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.
I’ve just finished reading The Black Magician trilogy by Trudi Canavan, consisting of The Magician’s Guild, The Novice and The High Lord.
I had actually read these books before, ages ago, I am pretty sure they were library books. At the time I didn’t read much fantasy, and I remember that I more or less enjoyed the books but they weren’t really my cup of tea at the time. Recently I’ve been reading a lot more fantasy, and I happened to spot this series in a charity shop at a bargain price. So I decided to get the books, reread them, and see what I thought of them now.
The books follow a lower class slum girl named Sonea. By accident she discovers that she has natural magical abilities, even though magic is usually restricted to the wealthy upper classes. In the first book she tries to escape capture by the Magicians’ Guild and gain control of her powers. The second book shows her struggle to fit in to the Guild and learn magic. In the final book she is drawn in to a secret conspiracy and must learn a forbidden type of magic to help save her home and the Guild from attack. Other characters featured in the book include her slum friend Cery, her magician mentor Rothen, another magician called Dannyl, and the powerful High Lord Akkarin, who has dark secrets to keep.
Well this time around I absolutely loved the books, I thought they were brilliant. The story was great, and very well paced across the three books and the various plot lines involving different characters. The characters were excellent, Sonea is a great main character, but the book is also full of wonderful supporting characters like Cery, Rothen and Dannyl. The setting of the books and the world building is fantastic, both in terms of the world the books are set in, but also the magic system within the books.
I think the difference is that before I didn’t particularly read a lot of fantasy, but now that I do, I know that these are exactly the sort of fantasy books that I do like. I really enjoyed the series, it was a great read, and I would definitely recommend these books.
Earlier in the year I posted this reading survey/book quiz. It was fun so I thought I’d have a go at another one. I’ve taken the questions from a quiz/survey that I’ve seen posted in a few places, but I’ve cut out the questions I wasn’t interested in answering. It’s quite long so I’ve split it into three parts. This is part three; here are the links to part one and part two.
What books are you most likely to bring on vacation?
I don’t really go on vacations, but if I did then I expect I would take my Kindle loaded up with a variety of books.
What is the longest you’ve gone without reading?
Usually I am a serial reader, so as soon as I finish one book I am straight into the next. I usually read every day, even for just a short period. There are times when my concentration is not so good, so I may take a break from one book and switch to another, but I am always reading something.
What would cause you to stop reading a book halfway through?
I’ve written a bit about this before. Basically I generally try to finish a book, and usually even if it’s pretty bad or I’m not enjoying it, there is still part of me that wants to find out what happens so I keep reading. But if I reach the point where I just no longer care about the characters or the plot then I will just stop. I’m gradually coming around to the idea that I’m not obligated to finish a book that I’ve started!
What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
I find that any background noise at all can be distracting. So when I’m in public, for example on a bus or train, or in a coffee shop, then I’ll listen to music through my headphones when reading to block out other noises. But at home I tend to read in silence.
Do you like to keep your books organized?
Of course! I go for the traditional alphabetical order. Maybe a bit boring compared to some of the fancy colour coordinated bookshelves you see, but I find it works best.
Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once they’ve been read?
I usually keep them all until I start running out of shelf space, then I sort through them and any that I didn’t particularly enjoy are passed on to charity shops. But I generally try to keep all of the books that I have liked.
Are there any books that you’ve been avoiding? / What is the most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones (and the A Song of Ice and Fire series in general). I know so many people who rave about the series (both people who read it before the television series started, as well as more recent converts). As I’ve got more into the fantasy genre, I’ve increasingly felt guilty that I haven’t read this series. I do intend to read it in the future, and hopefully it will live up to the hype, but I’ve decided that I’m going to wait until the series is complete before I start reading it.
Name a book you didn’t expect to like but did?
It’s not so much that I didn’t expect to like it, but I was very wary of all the hype around The Book Thief and so I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be as good as people said it was.
What is your favourite guilt-free guilty pleasure reading?
I do occasionally read YA novels even though I am out of that age demographic, but some of them are very good books and so I don’t really feel too guilty about that. I also enjoy a good Agatha Christie novel now and then. I can always rely on PG Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster novels to cheer me up.
