Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (Books 2018, 11)

Gaiman takes on Thor, Loki, Odin, and the rest. Most of my knowledge of the Norse gods comes from Marvel Comics, with a bit of general cultural osmosis (for example, everyone has heard of Yggdrasil the World Tree, right?)1

I enjoyed it, but it feels like a slight work. That’s a shame, because these are mighty tales, or should be. I guess it’s a book meant at least partly for children, but it’s not marketed that way. And even if It’s meant for kids, the telling should be strong.

I suspect that if you already know the tales, this won’t offer much new to you. And that’s where the problem lies, I think. Instead of turning them into real narratives with proper characters, each story is not much more than a summary of the events. So he’s telling us the story of the story, rather than really telling (showing) the story. It’s a shame, because I know Gaiman could have done something much more interesting with these.

I’m probably being too harsh, though. It’s not like it’s bad. I enjoyed reading it.

  1. In searching for the link to put in there, I discovered the existence of Explain XKCD (or just possibly, rediscovered it, as it does seem a little familiar). Which is cool. Some people put a lot of time into contributing to things online, to the benefit of us all, and I salute them. ↩︎

Complicity and The Business by Iain Banks (Books 2016 16 & 17)

The big Banksie reread finally gets under way again. There’s no particular connection between these two except that I read them back-to-back over two three days, partly when I was off work sick.

Complicity is just as brutal as I remembered, though I didn’t remember all the details, which was good. It feels dated now, but that’s partly just because it’s of its time, and partly, I suppose, because I remember reading it back in 1993.

The Business I remembered even less of — I know I’ve only read it once before, while I think I’ve read Complicity twice. It’s written from a woman’s PoV, and I’m sure some would say it isn’t convincing as such. Hard for me to judge that, but I liked being in the company of the narrator. Probably more so than in the former book.

It’s also Banksie’s first — but not last — to posit a secret (or secretish) organisation with its fingers into everything, that is not an evil conspiracy. Or his first non-SF to do so, at least. The Culture could be described in those terms.

Its major flaw is that there is no real sense that she’s ever in any danger. Even if things don’t turn out quite the way she’d like, the worst that could happen is that her stellar advancement in the titular organisation might be slowed, and maybe she won’t get the married man she’s kind of in love with.

All good fun, though. And they do have one thing in common: they’re both so dated that they spell laptop “lap-top”! Must be a publisher’s quirk, because I don’t think anyone in the real world ever spelt it that way.

Screwjack by Hunter S Thompson (Books 2016, 15)

Long-time HST readers like me will be familiar with this title. It always appeared on the dust jacket or inside the book in the list of other books by the author. But you never saw it anywhere. Back before Amazon, when bookshops were still a common haunt (and dinosaurs roamed the Earth), you used to look all over the shop for Thompson’s work, because it was rarely consistently filed. That is, not every bookshop put it in the right section. After all, what is the right section? History? Sociology? Politics?

Really, the right section is probably “Journalism,” but most bookshops don’t (or didn’t) have such a section.

Anyway, it turns out that Screwjack wasn’t journalism, but fiction, and in any case was a limited-edition release of only a few hundred or so, and when the web and eBay came along, copies used to go for hundreds of pounds or dollars.

Sometime after he died it got a proper release, and I finally got round to buying it. It’s a slim, small-format hardback, containing three stories. And I’ve got to say that just a few weeks after reading them, they’re almost totally unmemorable. So maybe there was a good reason for not releasing them properly all those years.

Oh well. One for the completists.

Never Mind the Bollocks: Women Rewrite Rock by Amy Raphael (Books 2016, 14)

Been reading this over a period of a year or so, on and off, so it’s not really this year’s book. But that’s no reason not to write about it. It was published in 1994 and consists of interviews with a selection of the women who were relatively newly on the scene, or were established but getting some more visibility, around that time. It was the time of Riot Grrrl, among other movements.

