Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Long War (The Long Earth #2)

by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

The Long WarThe sequel to their previous collaboration The Long Earth, The Long War takes mankind’s prejudices and intolerances into the new, parallel worlds that opened up in the first book. Whilst The Long Earth explored the possibilities of a new beginning and a return to the spirit of exploration, The Long War tackles the all too human arrogance and propensity for self-destruction that has littered history for millennia.

Sounds a bit deep, but, this being Pratchett and Baxter, it is not. I am not sure how the collaboration between the two worked, but I can definitely hear Terry Pratchett’s unique characterisations and off-centre humour woven into Stephen Baxter’s imaginative storytelling.

It is twelve years since the Long Earth opened up and humanity began its relentless spread across the endless worlds it offered. For some it has been an opportunity to get away from the stresses of the modern world and return to a more simple and meaningful way of life. For others it is an opportunity to expand their influence and gain power. Joshua Valiente was one of the original pioneers who pressed forward across the myriad new worlds with his companions Sally and Lobsang. Now, twelve years later, he is a respectable married man and wants nothing to do with the changes going on in other worlds. But inevitably, he finds himself drafted into a new expedition to prevent the whole lot come crashing down in war.

The thrust of the plot is simple, but the complexity of the interweaving stories makes it a particularly interesting read. Whilst it doesn’t have quite the same level of humour and comic twists that made Terry Pratchett so beloved by his fans (me included) there is just enough hints of madness and quirkiness to make us comfortable.

The Long War may not be a classic; it is certainly not the best I have read from either author, but it is full of imagination and wonderful characters. From the opening scene with scientists seeming to mistreat one of the long Earth’s indigenous species, to the explosive climax at Yellowstone Park, The Long War is a great little story that will keep any fan of Science Fiction amused.

Thinner

Thinnerby Stephen King writing as  Richard Bachman

Thinner is one of a series of Stephen King novels originally published under the name of Richard Bachman. 

I can understand when a well-known writer uses a pseudonym works that are outside of their normal style, but why King felt the need to release horror novels under a different name I find hard to fathom. Everything about this books screams Stephen King so what was the point?

Thinner has all the hallmarks of a King classic, but is somehow just a little too pedestrian in execution. 

In a world obsessed with body image, the idea of losing weight rapidly and with no effort seems like something many people would welcome. But when it is the result of a gypsy curse, it becomes the thing of nightmares. Whilst those around him congratulate Billy Halleck on how well he looks, Billy and his family are being torn apart by it.

The more weight he loses, the more isolated Billy becomes, and the more determined to find a way to reverse the process. But when everybody knows there is no such thing as a curse, how do you go about getting help? His belief in what the old gypsy has done to him alienates him from his family and his doctors who, despite being at a loss to explain what is happening, are equally as determined that there is nothing supernatural going on.

There is plenty of action and some unexpected twists in the way and I found the book to be an easy and interesting read. The ending has a typical Stephen King twist and as you would expect, it is not a clean cut happy ever after affair. And although I would say it is not in the same league as Pet Cemetery or IT, Thinner is a good horror story. King is a natural storyteller whose imagination seems boundless when it comes to finding new ways to scare the public. Thinner is more a moral thriller than a horror, but it has pace and twists that make it easy to read and difficult to put down. A good read, but not quite a classic.

The Rain

by Virginia Bergin

The RainI’m a bit of a sucker for an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it disaster story, be it a film or a book. Whether it’s a contagion, asteroid strike, nuclear war or natural disaster, I love the whole thing of the individuals fighting against the odds to survive and re-build society.

And as disaster stories go, this one is among the most original (and best).

The story is told by Ruby Morris. She is 15 years-old, living with her mum and step-dad in a small town in Devon when everything goes to pot. One moment she is snogging the school heart throb in her friend’s hot tub, the next death is –literally – raining down from the skies.

A bacterium from space has infected the rain and even one drop on your skin will kill you. And if there is one thing we can guarantee about a bank holiday weekend in Britain is – it’s going to rain!

Ruby records all her thoughts and fears as she struggles to survive in this strange new world. She finds it difficult free herself from the priorities of the school yard. When deciding between makeup or food and drink, she will not always make the right choice.

The idea behind the story is not completely original. There have been plenty of “plague” related, end-of-the-world novels, but by telling it through the eyes of a teenage girl, Virginia Bergen adds a whole new dimension to the story.

The book had me gripped from the very first page and I hated having to put it down; I couldn’t wait to get back to Ruby’s tale. I found myself swept along by the wonderful character and her exploits. It is a story of a brave girl searching for her father and nothing is going to distract her from that goal.

