Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. by Viv Albertine (Books 2014, 20)

A Christmas present: started on Christmas Day and finished just after midnight on the 3rd of January. So I could call it 2015 number 1, but it makes more sense to go with the year in which I started it and read most of it. Anyway, it’s all a bit arbitrary.

Viv Albertine, as I’m sure you know, was the guitarist in The Slits. They had only a short time in punk’s limelight (though as I learned from this, they released a second album, not just the one I’m familiar with).

This book is half about her early years and the punk days, and half about after. She went on to work as a filmmaker and then struggled to have a child, had serious health problems. Eventually she re-taught herself to play guitar, and started performing again (I saw her supporting the Damned a couple of years back, and then supporting Siouxsie at Meltdown a year and half back).

It’s really interesting reading about a time I lived through, events I experienced — from afar, true, but still ones I felt part of — from someone else’s point of view. Especially that of someone who was at the heart of many of the events.

And she writes with some style; it’s a compelling read. She makes some strange choices: for example, she only ever refers to her sister as “my sister”; we never get her name. Similarly with the man she marries. At first he’s “The Biker”, and then “my husband”.

I suppose it’s a matter of protecting the privacy of people who are still alive — especially in the latter case, because he doesn’t come out of it terribly well. Indeed, it may be the case that the only people who are named are those who were already in the public eye to some degree.

Any road, if you are into music, especially punk, at all, I would highly recommend reading this. I plan to get her new album — which came out two years ago, it turns out — The Vermilion Border.

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. by Viv Albertine (Books 2014, 20)

Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey (Books 2014, 18)

You know when you hear about a book, or read a recommendation, and you think, “That sounds interesting…” And then a bit later it’s available on Kindle for like 79p, so you download it? And then just a short time later you get round to reading it, and you think maybe you’ve heard that the author has written a sequel in the meantime?

And then you get to the end and discover that there are now six books in the series! Six! Do you?

That’s a definition of time passing without you noticing it properly. it’s very bad.

Unlike this book, which is very good; especially if you like tales of people escaping from hell and battling with demons, angels, and other creatures of the supernatural, while running a video store (sort of), drinking Jack Daniels, and stealing cars in LA (why does he steal cars when he has a key to the Room of Thirteen Doors, which can take him anywhere?)

Good stuff. And I daresay the sequels will be up to the mark too; though I’m not going to dive straight into those. I’ll give it a rest first.

Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey (Books 2014, 18)

The Illuminatus! trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson (Books 2014, 17)

A rereading, of course; in fact, this is probably something like the sixth time I’ve read this. I keep coming back to it. And why not? There’s music, magic, musings, sex, drugs, and conspiracies. Lots and lots of conspiracies.

It felt very on trend, as the trendy types say, to be reading it in 2014. We are at a time when the idea of the Illuminati is not just well known, but is discussed, or at least panicked about, among our nation’s schoolkids. Apparently lots of modern music stars — people like Rihanna, for example — are noted (by paranoid types) for being pawns of (or part of) the “actual” Illuminati.

The clues include any use of triangular imagery in their videos. You get the idea.

The people who believe in that sort of thing are just the types this great trilogy was written for. No, about. No: for.

The Illuminatus! trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson (Books 2014, 17)

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Books 2014, 13)

This is the one that’s won them all: BSFA (jointly), Clarke, Nebula, and more recently, the Hugo Award. Never before has a single book had such a sweeping effect on the world of SF awards.

And does it deserve them all? Does it live up to the effusive reaction of the community?

Err, well… no, not really.

Which is not to say it’s bad. In a sense, nothing could live up that level of praise.

However, my personal problem with it — at least at first — was this: I like my super-intelligent spaceship minds to be the good guys. To be part of, and defending, Utopia. In short, I want The Culture. And I guess I hoped that Ann Leckie might sort of take Banksie’s place.

Obviously there wasn’t much chance of that, and it isn’t fair to judge the book on those terms.

So, back to its own terms. In any case, these super-intelligent spaceship minds aren’t necessarily bad guys; but they’re in the service of a pretty unpleasant empire. Though things get ambiguous. And interesting. And of course, there’s the gender-blindness of the viewpoint character, which is great. So yeah, it was fun, I enjoyed it, it goes to some interesting places, and it sets things up nicely for a series.

Oh, god, a series. Does nobody write books in ones any more? I was just looking at the current crop of so-called “Black Friday” deals on Kindle. There were quite a lot of books for crazy-cheap prices. Except… there weren’t really that many if you count a series as one.

C’mon, folks, write a book that doesn’t have a sequel, hey?

