Mike Finn
I'm intrigued - just bought tickets for this but can't imagine how they'll do it.
My local community theatre, which seets less than 100 people, is putting Terry Pratchett's "Going Postal" on as a play.

 

I have no idea how they intend to do this but I can't wait to find out.

 

I'll keep you posted.

My final 5 for the 500

Here is the final five of my ten additional "essential books".

 


 
 
 
 

"Ancillary Justice" by Ann Leckie (2013)

 
 

"Ancillary Justice" is on my list because Anne Leckie brought a distinctive, reflective voice to the space opera genre, imagined an AI in a fascinating way and added tea rituals to military SF.

 
 

Ann Leckie doesn’t just do world-building, she creates an entire universe, spanning many worlds and huge tracts of time. By telling the tale through the (sometimes many) eyes of an AI with a self-imposed mission of revenge, she keeps the scale of the experience human, driven by character and emotion rather than by the sweep of history.

 
 

 
 
 
 

"Norwegian By Night" by Derek B. Miller (2012)

 
 

"Norwegian By Night" is on my list because it's a brilliant example of the thriller genre being used to deliver mainstream themes.

 
 

For his debut novel, Derek Miller produced something very rare, an accessible, enjoyable, realistic novel that navigates its way through the difficult waters of grief, memory, guilt, dementia, loss and personal bravery, while still providing a page-turning plot that made me laugh, cry and hope very much that everyone would be alright, although I knew they probably wouldn’t.

 
 

"Norwegian By Night" gives a powerful insight into the mind, memories and dreams of an eighty-three-year-old man, Sheldon Horowitz, using what’s left of his life to come to grips with his past while trying to do the right thing in the present.

 
 

I enjoyed the beauty of the slow unfolding of his identity through snatches of memory, vivid dreams, and conversations with ghosts from his past who he knows aren’t really there. This associative rather than linear process, with memory hooked to topics, not strung like pegs on the clothesline of time, is closer to my personal experience of remembering and mourning. I also enjoyed Sheldon’s tenacious, well-argued refusal to be diagnosed as having dementia and his view that spending the end of your life focusing on making sense of your past is the only sane use of old-age.

 

 
 
 
 

"My Life As A White Trash Zombie" by Diana Rowland (2011)

 
 

I don’t read zombie books.

 
 

Well, not unless they’re original, funny, well written, and make you fall in love with the main character, not because she’s a zombie but because she’s doing her best to be a good person who just happens to need to eat brains, in which case, I’m reading “My Life As A White Trash Zombie.”

 
 

This book is on my list because it's pretty close to perfect except for the cover art, which is cool but not remotely related to the character of Angel Crawford in the book.

 
 

The story is fast-paced enough to keep you turning the pages (or listening, in my case), the language is vivid, fun and unconventional and the “voice” of Angel Crawford is authentic and compelling.

 
 

 
 
 
 

"Lonely Werewolf Girl" by Martin Millar (2007)

 
 

"Lonely Werewolf Girl" is a quirky modern Scottish werewolf story written in a Punk style. It's on my list because it manages to do something new with the werewolf idea, it's irreverent and a lot of fun.

 
 

Millar’s writing style is hard to tag and initially, I found it distracting but as I let myself listen to the rhythm, I realised that the occasional jerkiness of the text was deliberate. It gives this book a sort of Punk energy that kept me slightly off-centre but always engaged.

 
 

It's a big book with a large character list and rich back-story. It is filled with humour even though the themes are dark and it rattles along, urging you to keep turning the pages even though you know you should have been asleep an hour ago.

 
 

Initially, I thought that the lonely werewolf girl of the title was Kalix MacRinnalch, a vulnerable, violent, self-abusive and anti-social young girl who is also brave, passionate and wonderfully unable to understand the world around her.

 
 

By the end of the book, I understood that all of the MacRinnalch women qualify as lonely werewolf girls.

 
 

 
 
 
 

"Foreigner" by C. J. Cherryh (1994)

 
 

During the eighties and nineties, I consumed everything by C. J. Cherryh that I could get my hands on, even though, in those days, I sometimes had to import them from to the UK from the US.

 
 

"Foreigner" is the book of hers that stands out in my memory of that reading, even twenty-five years later.

 
 

It's on my list because it's the best example I know of Science Fiction as anthropology. It also delivers strong characters and a twisty thriller of a plot.

 
 

The core of the story is what it really means to be foreign/alien. Bren, the human in the story, is trying to act as a bridge between humans and the newly encountered Atevi. What I took from the story was that to understand an alien culture you must immerse yourself in it and in doing so, you lose some of your old identity and become less able to communicate with the people you thought of as your own.

 
 
 

 

 

 

I'm offering 10 more essential books to help reach 500. Here are the first five.

I'm adding these to the first twenty-five. For the most part, these are more recent books that I think will stand the test of time.

 

 
 
 "My Name Is Lucy Barton" by Elizabeth Strout (2016)
 
 
 

"My Name Is Lucy Barton" is about "A poor girl from Amgash who loved her momma." It's not a plot-driven book or even a character-driven book. It's a book in which Lucy, talking to us directly and frankly shares her thoughts, emotions and memories about how she and her mother were together.

 
 

In a few hours of listening, I felt that I knew who Lucy Barton was, at least as well as anyone can know such a thing.

 
 

This is a book about love. It is not romantic or sentimental. It is an honest account of how complicated and painful and necessary love is. Lucy Barton knows that

 

"We all love imperfectly."

 

but she does not see that not as a weakness but as an unavoidable truth.

 

I put it on my list because it is one of the most truthful books I've read and because I think the style and structure of the novel are innovative.

 

 
 
 
 

"The Fireman" by Joe Hill (2016)

 
 

"The Fireman" made my list not just because it is a well-written. long, unhurried but never boring book with a novel post-apocalyptic premise but because Joe Hill uses the book to show us, in all its ugly detail, how people behave under stress.

 
 

He explores how they treat those who are weak and pose a threat, what they allow themselves to do when the rule of law falls, what they make themselves do in the name of the greater good, how groups abdicate personal responsibility and how symbols of hope can be co-opted to become mechanisms of repression.

 
 

These are things we need to understand right now.

 

 
 
 
 

"The Water Knife" by Paolo Bacigalupi (2015)

 
 

"The Water Knife" made my list because it's the best example I've read of the emerging Cli Fi (Climate Fiction) genre.

 
 

It's set in a future US that has been ripped apart by the long-term water shortage. It's a world where the powerful are the ones who first understood that:

 
 

“Some people had to bleed so other people could drink.”

 
 

and acted ruthlessly to ensure they wouldn't be the ones bleeding.

 
 

It's a grim, difficult, disturbing book because that is the nature of the world being described. There are no heroes, just people trying to do what they can with what they have in a world that doesn’t care about them or what they want.

 

 
 
 
 

"The Readers Of Broken Wheel Recommend" by Katarina Bivald (2013)

 
 

"The Readers Of Broken Wheel Recommend" made my list because i have a soft spot for books about book lovers and this is the best one of those that I know.

 
 

It's a wonderful romantic comedy about books, small-town America, books, friendship, books, love, books and how to live a life worth reading about.

 
 

It tells a story of the world as I would like it to be, where good people help each other to be better people and books expand people’s imaginations and unlock their hearts.

 
 

It made me laugh and cry. It made me think about the balance between reading and doing and about how both of them count as living. Most of all, it left me wanting to move to Broken Wheel and take all my books with me.