Well written, beautifully envisioned; a powerful and compelling story I didn’t want to end. Thankfully there is a sequel – the storm – which I will be looking out for on my travels this summer.

An excellent book.

The Time Traveler’s Wife

The Time Traveler's Wifeby Audrey Niffenegger

“Never judge a book by its film” is definitely a favourite literary one-liner that I have learned to live by. I can think of a few films that have lived up to the book, some have even enhanced plot with their visual interpretation. But this is one of those very rare occasions where I felt I enjoyed the movie more than the book! I saw the film adaptation several years ago and found it very moving and emotional. The book however, I found to be a little tedious. There are numerous passages that neither enhance then storytelling or move the plot in any way. The film had managed to distil the best elements of the story, removing all the padding. 

Despite its subject matter – a time traveller who jumps in and around his own timeline at random intervals – is not really science fiction. It is a rather quirky love story, with the main characters, Henry DeTamble and Claire Abshire, meeting a various times throughout their lives. When Claire first meets Henry, she is 6 and he is 36. For Henry, the first meeting is when 20 year-old Claire meets her 28 year-old future husband in a Library. She has already known him for most of her life – he has never seen her before!

For fans of the BBC’s Dr Who series, this plot will be all too familiar as that of the Doctor and his lover River Song. 

Their romance is complicated and their lives far from normal. With Henry disappearing at the most importune moments, reappearing stark naked and dazed, their relationship is at times hard to follow, but always intriguing. Henry has been time travelling since he was a young boy and has devised ways to survive these random naked incursions into his own past, or future. For Claire, she can only wait and worry, although knowing she has met a much older Henry does give her reassurances that she sometimes finds hard to accept.

It does take some concentration to keep up with the mixed up time lines, but the story as a whole is compelling and emotional. My only gripe is that she does go on a bit about things that don’t matter. In one chapter we get a ball-by-ball commentary on a pool game! We do not need to know the order of spots and stripes pocketed! And some of the time hops were neither particularly interesting or relevant to the overall plot. I found myself speed-reading whole pages just to get on with it. 

But all that said, The Time Traveller’s Wife is a touching and original modern love story. Sci-Fi fans looking for fancy gizmos and meaningful dialogue about Paradoxes will be very disappointed as it has none of the devices usually found in time travel stories to add oomph to the plot. But it does have two excellently imagined characters who you will find yourself hoping get the fairy tale ending they seem to deserve.

If you have never seen the film, please read the book first. 

The Girl You Left Behind

by Jojo Moyes

The Girl You Left BehindI was offered this book by my daughter who thought the subject might interest me. Although I was a little sceptical at first I very soon found myself drawn into the lives of two very similar women living a hundred years apart.
 
Sophie and Liv are linked by a painting called The Girl You Left Behind. It is a portrait of Sophie by her husband Eduard who is away fighting in the trenches of 1917 France. It is all that she has of Eduard as she struggles to protect her family during the German occupation of Northern France.
 
For both women, the painting is not just a link to the men they have lost, it has become a symbol of their relationships. Neither is willing to let go of either.
 
The book jumps between the two women’s stories, mixing first and third person help separate the two narratives.
Sophie’s story is particularly compelling and very tragic. Told from her perspective it gives a great insight into the frequently overlooked. Through Sophie we learn a lot the horrors of the trenches, but behind the lines people tried to continue their daily lives as best they could. Food and resources were scarce and Sophie must do all she can to protect what is left of her family.
 
Liv on the other hand is a widow who lives in contemporary London. The Girl You Left Behind hangs in her flat as a reminder of her late husband, a gift from their honeymoon.
 
Despite the differences in time and place, both women have to face great tragedy and loss. And for both of them, Sophie’s portrait has become a symbol of hope and love. And in both cases the introduction of a stranger into their lives forces them to make a difficult decision and tests their inner strength.
 
It is a gripping and emotional story. I found myself conflicted. On one hand I couldn’t put the book down and wanted desperately to get to the conclusion; on the other hand I didn’t want the story to end.
 
The way in which the two storylines are woven together is imaginative, keeping a thread that is easy to follow. I found both women to be strong characters and loved the way they are prepared to fight for the things that matter to them.
 
Sophie’s tale is the more intriguing of the two, mainly because it’s setting in a place and time I know little about. But it is Liv’s story that brings it all together. The ending is not what I expected but on reflection, is the only way it could have worked.
 
A really good read and a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. It kept me hooked from the very beginning.