Speaker for the Dead (Ender’s Saga, #2)

By Orson Scott Card

Rating: 4 stars

Three thousand years have passed since Ender Wiggins committed unwitting xenocide in Ender’s Game, but thanks to relativistic interstellar travel, both he and his sister Valentine remain young, as they search for somewhere to release the last of the alien ‘bugger’ hive queen. On the colony world of Lusitania another alien species has been found, this time in a primitive state. To prevent another xenocide, the Hundred Worlds Starways Congress enacts a law much like the Prime Directive forbidding interference in the culture of the new species, colloquially known as ‘piggies’. However, despite this, the colony’s xenobiologist still dies, vivisected by the piggies. Ender, now a Speaker for the Dead, is called to speak his death. Twenty years pass before he is able to arrive (only a few weeks for him) and he finds a colony full of pain and secrets. It’s up to him and the hidden AI sentience known as Jane to try and prevent another xenocide.

Although it’s been a very long time since I’ve read Ender’s Game, this feels like a very different book. It’s a talky book, with a very interesting alien ecosystem at its heart. I was frustrated at by the lack of information about that for most of the length of the novel, as just asking some basic questions would have resolved matters. Regarding that, Ender’s explanation of the motives behind the ‘prime directive’ law makes an awful lot of sense and I can understand it in that context.

I found this a very humanistic and compassionate book. As Ender digs into the life of the man he’s come to Speak, he finds many secrets and buried pain, but he excises it like a surgeon, skilfully and without malice. I appreciate that writer and book are different things, but I can’t really match the writer of Speaker for the Dead with Card’s politics and other views. I prefer the Card who wrote this book.

Although there are unresolved plot threads left hanging at the end of this book, there is closure, so I don’t feel the need to read the sequel. This is perfectly readable as a standalone book (although I’d still read Ender’s Game first to understand the character of Ender better).

Book details

ISBN: 9781857238570
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 1986

The King of Rabbits and Moon Lake: And Other Tales of Magic and Mischief

By Eugie Foster

Rating: 4 stars

I really enjoyed this collection of mostly Eastern-themed short stories. This collection is more whimsical than Foster’s other collections and is probably the only one that I might considering buying for my young niece.

My favourite stories are probably The Girl Who Drew Cats, the opening story of the collection about, um, a girl who drew cats; The Princess and the Golden Fish a romantic story of a princess who wants to choose who she marries; and The Dragon Breath’s Seed a traditional quest story. The quality of all the stories is high and I enjoyed the tone of the whole book.

Book details

ISBN: 9781494203931
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Year of publication: 2013

Pride and Prejudice

By Jane Austen

Rating: 5 stars

I first encountered Pride and Prejudice back in the mid-90s when the BBC produced a mini-series dramatisation that I really enjoyed. I immediately looked up the big fat volume of Austen sitting in my parents’ bookcase, devoured P&P (closely followed by the other novels) and fell in love with Eliza Bennet. Austen herself described Elizabeth Bennet: “as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print”. I certainly can’t argue with that. I loved this book then, and I loved it again now, after my umpteenth reread of it since then.

Back then it was the sheer feistiness of Elizabeth and the overcoming of all the odds to beat pride and, indeed, prejudice and find love that moved me. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the marvellous writing but also the social mores of the day and if not sympathise with Lady Catherine’s view of the match between Eliza and Darcy, then at least understand it. In other contexts, such arguments as she makes to Elizabeth towards the end of the book are still made today.

Not only the protagonist, but all the cast of the book are lovingly drawn and so memorable. From the sublime – Jane and Bingley – to the ridiculous – Mrs Bennet and Mr Collins, every character springs to life in front of us.

Goodbye for now Lizzy, I’ll see you in a year or two.

Book details

ISBN: 9780140434262
Publisher: Penguin
Year of publication: 1813

The Callahan Touch (Mary’s Place #1, Callahan’s #6)

By Spider Robinson

Rating: 3 stars

So Mike Callahan is gone, back to his own time and place, and Callahan’s Place was blown up in a nuclear explosion. Is that going to stop the regulars? Of course not. Several years later, Jake Stonebender, our narrator through the series, opens his own bar, Mary’s Place, and the old Callahan’s regulars flock back. Hilarity (or at least puns), as they say, ensue.

