My Library on the Road: March 2015 edition

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We left Canada on March 2nd, and returned on the 29th. Nearly four weeks of business travel across Europe, Mid-East and Asia meant great client meetings and presentations, but also a lot of time for reading. Eight books and about 4,000 pages later…

The Forever War – Joe Haldeman, 1974

Justifiably a science fiction classic, it won the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards. Written by a Vietnam Veteran, it’s a superb exploration of the futility of war and what it looks like from the trenches. Additionally, the exploration of future weapons technology and the effects of time dilation from near-light speed travel are clearly handled and make for some nice plot twists. There’s even a love story. 9/10

Leviathan Wakes – James S.A. Corey, 2011

Duncan cannot live by reading Proust alone. I love me some rip-roaring hard SF space opera! I have already read everything Peter F. Hamilton has written, so the back cover blurb “…in the grand tradition of Peter F. Hamilton” was good enough for me, and Hugo- and Locus-nominated helped too. Fun, exciting, kind of derivative…the main drawback was that this was only the first volume of four, and I wasn’t going the find the sequels in airport bookshops! I like the Detective Miller character – too bad he’s dead at the end. Or is he??? 7/10

Kerrigan in Copenhagen – Thomas E. Kennedy, 2013

I bought this in a Zürich bookstore a year ago, and thought I would read it when I was in the Danish capital! Great fun, this alcohol soaked narrative of a man writing about Copenhagen bars is literary, but not too much so. The trope of the middle-aged alcoholic man who beds an unlikely number of gorgeous women of all ages is too-familiar and also sexist (as the narrator admits) but it is redeemed (as is Kerrigan) by the powers of James Joyce, jazz, and Ulysses. Not to mention a green eyed Associate!  I probably wouldn’t buy any of the three other books Kennedy has written as part of the series set in Copenhagen, which tells you a lot. 6/10

The Abyss Beyond Dreams – Peter F. Hamilton, 2014

So there I was, in an English language bookstore in Zurich. And it turns out I HAVEN’T read everything Peter F. Hamilton has written, because the sneaky devil has a new book out, part one of two. 30 Swiss francs later, I am back into the space opera. This is about as good as most of his other series: reliable bang for your buck. Or franc. 8/10

Reamde – Neal Stephenson, 2011

I have loved the last few Stephenson books I have read, so was saving this one up. Wow! His best ever, Reamde is a technothriller that explores computer gaming, viruses, Russian mafia, Islamic terrorists and has several strong female leads. It passes the Bechdel test with flying colours. It is sort of like a Tom Clancy novel, if Tom 1) knew anything about computers; or 2) women; or 3) how to write well. Don’t get me wrong – Mr. Clancy does a good job of making you turn the page, but Neal is a genuinely good writer. It isn’t science fiction, but it MUCH more accessible than Neal’s last few books. You know that feeling of sadness you get when you realise that a book you enjoy will end one day? I got that around page 130 out of more than 1,040. 10/10

Good Omens – Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman, 1990

When Terry died this month, I thought I would give try this joint effort. This book has been around for 25 years, is wildly popular, and a real cult novel. And it is fine…but my problem is that I REALLY like Terry’s Discworld books and I REALLY like Neil’s writing. And they aren’t terrible co-authors, but the purity of voice is lost to me. Neil is someone who writes frightening and dark stuff, but is a fundamental optimist inside. Terry wrote humorous stories about fantasy characters in a world being carried on the back of elephants…and is screaming with rage inside. And that was before he was dying of early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. The two together are less than the sum of their parts, IMO. 6/10

Raising Steam – Terry Pratchett, 2014

This is presumably the last book Terry finished before he died. We’ve all known he’s has Alzheimer’s since 2007, but he worked with his wife and although he couldn’t type his own manuscripts lately, the essential character of his writing still came through. I can’t say that of this book: it has all the familiar characters from the more recent Discworld novels (this is #40 in the series) but something seems to be missing. Perhaps because I know he was sick, but it wasn’t up to snuff. (That’s a dark joke…the previous novel was called Snuff.) 4/10

Shaman – Kim Stanley Robinson, 2013

Kim’s Red/Blue/Green Mars Trilogy is the best series of hard science fiction books looking at terraforming a planet. Hugos, Loci and Nebulae awards galore. Not always the best writing, but the science and imagination is so strong that it doesn’t matter. So KSR decided to write a novel about the people who decorated the Chauvet cave, about 25,000 years ago? And it’s not a bad story, it’s just that I don’t think he brings ANYTHING new to that genre of pre-historic fiction. Jean M. Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear was written in 1980, and covered much the same ground, and about as well or better. 5/10

That was the last book, and disappointing to end on a low note.

However, I need to give a shout out to two great English language bookstores. Orell Füssli on Bahnhof Strasse in Zürich, and MPH in Raffles City in Singapore.


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