Earlier in the year I posted this reading survey/book quiz. It was fun so I thought I’d have a go at another one. I’ve taken the questions from a quiz/survey that I’ve seen posted in a few places, but I’ve cut out the questions I wasn’t interested in answering. It’s quite long so I’ve split it into three parts. This is part two; here are the links to part one and part three.
What makes you love a book?
I especially like well-written, clever books with wonderful characters, books that are thought-provoking but also entertaining and captivating.
What is your favourite genre?
I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy. It used to be mostly science fiction, but over the last year fantasy has slowly taken over as my current genre preference.
What genre do you rarely read (but wish you did)?
I occasionally think I should read more literary fiction, but then I start reading some and remember why I don’t often go there. I would perhaps like to explore the crime or mystery genre a bit more, but I’m rather picky about the books I’ve read in that genre so far. But in general I am willing to try things outside my comfort zone every now and then.
What is your reading comfort zone?
As with the genre question, it’s largely science fiction and fantasy. Within that, I do like trying new authors and new subgenres.
How often do you read outside of your comfort zone?
I try to do this every now and then. Sometimes it just serves as I reminder of why I usually stick to my comfort zone! But then sometimes I come across something new that I really like.
What is your favourite biography?
Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman! by Richard Feynman is a phenomenal book.
Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience? / Name a book you expected to like but didn’t?
I’ll combine these two questions. I heard so many good things about Wool by Hugh Howey, so I was really looking forward to reading it, and I ended up disappointed as I thought it was a rather mediocre book.
How often do you agree with the critics about a book?
I don’t read a lot of reviews written by “proper” critics, but I like reading informal reviews on blogs and book websites. Sometimes I agree with the consensus and other times I do not, but there doesn’t seem to be any pattern to it.
How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
My reviews are my honest opinions and reflections on the book, so if I didn’t like it then I will say so, and try to explain why, whether it was because I thought the book was actually bad, or just because it was not to my taste.
What is the most intimidating book you’ve read?
That would probably have to be Infinite Jest.
Earlier in the year I posted this reading survey/book quiz. It was fun so I thought I’d have a go at another one. I’ve taken the questions from a quiz/survey that I’ve seen posted in a few places, but I’ve cut out the questions I wasn’t interested in answering. It’s quite long so I’ve split it into three parts. This is part one; here are the links to part two and part three.
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading The High Lord, the final instalment in Trudi Canavan’s Black Magician trilogy. I have really enjoyed the whole series so far. Next up I’m going to reread one of my favourites, The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks and after that I will be reading The Martian by Andy Weir, for my SF book group.
What is your favourite childhood book?
I read a lot of Star Trek novelizations as a child. They were my gateway drug to proper science fiction novels.
What is your bad book habit?
I have a tendency to buy books only to have them sit on the shelf unread for ages while I continue to buy new books. It means there are always a lot of books to choose from when I’m deciding what to read next, but I do feel bad about not getting around to reading some of the books for a long time.
Do you have an e-reader?
I’ve had a Kindle for a couple of years now. I like it a lot, but I still mostly buy and read paper books. But when I do read books on the Kindle I find it to be a positive experience.
Do you prefer to read one book at a time or several at once?
I usually read one at a time, but sometimes when I am having trouble concentrating I will have a couple on the go at once. Usually when I’m reading a non-fiction book I will have a fiction one that I’m reading too.
Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
Yes. I think a bit more about what I am reading so that I can write my little reviews. I also read things which I see recommended or discussed by other readers who review books on their blogs.
Can you read on the bus?
Yes. I used to find it made me sick, but when I started working with a rather long bus commute I quickly got into the habit. Now I read quite a lot of the bus, I wouldn’t be able to get through the daily commute without a book!
What is your favourite place to read?
I love to lie in bed and read. I always read for an hour or so in bed before I go to sleep.
What is your favourite film adaptation of a novel?
The Princess Bride is a wonderful film adaptation. The book is good but the film is utterly fantastic.
What is your most disappointing film adaptation?
The Harry Potter films were somewhat of a let down after reading the books.