This was an enjoyable book to read, but, for me, it misses the magic of the original trilogy. The core theme there was to help those who came in, on the principle that pain shared is reduced, while joy shared is increased. Here, we only get one new person to help in that way: Jonathan Crawford, who is overwhelmed with guilt. Although we have some new characters introduced here, Duck and Naggeneen amongst others, they’re not hurting and in need of solace. We don’t get to see the gang doing what they do best, which means that, I fear, we don’t get to see Robinson at his best either.

This is still an entertaining book, although one for established fans and definitely not a jumping on point for new readers, but it’s to the earlier books what Mary’s Place is to Callahan’s: a good try, but missing a vital ingredient.

Book details

ISBN: 9780441001330
Publisher: Ace
Year of publication: 1993

Doctor Who: Four Doctors

By Paul Cornell

Rating: 3 stars

This is an appropriately timey-wimey multi-Doctor story by the writer of Father’s Day and the novel British Summertime. Clara finds a picture that should be impossible, and sets out to make sure that it doesn’t happen. As you’d expect, the rest of it doesn’t go to plan. It’s a fun story primarily involving the the 10th, 11th and 12th Doctors, although others do make cameos. Clara is travelling with the 12th Doctor, but the companions of the 10th and 11th Doctors are ones that we haven’t seen on TV (Gabby and Alice respectively). I don’t know if they’re been around in the comics for a while, but having just encountered them in this one graphic novel, I can definitely say that they feel like the kind of people that the Doctor would hang out with, so that’s a definite bonus.

The Doctors themselves are mostly written to their own characters although occasionally the 10th and 11th feel a little interchangeable (not something that can be said for Spiky Twelve). I found the art a little inconsistent: at times I wouldn’t have recognised someone if it weren’t for what they were wearing (dunno if it was just me, but the 10th Doctor seemed to suffer from that the most; I don’t know if David Tennant just has a difficult likeness to capture).

I also liked the little mini-comics at the end of each issue (especially the one with the Doctors doing various sketches from British comedy, but then I’m a bit of a fan of Neil Slorance).

So, a fun story, although I did have to read it twice to grok it, what with the time travel, alternate timelines (I particularly liked the Time Lord Victorious) and paradoxes, but it’s definitely satisfying.

Book details

ISBN: 9781785851063
Publisher: Titan Comics
Year of publication: 2015

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

By Karen Joy Fowler

Rating: 4 stars

We meet our (first person) protagonist Rosemary at multiple points in her life in this novel, but the primary ‘now’ point is when she’s at college, in the mid ’90s, remembering things about her past, in particular the brother and sister who vanished from her life at different points during her childhood.

Rosemary starts her story in the middle, and then jumps around in time in a way that should be disconcerting, but I found worked remarkably well. Possibly because she always flags where and when she is, and even flags up when she hasn’t been altogether honest in past chapters. This is, to my mind, the best kind of unreliable narrator!

I’m finding this a difficult book to write about – it’s so unlike my normal reading material. It was recommended by a friend, and I’m glad that she did as I enjoyed it, but it’s still difficult to talk about, particularly so because to do so meaningfully requires spoiling a twist. Let’s just say that it’s a book about memory, and how it can deceive you; about family, relationships and what they mean and the different ways that they can hurt you; about truth and lies, especially lies to yourself, lies you repeat so often that you don’t know what the truth is any more and how memory can turn into lies, or, at best, “reported” memories, where you only remember the account of something, not the memory itself.

That’s an altogether unhelpful description of the book, but it’s warm, funny, sad and heartbreaking in places. It left me with a sense somewhere between melancholy and hope for the future. Definitely a book worth reading.

Book details

ISBN: 9781846689666
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
Year of publication: 2013

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

By Truman Capote

Rating: 3 stars

Like many modern readers, I imagine, I came to this book through the rather wonderful Audrey Hepburn film of the same name. The story that formed the basis for the film is short (I’d call it a novella) and this volume also contains three of Capote’s short stories as well. Starting with the title story, the basic plot is similar to the film, although the narrator is unnamed here, and any love is one-sided. The character of Holly Golightly is fairly similar, although from memory (it’s been a while since I’ve seen it), in the film, the character is possibly softened a bit, and the ending of the book is different, but totally in keeping with the character as she’s presented here. The story left me with a mild feeling of melancholy and a sort of pity for Holly, who keeps chasing happiness but seems destined to never find it.