So among the interviewees are Courtney Love, Huggy Bear, Liz Phair, Tanya Donnelly, Kristin Hersh, Kim Gordon… even Bjork. But there’s someone missing from the book. Nearly all of the interviewees, when talking about their influences or other women who were doing something interesting at the time, mention PJ Harvey. And she is not interviewed. Which is a shame. I would have loved to have read her thoughts on making music back then (or now, for that matter). And I’m sure Amy Raphael would have loved to interview her, so I’m guessing she didn’t want to do it.

But aside from that, it’s an interesting work. Very much a document of its time, though no doubt the problems and challenges that these women faced have not changed that much. A similar book today, though, would have a very different complement of interviewees; and indeed would need a different subtitle: women musicians are much more prominent in pop and R&B today, from Beyoncé on down. But maybe not so much in rock, unfortunately.

Well worth a read, though.

Reamde By Neal Stephenson (Books 2016, 13)

It’s a page-turner, an engrossing thriller. I got through the 1040 pages in about a week of being on holiday in Greece (it would have taken me a lot longer at home, especially if I had been working).

Its biggest flaw is exactly how much of a well-oiled machine it is, how beautifully, unreasonably jigsaw-like the pieces all fit together, so that all the players end up together at he right place at the right time for the denouement (which event itself takes up probably close to 200 pages). It’s a bit — no, extremely unlikely that all of the disparate characters could have come together just as they do.

But by the time it’s clear they’re going to, we’re so engaged with them all that we want it to happen just like it does. It’s only when standing back afterwards (or to be fair, during breaks when in the course of reading) that you we think, “This is actually kind of preposterous.”

But still, preposterous fun.

The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross (Books 2016, 8)

The latest of Charlie's Laundry Files series, and Bob Howard is being considered for promotion. To management. He has to go on a course.

As you can imagine, he doesn’t stay on it for long. And soon things are looking pretty bleak.

It’s the usual Laundry fare: magic manipulated by technology, horrors from beyond the stars, intrigue, form-filling.

It’s great stuff, as always.

Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? by Paul Cornell (Books 2016, 7

Some books take weeks or even months to read. Others slip down in just a few days. This was the latter kind.

Paul Cornell’s Shadow Police series is part of a thriving subgenre now. He and Ben Aaronovitch started out at a similar time, I guess, and they’re friends, so I don’t know if they came up with the idea together, or what. Maybe it was just steam-train time. But London cops who deal with the magical, occult side of the city’s problems are very much of today.1

This latest volume picks up not long after The Severed Streets finished, and our characters are in some dark places personally and professionally. But then the ghost of Sherlock Holmes is found murdered at the Holmes museum, and a serial killer starts murdering people in ways inspired by the Holmes stories. The game is afoot, obviously, and our heroes must take part.

This is really, really, good, and highly recommended. Though if you haven’t read them yet, start at the beginning with London Falling.

  1. Though I can’t help but wonder if Charlie Stross started it all. His Laundry Files series is about secret agents with occult dealings, rather than police, but there are obvious similarities. ↩︎

The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi (Books 2016, 6)

I enjoyed it, but I didn't really understand it.

I’m sure I should have more to say about it than that, but really, that sums it up quite neatly.

But to try to go a bit deeper… The solar system is populated by various species or clans of posthumans, transhumans, AIs, uploaded minds, whatever. Earth is unrecognisable, though some people – seemingly fairly close to basic-human, though it’s hard to judge, with so many strangenesses – still live there.

In some ways the biggest problems with this book, and its predecessor The Quantum Thief, which I read a few years ago, is the sheer number of new or repurposed words. None of these is ever explained: you have to gain an understanding of them from context, working it out as you go along. This is a perfectly fine and valid method of storytelling, but here it all just gets a bit too much.

Maybe it’s my fault for the way I read the book: in disjointed fragments and sections, over weeks. Perhaps if I had read it in a more concentrated fashion, its meanings would have unwrapped themselves for me more easily, more thoroughly.

But at the same time, it’s the storyteller’s job to tell their story in a way that allows the reader to grasp it, to understand it. If he reader has difficulty with that, then it’s not the reader’s fault. It’s the storyteller’s.

