Hearts, Hands And Voices

By Ian McDonald

Rating: 4 stars

The Land is the last province of a dying Empire. It has had advanced biotechnology for a thousand years, but this land that should be paradise is riven by the same old evils of religious and nationalist violence. This is the story of Mathembe Fileli and her family who are made refugees in the conflict and Mathembe’s trials and tribulations as she loses one after another of her relatives and has to rely only on herself to get through them all and find her family again.

Like his first novel, Desolation Road, this is a very lyrical book. McDonald knows the rules of English very well, and knows exactly when and how he can break them with impunity. This makes for an exhilarating read. Mathembe, who has chosen never to speak, is a fascinating character who is very easy to empathise with, and the descriptions of the Land and Empire are wonderful; McDonald did a very neat trick of starting with a very narrow focus to his story and then slowly widened it so that you see the narrowness of the protagonist’s world just as she does and your field of vision expands with hers. There’s tantalising glimpses of the fact that there’s an outside world beyond the Land and Empire and they are watching and judging, something that grounds the book in reality for me.

Finally, the religious/nationalist conflict of the book is one that was reasonably close to home for me, and, I imagine, the author, given that he’s lived most of his life in Northern Ireland.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575050617
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 1992

Journey to the Centre (Asgard, #1)

By Brian Stableford

Rating: 3 stars

The hollow world of Asgard is thousands of levels deep but only the first three or four have been explored. Mike Rousseau, a scavenger — someone who goes into the unexplored bits looking for ways further down and technology to sell on — finds himself caught up in a race to the lower levels.

This was a fun adventure story told from a first person perspective, something which always makes me hear it in an American private dick sort of voice. The protagonist spent lots of time ruminating on the Big Questions of the universe in the bits when he wasn’t fleeing for his life, or being shouted at and it had a surprisingly downbeat ending, which slightly surprised me. Nothing hugely memorable, but an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.

Book details

ISBN: 9780450506123
Publisher: New English Library
Year of publication: 1982

The Earthsea Trilogy

By Ursula K. Le Guin

Rating: 3 stars

A Wizard of Earthsea

The boy Sparrowhawk leaves his home of Gont and travels to the Island of the Wise to learn wizardry, but in his youth and arrogance he accidentally unleashes a great evil on the world which he must set right. I quite enjoyed this book, especially the use of magic of names, but felt that the language was somewhat forced. It felt sort of forced-Tolkien-ian and jarred a little bit for me.

The Tombs of Atuan

In this one, Sparrowhawk travels to the island of Atuan to try and retrieve the lost half of a great ring said to be able to bring peace to the whole of Earthsea. I liked this better than Wizard. The writing felt more assured and LeGuin seemed to have found her feet and was more assured. I also liked the character of the priestess Tenar and how her plight was handled.

The Farthest Shore

The final book of the Earthsea trilogy sees Sparrowhawk and the young prince Arren set out to find the cause of the malaise that is draining the will of the people and drawing magic out of the world. This one felt bleak from the start and it continued in that vein. It’s a great adventure story, spanning great chunks of the world of Earthsea and the final confrontation is appropriately apocalyptic and bittersweet.

In all, I’m glad I’ve read these books now and wish I had read them when I was younger and they may have made more of an impression on me. I think that the middle book was my favourite, having a less irritating Sparrowhawk than the first and less bleakness than the third, it was the Goldilocks book :).

Book details

ISBN: 9780140050936
Publisher: Penguin Books Limited
Year of publication: 1972

Doctor Who: The Time Monster

By Terrance Dicks

Rating: 2 stars

A Doctor Who novelisation of the Pertwee story. A nice easy read in Dicks’ normal fairly literal style. I used to read tonnes of these when I was young, and couldn’t get my Doctor Who fix in any other way. Our local library had a good selection, but I don’t remember this one.

Book details

ISBN: 9780426202219
Publisher: Target Books
Year of publication: 1985

The Counterfeit Man and Other Science Fiction Stories

By Alan E. Nourse

Rating: 3 stars

An enjoyable enough collection of stories for whiling away an hour or two, but there were no particularly memorable stories there.

Book details

ISBN: 9780999129036
Publisher: Scholastic Book Services
Year of publication: 1963

The Twits

By Roald Dahl

Rating: 5 stars

The horrible story of Mr and Mrs Twit and how they get what’s coming to them. A great fun story, complemented, as always, by Quentin Blake’s excellent drawings. I really enjoy Dahl’s wicked sense of humour and look forward to the villains getting their appropriate sticky end

Book details

ISBN: 9780140314069
Publisher: Puffin
Year of publication: 1980

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

By Mark Haddon

Rating: 4 stars

This is a book that I wouldn’t have picked up myself, but it was a present and I’m glad that I did get it, since I found myself really enjoying it. It presents the story of a murdered dog as told by a child with Asperger’s Syndrome and the point of view is terrifyingly good. I find myself sympathising both with Christopher himself and both his parents as they try to deal with life with their son. The difficulties of such a child are painted plainly and honestly and make me think about how I would cope in interacting with such. An excellently thought-provoking book.

Book details

ISBN: 9780224063784
Publisher: Random House
Year of publication: 2003

Cloud Atlas

By David Mitchell

Rating: 3 stars

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what to make of this book. It consisted of six short-ish stories, five of which were split up, so the book works a bit like a a stack, using a computing metaphor (so the first section and the last were the two halves of the same story). Supposedly, the stories are connected, but I’m not convinced, except in very tenuous ways (although you could argue that the same person is showing up again and again, in different incarnations).

As others who have read this book have commented, the SF sections towards the end are very interesting and leave me wanting to know more about those societies, but the device that Mitchell used for the novel didn’t really work in my case. It was a fairly enjoyable journey but the destination wasn’t really worth it (unlike Cryptonomicon, another book with no real destination but a stunning journey).

Book details

ISBN: 9780340822777
Publisher: Sceptre
Year of publication: 2004

Ender’s Game (Ender’s Saga, #1)

By Orson Scott Card

Rating: 4 stars

Humanity is gearing up for the final war against the insectoid invaders. They need a genius to command them, so they search the world’s kindergarten schools for someone they can mould to be the one they need.

This wasn’t a hugely complex book but it was an enjoyable one. Card’s world-building was good (although somewhat dated, since one of the power-blocks was the Soviet empire) and his protagonist may have been young, but he was sympathetic.

Book details

ISBN: 9781857237207
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 1985

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