Category Archives: review

Review: The Gone-Away World By Nick Harkaway

Most books I read I have some idea what the story is. This one I did not. Instead, it came as a recommendation from a good friend.

I was really not sure where this story was going at the start. For one thing, it is definitely post-apocalyptic, yet the world is not completely destroyed. People still have a life that resembles what we consider normality. And then once things got going, we had a massive flashback to what is clearly before whatever forever changed the world.

Harkaway’s writing is what I would have to call florid. Current advice about writing encourages shorter sentences over long meandering description. Would-be writers are shown how to break a long sentence up. However, Harkaway meanders not just with description but with narrative and even plays with point-of-view. I find this a highly unusual style – yet it works here. He has clearly been developing this style for a while.

I was also unsure as to quite what sort of story was being told. Several times I wondered if a statement was being made about climate change, or nuclear war. Many many novels have been written down through the decades about what humans would do after some sort of catastrophe, either man-made or otherwise. But I’m not sure that that was what Harkaway was intending. Regardless, the actual mechanism of the Go Away Bomb is certainly unique. The pseudo-science behind it is certainly creative and effective. The full description unfolds in pieces as the narrator grasps it and the final pieces get ever more chilling.

Now that I’ve finished the book, I’m still not sure what story was being told. There is definitely an exploration of coming-of-age early in the flashback. There are several personal reactions to a number of different types of wartime or war-like situations. And a couple of times the narrator has to deal with people not only vastly different to himself, but also to honest kindness from the same.

In the end, the story asks a really serious question about the right to make the world “normal” and who or what should or could be sacrificed to do so. And I’m still not sure if it really answered it.



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Review: The Ocean At The End Of The Lane

This book is what Neil Gaiman does best: make the mundane meet the fantastic.

And I mean that in a quite literal way. In all of the Gaiman novels I have so far read (American Gods, Stardust and Neverwhere), the protagonist is an otherwise ordinary human being somehow thrust into or put in touch with an alternate world, sometimes by accident, sometimes by circumstance. Each does it differently, but each does it in a uniquely Gaiman way.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane is no different. This time, the lead is a middle-aged man re-remembering when he was seven. And that’s an important detail that gives the book a frame. There is a single narrative, a single voice. Gaiman captures the peculiar point-of-view of a seven-year-old as a remembrance. All the action happens in and around an isolated farmhouse down the end of a laneway in rural England, one short of an even more remote farmhouse at the end of the lane.

It is easy to spoil this book. Too easy. There is so much that you simply need to experience for yourself by reading it. The titular ocean is a character of its own, though it is off-stage for much of the story. There are several cats with important roles. And there is another world complete with its own monsters and monster hunters that can touch ours in ways strange and yet completely logical.

There is loss, there are mistakes. There is hope and there is melancholy. It is a story both rich with emotion and room for the reader to add their own.

This is a story that shows you how to be happy with regrets.

This is a longer version of my GoodReads review.


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Review: Shifting Reality by Patty Jansen

Hard science fiction does not ever have to mean a light story peppered with dense, science-heavy prose. And this book shows you why.

The setting is an orbital, rotating space station a few hundred years in the future. It is one of several mining the orbital debris around one of our gas giants. A lot of the population is a type of artificial human called a “construct”, but there is also a hefty proportion of real humans – and this is the first interesting part: they are Indonesian.

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Review: To Kill A Mockingbird

I last read To Kill A Mockingbird in high school because it was part of the curriculum that term. Not only was that entirely too long ago for me, but it is remarkable what you remember. I remember the childrens’ game about Boo Radley. I remember the trial of a black man who should have been acquitted but wasn’t. But when you do have to read it in High School, there are a lot of things you don’t yet know about the world.

So I was surprised to find it lurking on my bookshelf a few weeks ago as I don’t have many books there that I haven’t read that copy of. Normally, new books go into the “To Be Read” pile. Sometimes they stay in that for years. On the other hand, it was good that I’d found it as the title was again a set-text, this time for a writing course.

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Review: American Gods

I picked up this book in a bookstore some months ago due to the fact I was in a bit of a buying mood and I’d never read any Neil Gaiman. His writing had basically passed me by somehow. But the Internet had made quite a big deal over the fact that he’d written the Doctor Who episode “The Doctor’s Wife“. And I had definitely recognised this as a very special episode. So I bought “American Gods”.

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Review: The Siren

It’s been a while since I reviewed a book, but the truth is I have been doing more writing than reading in the last twelve months. But I did manage to finish one. It was The Siren by Tiffany Reisz. Most of my readers will either be aware of it, or have read it.

However, do not be fooled: as well as the obvious label “erotica”, this is a multi-layered story, rich with complex, flawed characters. It is dreadfully easy to find writing on the Internet that someone, somewhere will find titillating. It is rather less easy to find fiction that is actually written well. This work  is two levels above that. At least. And there may be spoilers ahead.

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Okay, so now I’ve finished "Twilight".

I shall say at the outset that this is a book I am probably not going to read again. After seeing all the vitriol about Stephanie Meyer’s writing and not really believing it, I had decided that I really should read it myself. That said, I’m glad I did read it.

I guess the best way to describe Twilight is that it’s like a cake that hasn’t been mixed properly nor baked long enough. There are numerous nice passages and the whole is still fairly tasty, but there are lumps and raw pieces that don’t really work. Meyer has captured the feel of narrating a fairly self-obsessed senior high-school girl who basically falls in love with an extremely dangerous person. I strongly suspect that this is the main reason it has become so successful, especially with high-school girls. It is essentially a forbidden love story, only quite why it is “forbidden” is that he’s a vampire.

Meyer should be lauded for trying to come up with a new twist on vampires. This is where the much-lampooned “sparkle” comes from. On the face of it, it seemed like a creative idea. Except that it’s painfully obvious that it really only allows Meyer’s vampires to be out and about during the day. The problem is that modern literature and mass entertainment is awash with vampires and making them sparkle in the sunlight rather than burn just looks silly. You simply have to come up with a much more innovative take on them if you want to go in a new direction.

Meyer’s writing is also fairly easy to read. It doesn’t torture prose. Things move fairly slickly and the dialogue is very readable. This is the other reason for the book’s success. It is, quite literally, a page-turner.

But there are larger problems in the work. A good writer can describe a setting, bring out characterisation in the players and advance the plot all at the same time. Most of the time, Meyer struggles to do just one of these competantly. So, you find a couple of very annoying chapters in the middle where Bella and Edward are basically doing twenty questions at each other. Or a cadre of supporting characters who are very little more than names and genders. Meyer tries to create some different reactions to Bella for some of them, particularly early on, but she stops there. A particularly bad case is how the vampires ignore and look down on everyone — until Edward takes Bella home to meet his ‘family’ and then everyone is more than happy to know her and include her in their lives. In fact, this must have even been obvious to Meyer because she has Alice (another vampire) explain to Bella why they’re going to such lengths to protect her from James (a predatory vampire from another clan). I didn’t find it convincing.

The resolution of the climax also feels a bit deus ex machina. The setup was actually quite good, putting Bella in an inescapable position, in some part from her own idiotic choices. It says a lot about her that I was almost happy at the prospect of her death, but there really weren’t enough clues that Edward’s family would, in fact, turn up in time to save the day.

All in all, it was more work than I would have liked to read it. There was a great story idea and some elements where well chosen. However, the execution is very ordinary.

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