Book Review – The Periodic Table by Primo Levi

Oh my goodness. I have just written about 300 words of intro to this book review, and just managed to loose it all because I went to look up which airport you need to go to if you want to climb Everest! I was in the middle of a pretty good descriptive passage and WHAM, lost the lot. Thanks interweb. Much appreciated.

I will do the cut down, whistle stop version of what I had written to give you a hint of the wonderful whitterings that have been lost to the digital aether:

  • I don’t write reviews and blog posts during the week as my brain is too full of work.
  • Writing is hard.
  • Blogs are not too bad, but I don’t get to edit much. Brain dump, press publish.
  • I want to write a book.
  • That must be hard?
  • A bit like climbing Everest.
  • I will get to the top one day.
  • Thought: How do I manage to get this great piece of writing back on track as a review of The Periodic Table by Primo Levi?
  • I know, I will suggest, using the metaphor of climbing Everest, that I might have travelled to Nepal by plane and therefore needed a good book to read on my pretend trip to the figurative mountain that I might one day climb…

Anyway, it’s bloody well Tribhuwan International Airport. In case you ever need to know!!

**The author of this blog post has now managed to calm down, and normal post content will now resume **

20150209_201833The Periodic Table is a very clever book that winds tales about Primo’s life into the fabric of the table that defined his vocation. Each chapter of the book represents a different element, and they blend together into a more or less coherent chronology of a life defined by chemistry and pulled in every other way by uncontrollable events. The reviews on the front and back of the book suggested a very well written, must read book. I can’t disagree with either of those statements.

I was expecting a much darker book than The Periodic Table actually is: the reviews and blurb suggest that Primo’s experiences of the war are part of the story. They are, they run throughout the book, but are always just out of sight, dark and malevolent; like a murder in the next room. There are one or two footnotes, and one of these states that Primo wrote other books that cover his war experiences in all their hateful detail. Primo’s description of his writing after the war suggest that it was a cathartic expungement of those experiences. A cleansing of as much of his soul as was possible. It must also be said that given Primo’s ability to so descriptively and eloquently describe the events in the Periodic Table, I would expect his other books to be amongst the best of his contemporaries who wrote about what so many went through during those dark times.

This is the first Premo Levi book that I have read, and it hints at a power and and honesty in the written word that is not commonly seen. Primo managed to describe the events in the book in a multifaceted way that conveyed; his experience, the universal truth of all human experience and the emotions of everyone involved with reference to the particular element that was the basis for that chapter and that story. The honesty in the way that Primo writes bought memories of Out of Chingford, but with a much darker story to tell. A soul laid bare: Primo manages to add to this with a prose that is almost poetic in its construction. There were so many individual instances where I could have tweeted a profound sentence that I would have almost serialised the book onto Twitter; I’m pretty sure that would not be allowed?

Even though the backdrop is dark, and events described not usually particularly happy, the book left me with a positive feeling when I read it. I think that there was an optimism to the book, and this emotion becomes all the more effective when employed during dark times. Primo also played with words and created an enjoyable, almost fun prose. I’m realising as I type this review that the book I already really liked was in fact a beautifully balanced juxtaposition of dark and light. Painful times told in a light way with a chemical structure to diffuse, yet set the story in iron.

The Periodic Table on Goodreads

Rating 9/10

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Book Review – The Woman in Black by Sandra Hill

2015-02-02 18.28.46The short version of my review of The Woman in Black: Well, it didn’t shit me up as much as the film did!

In one way, that encapsulates most of what I want to say about the book. Because I had watched the film when it came out in the cinema, I was expecting something more directly scary than the book turned out to be. Watching the film influenced my expectation of the book. I suppose I could have guessed that the two would be different because books and film are different. Where The Woman in Black is concerned, each work to the strengths of their respective mediums.