And yet, and yet, I enjoyed it, I finished it, I think i’l probably read the third in the trilogy, which I believe is a thing. Eventually, after some time has passed on this one,

And I’ll probably have just as much trouble with that one when the time comes.

Patience by Daniel Clowes (Books 2016, 5)

As I said, I ordered this right off the back of reading the review. I read it almost as soon as it arrived, and then read it again. It's a fast read, being a graphic novel, and being a timey-wimey story you want to read it again to see how it twists.

It’s really good. Every bit as good as the review suggested – if not quite as good as the blurb suggested.

I’m not going to say much more about it, as almost anything would be spoilers. A time-travel love story. Totes excellent.

ETA: It would help if I could actually spell the title!

Mind of My Mind by Octavia E Butler (Books 2015, 6)

The next book in the Patternist series after Wild Seed, which I wrote about before. I would describe it as the sequel to the other one, except that it turns out that they were written out of sequence.

This perhaps explains why the character of Anyanwu, who, as you’ll recall, I felt was slightly disappointing in the first book, is completely sidelined and, indeed, thrown away, in this one.

The other reason is that the focus has moved on to a new generation of Doro’s descendants. We are in mid to late 20th-century America, and his breeding programme is finally beginning to pay off. More spectacularly than he had ever imagined, it seems, as some of his telepaths – who up until now have not been able to bear being near each other – form a kind of group or meld they call the Pattern.

This makes them able to both work and live together, and increases their power and effectiveness enormously.

Things ensue. It’s good, but still feels kind of weak to me. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t that compelling.

Also I thought I had read this one, years ago, but none of it was even the slightest bit familiar to me, so I guess not.

Emotionally Weird by Kate Atkinson (books 2015, 3)

This is all very meta. It's a story within a story, with at least one other story within that (the last of which is not very relevant). And the two main ones are more intertwined, rather than one enclosing the other, with typefaces used to distinguish them.

The largest story is that of a young woman during her time at Dundee University – in fact really just a few days in one term thereat. She’s a bit of a drip, just drifting along letting stuff happen to her – including repeatedly getting into a car with an unknown strange man who claims to be a private detective.

But the same time she (and I can’t remember her name, which can be a problem with first-person characters, because how often do you use your own name?) is holding an extended conversation with her mother (who, we’re repeatedly told, is not her mother) on a remote Scottish island whereon they are the only residents. She is trying to get her mother to tell her story. The mother is not keen to do so.

The slice-of-student-life in seventies Dundee is interesting enough. I’ve never been to Dundee, but I was a student in Edinburgh in the eighties, and it doesn’t sound all that different. Indeed, that story could be enough to carry a novel, if you had a slightly more active protagonist, and more of a plot.

The plot, such as it is, is in the island story. Well, the mystery is mainly told there, let’s say.

I enjoyed it all well enough while I was reading it, but can’t help but wonder what it’s really for. That’s not something I would normally ask of a novel – they are their own justification, generally; they exist to tell their story, and that’s all you need. But here, well… there isn’t quite enough of a story. It describes itself – within the island story, of the Dundee story; that’s part of the metaness – as a “comic novel”. And yes, there’s humour in the university story, and maybe beyond. But it ’s not exactly funny, you know?

And the last section is a detective story that the protagonist of the Dundee story is writing. But it doesn’t really relate to either of the other stories – except maybe by some imagery – and it doesn’t go anywhere. So I don’t really see why it’s there.

When I read Atkinson’s debut, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, I likened it to The Crow Road. Sadly, this doesn’t live up to that promise. Luckily she went on to write Life After Life, which as you’ll recall, I loved.

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon (Books 2015, 1)

This is kind of a frustrating one (and could, like the last one have been considered 2014, as I started it before the year ended; but it was well into January before I finished it.

Anyway, Pynchon can be difficult. I read V years back, and remember next to nothing about it; and I started Gravity’s Rainbow once, but ground to a halt and never quite got round to going back (this despite the fact that I was originally drawn to it by Alan Moore talking about reading it).