 

 
 
 
 

"My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry" by Fredrick Backman (2013)

 
 

“My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry” beautifully written modern fairy tale that delivers old truths so that they taste as fresh as newly baked biscuits.

 
 

It tells the story of an almost eight-year-old girl who, at the death of her eccentric but much-loved grandmother, confronts grief and loss, knowing that they can’t be defeated but must not be surrendered to.

  

It made my list because it made me want to be better than I am. It gave me hope that I can be better than I am. It gave me permission to forgive myself when I fail to be better. It reminded me that imagination is the birth-place of hope and love and bravery. Most of all, it made me want to defend the castle and take care of those I love (you’ll know what this means when you read the book).

  

This is one of those wonderful, perfectly formed, books that go beyond being a beautifully crafted piece of writing to become something that has a soul of its own.

 
 
 

 

Twenty-five books that are signifcant to me - my essential books list

In response to Moonlight Readers call to 

 

Name the top twenty-five books you think are representative or transformative of their era or genre, or are culturally important or especially significant in some way.

 
I've built a list of the books and writers that have meant something to me. I haven't ranked the twenty-five. For convenience, I've listed them in the order that they were published, with the most recent being described first.
 
 

Here's what I came up with:

 
 
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 25-essential-books.001.jpeg
 
 

I'd like to share why these books are special to me. I hope some of them are special to you too or that you'll be tempted to give them a try.

 
 
 
 

"Speak" by Louisa Hall (2015).

 
 

"Speak" makes my list, despite being less than five years old, because it is the most exciting, original, haunting book about AI and sentience that I've read

 
 

The prose is lyrical. The exploration of the concepts of sentience, memory, consciousness and humanity are deftly handled. The many voices that speak in the book are distinctive, engaging and emotionally authentic, even when they belong to an early AI asking a question it makes sound existential: "Hello. Are you there?"

 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 

"Flight Behaviour" by Barbara Kingsolver (2012)

 
 

Barbara Kingsolver is one of my must-read writer.

I selected "Flight Behaviour" because it manages to be a deeply human story and explore the impact or poverty, climate change and family on the choices that we make and the role played by faith and science in making those choices.

 
 

It tells the story of a young mother, living in poverty and boredom in an unsatisfying marriage in the Appalachians who has her life transformed by an unexpected encounter with a spectacular natural phenomenon.

 
 

I loved the realistic but none judgemental way in which poverty is described and the way science is presented as something exciting and seductive to people new to it.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 

"Juliet Naked" by Nick Hornby (2009)

 
 

Nick Hornby never disappoints. In "Juliet Naked" he gives us a humorous but compassionate exploration of obsession, co-dependency and celebrity and personal redemption in the context of a Trans-Atlantic comedy of manners

 
 

I selected this because I know how close I've come, from time to time, to falling into the same tar pits the characters get stuck in and because I loved the humour, especially when it related to how hard it can be for the English and the Americans to understand one another.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 

"The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins (2008)

 
 

I selected "The Hunger Games" because it was one of the best Science Fiction books I'd read in a decade, it brought me back to YA fiction, it was powerfully told and timely.

 
 

"The Hunger Games" struck me as a manifesto for fundamental human rights: not to be enslaved, not to be hungry, not to be subject to violence from your own state.

 
 

It made me realize that “Reality TV” is a social engineering tool that takes us further and further from reality and contributes to a level of noise and moral indifference that leaves us feeling powerless to change the world.

 
 
 
 

 

"The First Casualty" by Ben Elton (2005)

 

Ben Elton helps me see the world differently. With books like "Dead Famous" and "Chart Throb", he dissected social media. With "Blind Faith" and "Time and Again" he's shown us scary possible futures. In "The First Casualty" he confronts us with the insanity of the slaughter of young men that was World War I.

 

"The First Casualty" takes its title from the truism that the first casualty of war is truth.

 

The novel is a pursuit of truth on multiple levels: the truth about the killing of British Officer well-known for his poetry, the truth about the British soldiers' experience during World War I, the truth that war damages everyone it touches.

 

 

 

 

 


"Empire Falls" by Richard Russo (2001)

 

"Empire Falls" is so far away from my experience that it's more alien than the Science Fiction that I read.

 

I selected this novel because, despite that, Richard Russo made the failing blue-collar town of Empire Falls, that Miles Roby has spent his life in, come alive for me.

 

This is not a cosy, Hallmark version of small-town America but neither is it a depiction of hopelessness. These are people who have strong bonds with each other, who get each other's humour and mostly tolerate each other's failings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


"Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone" by J K Rowling (1997)

 

I've been a Harry Potter fan since 1998 when based on word of mouth recommendations, I picked up the first two books, “The Philosopher's Stone” and “The Chamber of Secrets”, together. After that, I was hooked. I was one of the many who pre-ordered the hardback versions of the books from “The Prisoner of Azkaban” onwards.

 

As Harry grew older, the books became longer and darker and we waited for more than a year between them. For the first seven years of this century, reading the Harry Potter books became a ritual for me. I would make sure that I had a day's leave when each book arrived so that I could dive right in and then I would carry the book with me everywhere until it was consumed and I was left hungry for the next one.

 

Of course, I was not alone in this. As I travelled around Europe on business, Harry Potter was my companion at restaurants and hotel lounges and swimming pools. Everywhere I went people talked to me about Harry. They wanted to share their enthusiasm and rekindle their joy, so they asked: Who is your favourite character? Which is your favourite book? What do you think will happen next?'

 

In 2001, the first movie came out and suddenly the whole world had the same faces for the characters in the Potter books and we all knew exactly what Hogwarts looked like.

Harry Potter made my list because J. K Rowling helped us reimagine the struggle against evil in ways that seem more relevant every day. As I write this, Boris Johnson looks as if he will become the next UK PM. When I describe him as a Slytherin Deatheater who has no time for us Muggles and House Elves, everyone knows what I mean.


"Shakespeare's Landlord" by Charlaine Harris (1996)

 

 I love Charlaine Harris' two supernatural series, Sookie Stackhouse vampire books and the Harper Connelly I-talk-to-the-dead books but I think the Lily Bard series, starting with “Shakespeare’s Landlord” is Charlaine Harris’ best work.

 

Get past the slightly silly title’s and the low production standard covers and you’ll find one of the best series I’ve ever read about what it means to be a rape survivor.

 

While each of the five books has a standalone mystery in it for Lily to help solve, the real driver of the series is Lily’s struggle to re-engage with life after having been the victim a brutal rape.

 

There’s nothing trivial or exploitative here. There is a lot of truth and some of it is hard to take. I admire Charlaine Harris for having written a hero is marked by her rape but refuses to be destroyed by it.


"Miss Smilla's Feeling For Snow" by Peter Hoeg (1992)

 

This makes my list because it was my first encounter with what has become scandi-noir.

 

It isn't scandal-noir as we now know it but it is the direct ancestor of it.

It's set in Copenhagen. The mystery depends on the ability to read snow. It is a book laden with a dark, cold, unforgiving atmosphere.

 

Yet the main character is a civilian, a woman, a Greenlander in Denmark and someone whose analytical abilities exceed her social skills.

 

The book isn't really about how the boy died. It's about Denmark's colonial past and its present, guilt-laden relationship with Greenlanders.

It showed me a non-anglo sensibility, made me aware of history no one taught me and still delivered an intriguing mystery driven by a unique main character.


"Small Gods" by Terry Pratchett (1992)

 

Terry Pratchett had to be on this list. I've read all of his books. His voice has been my companion for decades. I miss him. He was a man who could see all the faults and fears and hates in the world, share them with me with dry wit and leave me the gift of (qualified, tentative, ready-to-be-disappointed) hope.

