar the snow like rust, turning it grey and red and dirty.” Loc 34- 35
Well, at long last, I am back to my award list reading/reviewing. Clade was on the Locus Recommended Reading list. But, unfortunately, it didn’t reach the final ballot. I disagree with this omission. I really liked this novel. In fact, I predict that it will be one of my books of 2016. The work is a written evocation of a well-drawn, depressingly, beautiful world, peopled by great characters. This work, which I am going to call a work of mosaic fiction, is formed of several, interrelated, independent, and interdependent pieces. Each section of the novel follows a different character/s (either; Ellie, Adam, Summer or Noah) tracing the various strata of their shared history.
This work deals with environmental decay, and destruction. It is an attempt to understand, change and stop that destruction. It starts with a young Adam surveying the ice fields and noticing the damage that humanity is doing to this setting. In later sections of the novel, we follow; Adam, Summer, and Noah, racing to escape a storm, in an attempt to escape from the effects of global warming. In addition, this work focuses on the collapse of bee colonies throughout the globe. You could say that the destruction of the bee hives foretells the destruction of the human colony.
So, this book looks head on at the damage that we are inflicting on the environment. But, it is more than; a call to arms, a diatribe, a polemical piece of writing, or depressing mournful cry for humanity. In fact, it is all of those things and more. We see that human lives continue, despite the harshness of the times. The characters aren’t simply signifiers in a political argument. They are more than place holders, puppets in the authors argumentative polemic. They are themselves, concerned with their own messy lives. The characters do live in an Anthropocene world and have to cope with the effects of environmental damage. But, that doesn’t stop them from living. These characters still; go through the problems of childhood and adolescence, get jobs, get married, have children, quarrel, get divorced and age. In other words, these characters live full and messy lives.
Bradley shows the characters interacting with the world and its inhabitants. Amir is one of the interesting individuals that we meet along the way. Ellie meets him when she is exploring the possibility of creating an art instillation around his bees. We learn that Amir is an ‘illegal immigrant’. Through him we see the horrors, and inhumanity, of the immigration system, both; in our world, and the world presented in the book.
As you may be aware, I am disabled. Therefore, I am always interested when a book includes characters with disabilities. Noah has Autism. It is interesting to see how Noah, and his need for uniformity and stability, reacts to an ever changing world. It is great that, while Bradbury doesn’t shrink from the pain that Autism inflicts on Noah and his family, he doesn’t portray Noah as a victim of this pain. He gives Noah a narrative arc and a future, even in a world where the cards seems stacked against him.
This is a brilliant evocation of a world in decline. But, it is, also, a world which is full of life, life which is struggling to survive. It is a beautifully drawn picture of a decaying hopeless, and hopeful, world. I highly recommend this work
Ben Denis Aaronovitch
Two girls go missing from a rural English town. Peter Grant is sent to that town on a routine mission to check up on individuals with magic powers, living in the area. Initially, his inquiries go no where, finding no connection between these individuals and the missing girls. But he does not return to London. Instead, he decides to stay on and help the local police. He gradually gets drawn further and further into the investigation, finding that there’s more to the case than meets the eye. I won’t go any further than that. Since, this is a mystery story and, therefore, is easily spoilt.
I have mentioned, in the previous reviews, that reading along with awards encourages you to read outside of your comfort zone. Apologising for repetition, I have to say that, I would have never had read this book if it hadn’t been for the Locus Recommended long list. I don’t know why, but, I never felt any incentive to read this book. I now have to admit that i was missing out.. This book is a fun read..
In my last review, I mentioned that one of the positive things about reading the award shortlists was that they encouraged you to read outside of your comfort zone. This is definitely true in the case of the Locus Recommended Reading list. This is the second book that I would never have read if I hadn’t been reading that list. I don’t generally read Children’s fiction or YA. This is especially true if I haven’t heard of the author, or if the author hasn’t written an adult novel. I would have never read this book. I would have missed out on an extremely enjoyable read.
Zen Starling is a Railhead who travels on world crossing trains and steals to survive. He lives with his sister and disturbed mother in a deprived area of the city. One day when he is carrying out a theft at a high end Jewellers, he finds that he is being followed by a young girl and shadowy older figure. He dodges, trying to avoid them both but is eventually caught by one and rescued by another. I won’t say much more because I then get into spoiler territory and I want you to read this book.
This book has all my favourite elements. The work centres on the lives of Railheads that travel these trains often conducting low level crime to survive. It has sentient trains that cross worlds who help those for who they feel sorry and act as graffiti curators keeping the art work that they like while destroying the rest. It has androids, hive minds made out of bugs, and a shadowy government. What’s more it’s set in a really interesting urban, almost cyberpunk landscape. It deals with the discrepancy between the worlds of rich and poor. It looks at identity, asking what does it mean to be me and can we ever become someone else. It asks the questions ‘what does it mean to be human’ and who can we really trust?
This book was a really fun, well written read. It will engross you from the first to last page. The characters are, at once, likeable and nuanced. The world is wonderfully drawn. For me, it was a five star read. It’s too early to say yet but I am betting that it will be one of my favourite books of 2016.
The good thing about reading the short/long lists is that it forces you to read books that you wouldn’t normally go anywhere near. Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves is a good example of this. Neal Stephenson is one of those authors who I would normally avoid. Firstly, he is a popular author and that always puts me off a writer. Secondly, because his books are so long. But, it’s on the Locus recommended reading list and so I had to read Seveneves. I am glad that I did.
This is the plot. Earth is going on its own merry way when the moon splinters into several pieces. Gradually, they notice that the pieces are smashing into pieces and getting very near to Earth orbit. Scientists begin to fear that one day one piece will hit the earth and send earth into a destructive spiral. The planet’s leaders join forces to send an arc into space, a group of people who will live on a space station and wait out the dark rain, returning to Earth when it is once again habitable. The work traces; the preparation for take-off, the political spats that surround that take-off, their life on the station, the splits that emerge, and their final return to earth.
The station prepares. Its inhabitants are chosen. They are sent into space. They quarrel. Factions emerge. They battle on social media. Leaders are chosen and then toppled. They fight cosmic debris. The book’s well drawn, believable, characters must fight the Universe and each other to survive.
This book is a fun read. The world is immersive and believable. It is a world of social media. It is a world of bloggers. It is a world of tribes and factions. It is a world of conspiracies. It is a world in which people form tribes around strong leaders or strong ideas, creating vicious online battles pitting one tribe against the other in increasingly vicious social media wars. But, it is, also, a world of exposition. Stephenson spends a lot of time, and pages, explaining the science behind every part of the space station, the universe and the fate of earth. Despite, or perhaps because, of this, Seveneves is an immersive, enjoyable, read.