Duncan’s Reading List & Book Reviews: April 2015

2015-05-02 08.37.24

It’s a dogpile of books!

No airplane travel this month, and I do most of my reading in transit, so only 2,700 pages accomplished, but a nice and eclectic mix of fiction, genre fiction, and non-fiction.

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline, 2011

Virtually a perfect book for me: a serious science fiction and computer gaming fan who remembers the years around 1980, Family Ties, War Games and the music of Rush (!) really well. But that’s me, and the New York Times warned that the gaming aspects swamped the rest of the book. That didn’t bother me, but I could see it for others. Special shout out to (slight spoilers) some nice use of gender, race and sexuality in characters. If you’re like me, it’s an 11/10, but for a less serious (or younger) geek it might be more like a 6/10.

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt, 2013

Although the book won a Pulitzer, and many positive reviews, people and reviewers whose judgement means more to me DETESTED this book. Witheringly described as “a children’s book for adults” I was prepared for the worst. It’s not that bad: yes, it relies too heavily on coincidence…but so did most The Luminaries (which I reviewed last month) and critics loved that book. I finished it, and enjoyed some portions. But I have no desire to ever read anything else by the author, and have to say she isn’t as great a writer as she thinks she is, and she needs a better editor. I also found the wallowing in drug addiction and alcohol by the various characters overkill. Less would have been more. 6/10

The Land That Never Was – David Sinclair, 2003

Non-fiction, this is the story of one of the greatest land frauds in history. Scot Gregor MacGregor convinced hundreds of his countrymen to emigrate to the land of Poyais in the 1820s, and thousands of Britons to invest in the scheme. But there was no such country. The story just isn’t that interesting: con men who send people to their deaths are evil, and people are greedy and easily conned. I didn’t feel like I learned anything new, nor was there enough original research. Even the villain wasn’t that compelling. 6/10

Forever Peace – Joe Haldeman, 1997

Last month I read Joe Haldeman’s 1974 novel The Forever War, and loved it. Forever Peace is constantly described as ‘not exactly a sequel.’ Fair warning, but it did win the Hugo and Nebula, so it must be pretty good, right? Nope: in the 23 years between the books, Mr. Haldeman appears to have lost all of his writing ability. I am not exaggerating – the book is confusingly written from two points of view, and the main thrust of the book (the use of remote controlled combat super-robots called soldierboys) turns in an implausible direction halfway through. The lead character is black, but the way society of 2043 reacts to his relationship to an older white woman just doesn’t make sociological sense. Not only did I not enjoy it, but it actually managed to taint my memories of the predecessor book! 2/10

The Long Earth – Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter, 2012

Terry was working on a multiple-Earths story at the same time he started writing Discworld books back in 1983. Those took off, and he left the concept alone. But after he was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s (which he died of last month) he partnered with Baxter to write a five volume series. Was it a bit of a cash grab? Cashing in on Terry’s reputation? Yes, but in the first book there some hints of Pratchett’s sense of humour, and sharp writing. One critic wrote that it was “much more like a Baxter novel than a Pratchett one.” Not without its charms, but 6/10 at best.

The Long War – Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter, 2013

At a guess, Terry was sicker and less able to help. Less humour, less imagination, and some gratuitous cruelty near the end that didn’t feel consonant with the normal Pratchett style. 4/10, and I don’t think I will buy Long Mars, which is volume three, and released in 2014.

And I already have 2,200 pages of books picked out for May!


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