 

I picked "Small Gods" because it was the first book I read that provided a plausible explanation for the Gods I don't believe in. If I WAS going to believe in Gods, it would be these small ones.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 

"The Witching Hour" by Anne Rice (1990)

 
 

Given that Anne Rice is famous for reinventing vampires (sexy but not sparkly and definitely not YA material) why have I selected one of her witch books for this list?

 
 

Well, I liked the vampires but the writing in "Interview With A Vampire" was awful. "Cry To Heaven" (a book about eighteenth-century castrati - now there's a narrow genre) is her best written but the one that I think kicked off a new genre with a very well written book is "The Witching Hour".

 
 

It's a big, self-confident book, with good action, great world building and characters I could cheer for. I recommend the whole Mayfair witches series.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 

"Use Of Weapons" by Iain M. Banks (1990)

 
 

"Use Of Weapons" did three things that I think raised the game in Science Fiction:

 
 

In Cheradenine Zakalwelt, Banks created one of the most complex and compelling anti-heroes I've ever met.

 
 

By exposing the terrible things The Culture is willing to do to preserve itself, Banks showed what it costs to keep an AI-run utopia running. Calling the people who do the wet work "Special Circumstances Agents" is either honesty or cynical humour or both.

 
 

Banks created a completely different way of perceiving events and how they are connected to one another by writing the story on two directly linear timelines that move in opposite directions.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 

"The Gate To The Women's Country" by Sheri S. Tepper (1987)

 
 

Although I'm male, I've never really understood the whole male-bonding, brothers in arms thing. It's never appealed to me but it's so common that I felt that I perhaps had a kind of emotional colour-blindness that meant I couldn't see what the men around me saw.

 
 

"The Gate To The Women's Country" surprisingly gave me an insight into that world and made me glad for my colour-blindness.

 
 

It's also a cool SF story with a strong feminist ethos. It centres around a conflict between a polygamist society run by warriors and a matriarchal dictatorship from which most men are excluded.

 
 

It's not perfect but is thought-provoking and it made me wonder about the way the world sets up men to die for others.

 
 
 
 

 

"It" by Stephen King (1986)

 

This is the only horror book on my list. It's also the best horror book I've ever read.

 

For me, the heart of this book is the children. King does nostalgic realism better than anyone else. He captures the hope and the fear and the bravery of youth. His characters are real. They shine with potential.

 

Then they grow up.

 

Yeah, there's the clown, the bad thing hiding in the drain but that's not the scary thing.

 

The scary thing is that the kids, all kids, grow up and the more they do that, the less potential they have. What goes down the drain is all the things they might have been but did not become.

 

I read "IT" as being a confrontation with all the ways in which we diminish ourselves and a reconciliation with the people we've become.


"The Accidental Tourist" by Anne Tyler (1985)

 

I was given "The Accidental Tourist" by someone who knew me well enough to see that I was one and cared enough to invite me to stop.

 

Macon Leary is the accidental tourist of the title. He is a man at war with himself, a travel writer who hates both travel and anything out of the ordinary. The book shows how, with help, he ends the war and embraces his life.

 

I've put this on my list because it did help me to become less of an accidental tourist and it introduced me to Anne Tyler whose write has let me live several vicarious lives of people more interesting than I am.

 

 

 

 

 

 


"The Cider House Rules" by John Irving (1985)

 

I’d read all John Irving’s novels before “The Cider House Rules” and enjoyed them for their originality, their fearlessness and their compassion.

 

With "The Cider House Rules", I felt as if something had gelled in John Irving’s writing that made everything more powerful.

 

He still wrote characters that I believed in and wanted to talk with, even though I could see their flaws. He still approached difficult topics, abortion in this case, in original and challenging ways, as he had with rape and with monogamy in “The World According To Garp”.

 

The difference was in the level of complexity and of ambiguity.

 

This is a book about rules, about creating your own rules to live by, about taking responsibility for your own life and the lives you touch but it is also a book about how love can push all rules aside, making doing the right thing both obvious and impossible to explain or defend. That's why it's on my list


"The Neuromancer" by William Gibson (1984)

 

"The Neuromancer" was a game changer for Science Fiction. It invented CyberPunk.

 

It blew me away, partly because of the technology and partly because the future, with all this great tech in it, wasn't bright and shiny.

 

The technology was amazing and, although we didn't know it then, incredibly prescient. In a world that was ten years away from the first Web page, where mainframes ruled. IBM PCs ran on MS Dow 3.0 and the only laptop you could buy weighed thirty pounds. Gibson showed us CyberSpace, a “consensual hallucination” that allowed millions of people to visualise data and abstract concepts in the same way.

 

Now we take that so much for granted that people born in the West in this century struggle to imagine an app-free life.

 

Gibson also invented cybercrime and a whole underworld that exploited shiny technology to do illegal things. That was perhaps the most prescient thing of all.


"Small World" by David Lodge (1984)

 

David Lodges' gentle comedies always hearten me. They're closely observed, witty but never mean-spirited.

 

"Small World" is the second book in Lodge's Campus Trilogy which takes a hard look at academics, specifically English Literature academics.

 

I selected "Small World" because, as well as giving witty insights into the world of international academic conferences, delivering some very tongue-in-cheek but hard to ignore lectures and creating three strong characters, it also works as a classic "Romance" and courtly love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


"Ridley Walker" by Russell Hoban (1980)

 

"Riddley Walker" is on my list because it does something that I haven't seen any other post-apocalyptic novel do: it creates a new language as part of the world- building and, in the process, comes close to poetry.

 

This isn't an analogue of Klingon, where you have to look things up. This is to our current English what our current English is to Middle English. I loved it because it worked and because it gave the people of our future world a different way of thinking

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


"Memoirs Of A Survivor" by Doris Lessing (1974)

 

In the late seventies, I had a shelf full of Lessing (I still do- it's just a bigger shelf now). I fell in love with the Martha Quest books, especially "The Four-Gated City" which was the first book I read that suggested that mental illness was a natural response it an insane world and that, if you've never lost your mind, you're in no position to assess your own sanity.

 

Yet it was "The Memoirs Of A Survivor" that called to me most personally. It's a sort of auto-biography transposed to a dystopian London.

 

As an introvert with low needs for affiliation, it resonated with me because it made me confront my tendency to hide behind the walls of my own imagination while entropy slowly erodes the world outside. It made me wonder whether this amounts to mental illness on my part or to self-preservation and to what extent I needed to connect with others to create enough order and meaning to survive.

 

 
 
 

 
 
 
 

"The Dispossessed" by Ursula Le Guin (1974)

 
 

I love Le Guin's books. "A Wizard Of Earthsea" is an obvious candidate for this list. I've chosen "The Dispossessed" instead because it was the one that rewired my brain.

 
 


I read it when I was at university and my head was deep into economics and politics. I was fascinated by the attempt to conceive of a (less-than-perfect but still functioning) anarchist culture that is based around responsibility.

 
 

I was also impressed by how human and personal it was.

 
 

At the heart of this book is a recognition of the importance of understanding that actions have consequences that we have to own and the promises are fundamental to change

 
 

To break a promise is to deny the reality of the past; therefore it is to deny the hope of a real future.


 
 
 
 

"The Magic Toyshop" by Angela Carter (1967)

 
 

In the early nineteen-eighties, I read Angela Carter's "The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories" and understood for the first time what it meant to be shocked by a book. I didn't disapprove. I also didn't understand everything I was reading but I knew it was wild, gleefully savage, self-confidently erotic and completely unclassifiable.

