Monday 28 September 2015

Book Club Decade

This month is the ten year anniversary of the book club at Subiaco Public Library. When the book club was first started there was an immediate response from the public and we had seventeen people at the first session. Ten years later people from that first session are still coming along every sixth week to talk about our latest book and literature in general. Many other members are still coming along after seven or eight years. As facilitator this is of course very pleasing, but it also indicates that for a certain kind of person belonging to a book club is a very rewarding experience.

What is it about book clubs that is so appealing? The principle benefit of joining a book club is that it forces you out of your reading comfort zone. If you are willing to be dedicated and make the effort to read every book, rather than taking the easy way out and merely reading those with immediate appeal, then the benefits are manifold. A disciplined attitude towards reading assists getting through difficult or challenging narratives that might otherwise be abandoned. Reading with a purpose also means reading with a different perspective. You will learn a great deal and also the ability to critically assess texts is gradually developed; a skill that enables a deeper and more rewarding reading experience.

Facilitating the book club for ten years has meant that I’ve read about ninety books that I know I never would have considered reading otherwise. Some I wished I hadn’t read, but most have been of value and a certain amount have been brilliant. At the moment I’m reading Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook  (1962) and I have to say that it is proving to be a difficult experience. It took me two hundred pages to finally become immersed in the book and I know that once I finish it I’ll be relieved, however I’m also being exposed to a particular world view and a writing style that I otherwise would have not experienced.

If you’ve ever considered joining a book club, or starting one of your own, then don’t hesitate. If you are willing to be dedicated and select mostly challenging literature then it will enrich your life enormously. Also if you are a single middle aged or older man looking to meet someone then join a book club. Book clubs seem to be the domain of middle aged and older women. With only about five percent of members over the ten years having been male, it’s an indication that it is a potential dating trend that for now remains mostly untapped.

Sunday 13 September 2015

Seven Eves - Neal Stephenson (2015)

Part 3

It was with some relief that I went back to reading Seven Eves after enduring nineteenth century Italian decay and decadence as portrayed in The Leopard. Set five thousand years after the events in parts one and two, the decedents of the survivors of humanity’s dash into near Earth orbit now number in the billions and have established a ring of habitats around the still recovering Earth. What Stephenson offers here is a compelling portrayal of humanity reborn; a humanity capable of manipulating the environment like never before, but typically still displaying all the flaws of the ‘old Earth’ humans five thousand years ago.

Whilst the first two parts of Seven Eves were rooted firmly in near future hard science fiction, the third part is more speculative and it is very entertaining indeed. Stephenson describes a near earth orbital habitat ring that is every science fiction junky’s ultimate fantasy. Also impressive is the fascinating history of the five thousand year exile from the earth, which is gradually revealed throughout the third part. The surface of the earth is now habitable once again and efforts are underway to terraform it with organisms created in the laboratory using DNA data saved on thumb drives by the survivors of old earth. Stephenson makes it all seem perfectly feasible and takes great pains to explain the science behind the amazing hardware and bio-tech on display. Basically once again he can not contain his inner geek and floods the narrative with detail about how everything works and why, however this tendency works better for him when his imagination is allowed to escape the confines of near future technology.

As with the first two parts the characters are well rounded enough to not detract from the plot arc. As with most epics there are a plethora of characters, most being descendants from those who survived in space after the ‘hard rain’. Stephenson goes into great detail explaining the genetic diversity behind each of the main seven races of humans, but fortunately it’s fascinating stuff. Kath Two, a Moiran, is in ‘survey’ and is prone to being epigenetic: able to change her body under the influence of new environments. Beled Tomov is a Teklan, a muscle-bound hero type, and so it goes. Special mention must be made of Longobard, a ‘Neoander’ - that’s right, you guessed it, the future human race went and brought back Neanderthals.

Although the speculative science fiction of the third part is impressive, I found the end game of the novel to be slightly disappointing, however the overall impact of the novel, which is epic in every sense of the word, makes up for this slight flaw. In many ways the ending leaves open the possibility of a sequel, or even a series of books. The cynic in me feels that this is certainly likely, but that will not stop me from reading it if it does eventually eventuate.