Our members regularly comment and rate the books we have been discussing, below is some of the most recent activity on the site..
This week: Sinclair rated New York 2140
Sinclair (29 January 2023 20:07)
There was plenty I liked about this book and a few things I wasn't so keen on. I admired the slow pace of the plot, that the story takes place across months and years, not a breathless week of all out action. The diverse cast of characters was well portrayed. Even those that I initially disliked had nuances deep enough to make them interesting. I would have liked to have seen more of any of them and would have been happier losing a few and gaining more focus on those that remained.
The setting in 2140 seemed a little shallow (despite its deeper seas). References to anything cultural that might have happened between 2017 and 2140 were few and far between. The world of 2140 didn't seem very different to now, just with more water, as if society had carefully avoided any innovation for 120 years. This is certainly not the only novel of the near future that does this but its many references to people and events from 2017 and earlier made it obvious enough to break my immersion.
I had no taste for the concerned citizen chapters, where the author delivers his diagnosis of society's ills directly to the reader. The whole book had a strong scent of sermon about it that was a little tedious to me. Skilled observation of characters' perceptions and reactions might make me question my own ideas. If it doesn't, then just telling me what's what and how I should fix it isn't going to achieve anything. This stood out particularly by the comparison with Moby Dick that the many references to Herman Melville seemed to invite. The asides in Moby Dick decribe the whaling life in minute detail but rarely (if ever) break into exhortation. In the end, for me, a step back by the author would have been two steps in his favour.
Last month: Sinclair rated The Testaments
Sinclair (8 December 2022 21:48)
The Handmaid's Tale was a cry of rage, a warning against complacency. The Testaments feels more comforting. It reminds us that oppression can be overcome and of how fragile a regime can be. It seems like a reaction to an era of surging right wing populism. The novel's three protagonists form a triangle, each point with a different relationship to Gilead's regime: Lydia from within it, Agnes from under it, and Daisy from outside it. One might feel isolated in opposition to such a regime but this novel suggests that allies can be made across the boundaries it creates.
Of the three protagonists, Aunt Lydia's story dominated the novel for me. The author has taken an iconically wicked character and turned her into something else. It's tempting to see her as a secret goodie, a paragon of perserverance justifying her means with her ends. But is she really driven by more than survival and revenge? Does she protect vulnerable individuals on principle or to ease her guilty conscience? Can we even be sure she's telling us the truth? As she gleefully dispatched the awful awful people around her and brought down the whole house of cards, I found I didn't care. I just enjoyed the black humoured deviousness of it all.
Oct 2022: Sinclair rated The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman
Sinclair (29 October 2022 19:40)
I first read this book about twenty years ago and a few things struck me when I started reading it again. The first was the beauty of the writing. I found myself reading the same sentences over and over in the first chapter, just to enjoy the sound of it. The second thing that struck me was that I had no memory of Dr. Hoffman as a character. I remembered the Count quite clearly and was almost certain that he wasn't Dr. Hoffman, but I had no memory of the doctor himself. On a second reading, I think that is an almost intentional and very striking effect of the way these characters are written. The final thing that crept up on me was the discomfort with which I anticipated reading again the novel's scenes of sexual violence. From the group discussion, I was not the only one discomfited by their unflinching brutality. I would characterise the whole novel as unflinching, as deploying intense, unsentimental honesty. As to what it's all getting at, there is an intimidating density to the ideas in play that it is a delight to pick at. I suspect one could take any page and find enough in it to discuss for an hour or more and come away loving it more for the discussion.
Oct 2022: Sean rated The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman
Oct 2022: Sean rated Dante
Oct 2022: Sean rated Lagoon
Oct 2022: Sean rated The Moon and the Other
Sep 2022: Sinclair rated Lagoon
Sinclair (30 September 2022 20:05)
In her afterword, the author traces the genesis of Lagoon to anger at the portrayal of Nigerians in District 9, and coming through strongly in this novel was a love for Nigeria, specifically Lagos, but an open eyed love that didn't deny what is wicked or difficult. The ambiguously moral aliens choose Lagos for its vitality and the novel overflows accordingly. Extra terrestrials, gods and superheroes come teeming like mutant sealife. Petty criminals, politicians, evangelists and LGBTQ activists slosh around in their wake.
Sometimes it felt like too much and I found I enjoyed the story more in its individual parts than as a whole. There were some great vignettes of incidental characters caught up in the chaos, but with so many strands the whole thing felt like it might fly into mess at any moment and inevitably some were cut unsatisfyingly short.
Sep 2022: Sinclair rated The Moon and the Other
Sinclair (3 September 2022 19:55)
The plot emerges from this novel like a house that has grown from a tree. There's little sense of construction in the writing but more a sense of something sown, nourished and pruned. Rather than tell the reader how the author thinks things should be, he shows how things work in his world. This undogmatic approach suits a story that revolves around the power and failure of ideals. There is a strain of thought thay suggests that happiness lies in the pursuit of a dream, rather than its possession. That comes through in multiple strands of this book, most satisfyingly in the fate of Cyrus, and most obviously in the rebellion of younger Cousins against their parents' utopia. The latter also shades into another theme: the ironic conflict between utopian ideals and the individual dreams they're intended to fulfil. Carey's relationship with his son is badly damaged by their participation in the campaign for paternal rights. Erno finds himself a powerless drone in the more masculine colonies outside the Society. Most dramatically, uplifting Sirius makes him more savage than he could ever have been as an ordinary dog. There is indeed a rich vein of irony that runs through the whole story. Throretical oppression and practical egalitarianism go hand in hand, and vice versa. It was mentioned in the discussion that the writing style lacked flash but for me the novel was a compelling read and one I get more from, the more I think about it.
Sep 2022: Graham rated The Moon and the Other
Aug 2022: Sinclair rated Dante
Sinclair (9 August 2022 20:35)
This is the second Warhammer 40,000 novel that the group has read and they share the same hyper gothic aesthetic and distressingly fascistic (or at least Nietszchean) worldview. The universe is harsh; only great men can save humanity. The best of lesser men recognise this and devote their lives to their betters, literally in the case of Dante's servant Arafeo. A token warrior nun aside, women don't feature. Bound up with this absence of femininity is the asexuality of all involved; everything is sublimated into violence, some of it overtly erotic, like Arafeo's surrendering himself to Dante. Indeed, given that Dante runs away from home when his father suggests marriage, that he joins an exclusively male society of beautiful vampire aesthetes, and the aforementioned tortured but climactic ravaging of Arafeo, it's hard not to read a parody of coming out into Dante's character arc. I'm not sure where all this gets us, somewhere in the region of being an angsty teenage boy, which was bad enough the first time around.
Graham (28 July 2022 12:48)
It's hard to get too excited by a book when you know it's just one book in about a million dealing with a tiny part of a tiny part of a universe so unrelentingly horrible that nobody's actions really have any meaning. It had it's moments but sadly didn't really manage to improve on the opening chapter which was the best section of the book in my opinion. I don't think you're supposed to take the 40K universe entirely seriously and I think the author managed to get the balance reasonably OK but there's just not very much to recommend about this, especially to people who don't know any of the rest of the lore. It was way to gruesomely bloody at points too.
That said I read it, and finished it, and didn't find it hard to do so. The overarching feeling at the end though was "What's the point?".
Jul 2022: Graham rated Dante
Jul 2022: Sinclair rated The Clockwork Rocket