 
 

I read her compulsively after that until I reached "The Magic Toyshop" and things got personal. I still didn't understand everything I was reading but this was literary cocaine, I snorted it in and my imagination exploded.

 
 

Except, this time we were dealing with poverty. The description of the shabby bathroom with the crappy bar of soap with someone else's hair on it hit me hard. My wife and I still refer it to it as the point where we realised we never wanted to go back to that.

 
 

"The Magic Toyshop" is what magical realism should be. It's an assault, not an escape. Its magic is threatening, not reassuring and its reality is one I wouldn't choose to share.

 
 
 

 
 
 
 

"Stranger In A Strange Land" by Robert A Heinlein (1962)

 
 

This book is on my list because it showed me how wickedly playful Science Fiction could be.

 
 

While Clarke was using Science Fiction to dream of exploring space and Asimov was using it to solve the logic of the Laws of Robotics, Heinlein was using Science Fiction as a sharp stick with which to poke the termite towers of Conservative America.

 
 

Although on the surface, this appears to be a book about the legal status of the first boy born on Mars when he returns to Earth, it's really a vehicle for challenging the 1961 establishment views and values. Our boy from Mars is the innocent hippy that the rest of the world wants to take advantage of and his three-times-larger-than-life lawyer, Jubal uses a kind of cultural jujitsu to defeat the establishment on its own terms.

 
 

It made me laugh from beginning to end. It would be so nice to see the bad guys lose like this from time to time.

 
 

 
 
 
 

"Gormenghast" by Mervyn Peake (1950)

 
 

Mervyn Peake’s “Gormenghast”, with its atmosphere of stifling tradition, rigid hierarchy and vicious people resonated with me on a deep level as an exaggerated but accurate view of British society as it was in the middle of the last century.

 

It's not an easy book but it is a vivid one. Grotesques like the ruthless Steerpike and the self-obsessed Fuscia stick with me and of course the library fire was the greatest barbarism in the book.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 

"Ragged Trousered Philanthropists" by Robert Tressell (1914)

 
 

"The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists" is a sometimes clumsily written novel that is given to sentimentality.

 
 

It's also a simple and graphic explanation of how unfettered capitalism preys on working people.

 
 

For me it was a reminder that, no matter how nice they sound, the Tories are always the enemy and that they win because people refuse to see how things really work.

 
 
 
 

 

Review
2.5 Stars
"Out Of Range - Joe Pickett #5" by C. J. Box - this one didn't work for me.
Out Of Range  - C.J. Box

I'm a fan of the Joe Pickett series but I found myself struggling with this one.

 

Some of it was the change in setting. Joe is pulled away from his sleepy part of Wyoming to the millionaire playground that is Jackson Hole. I've been there a couple of times and although the Grand Tetons and Lake Janet are truly spectacular, I didn't like the atmosphere in the town, which seemed like a theme park for the entitled. Joe doesn't like Jackson much either but I still missed being in Saddlestring.

 

Then there was Joe himself. I usually see Joe as part of his family. This time he's alone and partially estranged from his wife and when I took a good look at him, I saw someone I didn't much like. Apart from a stubborn refusal to let go of a problem even when it brings him into conflict with authority, I barely recognized Joe.

 

Then there's the shadow of adultery. You'd think that in a book filled with killings, a little adultery wouldn't take centre stage but it does, mainly because Joe is corrosively dishonest about what he wants.

 

As the book went on, I found there were some plot-based explanations for his aberrant behaviour but not enough to stop me seeing Joe very differently. What I disliked most was the shabby coyness of the will-they-won’t-they-commit-adultery theme. I almost abandoned the book at this point.

 

There were some good scenes: Nate in the Stockman's Bar, Joe out at the State Cabin confronting an outfitter, but they were the exception.

 

The plot was more elaborate than in the previous books. It was clever and original. It seemed to me the book lagged a little in the middle but the ending was crisp and tied things up nicely.

 

I'm hoping the next book takes me back to people and places that I like better than the ones I met in "Out Of Range".

Review
3.5 Stars
"The October Man - Rivers of London #7.5" by Ben Aaronovich
The October Man - Ben Aaronovitch

"The October Man" is a fresh, fun novella that I hope is the start of a new series of German "Rivers" books.

 

"The October Man" novella breathes new life into the "Rivers Of London" universe by taking us to Trier in Germany where Tobias Winter, broadly the counterpart of Peter Grant is investigating the death of a man whose corpse has been found covered in a strange fungus. The fungus is strange enough to merit the involvement of the Abteilung KDA in which Tobias is an Investigator and one of only two licensed magical practitioners in Germany.

 

I enjoyed the way in which this book differed from "The Rivers Of London" series while inhabiting the same world. It seemed to me that Ben Aaronovitch succeeded in giving the book a plausible German feel, starting with the wonderful name of the organisation that Tobia works in: "The Department for Complex and Unspecific Matters". That's so different than just calling something "The Folly". It speaks to a need to classify by function rather than by history that I rather admire.

 

I was pleased to see that Tobias is not Peter with a German accent. He comes from a solidly middle-class background in the boring suburbs of Mannheim. His father is a high-ranking police officer. His mother is politically active and diametrically opposed to his father's politics. Tobias is urbane and calm. His wit is drier than Peter's. He comes across as more mature and more grounded. A professional policeman from a police family who just happens to be able to do magic.

 

The history of magic is different in Germany than in the UK, not just because of the Nazis and the conflict between the magic practitioners on both sides but because of the difference in gods and goddesses, as well as constant, tantalising, references to powerful werewolf groups and individual vampires.

 

It's also interesting to see the world from the point of view of those on the receiving end of the RAF bombings that reduced the city of Trier to rubble, including the notorious Christmas bombings on 19th, 22nd and 24th December 1944 and to see how splitting Germany into East and West affected the development of magic.

 

The plot centres around wine, of course, we are on the Mosel after all. Solving a mystery in a wine region gave the perfect pretext for involving Vanessa Sommer, one of the local police who is an expert in wine. The Winter / Sommer combination is irresistible. She is enthusiastic, optimistic and insatiably curious and not at all thrown to discover that magic is real.

 

The plot is slight and a little static but but we get river goddesses, an evil revenant and the weight of a lot of bitter history. We also get a whole section of Tobias' KDA that is really, really enjoys blowing stuff up. Still, this is a novella and so a little thinner than a full-length book would be.

 

"The October Man" felt like a pilot for a spin-off series. If it had been a pilot, I'd have bought the rest of Season One on the spot. I hope we will see more of Tobias and Vanessa soon.

 

I particularly liked the narrator of "The October Man". I think Sam Peter Jackson (who is German, despite his very English sounding name) brought just the right tone to the text and was able to do different German regional accents convincingly. Click on the SoundClound link below to hear a sample.

https://soundcloud.com/orionbooks/the-october-man-by-ben-aaronovitch-read-by-sam-peter-jackson
Review
0 Stars
"Recursion" by Blake Crouch - Abandoned at 10%
Recursion - Blake Crouch

"Recursion" was a mis-buy on my part. An intriguing premise but written in a way I struggled to engage with-

 

I pre-ordered Blake Crouch's "Recursion" because I thought the premise, the emergence of a disease labelled False Memory Syndrome was intriguing. I also wanted to give Blake Crouch another try. I didn't get on well with his "Pines" trilogy, opting out after the first book. Given the reviews his books get, I wanted to see what I was missing.

