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Monday, 7 May 2018

Martian Time-Slip - Philip K. Dick (1964)

Rating: Admirable

I thought it was about time I read another P. K. Dick novel, because frankly I need that kind of thing in my life on occasions. Martian Time-Slip is a typical P. K. Dick novel in almost every way, featuring shifts in reality, characters with unusual mental abilities, time distortions and many of the 'every-man' characters who endure the weird situations that appear in his novels, including this one. Although Martian Time-Slip is not without its flaws, it is ultimately one of Dick's better novels from the 1960's. P. K. Dick was an utterly unique writer, combining disparate elements that other writers would only flirt with. Although many of the novel's characters are fairly one dimensional, perhaps even mundane, Dick portrays them in such an unusually direct manner that ultimately such shortcomings are transcended, something that also significantly adds to the novel's hyper-real tone. As usual P. K. Dick pays no attention to scientific practicalities, pretty much portraying life on Mars as if it was merely some strange desert region on Earth; but ultimately it doesn't matter, it's a Philip K. Dick novel after all...

Monday, 30 April 2018

Store of the Worlds: The Stories of Robert Sheckley - edited by Alex Abramovich and Jonathan Lethem (2012)

Rating: Sublime

Store of the Worlds is perhaps the greatest collection of science fiction stories I have ever read. Every story is brilliant, thought provoking, amusing and provocative.  Many of these stories were first published in science fiction magazines from the 1950's and 1960s, such as Galaxy Science Fiction and Amazing Science Fiction Stories, even a number from Playboy Magazine! It is obvious that Sheckley helped invent some now well known science fiction tropes, but more significantly he inverted a number of them too, like portraying humans as alien invaders, let loose on the universe. Oh, and his style is polished and erudite, belying science fiction's mid century pulp reputation. Just amazing...

Monday, 16 April 2018

Manhattan Beach - Jennifer Egan (2017)

Rating: Excellent

Manhattan Beach is certainly an impressive novel. I found myself becoming emotionally engaged with the principal protagonists on multiple occasions throughout, which is always the sign of above average writing, particularly when it is a novel that I would not normally be interested in reading outside of the book club. Manhattan Beach is compelling, skillfully plotted and Egan certainly has a way with placing you right there with the characters across some varied settings. The novel falls away a bit toward the end, but that was principally because some of the narrative tension had dissipated after various plot-lines had resolved. I'll be delving into Egan's past novels in the future, in particular her Pulitzer Prize winning novel A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010).

Monday, 2 April 2018

Fictions - Jorge Luis Borges (1941-1944, this translated edition, 2000)

Rating: Sublime

I have finally read Jorge Luis Borges and I can confirm that it is true, Borges was a literary genius. The stories that make up this collection are unique (even now), inspiring, fascinating and above all the work of what was a highly original mind. If you are feeling jaded with what you've been reading lately then read this book and be inspired by literature once again. The story - The Library of Babel, begins with one of the all time greatest opening sentences: 'The universe (which others call the library) is composed of an indefinite, perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries.'

I always suspected that I worked in a universe within a universe... 


Sunday, 11 March 2018

The Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry (2016)

Rating: Excellent

One of those popular literary fiction novels that excels in being thoroughly enjoyable without setting the literary firmament afire, which is perfectly fine. The Essex Serpent is not particularly plot driven, rather it is heavy on some weighty themes that are both universal and also particular to the Victorian era it is set in. Perry's strength lies in her splendid characterizations and making the settings come alive; she also has some fun with Gothic tropes whilst she's at it. One of my book club members described it as "gentle", in a complimentary sense of course, and I have to agree. It has been a great period of quality books for me and The Essex Serpent hasn't spoiled that particular reading roll.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life - Adam Greenfield (2017)

Rating: Excellent

An excellent analysis of where we are at and where it all could take us; covers smart phones, the internet of things, augmented reality, digital fabrication (3D printing), cryptocurrency and blockchains (I understand it all now, sort of...), automation and machine learning (AI). Greenfield writes too much like an academic - lacking a bit of flair, but this is a small criticism. As Brian Eno says on the back cover blurb - 'This is an essential book.' I say - beware the hegemony of the stacks!

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison (1952)

Rating: Excellent

A challenging and inventive examination of what it was to be a black American in the mid twentieth century. Complex, surreal, disturbing and unfortunately still relevant reading within the context of the ugliness of our times.