This one is a lot less difficult, to say nothing of significantly shorter. Its problem is more to do with how our heroine comes to find out about the weird postal conspiracy that she investigates, and why it matters. We have some engaging characters in interesting situations, but it’s hard to get terribly enthused about a conspiracy to route the post by some means other than official government mail channels.

Especially in these deregulated times, when most of the post is deliveries from Amazon anyway. We Await Silent Bezos’s Empire, I guess.

But it’s worth reading.

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.

The Schrödinger's Cat trilogy, by Robert Anton Wilson (Books 2014, 19)

A sort-of-sequel to the earlier-discussed Illuminatus trilogy. More sex, more quantum weirdness, and a less coherent story. I don’t think he ever does explain where the missing scientists went, in any of the universes. It’s a lot of fun, though.

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.

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.

Dotter of her Father's Eyes by Mary M Talbot and Bryan Talbot (Books 2014, 12)

Excellent graphic novel; part Mary’s autobiography, part the biography of Lucia Joyce, who was James Joyce’s daughter. Mary’s father, who was distant and borderline abusive, was a noted Joyce scholar.

Well worth a look if you enjoy comics. The “graphic biography,” if you will, is a little-used form.

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.

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 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.

Book Notes 10: Skizz, by Alan Moore and Jim Baikie

The local library is proving a great source of graphic fiction at the moment. Another early-early Moore, one of which I had heard, but had definitely not read.

It is Moore’s interpretation of a theme that was then very common, the alien lost on Earth. It wears its debt to ET quite openly: one of the characters even referring to the film for inspiration in how to deal with the alien.

That said, it’s entirely possible that Moore developed it without prior knowledge of the film: it wasn’t a new idea when ET used it.

Skizz is a gentle, heartwarming tale of respect between intelligent beings, regardless of difference. A human girl meets the “other”, and finds he is not so “other” at all.

And it has a genuinely nasty and scary baddie, and reconciliation between generations. Highly recommended.

Book Notes 5: Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

I read a review of this book in The Guardian years ago (this one, I think). It sounded absolutely fantastic, and I’ve wanted to read it ever since. But I only got round to buying it recently.

I was aware, of course, of the danger of approaching a work with unreasonably-raised expectations, so I tried not to. You can’t make yourself think “This won’t be very good,” when you actually think, “This should be pretty good.” The trick, therefore, is to convince yourself to have a slight seed of doubt. I’m not totally sure how well that can ever work, though.

I did enjoy the book, however: it starts with a light, easy style, and has an endearing central character in Sumire.

The unnamed (though referred to in the back-cover blurb as “K”) narrator is a slightly-annoying, madly-but-unrequitedly in love with Sumire figure. They met at university. Sumire dropped out to write; the narrator went on to become a schoolteacher.

Shortly after the start of the book, Sumire, who has until then seemed largely devoid of any sexual or romantic feelings, falls in love with an older, married, woman; who then gives her a job as her PA. Sumire’s love is also unrequited; indeed, unspoken.

It’s when they go on a business trip to Europe, which culminates in a holiday on a Greek island, that something strange happens.

It is a curious book. It’s hard to work out what is supposed to have happened to Sumire. It is, until then, so much a realist novel that it is hard to believe that the apparently-fantastic, dream world sequence that is all the explanation we get, is meant to be taken literally.

Then when the narrator, having gone to Greece to help find out what happened to Sumire, returns home to Japan, there is an apparently-unrelated section concerning one of his pupils. He has been having a sexual relationship with the pupil’s mother, so when the boy gets into trouble, she calls him to help. This section really appears to have no connection to the rest of the story,, and no bearing on what happened to Sumire.

So while I enjoyed reading it, on looking back over it, it seems that it is deeply flawed. Or maybe I’m flawed, because I failed to fully understand it.

I expected that it would inspire me to read more of his work, but it hasn’t: or not yet, at least.

Book Notes 4: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

I’ve been reading Neil Gaiman’s blog since the time when he was writing this book — as, I’m sure, have most of us, what with his site being the number one hit on Google when you search for ‘neil’.