 

The premise is an intriguing one: in 2008, a well-intentioned and heavily funded scientist sets out to save the world from Alzheimer's and ends up creating a technology that will undermine our whole sense of who we are. Ten years later, a New York City Robbery Division Detective with a tragic history and a drinking problem is present at the suicide of a woman suffering from False Memory Syndrome. He starts to research the phenomenon and can't let it go.

 

With a premise like that, I should be happily hip-deep in a mystery /thriller with some cool science at its heart rather than writing a review of a book I've abandoned at the 10% mark.

 

I abandoned the book because of a number of small things that, when I added them together, told me I wasn't looking forward to spending another ten hours with this book.

The plot structure, with the two asynchronous but converging timelines is a nice idea but the delivery is dull and the pace is slow.

 

The NYC cop didn't interest me. He's a fully-loaded cliché: late middle-aged white man, divorced, the tragic death of his daughter has broken him and his marriage, lives alone, drinks too much and is married to the job. Are you bored yet? I was. There was nothing distinctive about the man to make me care whether he's going to get involved in hunting down the cause of False Memory Syndrome or not.

 

The scientist is a mirror image, thirty-eight-year-old scientist, still seeking funding for her big idea, nothing in her life but her work which is in part a crusade to help her mother who is suffering from Alzheimer's.

 

Then there's the memory science, which seems to model human memory as if it where computer memory only on a larger scale in terms of data set size and complexity. My understanding is that memory doesn't work like that. It's not a tape we play, it's something we reconstruct each time we recall something.

 

Setting the science aside, how these characters remember things doesn't match my experience. They seem to be watching 4K HD TV while I'm tuned to the radio.

So I'm putting this one down as a mis-buy and sending it back to audible.

Review
4 Stars
"Her Body And Other Parties - Seventh Story - The Resident" by Carmen Maria Machado

"The Resident", the seventh story in "Her Body And Other Parties" by Carmen Maria Machado.

 
 
 

It is a powerful description of what it means to live inside your own head, aware that others see you as odd, aware that you are odd, knowing that a past you don't normally allow yourself to remember has damaged you, that you are tethered to the world everyone else lives in only by the love of the wife you've chosen to leave behind so you can live in your own thoughts long enough to write your novel and then discovering how difficult your thoughts are to live with.

 
 
 

It is a story about identity: how finding it requires you to acknowledge your past as well as live in the present; how it needs to be defended against the pressure to be normal and what it means truly to meet yourself.

 
 

The story has two threads through which our main character confronts her identity. The first is that our main character has been accepted as a Resident at an artists' colony in the woods, where she can write her novel and live among other artists. The second is that the colony is on the same lake where the main character suffered trauma while camping with as part of Brownie troop. I won't share the Brownie troop incident here because it would spoil the reveal in the story but it links past and present in a process of discovering your identity and the pressure other people's reactions to your identity.

 
 
 

From the start of the story, it's clear that our main character perceives the world differently from the people around her. This is her reaction when she sees the main building of the Colony for the first time:

 
 
 

I hesitated before the opulent entrance, disliking how the wood curled in organic tendrils from where the doors met, like an octopus emerging arm-and-suckers-first from a hiding place. My wife had always teased me for my feelings and sensations, the things that I immediately loved or hated for reasons that took months of thought to articulate.

 
 

She interacts with the world with all her senses, unfiltered by reason, reaching conclusions that don't change but which she can only later rationalise.

 
 
 

That her wife teases her shows an indulgence but perhaps not an acceptance of this way of experiencing the world. Later, she says of her wife:

 
 

I believed that my wife loved me as I was, but I had also become certain that she’d love a more relaxed version of me even better.

 
 

Using "believed" rather than "knew" here shows how tentative and provisional the main character's attachment to the world is. The wife's wish for "a more relaxed version" shows the pressure the main character is under to become someone different, even from the person she's closest to.

 
 
 

One of the things that I liked about the story was the way in which the main character was as sensitive to words as she was to the direct sensual stimuli. Here's what she says when the word "resident" snags her attention.

 
 
 

A curious term, resident. It seemed at first glance incidental, like a stone, but then if you turned it over, it teemed with life. A resident lived somewhere. You were a resident of a town or a house. Here, you were a resident of this space, yes—not really, of course; you were a visitor, but whereas visitor suggests leaving at the end of the night and driving out in the darkness, resident means that you set up your electric kettle, and will be staying for a while—but also that you are a resident of your own thoughts. You had to find them, be aware of them, but once you located your thoughts you never had to drive away.

 
 

Being "a resident of your own thoughts" is a central theme to the story. Taking up residence is what allows our main character finally to confront her past and understand what it means for who she now is.

 
 
 

While at the colony, the main character falls sick. It's not clear if this sickness is truly physical. It seems to be a rebellion against her environment and a resistance to the stress of being a resident in her own thoughts.

 
 

As she recovers from her illness, there is a nice piece of prose showing how those of us who live in our heads sometimes struggle with the day to day mechanics of life:

 
 
 

I reached out, instinctively, for my wife, and met only high-thread-count sheets and a perfectly fluffed pillow. I sat up. The wallpaper was dark, and dappled with hydrangeas. I could hear sounds coming from the first floor—murmuring chatter, the kiss of silverware and porcelain. My mouth tasted terrible, and my bladder was full. If I could sit up, I could use the toilet. If I used the toilet, I could then turn on the light. If I turned on the light, I could locate the mouthwash in my suitcase and get rid of this musty feel. If I could get rid of the musty feel, I could go downstairs and have supper with the others.

 
 

One part of the story made me want to cheer on behalf of everyone who is pressured to behave against their nature so as to make the "normal" people around them more comfortable. Here's how the main character responds to one of the artists calling her crazy and demanding that she be more considerate of others:

 
 
 

“It is my right to reside in my own mind. It is my right,” I said. “It is my right to be unsociable and it is my right to be unpleasant to be around. Do you ever listen to yourself? This is crazy, that is crazy, everything is crazy to you. By whose measure? Well, it is my right to be crazy, as you love to say so much. I have no shame. I have felt many things in my life, but shame is not among them.” The volume of my voice caused me to stand on my tiptoes. I could not remember yelling like this, ever. “You may think that I have an obligation to you but I assure you that us being thrown together in this arbitrary arrangement does not cohesion make. I have never had less of an obligation to anyone in my life, you aggressively ordinary woman,"

 
 

"...you aggressively ordinary woman", that's a phrase to savour.

 
 

At the close, this story becomes a direct address to the reader, who is seen as sitting in judgement not just on the story but on the writer. It seems to me that what's being referred to here is the process of mining their own experience that all writers who want to dig deep into identity are bound to do to a greater or lesser extent and so are being judged by the reader.

 
 

Our main character first poses some questions:

 
 

What is worse: being locked outside of your own mind or being locked inside of it?

What is worse: writing a trope or being one? What about being more than one?

 
 
 

The first question seems to refer to the challenges in confronting your identity. The first being the refusal to look honestly at who you are. The second being to avoid becoming so self-referential that you can't connect to or communicate with the wider world.

 
 
 

The second question seems to refer to the concepts we use for discovering, assessing and sharing our identity. We are now a society that is well educated in tropes. They provide a library of forma for describing people. Because they are forma, we distrust and disdain them, yet, without that library, how do we communicate what we mean?

 
 
 

The story closes with a question to the readers that I think might refer to Carmen Maria Machado's experience of writing this intense collection of stories:

 
 

But I ask you, readers: Thus far in your jury deliberations have you encountred and others who have truly met themselves? Some, I'm sure but not many. I have known many people in my lifetime and rarely do I find any who have been taken down to the quick, pruned so that their branches might grow back healthier than before.

