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Mon, 1 Jun 2009

May 2009 in books

Some of these reviews can also be found on Amazon.

In May 2009, I read the following books:

1. Lord of Misrule: the autobiography of Christopher Lee

There's not much to say about this, other than that it's a very accessible book, and a delight to read, unlike most autobiographies. Lee tells the tale of his life simply and with a gentle wit. Perhaps my only little complaint is that this is an expanded version of an earlier edition of his autobiography (previously sold as Tall, Dark and Gruesome) and the new material, largely concerning his roles as Count Dooku in Star Wars and Saruman in The Lord of the Rings lack warmth, appearing to be more like a third-party account of what happened, than a first-person view.

2. The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter

This is rightly hailed as a classic, being one of the clearest accounts of day-to-day Roman life for those outside the nobility and political and military elite during the Empire. And of course it is a fine example of political satire, with many subtle and not-so-subtle digs at public figures and writers of the era. All of this makes it a great academic read. And as such, I enjoyed it.

Unfortunately, it's a lousy novel. That's not the author's fault, but is simply because large chunks of the text have been lost over the last 1900 years so there are jarring gaps. While we can, to a limited extent, reconstruct parts of it, all that tells us is what the broad arc of the story might have been. It does not restore the text. You could cut chunks out of any good story, and then largely rebuild the tale, but if you were to read it with those chunks missing (which is the case with my copy of the Satyricon, which lacks even the briefest of inline notes about the missing sections) it would still not be a good read. It's almost a pity that the practice of translators/editors filling in the blanks themselves, making them up out of whole cloth, hasn't taken off, at least for mass-market paperbacks. But then, I suppose, there isn't a mass-market because it's not about some ghastly footballer or pig-faced slag from Essex.

One only for those with an academic interest in the era.

3. The Family Trade, by Charles Stross

The cover of my copy says it's a fantasy, despite the crucial points all stemming from technological differences between worlds, demonstrating once again that there's no real difference between sci-fi and fantasy. Those differences, and restricted travel between worlds, lead to what I'm sure will be an excellent story in a well-developed universe with sympathetic fleshed-out characters. But it is let down by two things. First, the plots and schemes within plots and schemes are terribly opaque. Second, they're not made clearer by the book stopping so abruptly without a firm conclusion. This seems to be an editorial decision - apparently The Family Trade and its sequel "The Hidden Family" were originally written as one novel, but were published seperately. I hope that once I've read The Hidden Family things will be made much clearer.

Despite those reservations, I still enjoyed reading this, and recommend it.

Posted at 17:53 by David Cantrell
keywords: books | culture
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