But I hadn’t actually read the book until now. I had read the first chapter online, and I had an idea roughly what it was about: real gods (maybe all gods) walking the Earth in the present day.

And it’s a stormer of a book. The pages just keep turning, the quotes are quotable (girl-Sam’s “I believe” speech is particularly fine) and myths are mashed up in glorious style.

It’s shortcomings are, perhaps, that it slows down a bit too much in the middle section; and Wednesday and Shadow make perhaps too many visits to down-at-heel gods without anything very specific happening during them. It reads like a road movie in places (which is fine), and it would probably make a good one.

There are surprises right up to the end, though, and I’m sure I’ll read it again in the future.

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Book Notes 3: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow’s third novel is his best so far; and it’s strange. Really, really strange.

It is the story of a man whose father is a mountain and whose mother is a washing machine. These are not metaphors.

Or perhaps they are. If so, though then the whole book is a metaphor, and I’m not entirely sure for what.

Since Alan (or Adam, or Albert, or Aaron) is very different from other people (he doesn’t have a navel, for one very minor thing) it could be seen as about alienation. Alan, however, is not particularly alienated.

His brothers are a different matter, though.

Each of the five is given a name starting with the next letter of the alphabet after the previous brother’s; but they are not called constantly by this name, either by each other or by the narrator. Instead, they are called by a seemingly-randomly-chosen name starting with ‘their’ letter of the alphabet. There seems no real purpose to it. If it is intended to emphasise the brothers’ ‘otherness’, then it does so: but not enough.

As well as that, each brother has a unique characteristic. Billy, Buddy, Bob (etc) can see the future. Charlie is an island. Davey is twisted, damaged and dangerous. And Ed, Fred and George are a sort of composite being, living inside each other like Russian dolls.

Not surprisingly, one of the subplots centres on one of Cory’s real-world interests: building a free, community-supported wireless network across the city (his native Toronto, in this case). In a way, that subplot doesn’t really mesh very well with the fantastical story: but it does provide a backdrop for it, and it shows that Alan has a life outside of his weird family.

And there’s a woman with wings. Read it for yourself. It’s quite amazing, and like his other books, available for free download under a Creative Commons licence.

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Book Notes 2: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Yes, and only a day after the last one.  It took me a bit longer than that to read it, mind you.

A science-fiction book that was nominated for the Booker: amazing. And have no doubt about it: this is a science-fiction book. Just as Nineteen Eighty Four is; and Orwell’s masterpiece is perhaps the best reference point for Cloud Atlas. The appearance of O’Brien’s Goldstein‘s book within Winston Smith’s story may well have been a model for Mitchell’s multiply-embedded stories.

And like Nineteen Eighty Four, Cloud Atlas is ultimately a bleak vision, though it contains many life-affirming moments on its way.

The interleaved narratives spread across the history and future history of civilisation, from Victorian missionaries ‘civilising’ the ‘savages’ of Polynesia, to the Hawaian islanders after the fall of civilisation, trying desperately to hold on to the ‘Smart’ of the ‘Old’uns’.

Each story contains a reference to the the one in which it is immediately embedded, and there are echoes and references across various of the layers: probably many more than I got on a first reading.

Mitchell’s command of the different styles is good, though there are one or two places where it slips, and where you wonder how reliable the narrators are.

I found it slow to get going, though: at first I put this down to not being terribly engaged with the Victorian opening section. Then I thought it was just pacing: the speed of the segments increases, it seems to me, as you work towards the centre.  But on the way back out I found the final section, back in the Victorian journals, just less interesting than any of the others.  I find the idea of historical novels deeply uninteresting, so we probably have a common theme there.

Also related to the “is it genre” question is this curiousity: in the section entitled Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery, the title character’s dead father is called Lester. Lester Rey. Sounds an awful lot like Lester del Rey, the science fiction writer and editor. Of, course, it may mean nothing: but writers don’t choose characters’ names for nothing, and it sems likely to me that you would at least check that the major characters’ names don’t relate to any real people.  So perhaps Mitchell is suggesting something.

But all of this matters little. What does matter is that this is a damn fine book.

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