What am I reading? Book reviews June 2015

2015-07-02 09.33.12

Fewer than 2,500 pages read this month, down 20% from May. I’d blame the pulmonary embolism, but I actually got a TON of reading done while waiting in the emergency room. 🙂 As you’ll notice from the picture, there was even a non-fiction eBook as part of the mix!

Seveneves – Neal Stephenson, 2015 (867 pages)

I am a long-time Stephenson fan, have read everything else he’s written, and was looking forward to this extremely. It’s not terrible, but it is not his best work. Too many reviewers have spoiled too much of the plot, but the first 2/3 of the book is a (good) geekfest on orbital mechanics, crisis-handling and comet wrassling. The science is very solid, but the writing is not as sharp as usual – Neal has publicly stated that he ‘kind of had this old idea kicking around’ and that comes across on the page: it’s hurried. The final third is a big shift, and I almost wish it had been made into a second volume. 7/10.

The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell, 2014 (624 pages)

I have also read everything Mitchell has ever written. His early promise in Ghostwritten and number9dream were apparent, and Cloud Atlas was mind-glowingly good: it will almost certainly be regarded as one of the most important novels of the early 21st century. But every book after raises the question whether Mitchell can match that triumph. I personally liked Black Swan Green (a relatively conventional bildungsroman) but thought the Jacob de Zoet book in Japan was a let-down. Although The Bone Clocks was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, it is definitely not David at his best. If you think of The Bone Clocks as Mitchell with a bit more Neil Gaiman than usual, you’d be on the right track. To my mind, the environmental allegory/dystopia/screed in the final chapter was too heavy handed and weakens the book. 8/10

The Long Mars – Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter, 2014 (357 pages)

The Long Utopia – Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter, 2015 (360 pages)

Uff. I threatened to stop reading this series after book two. But various friends said “stick with it, they get better.” Maybe a little. Books three and four aren’t the worst thing I have ever read, but Pratchett’s illness and death has obviously had an impact: it’s pretty much all Baxter by this point, and the man is a charmless writer. For some reason I forgot I had read The Long Mars at the start of the month (which tells you something about how memorable these are) so it isn’t in the photo. 5/10 for both books.

Marie Antoinette’s Watch – John Biggs, 2015 (252 pages)

My Facebook friend Mike Klein has joined Ascribe.io, which uses blockchain technology to manage and track digital content. Clever idea, and I wish him luck in Berlin! But as a test of the technology, Mike shared an eBook with me. Not only did the transfer work well, but I really liked the book! I normally prefer fiction to non-fiction, but this book combines a clever heist, French history, and a fascinating exploration of the watch-making industry in the past and today. Not a subject I knew much about, and this was a wonderful introduction. It isn’t perfect writing, but Biggs made this topic into a page turner for me! 9/10

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