So I recently spent a week abroad. I don’t do so good on sun holidays because I burn easily enough in Ireland and I like doing stuff instead of lying down, which I do quite frequently at home for free. Prior to leaving I was told I could only bring five books to keep me going because the bags would be too heavy, they’d cost extra, I’d make someone else carry them, blah blah blah. So I brought four books and my kindle (fight the system!). Here are some micro-reviews of the ones I read.
The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter.
This is a Pratchett’s first foray into sci-fi since he wrote Strata back in 1981. It is about parallel universes and the travel between them. Pratchett and Baxter manage to get around the complicated confusing plots of certain other authors I could mention by making these worlds uninhabited by humans. Our earth is a freak or ‘Joker’ earth where humans evolved. Across the Long Earth sentience is quite rare but there are lots of interesting versions of the world out there and the absence of humans lets the authors explore more interesting topics, such as what happens once resources become infinite? The technology to travel, or ‘step’ to these other earths is very very cheap. What happens when anyone can get gold or land or anything they need right next door for free? And next door to that, and that… The book ends on a hell of a cliffhanger though so while I’m waiting for the next one I think I’ll have to read more of this Baxter guy.
Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk
I’ve meant to read more of Palahniuk since I read Fight Club. Marla Singer is more messed up in the book than she is in the film but she doesn’t hold a candle to Shannon McFarland. Invisible Monsters deals with a supermodel who becomes severly disfigured and her various methods for dealing (or failing to deal) with both this and her pre-existing insecurities. There are plenty of twists and funny moments, particularly with Shannon’s parents. The book deals a lot with reinvention and plays with identity and gender – particularly with transgender characters and the hyper-sexualisation of the modelling world. Another major theme is self-destruction and self-mutilation. Because of her deformity she is quite literally the silent protagonist. It’s no Fight Club but definitely worth a read (particularly the remix version) .
WARNING: I can take a lot of gore in books – not so much in films, but in books usually nothing is too gruesome for me – and there’s a scene in this book that made me physically ill. I had to stop reading get some fresh air and cancel my plans for the evening. Not for the faint hearted.
The Drowned World by J. G. Ballard
This one was a bit of a struggle. The premise was great: global warming has been accelerated exponentially due to solar flares and the equator has become uninhabitable. The book follows a team of scientists at the borders of the uninhabitable zone studying the ecology and trying to find a way to delay or at least document the advance of the floods. This is hard sci-fi and is very well written for the first half. The narrator is compelled by this drowning world and the book has quite a few Heart of Darkness moments as the environment’s devolution parallels that of the characters. However the imagery is endless (there are only so many ways to describe a lagoon before it gets boring) and while beautifully written the plot stagnates at points. He spends quite a lot of time hammering home his themes as well which makes the already introspective character a bit too detached for me. I reckon if it had been told in the first person he could have avoided most of these pitfalls. I stopped in the middle to read other books so when events accelerated near the end I found it hard to get into again. But it’s only 170 pages long so definitely worth a try.
Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut
So after all the hype around Slaughterhouse Five I don’t know what I was expecting but it certainly wasn’t a war novel. The Western World obsesses over WWII to the neglect of all other tragedies so I definitely wasn’t thrilled to be reading yet another book about it. I’ve read a lot of excellent holocaust narratives and this one starts out very blandly. The first chapter is a bit tedious but then the time travel and alien abduction starts. This has nice parallels with Yann Martel’s Beatrice and Virgil as both stories try to discover new ways to talk about trauma and the answer unanimously seems to be evasion and surrealism. It’s an excellent book that plays with narrative conventions. Now I finally know where the phrase ‘So it goes’ comes from and why so many people get it as a tattoo. Vonnegut repeats this phrase to provoke every emotion under the sun in reaction to death, highlighting how omnipresent it is.
Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey
I only got one chapter into this on the plane home so my opinion is still pending. But so far it’s pretty interesting. Standard enough sci-fi opening (until a bit at the very end of the chapter which makes me think this one’s going to be pretty low on the Mohs scale) but told in a very compelling way. If it’s any indication of the way the rest of the book is written I’ll stick with him for the long haul.