When first viewing the artwork of Shintaro Ohata up close it appears the scenes are made from simple oil paints, but take a step back and you’re in for a surprise. Each piece is actually a hybrid of painted canvas and sculpture that blend almost flawlessly in color and texture to create a single image.
Earlier this week I finished reading Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson. This was a really interesting book. Set in an unnamed city in the Persian Gulf, the book follows Alif, a young half-Arab, half-Indian computer hacker. Alif is having girl troubles, but soon he has a lot more trouble to contend with when a computer program he has written leads to him having to run from the state secret service. He has to rely on a gangster djinn for help, and he also finds himself in possession of an ancient magical book which could lead to a revolution in computing. I really liked the way the book blended religion and myth with technology, storytelling with quantum computing, with interesting results. It was a compelling story, with a great main character in Alif, and an unusual and rewarding setting. Overall I liked it a lot.
Another book that I’ve recently read is Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. This means that I have now read all of his novels. It’s been an odd collection of books, some I enjoyed a lot more than others. In particular I really disliked Cloud Atlas, the first of his books that I read, but despite that I went on to read the rest of his books, and now I really want to reread that novel to see how my opinions have changed in light of having now read his other works.
This book is in some ways the most straightforward of Mitchell’s novels. It’s a semi-autobiographical story of a young teenager called Jason, growing up in rural England in the 1980s. The book covers a year in his life, each chapter a different month, as he deals with the breakdown of his parents’ marriage, his problems with bullies at school, his attempts to overcome his stammer, and his own literary pursuits as a secret poet.
I liked the book a lot. I think that one main reason for this is that, unlike Mitchell’s other novels, this one just has the one central character, and so it is possible to connect more deeply with him than in other books where the narrative jumps from character to character and story to story. Jason is a wonderful character, and serves as a brilliant narrator for his story. It’s an excellent example of a coming-of-age story, dated in some ways to its 1980s English setting, but timeless in other ways as it explores themes such as bullying and self-identity. Overall I really enjoyed it.
I was really disappointed by The Explorer by James Smythe. It’s a sort of science fiction time travel thriller about a space mission gone wrong. The main character is a journalist on a shuttle mission, the goal of which is to go further than any other ship has gone before. One by one the crew are killed off leaving him alone. At the point where he is on the verge of dying himself, things get a bit strange as he finds himself caught in some sort of paradox or singularity, reliving the mission over again. It’s an interesting premise, but I don’t think it worked hugely well, and the book just seemed to be bogged down in the psychological ramblings of the wholly unlikeable main character. It’s disappointing because I felt it could have been a better book, but as it is, I just couldn’t really enjoy it. I think it suffers in comparison to The Martian, which I read immediately before it, which is unfortunate but I couldn’t help but compare the two. Overall it was a decent enough psychological SF story, but it didn’t quite live up to its potential for me.
I’ve just finished reading The Martian by Andy Weir. This was for my book group, and it was actually one I suggested to the group, as I had heard a lot of good things about it.
I was also pleasantly surprised when I started reading the book that it is a signed limited edition, which I wasn’t expecting as I just randomly picked up a copy in Waterstones. So that was an added bonus!
The book is about an astronaut who is stranded on Mars, presumed dead, with no way to communicate with Earth, who must improvise and find a way to survive. Most of the book is made up of his log entries, but there is also some action set back on Earth too.
I really liked the book, I thought it was excellent. In fact, I got through it all in a single evening, I really could not put it down. It’s just a very exciting story, a real science fiction thriller. The main character who is the narrator of most of the book is a very fun character, and his log entries are a great way of telling the story. I also thought the book did a great job of balancing the interesting factual science bits with the characterisation and the suspenseful plot. Overall I’d highly recommend it.
I got a new bookcase for my flat. This is great as it gives me more space for books. On the downside, at the moment it is looking rather empty. However, knowing the rate at which I buy books, I don’t imagine it will take long to fill up. In fact I’m going to Waterstones to spend my birthday money tomorrow!
Books Read in February 2014
- Consider Phlebas - Iain M. Banks
- Best Served Cold - Joe Abercrombie
- The Left Hand of God - Paul Hoffman
- Wonder - RJ Palacio
- She Is Not Invisible - Marcus Segwick
- A Tale for the Time Being - Ruth Ozeki
- The Magician’s Guild - Trudi Canavan
- The Novice - Trudi Canavan
- The High Lord - Trudi Canavan
- The Player of Games - Iain M. Banks
Here’s my monthly reading summary for February. Another good month, I got through ten books, and most of them were good ones. The highlights for me were the wonderful A Tale of the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, The Black Magician trilogy by Trudi Canavan, and rereading The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks.
I haven’t quite planned out my reading for March yet, but I know I have several new books that I am really looking forward to reading, so I am hoping for another good month.
I recently finished reading The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks, part of my continuing project to reread a selection of his novels. This is my favourite of Banks’ Culture novels. It’s one that I’ve written about before, so I’m going to repeat a few bits from my previous review.
Firstly some background on the Culture books. Many of Banks’ SF novels are part of his Culture series. These books are not linked by plot but rather by setting. The eponymous Culture is a vast interstellar utopian society. The pan-human inhabitants live not on planets but on large artificial constructions called Orbitals. The human inhabitants (although the term human is not technically correct) have many physiological enhancements such as drug-secreting glands, and the ability to change sex at will. The Culture is also populated by AIs, from small drones to the Minds that control ships. It is a post-scarcity society, socialist and egalitarian. Of course the Culture is just one society and there are other species and empires that the Culture have to interact with, so the Culture has organisations called Contact and Special Circumstances to deal with that.
On to this book in particular. The plot revolves around Jernau Morat Gurgeh, who is famed in the Culture for his skill as a game player. The Culture has recently been dealing with an alien empire who base their society around a game called Azad. After he is blackmailed by a former-Special Circumstances drone, Gurgeh finds himself working for Special Circumstances, on a mission to represent the Culture by playing the game of Azad in the tournament used by the Empire to determine its social and political structure.
It’s really a brilliant novel. I love the setting, both the Culture but also the “alien” empire they are interacting with in this book. This book also really demonstrates how well Banks uses a range of characters, and here Gurgeh is an excellent character but the AI drones he interacts with are equally well developed. I really liked the plot too, although I admit that one of the reasons why I like this book so much is because one of my other hobbies is board games, so I appreciate that aspect of it. But this is a well written, tightly plotted story, with Banks’ usual brilliant tricks and twists. As with most of his best books, there is a great mix of characters and ideas and action and humour that is unfailingly worth reading.
This was the first of Banks’ novels that I read, and I definitely think it’s the best starting place. It’s a better book than the first Culture novel Consider Phlebus (which I reviewed earlier). Because it is a series only in terms of setting rather than plot, in one sense it does not particularly matter which order you read the books, however early ones do a great job of introducing the Culture, while some of the later books seem to take a lot of the knowledge of the Culture for granted. So this is definitely the one I would most recommend to new readers. It’s one of my favourites of Banks’ books, and indeed one of my favourite books in general.