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Fri, 1 Jul 2011

June 2011 in books

Some of these reviews can also be found on Amazon.

In June 2011 I read the following books:

1. The Last British Bullfighter, by Frank "El Inglés" Evans

The unmentionable Ryan Giggs, coward, idiot, philanderer and footballist, thinks that this book is "as mad and funny as Frank himself", which is not a particularly good recomendation to put on the cover. The deranged scribblings of mad men aren't particularly enjoyable and in any case a footballist can hardly be expected to be in a position to make an informed recommendation.

Thankfully, I didn't know about the publisher's execrable lack of taste when I purchased this book online - I bought it on the strength of an interview with Mr. Evans on the ever-tasteful, erudite and educational Radio 4.

Giggs is either a liar, has trouble with the English language, or didn't bother to read the book. There's nothing mad about Evans, nor is it at all a funny book. Evans is passionate, perhaps. Eccentric maybe. Driven, certainly. Evans is also not a very good writer. Most biographies flow smoothly from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, and chapter to chapter. This one doesn't. It judders and jumps and pauses, but in doing so it mirrors real life. Real life is not a smooth progression, it is long periods in which nothing of note happens, just long slow change, punctuated by occasional shocks and memorable events. You get the distinct impression that Evans is telling the truth, because he clearly hasn't tried to construct a coherent easy-flowing tale. Bravo!

I really liked this book, and I recommend it. It gets dinged a couple of stars for the naïve writing style, for the publisher thinking that we're idiots who will go "Ooooooh, Ryan Giggs", and for a coupla minor points where Evans assumes that we know more about him than he's actually included in the book, and which an editor should have caught.

2. The Quantum Thief, by Hannu Rajaniemi

Rajaniemi is a foreign chap, for whom English is a second language. You couldn't tell from reading this. The cover blurb from Charlie Stross says "hard to admit, but I think he's better at this stuff than I am". I don't think that Charlie is right, but it's certainly damned good.

I don't agree with him because The Quantum Thief is nowhere near as accessible as Charlie's work. It may be a better example of the art of writing, but it is not better as an enjoyable work of fiction, because it's just too damned literate for that. It requires rather more work from the reader - it's definitely not something to dip in and out of for a few pages at a time, and demands concentration. The story is generally told in the first person and the viewpoint changes without warning from character to character as various strands come slowly together, and it's this that makes it less amenable for casual reading. Add to that a predictable sprinkling of Quantum (the book's title is 100% accurate) and game theory, so it requires both a literate and a well-educated reader.

Literary excellence aside, it also scores highly on all the other axes of good science fiction: it is imaginative, has real sympathetic characters, and a believable consistent universe. Provided, of course, that you give it sufficient attention.

A splendid book that you should buy without delay, provided that you think that I would think you are well-educated.

3. A Mighty Fortress, by David Weber

There are a great many things wrong with this book, starting with the cover art: it has a flying saucer zapping a sailing ship with a death ray, something that - thankfully - doesn't happen in the book. Then there's the length: over a thousand pages, making it thicker and heavier than my copy of the bible, although admittedly the typeface is larger. And it is at least a better story than the bible, making use of such advanced techniques as causes preceding effects, characters having believable motivations etc. Trouble is, it's still not that good. Much of that length is taken up by lengthy internal monologues which serve to set the scene but which digress to such an extent that, when they occur in the middle of a conversation (as they almost invariably do) it's hard to keep track and is terribly jarring when a character finally decides to say something. And there's nothing exciting and new at all when compared to the earlier books in the series. It's merely a small development of themes that we're already very familiar with from the first three volumes. Add to that a cast of so many characters that the appendix listing them all covers 32 pages, and that they all have idiotic names which are based on normal names but with all the vowels hideously butchered, and it's too easy to lose track of what's going on.

I quite enjoyed reading it, but it's dreadfully flawed.

4. A Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin

This novel was originally published in 1996, but if I heard about it between then and now it didn't make much of an impression, possibly because I tend to shy away from fantasy, most of which is crap. It was only when someone spoke approvingly of the HBO TV adaptation that I paid it any attention. A couple of episodes into the ten part series, I was hooked, and decided to read the book. After all, TV adaptations are always inferior to books, right?

Sort of right. Off the back of its TV success, the book's publishers are advertising it left right and centre, with the tag-line "You haven't seen half of it". The book is better than the TV series, but not twice as good! The TV series really is excellent, though, so being twice as good would be nothing less than a miracle, and HBO have commissioned a second series, which will presumably be an adaptation of this book's sequel and which I'm very much looking forward to watching. I'm also looking forward to reading the next book, and I don't have to wait a year for that. Hurrah!

Buy this book. If you don't enjoy it you are broken and your parents should demand a refund.

Posted at 19:35 by David Cantrell
keywords: books | culture
Permalink | 1 Comment

Argh! And a gain the Kindle version (A Game of Thrones) is more expensive than the paperback!

Posted by ilmari on Sat, 2 Jul 2011 at 22:17:50

Sorry, this post is too old for you to comment on it.