If you follow me here on Tumblr then it may not have escaped your notice that recently I have been posting less frequently than I have done in the past. I’m going through a spell where things are busy and stressful at work, and in my free time I am mostly just reading and trying to relax. So my time for Tumblr has decreased a bit lately, but I am still here and I still plan to post new things, especially keeping up my book reviews.
However I have recently unfollowed a lot of people, to streamline my dashboard. No offence is intended if you’ve noticed that I’ve unfollowed you, it’s not personal, I just need fewer posts appearing on my dashboard, and I chose to unfollow people who post a lot, or who post things that stress me out.
Despite that, I am also looking to start following more blogs which post book reviews, as that is mainly what I’m interested in at the moment, so please feel free to make recommendations if you know any good book review blogs.
I’ve just finished rereading Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks, one of my favourite of his Culture novels and the latest title in my project to reread Banks’ books.
It’s a really tricky book to write a synopsis for, so I am just going to quote from the Wikipedia page:
The narrative takes the form of a fractured biography of a man called Cheradenine Zakalwe, who was born outside of the Culture but was recruited into it by Special Circumstances agent Diziet Sma to work as an operative intervening in less advanced civilizations. The novel recounts several of these interventions and Zakalwe’s attempts to come to terms with his own past.
The book is made up of two narrative streams, interwoven in alternating chapters. The numbers of the chapters indicate which stream they belong to: one stream is numbered forward in words (One, Two …), while the other is numbered in reverse with Roman numerals (XIII, XII …). The story told by the former moves forward chronologically (as the numbers suggest) and tells a self-contained story, while in the latter is written in reverse chronology with each chapter successively earlier in Zakalwe’s life. Further complicating this structure is a prologue and epilogue set shortly after the events of the main narrative, and many flashbacks within the chapters.
The forward-moving stream of the novel deals with the attempts of Diziet Sma and a drone named Skaffen-Amtiskaw to re-enlist Zakalwe for another job, the task itself and the payment that Zakalwe wishes for it. The backward-moving stream describes earlier jobs that Zakalwe has performed for the Culture, ultimately returning to his pre-Culture career as a general on his homeworld. It transpires that the payment he requires from Sma relates to an incident from his earlier life.
You see what I mean when I said it was complicated? But the reason I love it is because it’s also brilliant. I love its complexity, both the narrative structure and the characters within. I love its unreliable narrator and plot twists and deceptions. I love that it’s another take on the Culture, distinct from the previous two books, adding more to such an incredibly rich setting. I love the wit and the writing, and how there is humour mixed with the grimmest of acts. Basically it’s Banks at his best.
Books Read in March 2014
- The Martian - Andy Weir
- The Explorer - James Smythe
- Black Swan Green - David Mitchell
- Alif the Unseen - G. Willow Wilson
- Northern Lights - Philip Pullman
- The Subtle Knife - Philip Pullman
- The Amber Spyglass - Philip Pullman
- Hyperion - Dan Simmons
- The Fall of Hyperion - Dan Simmons
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie
- The Giver - Lois Lowry
- Adam Robots - Adam Roberts
My monthly book summary for March - a pretty mixed month really, but I got through twelve books. Highlights include The Martian by Andy Weir, Hyperion by Dan Simmons, and the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. I have a lot of books lined up for next month, starting with some SF titles for my book group, then moving on to some big fantasy novels that I’ve been looking forward to. I’m hoping it will be a good month.
For my SF and fantasy book group this fortnight we read Adam Robots, a short story collection from author Adam Roberts. We don’t usually read short stories, but we picked this one because we’d all read and enjoyed two previous novels by Roberts, Jack Glass and Yellow Blue Tibia. I admit we were also influenced by the amusing title and brilliant cover art! In his introduction to the book, the author explains that his aim was to write stories which cover the various sub-genres of science fiction, and so there is a robot story, a time travel story, a military SF story, a genetics story, a first contact story and so on. Part parody, part homage, part exploration of genre, part just plain excellent story telling, the book covers a great deal of ground for SF fans. As with all short story collections, some stories are bigger hits than others - it will be interesting to discuss this with my book group and see if we agree on which stories are the better ones, somehow I suspect we won’t! But overall it was a really enjoyable collection and really showed off Roberts’ versatility as a writer, although that was already clear from his earlier novels. I am looking forward to reading more of his books in the future.
I read these two YA novels as a bit of a palate cleanser between a couple of big, heavy SF novels. That being said, they weren’t too much of a palate cleanser as they are both quite grim in their own ways.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie is the story of a Indian teenager living on a reservation, who leaves to attend high school in the nearby all-white town. He has to deal with bullying and racism, grief and loss, and figuring out his identity between his two worlds. It’s a great coming of age story, full of humour and hope alongside the darker subjects it covers.
