Wednesday 8 June 2016

A bit more Clarke and some recommendations

Not much depth here I'm afraid. Busy!

Clarke Award

First, I've managed to read a few more of the books on the Clarke submission list. 

First up I reread Ancillary Justice and then read Sword and Mercy. I enjoyed them a lot. They are intelligent, fun and satisfying. 

Throughout The Watchmaker of Filigree Street my evil fairy companion sat on my shoulder whispering "stop now, it's NOT worth it". I didn't listen because there are some things Natasha Pulley does really well. She is concise and evocative in her scene setting and there are passages in the first half that are particularly good at making you think about space, time and perception. However, much of that good work is wasted and the last third annoyed me a great deal - not just because the last chapters have to explain so much - please don't explain to me!!!!! - but because the novel wastes it's poetic and metaphorical potential (especially the synesthesia) and can't do anything interesting with all its STUFF - especially terrorism and imperialism. And the things she does with one of her main characters, Grace - especially in making her so inexplicably mean and stupid, is bizarre. 

Quite a lot better is Al Robertson's Crashing Heaven. I read this on the basis of Christina Scholz's review at Strange Horizons and because Robertson seems such an interesting bloke. Well worth a look if not as good as I was hoping for.

I love Philip Reeve's books. Railhead isn't quite Reeve at his best but since he and Frances Hardinge can write the socks of just about everyone else writing YA it doesn't matter. Very good.

Nothing to vaguely challenge any of the fantastic books on my list.

I still plan to finish reading the shortlisted books but I can't whip up any enthusiasm at the minute. However check out Everything is Nice for more forthright discussions about the future of the prize.  Martin is also compiling reviews of the shortlisted books here


I also made a decision to try and read a bit more fantasy this year. This is in response to my dissatisfaction with two widely admired novels, Zen Cho's Sorcerer to the Crown and Aliette de Bodard's House of Shattered Wings. I should say that I read both novels with a degree of pleasure and I'm recommending Cho to all the girls at school. [it's a girls school!] However de Bodard's novel in particular felt like a text that wanted to tell me about imperialism and ruling class duplicity rather than a novel that wanted to tell me an interesting story first and foremost. It's BSFA win baffles me. I appreciate that the skill of creating subtle and suggestive metaphors and juxtapositions must be exceedingly difficult and hard won. I appreciate too, obviously, I hope, that both writers are trying to give voice to characters and histories that have been much neglected in fantasy and sf. Unfortunately I'm comparing and contrasting with writers like Nalo Hopkinson and Helen Oyeyemi who are doing it in much more interesting ways (see below) rather than the generic mass market crap that fills the Waterstones fantasy shelves. Anyways, hopefully this will be one project that I can come back to again and again this year in an attempt to analyse how texts as rich and disturbing as Viriconium work. Yeah, sorry, the benchmark IS high.

I began with Richard Morgan's A Land Fit for Heroes trilogy. I've still got The Dark Defiles to read, hopefully in the next week or two, but it is fascinating and often brilliant so far. More soon.

And yes, I am slowly making my way through the new collections by Oyeyemi (What is not yours is not yours) and Hopkinson (Falling in Love with Hominids) and finding them hugely rewarding. 

Great books

Before I launch into an excited torrent of 'you must read this' I have one slight disappointment to report. I admired Sarah Perry's singular and weird After Me Comes the Flood last year and so my expectations were high for The Essex Serpent. There ARE lots of things to admire about it and much is staying with me: the sense of place, the evocative and poetic writing about nature, certain scenes and images, plus I think you cannot help but discern Perry's wisdom and kindness. But it didn't work in other ways, perhaps most of all because the tone didn't feel right. It felt too light for its darker themes and metaphors to live vividly. I felt the presence of some of the great nineteenth century writers, especially Dickens but couldn't feel their weight. Nor did it achieve either the great storytelling of Sarah Waters or the meditative density of say, Woolf. I feel kind of guilty for feeling this way, so much so that if reviews and criticism emerge that convince me I'm wrong I'll happily reread.


The Vegetarian - Han Kang. All the hype is fully deserved. 

Mend the Living -  Maylis de Kerangal. Intense and euphoric. I'd go as far as astonishing. Take a look at Mike Harrison's review here

The Beauty and, even better, The Arrival of Missives - Aliya Whiteley. I'm giving these to EVERYONE!!!

Central Station - Lavie Tidhar. My thoughts here. Novel of the Year.

The Emigrants - W G Sebald. Even trying to avoid hyperbole......this is one of the best books I've ever read. I can't remember any text - fiction or non-fiction - that has brought the past to life so vividly, that has made me want to read so slowly so as not to miss a single detail, idea or thought - even knowing that I'll have to reread again and again to even glimpse some of the subtlety and craft at work. 'Sublime' is the only word that fits. Now 2016 will be the year of Sebald as this is the first I've read and I mean to read them all, greedily.

Elsewhere on the interweb:

  • Really enjoying Jonathan McCalmont's discussions of the short story collection Sisters of the Revolution.
  • Discovered From couch to moon and Gautam Bhatia's blog.
  • Practically Marzipan is always good.
  • I love following what Ana reads here.

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