Don Quixote

By Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Rating: 2 stars

It’s not often that I can’t finish a book that I’ve started, but I gave up on this about two books into the first part (only about 70 pages in). The chapters are short and I thought I could read it in small doses, but every time I picked it up, I just put it back down again, feeling that I’d rather read something else. After several months of that, I’m officially giving up.

The problem is the style of the humour. It’s relentless poking fun at poor Don Quixote and mocking someone who, today, would be regarded as probably mentally ill and requiring care. That and the cringe comedy (which I really don’t like), not to mention the burning of books, has completely put me off.

I did get as far as the tilting at windmills. I don’t know why this has become such a part of modern culture, as it’s quite a minor episode in the book, but then culture does often pick up on quite random things, I suppose.

I’ll leave this on my shelf and maybe pick it up again in future, but it may end up being passed on, hopefully to a more appreciating reader.

Book details

ISBN: 9781853260360
Publisher: Wordsworth Editions Ltd
Year of publication: 1615

Mike at Wrykin

By P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: 2 stars

While I’m a huge fan of Wodehouse’s work, I didn’t hugely enjoy this. It’s one of his juveniles, in his ‘school’ series and I didn’t find much in the way of his trademark humour or his fine control of language. Normally the upper-class nature of Wodehouse protagonists doesn’t bother me, but this public school setting really rubbed me up the wrong way.

It’s loosely about the titular Mike Jackson, starting at Wrykyn public school and mostly playing cricket. Oddly, despite my dislike of sport in general, cricket is the one sport that I retain some fondness for, so the cricket in the book doesn’t bother me, but the public school smugness and disdain for civic authority stuck in the craw. And, most disappointingly, even the marvellous characterisation that we know Wodehouse for is missing, with all the characters here being quite bland and nothing memorable about it.

An interesting early oddity but not a patch on his later work.

Book details

Publisher: Armada Books
Year of publication: 1953

The City & The City


Rating: 4 stars

This intriguing book posits the two cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma. These cities aren’t just neighbours, they sit on top of and alongside each other. Some posit a ‘Cleavage’ in deep history, others a Conjoining, but the origin of the cities is lost in antiquity. What is remarkable about the cities is how they live together: citizens in both are trained from an early age to ‘unsee’ and ‘unhear’ everything in the other, from the buildings and architecture to the people sharing the streets to the cars on the road. And overseeing it all is Breach, which enforces the separation with an iron fist.

In Beszel, Inspector Tyador Borlú finds himself heading up the case of a murdered woman, which turns out to be more than he expected, and soon finds himself having to make the journey of a few steps physically, but enormous distance psychologically, to Ul Qoma and eventually gets on the trail of a mysterious third city, rumoured to share the space between the other two.

There’s a solid hard-boiled murder mystery at the core of this book, and Borlú is a good hard-boiled detective, trying to do what’s right while navigating the labyrinthine laws and mores of his society. The real stars of the book are Beszel and Ul Qoma. It’s fascinating seeing Miéville constructing this very believable twinned but very much separate society and the effort that both sets of citizens go to to maintain it. Every so often, Miéville throws in something that lets you know that this isn’t some fantasy world: the city and the city are somewhere on the edge of Europe, in a world where there’s Coke, Google, and so forth. It makes them feel even odder, but at the same time, there’s nothing that I couldn’t particularly believe might go on somewhere in the depths of Eastern Europe.

The language of the book is quite spare and easy to read, although I did find something about it that meant that I had to parse a sentence a few times before I got it. It’s not the writing or the grammar, but sometimes oddly placed commas or (lack of) paragraph breaks just made me pause and think a bit. It just goes to show how important that these structures are to our writing, no matter what some people might insist.

An enjoyable book that definitely keeps you on your toes while reading, and never ends up going where you think it will.

Book details

ISBN: 9780330534192
Publisher: Pan Books
Year of publication: 2009

TARDIS Eruditorum: An Unofficial Critical History of Doctor Who Volume 4-Tom Baker and the Hinchcliffe Years

By Philip Sandifer

Rating: 3 stars

This collection of academic essays about Doctor Who is not a book that I would have bought or read of my own accord, but it was a Christmas present last year, and now that I have read it, it was quite interesting.

Adapted from the blog of the same name, this is the fourth volume of the series, covering the first half of Tom Baker’s reign as the Doctor, under producer Philip Hinchcliffe, regarded by many as the show’s Golden Age. I haven’t read any of the other books, but I don’t feel that I really missed out on anything.