The Giver by Lois Lowry at first glance seems to be the story of a boy, on the verge of adulthood, living in a future utopian society. However slowly the truth is revealed and the harsh realities of his world become apparent to the reader and the main character. It’s a great dystopian YA novel, from back before the genre was so popular. I really liked the story, at first it seemed a bit short but actually it’s nice to read a self-contained story rather than a sprawling trilogy at times.
Both books I picked up because I’d heard great things about them here on Tumblr, from various book blogs I follow. They seem to be modern classics of the YA genre and I can understand why. I’ve said before that I’m obviously not the target demographic for these sorts of books, but I still enjoy reading YA fiction on occasion and I think these two are both great examples of why it is worthwhile for adults to read YA fiction and discover some great books.
After 12 months of unemployment, 175 jobs applied for, and 23 job interviews, I have finally got a job. I start tomorrow and I am currently a frantic mix of excited and terrified. Yay?!
That was me almost a year ago. Now I’m starting the process again. I’d almost forgotten how absolutely horrible it is to look for a job. Ah well, one application down, who knows how many to go…
I really should stop obsessively playing the 2048 game. I am sure there are other things I should be doing. I vowed I’d stop when I finally won a game, but now I’ve won it several times and I’m still hooked.
Just realized I was literally sitting at my computer looking at Tumblr on my phone.
Following on from Hyperion, I read its sequel The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons. It’s a continuation of the story of the first book. It’s not quite as good as Hyperion, which is just absolutely brilliant, but I still enjoyed this book and the conclusion to the story.
Hyperion by Dan Simmons is one of my favourite science fiction novels. I first read it a couple of years ago and I wanted to reread it now, along with reading the sequel for the first time. I’m still working my way through the sequel, but I thought I would post my thoughts on this novel. Here is an extract from my original review:
The book is set in the future after Old Earth has been destroyed and the human race, in the form of the Hegemony, live on many different colonised worlds. The worlds form part of the Web, run by AIs and connected by farcaster technology that allows instant transport between worlds. Outside the Web are a few backwater planets, and transport there requires relativistic space travel in cryogenic stasis, with an associated time debt.
The Hegemony are at war with the Ousters, who plan to invade one of these non-Web colonies, the planet Hyperion. Hyperion is an odd planet, home to a mysterious artefact known as the Time Tombs, and a legendary monster the Shrike. Against the backdrop of this approaching war, seven pilgrims are summoned by the Church of the Shrike, the Hyperion-obsessed Cult, to travel to the planet and journey to the Time Tombs.
The book follows the journey of those seven pilgrims, but the bulk of the novel is made up of the back stories of the characters, as each in turn has to tell their story of how they came to be on the pilgrimage, and in this way the background setting of the novel is gradually revealed to the reader. The stories all vary in tone and style, but all of them were some combination of compelling, interesting and moving, and all very good in their own way.
I really liked the book. It lived up to the hype and I can see why it is so highly regarded. I thought it was really well written and I particularly liked the structure of the book and the way that all of the character background stories came together to build up the setting and flesh out the story. The setting is also very well developed, some nice world building with a good mix of the social and the technological aspects. The whole thing is just full of interesting ideas.
On rereading the book, I was even more impressed with it. I just love this novel, it is incredibly brilliant and it has so much of what I like about science fiction novels, excellently done. I am enjoying the sequel so far, but already I can say that this novel has earned a place as one of my favourites.
Malteser tray bakeIngredients:
- 100g Butter
- 200g Milk Chocolate
- 3 tbsp Golden Syrup
- 250g Crushed Digestive Biscuits
- 225g Maltesers
- Extra 200g White Chocolate as toppingMethod:
- Melt the butter, chocolate and syrup
- Add the crushed biscuits and maltesers
- Mix together then pour into a greased baking tin and chill until set.
- Once set, melt the additional chocolate and pour over the top. Chill until set.
This is the best recipe for Malteser tray bake that I’ve found. I’ve made it a couple of times now and it is brilliant. I’m making it again for a bake sale we’re having at work on Friday. I’ve tweaked the ingredients a bit - I find I need a bit more chocolate for the topping than the original recipe suggests. But otherwise it is ace.
I’ve just been to see The Grand Budapest Hotel. I’ve written many times before about my love for Wes Anderson, he’s just one of my favourite directors and all of his films are wonderful. So I was very much looking forward to this one and unsurprisingly it did not disappoint. I’m not going to attempt to write a review of the films - I find writing about films much more difficult than writing about books, and if you’ve read my book reviews then you’ll be glad that I am foregoing a film review in this case. But I will just say that I really adored the film, it was everything I hoped for, everything I like about Wes Anderson films, and I am looking forward to seeing it again.