But I digress. Go read about Ancillary Justice: you’ll find reviews of it all over the place. Then go and read it. It’s great.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Books 2014, 13)

On Writing by AL Kennedy (Books 2014, 11)

Unlike Stephen King’s book of the same title, this isn’t exactly “a manual of the craft.” You won’t find much about the writing side of writing here; nothing about crafting sentences, forming paragraphs, developing characters or plots.

It’s less about the craft of writing than about the life of a writer; and it shares with King’s eponym the part-memoir approach. Kennedy spends a lot of time describing how writing has been bad for her health in various ways, and how in turn her pathological fear of flying has made the writing life more difficult, (travelling to North America by ship for a signing tour) for example.

The largest and most entertaining part of it was originally published as blog entries on The Guardian’s site.

It’s very good. And not from the book, but with Doctor Who back (and nearly finished) you should read her meditation on it and on the state of Britain.

On Writing by AL Kennedy (Books 2014, 11)

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (books, 2014, 10)

Always good to get a new JK Rowling, of course, whatever name she’s using. I sometimes wonder if she’s got loads of other things out there, under other as-yet-undisclosed pseudonyms; probably not, though.

Anyway, in the second Cormoran Strike book, we have more of the same sort of thing we had in the first. This time it’s set in the world of publishing, with all sorts of rivalries between more and less successful authors, agents, editors and publishers. “Write what you know”, Jo.

But can such rivalries drive someone to murder? It seems so.

My main, and very minor, complaint about this was that there wasn’t enough of sidekick Robin. in it, I felt.

I don’t know how many of these she’s planning to write, but sooner or later Cormoran has to meet — and presumably solve a crime for, or concerning — his estranged rock-star father. who is a recurring offstage character.

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (books, 2014, 10)

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon (Books 2014, 9)

In the interest of trying to catch up, I’m not going to say much about this. You probably know all about this already.

Also, it’s been quite a while since I read it, and although I enjoyed it, it hasn’t really stuck around in my head in a way that leaves me much to say. It’s clever in giving us some idea of what it might be like to live with autism. That might be its greatest strength.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon (Books 2014, 9)

The Severed Streets by Paul Cornell (Books 2014, 8)

I’m now so far behind in posting these that I’m just going to put very brief notes up for most of them.

As a sequel to the excellent London Falling this suffers slightly from what feels a bit like middle-book-of-trilogy syndrome; though I believe Cornell intends this to be an ongoing series, rather than a trilogy.

That said, there is an overarching mystery, which we must hope will be resolved over the course of several books. And at that point, maybe he’ll stop. But the actual story here is perhaps slight compared to the origin stories of the first one, and the horror that Quill and his wife, in particular, experienced.

A mysterious ghostly figure — invisible to all who don’t have The Sight, of course — is killing people in London. There appears to be little to connect them at first, but graffiti at some of the scenes suggests there might be a link to Jack the Ripper. Has his ghost come back and this time gone after rich white men? Or is it something else entirely?

It’s a fun read, despite my reservations above, with some amusing reference to fandom, and the terrible, terrible abuse of a giant of the fantasy genre.

The Severed Streets by Paul Cornell (Books 2014, 8)

The Rum Diary by Hunter S Thompson (Books 2014, 7)

I’ve read pretty much everything by HST that’s been published in book form, but I hadn’t read this, his sole novel, until now.

He wrote it before he started to get successful as a journalist, as I understand it, so it’s interesting that it’s a story _about_ a journalist, or several. And they’re hard-drinking ones at that. But that kind of goes without saying.

As the novel starts it is 1959 and the first-person narrator is wanderer, unsure of what he wants to do with his life. He is leaving New York for Puerto Rico, to take up a post on the English-language paper there.

The story charts the ups and downs of his life over the next few months, along with various other people, mainly involved with the paper. It’s an entertaining enough read, but largely inconsequential as a story. You couldn’t really say that the character has grown or developed much by the end, and while we get some insight into the way the US was interacting with Puerto Rico at the time (unspoilt beaches being sold to developers to build luxury hotel complexes, that kind of thing), I wouldn’t say you get a great sense of Puerto Rico itself.

It’s mainly interesting for showing some early flashes of the writing style that Thompson would develop over the subsequent years into his signature gonzo style. For example:

> They ran the whole gamut from genuine talents and honest men, to degenerates and hopeless losers who could barely write a postcard–loons and fugitives and dangerous drunks

Not up there with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, obviously, but you can see the beginnings of that style.

The Rum Diary by Hunter S Thompson (Books 2014, 7)