The book has an essay for each of the Baker stories that it covers, although it tends to use them as a jumping off point for discussing ‘around’ the series, Britain and popular culture of the era in general, a technique that the author refers to as ‘psychochronography’ and which is described in more detail on the blog prelude linked above. As well as these, there are other essays, generically headed under titles such as ‘Time Can Be Rewritten’ (essays using some of the novels as jumping off points, rather than the TV show); ‘Pop Between Realities, Home In Time for Tea’ (about other TV shows of the era and how they affected British culture); ‘You Were Expecting Someone Else?’ (dealing with spin-off material); and some other generic essays, some written specially for the book, rather than being adapted from the blog.

I’m not an academic and I often have trouble reading academic texts, so I was unsure about this. To be honest, reading this hasn’t changed that. Some of what he wrote does seem awfully pompous (especially the [awfully long] essay on The Deadly Assassin) and some left me scratching my head. But there’s also some solid critique of Doctor Who in there, and something that made me think again about stories I really like (particularly The Talons of Weng Chiang).

So, interesting enough, but I don’t think I’ll search other the other volumes of the series. I might go and read the blog though.

Book details

ISBN: 9781494254346
Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
Year of publication: 2013

Rivers of London (Peter Grant, #1)

By Ben Aaronovitch

Rating: 5 stars

A few people have raved about this book for a while, enough of them being people whose taste I trust for me pick it up, and I’m certainly glad that I did. Peter Grant is a constable in the Met just coming to the end of his probation and finds himself questioning a dead man who has witnessed a murder. This leads to him becoming apprenticed to a wizard while still having to solve the murder as well as sort out a territorial dispute between gods along the Thames.

The story is pacey and moves along quickly, introducing a fairly large cast of characters, albeit one that never grows unmanageable. The protagonist is likeable and of a scientific bent of mind, spending time trying to figure out how the magic of his world interacts with modern technology and the why of it, as well as the how.

The book also brings London itself to centre stage. I’m not a huge fan of the city itself, finding it large, unfriendly and sprawling, but the descriptions in the book are loving and finely crafted, bringing the city to life.

I already have the second volume in the series, but I’m going to try and resist the urge to read it immediately, to make the books last longer, and also so as to not get fed up of them by reading them too quickly. As it is, I think that this is a book that deserves a re-read, as it had me turning pages to find out what happened next before I fully digested what was in front of me.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575097582
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2011

Lauren Ipsum

By Carlos Bueno

Rating: 4 stars

This is a quite sweet fairy tale about a girl who gets lost and has to find her way home, going through the traditional quests and challenges. It also just happens to be a lovely little primer on some of the fundamental concepts and problems of computing science (without any mention of computers).

It’s short and I was able to read it in an afternoon. It was nice to see a lot of concepts that I’m familiar with as a CS graduate and software engineer by trade be introduced here so subtly that (hopefully!) any child reading it won’t realise that they’re learning. There are also lots of lovely puns for adults or those who have a CS background to admire/groan at (delete as appropriate).

This is going to go on my bookshelf until my niece is a few years older, at which point I’ll pass it on to her to try and begin her indoctrination to computing.

Oh, and a nice little touch for a C-style programmer such as myself is that the page numbering started from page 0 :-).

Book details

ISBN: 9781461178187
Publisher: Createspace
Year of publication: 2011

The Dark Side of the Sun

By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 3 stars

This early Pratchett is interesting and fun. It hints at themes and ideas that Pratchett would come back to in more detail later in his career, with free will versus predetermination being the big one. There are mentions of things like Hogwatchnight and Small Gods that are fleshed out further in the Discworld novels but mostly this is just a young Pratchett finding his feet and his authorial voice.

The story has the young Dom Salabos about to become chairman of the board of governors of his planet when an attempt is made on his life. One that probability maths says that he shouldn’t survive. It would be a short book if he didn’t, so he goes on a quest to find the homeworld of the Jokers, the ur-species that left behind vast and mysterious artefacts but which has vanished.

For an early book, it’s very good, and you can see flashes of the greatness that Pratchett would later achieve. The story is definitely entertaining and keeps the pages turning. Interesting for Discworld fans as an example of Pratchett’s early career but very much on its own merits for SF fans who like a good mystery.

Book details

ISBN: 9780552133265
Publisher: Corgi
Year of publication: 1976

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