The Long Mars (The Long Earth, #3)

By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 3 stars

The Long Earth series is a bit of an oddity in the oeuvres of both Pratchett and Baxter, and I struggle to see aspects of either author, although what there is is very definitely Baxter over Pratchett. In this book, there’s another voyage into the distant parts of the Long Earth, Joshua Valienté goes in another quest at the behest of the strange AI known as Lobsang and Sally Lindsay finds herself on the Long Mars.

Like The Long War, the title is somewhat misleading. Although Mars does feature in one of the several parallel plot threads, it’s neither dominant nor the most interesting. In fact, one might say that it’s actually sort of pointless. They go to Mars, step along it, find the macguffin and come home. There were many possibilities for story along the way (not least the giant monolith that defies approach that they find on one) but they never really got a look in.

Back on Earth (or the Earths), there’s a new perceived threat from a number of superintelligent young people who call themselves the Next. I feel this was handled clumsily and that the idea of the military crapping themselves over a bunch of smart kids was hardly sensible (not that the kids helped themselves with their arrogance and unlikeability, but then they were teenagers, so maybe that’s not a huge stretch of the imagination).

The big thing though, as with the rest of this series, is that I’m not seeing anything connecting the different story strands. They’re all little vignettes of the Long Earth but there’s nothing coherent about the whole thing, nothing to grab me and make me want more. The characters who should have developed over the course of three books are still mostly ciphers.

The Yellowstone eruption of the previous book has changed (the Long) America in so many ways, and could result in so many interesting stories, but here it’s just sort of brushed under the carpet. It’s referenced every so often, but it doesn’t really feel like it’s made much of an impact on the Long Earth.

At this stage I’m ready to give up on the Long Earth series. It was chance that got me this book, and although it’s better than The Long War, it’s still not satisfying for fans of either author’s work. I’ll see what the reviews of the next one say before I think about whether or not to continue.

Book details

ISBN: 9780857521743
Publisher: Doubleday UK
Year of publication: 2014

The Chain of Chance

By Stanisław Lem

Rating: 3 stars

An ex-astronaut, some would say washed-up ex-astronaut, has turned detective in this novel, in which a number of men of a similar background and physique have all died in the same area. Our narrator (who I don’t think is ever fully named) is involved in the investigation to try and solve the mystery.

There is a sort of ‘feel’ to East European/Russian novels (SF or not) that I’ve read of this period and The Chain of Chance fits into it. The book feels very impersonal, especially in the early sections where this narrator is driving around Rome with electrodes attached to his chest, wearing a dead man’s clothes, for no obvious reason. The plot is mostly infodumped on us as the narrator goes to seek the assistance of a French computer scientist in the middle of the book and we get a bit more warmth being injected into the protagonist at this point. Once I got through the infodump, I started to care a little about him and feel that his world was more than just monochrome and emotionless and I was somewhat drawn into the mystery, but even the solution to that feels very Eastern bloc with the idea that everything is chance.

The scene in the airport with the girl was quite random and didn’t really fit with the rest of the book. It seemed like it was just there to inject a bit of action into an otherwise dry story. For me, it felt too jarring to do that properly, though.

So an odd book. It’s the third Lem novel that I’ve read, after Solaris and Tales of Pirx the Pilot and probably the one that I’ve enjoyed the most, but that cold, impersonal feeling is still there. I probably won’t read any more of his work, I think (although maybe I’ll give Pirx another go).

Book details

ISBN: 9780515051384
Publisher: Jove Books
Year of publication: 1976

Grandville Mon Amour (Grandville #2)

By Bryan Talbot

Rating: 4 stars

I read Grandville a few years ago and was immediately impressed by the vivid and quite stunning artwork, the sense of scale, the world-building of the alt-history, oh, and the random anthropomorphic animals. This sequel lives up to its predecessor in all those respects and more.

This time Detective Inspector Le Brock must chase down a dangerous fanatical criminal, who was once a hero of the British rebellion against their French masters. “Mad Dog” Mastock has escaped from the Tower just before his execution and Le Brock must pursue. The trail leads him, and his faithful sidekick Detective Sergeant Ratzi, back to Grandville: the great city of Paris, where high-class prostitutes are being murdered and a conspiracy that stretches back to the liberation of Britain.

The art continues to enthral me. Both the style and the vividness are a joy to behold. The anthropomorphised characters always keep you slightly off-balance, in a good way, and I quite like the fact that it’s never really commented on, except in an occasional good-natured insult (“Catch, Beaky” to a vulture, for example). The world itself is deepened as we see more of the history between Britain and France and the war of independence.

The book isn’t long, I finished it in just under an hour, but it is definitely worth savouring. I’ll definitely be rereading the series and I look forward to picking up the next volume in the series as well.

Book details

ISBN: 9780224090001
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Year of publication: 2006

The Unreal and the Real Volume 1: Where on Earth

By Ursula K. Le Guin

Rating: 3 stars

This is a difficult book for me to try and review, because le Guin’s writing is marvellous and I don’t want to put anyone off reading it, but I’m not really a fan of Literature-with-a-capital-L and that’s what most of these stories are. Mostly pure realism, often just slice of life and not really the plot-driven stories that I like.

So enjoy is probably the wrong word for me in describing these stories, but I very definitely did appreciate them. Le Guin is a master of her field and she can invoke a sense of place and of people with ease. I think her Orsinia stories are great for this, of which there are four in this collection, combining to tell a loose narrative about life in this fictional East European country. The last ‘story’ in the collection, Half Past Four is probably one of my favourites, even though it isn’t a single story. It’s actually eight vignettes featuring people with the same names and general life roles (older man with quite a lot of authority, older woman with less authority etc). In the introduction, le Guin explains how this came about as part of a writing workshop that she was leading. It’s interesting to see the different types of story that can be told with just four different character archetypes, but also how many themes emerge, linking the stories.

It’s not all realism, there are a few edged with magical realism or even SF, such as the rather grim The Diary of the Rose and the more whimsical Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight. I enjoyed Direction of the Road as well, but to say any more about it would spoil it.

So I’m glad that I’ve read this collection, just to get more of a feel of le Guin’s versatility and strength as a writer, but I think I’ll probably enjoy the second volume, which focuses more on her fantastical work, more.

Book details

ISBN: 9781473202832
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2012

Planesrunner: Everness Book 1

By Ian McDonald

Rating: 3 stars

Everett Singh is a young geek whose physicist father is kidnapped before his eyes. But his father has left him something: an app on his tablet that turns out to be a map to the multiverse, something which some people would literally kill to get. A combination of skill and luck gets Everett to one of the parallel Earths where he falls in with the crew of the airship Everness. He must win their trust to help him in finding his father and escaping his enemies.

This was a pacey written book with lots going on to keep the reader interested. Everett is a likeable enough young protagonist and there are stacks of geek and pop culture references interspersed that would probably endear the book to the YA audience that it’s aimed at.

I couldn’t help thinking at times, however, that Everett is a bit too competent and calm under everything that happens. Or maybe that’s just me projecting (I’d fall apart, I suspect).

A decent enough book but not one that made me immediately want to go and find the next in the trilogy.

Book details

ISBN: 9781780876672
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Year of publication: 2011

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