March Reads

Bah, still struggling to get through that much at the moment. Hopefully a wee week off work will get me back on the reading road…

Robot – Stanislaw Lem, A Klimowski, D. Schejbal
This is a couple of comic-based interpretations of Stanislaw Lem short stories. My favourite is the first of the two, in which a despotic robot overlord prevents his people from gathering in large groups by making their ears out of fissile material. Too many people close together will result in critical mass and a nuclear explosion. Good stuff (and I quite enjoyed the artwork too).
Mazeworld – Alan Grant and Arthur Ranson
A collection of comics that ran between 1998 and 2000 in 200AD, Mazeworld is the story of a man hanged who awakes in an alternate reality where the architecture and ethos are based around mazes (nicely, this extends in places to the story panels). The (somewhat selfish) hero of the Mazeworld has been hanged in what appears to be an experiment with reintroducing the death penalty. He isn’t killed, however and his comatose body is taken away to be observed and, latterly, experimented upon. The authorities are able to get away with this because nobody is aware of the existence of this man. His adventures in the alternate universe invoilve fantasy, violence and treachery. I enjoyed this.
The End Specialist – Drew Magary
This has been shortlisted for the Clarke Award this year. I didn’t know this at the time I read it (the shortlist not having been announced at the time), but there was a wee bit of positive chat about it, so I thought I’d try it out. Magary’s novel is based on the idea that humanity manages to cure death. You are given a treatment which freezes you at the age you were at at the time you first receive the treatment. Death by violence and disease is still possible; but you won’t get older. It’s an interesting take on the idea of immortality, exploring the (mostly negative) consequences for people. Worth a read.
Mr Fox – Helen Oyeyemi
I was keen on Helen Oyeyemi’s The Icarus Girl, her wonderful début novel. This, her fourth, by nature of it’s premise, perhaps doesn’t hold together quite so well, but it is playful, witty and features some genuinely superb writing. The idea is that Mary Foxe, the eponymous Mr Fox’s Muse, pops up to upbraid St. John Fox for his tendency to mistreat his characters. She suggests that he is a serial killer and that he should not treat people so. This brings us to a series of wonderful little stories which explore many themes. Oyeyemi is a talent to be treasured. Excellent stuff.
A Princess of Roumania – Paul Park
The first in a series of four novels featuring Miranda Popescu, a young girl who has always known that she was adopted, yet is not aware (why would you be?) that she was actually from an alternate reality. She is a Princess (duh, of Roumania) in this world, where our technology is far in advance of theirs, though where magic is powerful, though illegal and taboo. The continuation of her relationships with people (altered by the switch to the alternate world), gives this, for me, anyway a bit of an edge over the little fantasy I have read. Paul Park is a wonderful writer too.
The Incal – Jodorowsky and Moebius
It was the Jodorowsky connection that attracted me to these comics. They are, as anyone who has ever seen a Jodorowsky film will attest, odd. But rather wonderful.
The Godless Boys – Naomi Wood
The Godless Boys presents an alternate England where the non-Christian are persecuted and (after some conflict) are exiled to an island in the north sea. Wood uses this island and a 10 year old mystery to explore faith, atheism, extremism, adolescence and love. It is an effective novel and there is no question about Wood’s ability. However (though it wasn’t unexpected), the ending annoyed me a great deal. I felt a little manipulated by the way that we got there. Admittedly, the book is refreshingly free of bloat, of which I approve and this means that events can feel a little rushed. Despite that, I would recommend this novel. My grumble there is a personal one.
Nairobi Heat – Mukoma Wa Ngugi
I have to confess that the plot, characterisation and the writing wouldn’t do a huge amount to recommend this to me. However the ideas explored in the novel do lift it for me, anyway. Detective Ishmael (an African-American Detective), on the trail of the killer (believed to be a black man) of a young white girl – it is important, politically, that he is successful, goes to Nairobi to investigate the crime. Initially he finds himself regarded by the local people as a white man. Making friends with local police, he does get his way to the heart of the crime. However, what lifts this novel is the examination of white liberal guilt (conscience-salving charity, which does little to ease the problems) and the racist removal of agency from local people. Perhaps this aspect touched me a little more because the Kony campaign has been in my mind. This all does lift the novel. Though one does wonder if you’d be better served by some non-fiction on this subject.
The Tourmaline – Paul Park
The follow up to A Princess of Roumania. Still enjoying the series, although I can see this getting a little cloying. Will try and finish the series soon.
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