 
 
 

This framing of confronting your own identity as a form of rehab is challenging. I think it speaks to the passionate honesty that underlies all of the stories in this collection.

 
 

 

 

Reading progress update: I've read 5 out of 364 pages.
Night Watch  - Terry Pratchett, Stephen Briggs

This year, I'm re-reading the Discworld City Watch books. I'm now at the sixth book (Discworld #29), "Night Watch".

 

I bought the hardcover version when it came out in 2002 I remember it as sad and as capturing the real reasons why we resist authority, even when we know we'll lose. For me, it marks when the Discworld books really became serious about politics and power. It's an odd book. Vimes travels back in time to an uprising in an earlier Ankh-Morpork. The events seem to be broadly similar to the doomed Paris Commune of 1871.

 

I have the original hardcover in front of me now. I'm re-reading it for the first time in seventeen years.

 

I hesitated to re-read this as it's one of my favourite Terry Pratchett books (the only rival being "I Shall Wear Midnight", the book where Tiffany Aching grows up) but I think that, with all the crap going on in the UK at the moment, it's time to read this again and share in the anger and courage that Terry Pratchett gifts Vimes with.

Reading progress update: I've read 58%.
Out Of Range  - C.J. Box

I’m struggling with this one. It’s set in Jackson Hole. I’ve been there a couple of times and really didn’t like the feel of the place although the Tetons are spectacular.

 

Apart from a stubborn refusal to let go of a problem even when it brings him into conflict with authority, I barely recognize Joe. The will-they-won’t-they-commit adultery theme that’s being indirectly addressed here, is being handled clumsily.

 

Perhaps the mystery will rescue the book but at 58% I’d be DNFing this book if I hadn’t read the others in the series.

Review
4 Stars
"The Wall" by John Lanchester, narrated by Will Poulter
The Wall - John Lanchester, Will Poulter

"The Wall" is a grimly plausible, deftly told, brilliantly narrated tale of what happens when we lock the rest of the world out to protect ourselves from climate change.

 

John Lanchester's"The Wall" is an extended metaphor for the direction Britain seems to be heading in. In a not too distant future, when the oceans have risen, beaches are a thing of the past and much of the world's population is homeless and or starving, Britain has built a massive wall around the island to lock out "The Others" who are desperate to make a life in Britain. The idea is grimly plausible and as hard to look away from as the scene of a car wreck.

 

When I bought "The Wall", I wondered whether the extended metaphor thing would work as a novel or whether it would feel too much like a didactic tool or a Cassandra-like warning. The warning is definitely there but most of my attention was on Joseph Kavanagh, a young man telling the story of his time as a Defender on The Wall and the things that happened to him afterwards.

 

In this society, every young person serves two years on the Wall as a Defender. Well, except for the Elite who are suspected of finding a way around such things. Defenders keep The Others out. Others who make it through the Wall, become Help, indentured servants whose children will be born as citizens. If Others make it over the Wall, Defenders equal in number to the Others who made it through, are put out to sea in an open boat and banished.

 

Kavanagh is bright, observant, has a vague ambition to work his way up to the Elite, tends towards introspection and sometimes, even poetry. He describes the experience of the Wall as "Concrete. Sea. Sky". He educates us on the different kinds of cold you feel on the wall and how to survive a twelve-hour shift by learning to let time pass through you rather than trying to pass through time.

 

As he works his way through his two-year tour of duty on the Wall, he becomes a Defender. His fellow Defenders are his family. They share a bond that only ex-Defenders recognise.

 

Like his comrades, Kavanagh spends his time in the cold on the wall thinking about food and sex and what he'll do after the Wall. His routine is broken only by trips home to parents he can't communicate with. Parents who've never been on the Wall. Parents who are part of the generation whose choices caused the Change that raised the oceans and created the wall.

 

Kavanagh tells his story plainly in a way that is intimate and honest and also laden with a sense of doom and foreknowledge of regret. Even when he is describing combat, he is calm and untheatrical. This makes him easy to like and to identify with and gives what happens to him and the people around him an emotional impact stronger than the words he uses.

 

"The Wall" will make you think. It will also make you cry. I recommend it to you if you want a fresh, clear voice to help you explore a possible future as a warning to our present.

 

The audiobook version is narrated by Will Poulter, who gets the pacing and the tone exactly right and adds power to the text. 

 

 

 

 

Reading progress update: I've read 11%. €20 - really?
The October Man - Ben Aaronovitch

Moving the action to Germany is refreshing  and is working well.

 

One thing just made me raise an eyebrow.

 

Our German counterpart to Peter Grant has just tipped away half a glass of a good vintage Mosel wine dating, somewhat improbably, back to the 1930s. His colleague upbraids him for wasting it, saying ^That was a€20 bottle of wine."

 

Perhaps my ezperinece was skewed by living in Switzerland, but €20 seems way too low a price for a collectable wine.

What do you think?

The Three Hungers Of A Book Addict

I'm a book addict. I'm always hungry for books.

 

Like addicts everywhere, I tell myself that I could get clean if I wanted to. That I could reduce my TBR pile. That I could buy my next book only after I've finished reading the current one. That I could read less and live more. Like the books in my life, I know that all of these statements are fiction.

 

Today, for the second month running, I had three books that I pre-ordered arrive on the same day. They're great books and I'm sure I'll enjoy them.

 

"The October Man" is a novella in the "Rivers Of London" series. It's a snack to keep me going until the next novel arrives. "Recursion" is Blake Crouch building a complex thriller out of the idea of constructed memories. "The Other Half Of Augusta Hope" is a tragedy wrapped around a bright, bookish misfit. How could I pass on any of these?

 
 

Yet pre-ordering these books is a sign of my addiction. Why would someone who has a TBR pile in the high three figures ever need to pre-order a book?

 
 

Because, as any book addict knows, book addiction comes with three separate hungers that sate different urges at different times.

 
 

So, when I got the "Your title is available for download" emails for these three books today, I decided to reflect a little on the hungers that drive me: the hunger to buy, the hunger to read and the hunger to review.

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Buying Hunger is the fiercest of the three. It is almost impossible to sate. I think of it as the equivalent to a cat's need to stalk prey, even when it's doesn't need the kill.

It's compelling and satisfying in an entirely different way to the other book hungers.

 

When the Buying Hunger is on me, I scan reviews and publishers' promotions with a ravenous eye, looking for something that whispers "You want me. You know you want me. You can have me. Just one click and I'll be yours forever."

 

Then I click and, after the briefest moment of warmth on the tongue, I swallow and move on, sometimes sated, sometimes still searching for the next morsel.


 

The Reading Hunger is a less urgent, more considered hunger.

If buying a book is swiping right on Tinder, reading a book is committing to going away for the weekend to give someone your complete attention. It requires effort and sustained passion. My choice is affected by my mood, my stamina and how the last weekend I spent alone with a book went.

 

I riffle through my TBR pile and I know that, at one point, each book there excited me but not all of them still do, at least not today. I move past them with feelings that range from indifference, through guilt to disappointment, looking for the book that I want to have inside my head for the next eight to twelve hours.

 

Some books, from favourite authors or from favourite series, are known quantities. Reading them revives the memories of the books that preceded them and offers the hope of extended pleasure. Some books I go to only when I need comfort or mindless entertainment or guilty satisfaction of urges not often felt and seldom discussed. Some books I reach for with a spirit of adventure or in the hope of breaking out of ennui.

 

Then I start to read.