Of the other three stories, they all continue with the melancholic theme to varying extents. The first of them is possibly the one that leaves the protagonist the happiest, although that is very definitely just one interpretation of the story. The second sees an older man in a prison, who finds unwanted hope in new inmate. Lots of stuff about age, wisdom, suppressed sexuality and more in this one. The final story is the most openly melancholic, in that it’s very definitely a happy memory, but bitterweeet as well. The end of that period of happiness.

This is my first attempt at reading Capote and although I enjoyed the title story and appreciated the others, I don’t know if I’ll explicitly search out any more of his work. There seems to be a sort of, if not exactly bitterness, then resignation at the state of human affairs, and I tend to prefer more optimistic work.

Book details

Publisher: Penguin Books, UK
Year of publication: 1958

From the Editorial Page of the Falchester Weekly Review (The Memoirs of Lady Trent #3.5)

By Marie Brennan

Rating: 4 stars

This is a nice little short story set in Brennan’s Lady Trent universe. It’s set sometime after The Voyage of the Basilisk and takes the form of a number of letters for publication by Isabella Camherst and others, where she takes shoddy research (and researchers) to task.

This is a fun little story with a delicious payoff that might help entertain you while waiting for the next book. Although it makes mention of events in other books, they’re minimal and you can still get a lot out of the story even without having read the novels. It also gives the virgin reader a short and clear taste of Isabella’s character which I hope will entice them to the series as a whole.

Book details

Publisher: Tor Books
Year of publication: 2016

In the Labyrinth of Drakes (The Memoirs of Lady Trent #4)

By Marie Brennan

Rating: 4 stars

The penultimate volume of Lady Trent’s memoirs sees Isabella (now Dame Isabella) and Tom in the (grudging) employ of the military to try and breed dragons to create a sustainable supply of dragon bone to build airships with, following the events of the last book. As usual, politics interferes with Isabella’s perfectly natural desire to just get on and do Science. But this time, the danger is more personal than before but the potential rewards are so much greater.

I loved this book as much as the rest of them. I love the character and determination of Isabella and the strong bonds of friendship between her and Tom Wilker, and how far they’ve come since the first book. It was also nice to see Suhail (from the last book) back for this one and the complex relationship between him and Isabella deepened and changed in interesting ways.

This book, moreso than others in the series, really put Isabella’s frustration at the limitations imposed on her for her sex to the fore. Between the patronisation from the military officers she has to deal with and the deeply patriarchal faux-Arabian culture that they’re visiting, it seems constant. This is wearing for the reader, but this makes me, as a male reader, very aware that women even now probably face something very much like this (albeit maybe not so blatant) all the time, which just makes me angry and want to shout at the world to stop it. So if it makes one previously oblivious man empathise then the whole series is worth it!

But the books are much more than just feminist awareness-raising. As I said before, Isabella is a wonderful character, as is Tom. The setting is great, although having different names for the days and months makes it harder to get a mental image of the seasons and so forth (just saying it’s April is a shorthand that conjures up images of the time of year and the season in a very minimal way; we don’t have this shortcut for the months as named here).

This volume also starts to gather together a lot of threads that have been building from the start. The Draconeans, the preservation of dragon bone, the rumbling of war across continents have all been simmering in the background. I get the impression that the final book is going to bring them all together, and I look forward to seeing where Isabella’s journey takes her in the end.

Book details

ISBN: 9781783297764
Publisher: Titan Books
Year of publication: 2016

Rivers of London: Body Work

By Ben Aaronovitch

Rating: 4 stars

Peter Grant is back in this short aside from the main series. Appearing to take place sometime after Broken Homes this lovely graphic novel sees Peter having to deal with possessed cars. Joining Aaronovitch for writing duties is fellow Doctor Who scribe Andrew Cartmel (of Cartmel Masterplan fame). I’m not sure I can see a difference in the writing with the co-writer, although the format does mean that we’re in Peter’s head a lot less than usual, so we have less of the running commentary that makes the novels so much fun. However, this is made up for by the art, which is rather lovely and all the characters totally fitted with what was in my head, except, perhaps for DI Stephanopoulos. Peter himself and Molly were probably my favourites in terms of their visual representation.

This is short enough that after putting it down, I picked it up again five minutes later and read it again in a short space of time. There are, apparently, more graphic interludes to Peter’s story planned and I shall look forward to buying and reading them.

Book details

ISBN: 9781782761877
Publisher: Titan Comics
Year of publication: 2016

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress