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Thu, 2 Sep 2010

August 2010 in books

Some of these reviews can also be found on Amazon.

In August 2010 I read the following books:

1. The Burning Land, by Bernard Cornwell

There's not much to distinguish this from the previous four volumes in this series. In fact, apart from the geographic location there's nothing to distinguish it. Bleh.

2. Flash Forward, by Robert J. Sawyer

There's some interesting ideas here, and the makings of a great story - actually, of more than one great story - if only the author could settle on one of them. Unfortunately he doesn't, instead writing a lot about not very much happening. And then to make matters worse, as well as ignoring the particularly interesting sub-plots, the ending feels terribly rushed and really rather derivative. Not a very good book at all.

3. Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand

I couldn't finish this book, it's that bad. I gave up about a fifth of the way through. It's at least five times longer than it needs to be, littered with overly wordy internal monologues. The characters are entirely one-dimensional and all are caricatures - even Rand's heroes who are supposed to demonstrate the rightness of her philosophy are laughable one-dimensional cartoon villains. In fact, the book reads rather like I would expect it to if it were written by a friendless nerd who was watched rather too much Star Trek and wishes people were a bit more like Spock. Rand clearly doesn't understand humanity, or if she does, it is utterly hidden by her incompetence as a writer.

4. New Model Army, by Adam Roberts

When this book is good, it's very very good, and when it's bad it's awful. Which is unfortunate, because there's a great premise here, even if a little silly. It takes the idea of the "wisdom of crowds" that is so fashionable these days amongst wiki-fiddlers and takes it to the extreme, and actually tells an entertaining and engaging tale. Unfortunately, the tale is interrupted a few times by rather dull philosophising on the nature of love. And then, at the end, it just turns into nonsensical babble instead of, well, instead of ending the damned story. Sure, we're meant to understand from it that Pantegral has somehow taken over and democratised the whole of Europe, but there's that nagging "somehow". It's a shame, because this could have been really good. I really liked this a lot, but was terribly let down by the end, and because of that I can't recommend it.

Posted at 22:53 by David Cantrell
keywords: books | culture
Permalink | 4 Comments

Why are you reading Cornwell at all?

Any ideas on how to increase the hit rate - I'd rather love to read a lot of really good books - but like you, seem to read rather more mediocre or bad ones than seems strictly necessary.

Posted by Robert on Thu, 2 Sep 2010 at 23:16:54


I read Cornwell because I ran out of stuff to read while I was away from home, and Project Gutenberg was unreachable, and I found a free download. And once I had 'em on my phone, I used them as Emergency Spare Books whenever I finished something. Don't worry, I have some much better ESBs on there now :-)

A lot of the ones I give bad reviews to are still at least enjoyable enough to read once, if not to recommend that anyone actually buy them. You'll notice that quite often I criticise the author's style, or the overall construction of the work, while saying reasonably nice things about the content.

As for increasing the hit rate - I don't think I'm doing too badly. As far as I'm concerned, 3/5 is still good and plenty that only rate 2/5 are worth buying, at least second-hand. It's only the 1- and no-star books that are absolute stinkers. A fair number of the things I read come from recommendations either by authors that I like or from other people whose taste I mostly trust, or from reading or listening to interviews with the author, or references in other stories. Some of the programmes on Radio 4 immediately after the Today programme are good for that, and I also follow several authors' blogs. For example ...

  • http://kenmacleod.blogspot.com/
  • http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/
  • http://www.rifters.com/updates.htm

Posted by David Cantrell on Fri, 3 Sep 2010 at 23:53:48


My main problem is that I'm a slow reader. In a good year I barely reach 30-40 books. So if I spend a week or two reading a book that isn't great - I resent it. I have another problem actually in that I hate not finishing a book I've started. So currently, I'm not enjoying the 3rd part of the Night's Dawn trilogy, but am trying to force my way through the final 600 pages.

Thanks for the links - I am definitely going to try and do some of these things to improve my chances.

Posted by Robert on Sun, 3 Oct 2010 at 10:04:37


Oh boy, you're in for a "treat" there. I quite like that series, but it seems to me that it's very much a story that was fitted to a universe, rather than a universe that was created to sustain a story. This will become obvious with the <spoiler>Deus Est Machina</spoiler> ending, which rather inelegantly solves the problem.

Posted by David Cantrell on Mon, 4 Oct 2010 at 13:27:01


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