 

At first, it's all about me and what I want. The expectations I brought to the book, the desires I wanted it to satisfy, colour my reading of the text. I look for reassurance that I've made the right choice and that the book will get me where I want to go.

 

Sometimes I know early that it isn't going to work. I'm in the wrong mood or it's not the book I thought it was and I DNF it or put it back on the shelf. Sometimes I persist, doggedly trying to feel what I wanted to feel for the book when I started it, reluctant to let go of the promises made until, after hours of stimulus without a satisfying response, I give up or I reach the end but with no sense of having finished. Now I'm frustrated, perhaps even questioning my judgement and the next book is going to have to try so much harder to make me happy.

 

Most of the time I slide into a book from the first page and I know everything is going to be fine. I've danced this dance together before. All I need to do is open the arms of my imagination and let the book lead. When it's done I'll feel an enduring sense of well-being that lingers beyond momentary gratification. My reading muscles have had a good workout and feel ready for more and my confidence in myself and my books have been bolstered.

 

The rarest and perhaps the best reading is when the book surprises me. It delivers what I expected but not in the way in which I expected. Or it challenges me and my expectations. It feeds my hunger with things you've never tasted before but will now always seek.

 

These books are their own creatures. They do not set out to please. They are what they are and they challenge me to have the imagination and the courage to travel where they're willing to take me. Sometimes they're transgressive, taking me over lines I wouldn't normally choose to cross only to find, when I get there, that transgression has changed my view on normal or reinforced a wise taboo.

 

Sometimes these books slip past the part of my mind that reads words and colonise my emotions: flooding me with other people's pain and pleasure and connecting them to my own.

 

Yet, as is the way with addiction, I've found my hunger to read is no longer sated by a single book. I've given up the serial monogamy of reading one book at a time and moved to reading three or four books simultaneously to keep my hunger fed.

 


 

The Reviewing Hunger is one that came to me later in life. I used to be happy with just keeping a list of what I read and when and how I rated it. As the decades past and I understood both how many books I'd devour and how quickly many of them faded from memory, I felt the need to have something more than a list to hang on to them by.

 

I could re-read the book but no one can step into the same book twice. Each time the experience is different. I found that I wanted a record of those experiences, so I started to write reviews, just for me.

 

Then I discovered social media and sites like booklikes and goodreads that enable book addicts like me and my hunger to review became more complex.

 

Reading is a mostly solitary act and I like it that way. Yet I started to regret that each book in my TBR forest fell with only me there to hear it. It surprised me, deep introvert and life-long non-joiner of things, to find that I wanted to share my experience of each book with people who might get what I get from it.

 

So, I indulged myself in writing reviews for the books that had the biggest impact on me. Then it became most books. Now it's pretty much all books.

What I've learned from this is that any hunger I feed grows. Now reviewing is a hunger in its own right. If for some reason, I don't write a review, I feel as if I've missed an opportunity fully to experience the book. Writing the review makes me explore the book and my experience of it in more depth. It cements a memory. Sometimes it even tells me something that I couldn't hear when I was still listening to the book itself.

 

 


 
 This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is book-addiction.001.jpeg
 
If you've read this far my guess is that you've experienced a least some of these three hungers. Or perhaps your hungers are different from mine. Either way, please feel free to share your experience of a book addicts hungers in the comments sectio
 
Review
4.5 Stars
"Death Without Company - Walt Longmire #2" by Craig Johnson
Death Without Company  - George Guidall, Craig Johnson

So this is my second visit with Walt Longmire, long-term Sheriff of a very small town in Wyoming. Everything that I liked about the first book, "The Cold Dish" continues to be present but gets richer with familiarity.

 

The main attraction is still being inside Walt's head. He's a smart, compassionate man, trying to do the right thing, not always sure what that is but willing to put in the effort to work it out. His sense of humour is as deep as his compassion. He's prone to introspection with undertones of depression and from time to time needs to be rescued from the inside of his own head by friends who'll make him act rather than just think and remember.

 

Walt's closest friend ins Henry Standing Bear, Vietnam Vet and owner of the Red Pony bar. Henry is not a sidekick in the traditional sense. He's Walt's peer. They have similar (slightly frightening) abilities to see through lies and to use violence to deliver their version of justice. Their values and motivations overlap but are not exactly the same. In other words, they are friends. Not the Facebook type of friend that clicks approval but the face to face kind of friend who's there when you need him.

 

The relationship between Walt and Henry is the bedrock on which the series is built, so, not surprisingly, Chapter One spends some time re-immersing us in how it works. Here's how it starts:

"It was just after Thanksgiving and we had consumed the better part of single malt Scotch. When I woke up the next morning, Henry had already pulled a couple of leatherette chairs in front of a double fifty-gallon drum stove. I pushed off the sleeping bag and swung my legs over the side of the pool table on which I had fallen asleep and tried to feel the muscles in my face. He had hauled his bag with him and sat hunched over the stove.
I watched as steam blew out with my breath and I scrambled to get the down-filled bag back around me.
'Heat's off'
He turned his head and the dark eyes looked through the silver strands in the black curtain of his hair.
'Yes'
I joined him at the stove in my socks. The floor was cold and I regretted not slipping on boots.
'Do you want some coffee?'
'Yep.'
'Then go and make some. I am the one who built the fire'."

I think this is a good introduction to both men and to the style in which the novel is written. There is a friendship deep enough to afford silent companionship and humour that annotates their relationship and their shared understanding of the world.

 

The other person who casts light on Sheriff Longmire is his predecessor, Lucian, who hired Walt more than twenty years earlier. In the first book, Lucian came across to me as a relic of the old west: authoritarian, violent, intolerant and a law unto himself. In this book, Walt learns more about who Lucian is and how he came to be that way and in the process, starts to see himself becoming the Lucian who hired him.

 

The title "Death Without Company" refer to the fate that befalls people who live without friends. In this case, the death is that of woman resident in the Durant Home for Assisted Living, where Lucian is also a resident. Walt is called in to investigate the death after Lucian declares that the woman was murdered.

 

To figure out what is going on, Walt has to look into Lucian's past and understand what happened to a young man who fell in love with a young Basque immigrant and the consequences it had for her and her family.

 

The tale is a dark and violent one that changed my perception of Lucian. He was who he needed to be at the time. Much as Walt is, except without the compassion.

 

The plot is a satisfying mix of past sins and current avarice delivering death to many of those involved. It gives a picture of how Wyoming used to be and makes Walt reflect on who he is.

 

There's a lot of action in the book, including some great stand-alone scenes with Walt in peril. What I like about the action scenes is that they're never the see-how-I-got-up-and-shrugged-off-being-hit-with-that-steel-bar kind of movie violence. These scenes are about struggle and threat and maybe not making it this time.

 

"Death Without Company" confirmed this as a must-read series for me. I'll be listening to the audiobook version because George Guidall's narration is a big part of my enjoyment. He gets squeezes every ounce of goodness out of the text and does it with no apparent effort.

"The Precedent" by Sean McMullen in "Loosed Upon The World" edited by John Joseph Adams
"Loosed Upon The World" is a collection of twenty-six short stories that imagine our future in a world undergoing dramatic climate change.

 

"The Precedent", by Australian writer Sean McMullen, is the ninth story in the collection and is the most original, unexpected and discomforting that I've read so far.

 

 

Whereas other stories in this book are about fighting climate change or surviving climate change, "The Precedent" is about getting revenge on the generation who caused climate change and tipped the world over into chaos.

 

The first line sets the tone:

 
 

"Even when the climate crime is so serious that death is not punishment enough, one still gets an audit."

 
 

The dispassionate acceptance in that sentence is chilling, yet there is also a sense that the narrator is judging the process and, if not disdaining it, then regretting its necessity.

 
 

The year is 2035. The younger generation has taken power in the form of a World Audit that assumes the Tipper generation, anyone born in the twentieth-century is guilty of climate crime until proven innocent in an Audit.

 
 

The narrator is a climatologist, now in his eighties, who spent his life campaigning to prevent or delay climate change. He intends to beat the audit. We get a ringside seat on the audit as he attempts this.

 
 

An audit is designed as a ritual punishment and extermination of Tippers in ways that are both brutal and heavy-handedly symbolic. Perhaps the least gruesome way to die is by hanging, but even this is accompanied by painful symbolism:

 
 

"The executioner arranged the noose to snap Harrington’s neck as he stood on the tipping plank. This was a length of pinewood that extended out over the drop. The other end was held down by a pile of coal. Now a procession of Wardens filed past. Each took a lump of coal from the pile. The plank began to teeter. I counted fifteen seconds of teetering, during which Harrington’s dignity and composure fled. He began to scream as the tipping point approached; he pissed his pants to try to lighten himself and gain a few more moments of life.


Relentlessly, the hands removed coal from the pile, as relentlessly as coal had once been dug out of the Earth and burned. Abruptly, the tipping point was reached, and a shower of coal catapulted over Harrington as he fell. The gallows creaked. TheWardens applauded."

 
 

Removing the pieces of coal one at a time. Getting all the Wardens involved in the killing. The use of a physical tipping point to kill a Tipper. This is the kind of fanatical fantasy made flesh that the Khmer Rouge came up with. It's like carving a poem into the reader's flesh.

 
 

The power of this story comes from the plausibility of the idea and the matter-of-fact way in which these acts of institutionalised cruelty by the self-righteous young are experienced by the mostly guilty but seldom repentant old.

 
 

The narrator is in the unique position of being both a Tipper and someone who understands exactly what the lifestyle choices of his generation did to the world. He also anticipated the need of the current generation for revenge, drawing parallels between the World Audit and the witch trials that followed the great plague in Europe or the feeding of the French nobility to the Guillotine after the revolution.

 
 

I found the narrator hard to like but impossible not to listen to. He has more insight than empathy His acceptance of the inevitability of organised revenge as part of the adaptation of society to new circumstances is chilling because it is entirely based on intellect. Emotions like compassion, mercy or even revulsion at extermination are set to one side.

 
 

What struck me most about this story is how plausible it is. It's just people behaving the way they've behaved before but with a few small changes in assumptions.

 

 

 
 
 
 This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is ghosts-of-engines.jpg
 

I haven't read Sean McMullen before but I've now bought his short story collection "Ghosts Of Engines Past" because I like the way his mind works.

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

Thirty Firsts TBR Reading Challenge: Books in April and May

This year I've decided to tackle my TBR pile by reading thirty books from it that are the first in a series and assess my eagerness to read the rest of the series in terms of Yes / Probably / Maybe / No.

 

In April and May, I read ten "first in a series" books, which sounds like progress except my usual lack of discipline meant that only three of them were on my original list. What can I say? There are so many series and so little time.

I found seven series I'd like to read more of, one that I'll read if I'm in the mood and two that didn't do anything for me. So here are the series I recommend

 

"The Diabolic"was a delight, a Young Adult Science Fiction book that demonstrated that YA has something valuable to add to SF. It was intense, sophisticated Science Fiction that gripped my imagination, engaged my emotions and kept surprising me.

 

It is dark and violent and filled with deception and yet manages to explore difficult moral challenges without preaching solutions or exploiting problems. The second book in the series is already in my TBR.


"Blood On The Tracks" is a well-plotted murder story that introduces a strong but guilt-ridden ex-army Railroad Cop and her service dog, tracking a killer who seems to be a Vet suffering from PTSD.

 

It takes a murder investigation and weaves in knowledge of two specialist communities, the US Army (in this case the Mortuary Affairs - the part of the Army responsible for recovering, bagging and tagging the dead - to deliver a character-driven mystery with a unique flavour.


"Kill The Queen"is an intrigue-filled, action-packed romp, set in a classic fairy-tale setting, with castles and princesses, except that some of these princesses hold lightning in one hand and sword in the other.

 

In this world, ruthless, magic-wielding royals rule, gladiators fight to the death to entertain the crowds and creatures that morph into beasts, dragons and ogres attend royal courts. This is not a happy ever after kind of place. Here the poisonous politics have deadly consequences and the blood and guts spilt by blade weapons are vividly described.

 

This is the best thing I've read from Jennifer Estep. It left me impatient to get to the next book, "Protect The Prince" which is due out in July 2019.


Some books just click into a slot in my imagination and light it up. "The Cold Dish"is one of them. From the first chapter, I knew that all I wanted to do was settle down and listen to anything Walt Longmire, long-time Sheriff of a small Wyoming town, had to tell me about anything at all.

 

I know I'm late to the Longmire party, good Lord, the sixth and final season of the TV series ending in 2017, but I intend to make up for lost time. The writing is a delight and the people are intriguing.

 

I've already read the second book in the series and I'm still hungry for more. Besides, I'm not going to watch the TV series until I've read the books and I'd really like to watch the TV series so there's some sense of urgency here.


Mira Grant has done something wonderful in "Into The Drowning Deep", she's written a speculative fiction thriller that gives me all the things I liked most in the best Michael Crichton books: edgy but plausible science, a growing sense of doom, a big cast of characters to put in peril, really scary creatures and lots of tension-cranking, page-turning, how-will-they-get-out-of-that action.

 

Then she's surpassed Crichton by giving the leading roles to a diverse set of credibly written women who do what needs to be done without becoming super-soldiers in a dress.

 

The next book isn't out yet but I'll be in the queue to buy it as soon as it is.


The next two books are both by Gareth L Powell, an author I've just had the joy of discovering. He writes well and, as you'll see from these examples, he crosses genres with ease.

"Ragged Alice"is a smooth blend of police procedural and supernatural thriller with an authentic Welsh setting and lyrical descriptions. I consumed the 202 pages in a single sitting, partly because I needed to know where Gareth Powell would take the story and partly because I was beguiled by the language."Ragged Alice" is a smooth blend of police procedural and supernatural thriller with an authentic Welsh setting and lyrical descriptions.

 

"Embers Of War" is a perfectly executed Space Opera, on the kind of scale I normally see from Iain M Banks or Alister Reynolds.

It's gritty and fast and has a colourful cast of characters: the AI of a Carnivore warship who has developed a conscience and gone into the rescue business, two spies on opposite sides of a crappy war who end up working together, a war criminal turned poet, an aging captain who is not sure she can live up to her grandmother's reputation as a pioneer in saving lives and a puzzle at the centre of a planet that has been carved into the shape of a brain that may change everything. If you like that kind of sweeping SF, grab hold and enjoy the ride.


In the first five months of the Reading Challenge, I've read seventeen of the thirty books I'd selected and another twelve that I picked up as I went along. So now I have eighteen series I'd like to follow up an. As a means of reducing my TBR pile, this challenge is a complete failure but it's really helping me find lots of great books to read, so I'm happy.

currently reading

Progress: 77%
Progress: 5/364pages
Progress: 49%
Progress: 26/246pages
Progress: 50%
Progress: 31%
Progress: 5%
Progress: 61%
Glass Beads - Dawn Dumont
Dreamland: A Ghost Story - Nick Clausen