The film was scary, but it affected you more because it made you jump than anything else. Tension built to a crescendo, then something very sudden happened. It is hard for a book to accomplish the same things. A book can surprise you if you don’t know something is about to happen, but in horror, and in The Woman in Black as an example, if something is going to pop out of a door, you know what it will be, therefore the impact of the shock is reduced. A book needs to play to its strengths, or more it’s USP! I recently heard a great description of a book as; A jumble of markings on a page that can induce visions and emotions across any distance of time between writing them down and them being read. So, a book can speak of depth of emotion and understanding that could never be understood from a film. This is The Woman in Black‘s redemption. The book uses emotion instead of shock. The main events that truly affect our protagonist while in Eel Marsh House are very intensely emotional to him. No jumping, but caution, tension, sorrow and hatred. With these tools Susan Hill deftly illustrates a tragedy stuck in time, repeated over again to the detriment of all who see it.

The book did a wonderful job of describing two main themes. Firstly the landscapes and scenes and secondly, almost everything about our main character. In both cases the positive, healthy and up beat was emphasised to provide a foil for those times when things went bad. I do have to admit that despite the quality of Susan Hill’s prose, I was not completely satisfied with the story by the end of the book. I loved the way that the final twist hung on until the actual physical last page of the book, but I think more could have happened, there was unfinished business in Eel Marsh House. That said, I think that a feeling of un-ease may be a fitting end to a book of subtle emotions like The Woman in Black.

The Woman in Black on GoodReads

Rating 8/10

Book Review – Out of Chingford by Tanis & Martin Jordan

2015-01-20 18.21.23Since first seeing the wonderful cover of this book I felt sure that I would enjoy it. I am of course, an adventurer myself, and so to read a book about such amazing exploits as those undertaken by Martin and Tanis was wonderful.

At first their approach to their whole life amazed me. I have trouble actually getting on and doing things, not because I can’t be bothered, but because there is always other things that get in the way. With microadventures, I even get caught up thinking about where you should or shouldn’t go? If you go where you think you will be allowed and you get caught, what do you do? In essence, there are many things that can stop you doing what you want, and Out of Chingford is a shining example (along with Alastair Humphreys and others like him) that you’ve just gotta do it. I grant you, stepping outside the back door isn’t quite as big a step as disappearing into the Amazon. The commitment to live life in that way and to have the tenacity and patience to spend what was sometimes 18 months preparing for a trip was truly astounding.

But the real meat of the book, the part that drew me in and kept me reading was the adventures themselves. I felt that I relaxed along with Martin and Tanis when they finally got back to the parts of the world that they identified with and I was in part living along with all of their exploits as they went up and down the various rivers and in and around the rainforests. I have to admit that I have sat in a boat a short distance from what was a very small large Caiman crocodile in Australia and the thought of being any closer to much bigger animals would far from fill me with happy thoughts. The book therefore allowed me not only to discover an Amazon that is no longer there, but also to experience second hand a multitude of situations that I know I will never see. I might manage to hit a few, but not all, definitely not all, and that makes me feel sad.

I have indicated in other posts that I gave this book 5/5 on goodreads. You will see at the bottom that I have scored it 9/10 in this review. Why so high? I think it’s largely because:-

  • Because I identified with Martin and Tanis.
  • And because they were both so unerringly honest that you really got to know them during that time.
  • And because it was in many parts funny, emotional, conflicting and almost everything in between. It is one of the most complete descriptions that I have read, even though not everything is written down and sometimes the narrative flicks around, particularly at the start.
  • And because I think I was lucky to find the book at all. I don’t think that it was a massive best seller?
  • And because I was lucky that Martin and Tanis were able to go on their adventures, and that they decided to write it all down, edit it together and get it published.

A perfect storm for me, and I appreciated it hugely as I read.

So, there you go. Go read it!

Good reads link

Rating 9/10

P.S. just because it is fun, here are the other travel titles listed in the back of the book that you could have bought ‘back in the day’ when Out of Chinford first came out.

A Traveller on Horseback by Christina Dodwell

Up Mount Everest without a paddle by Derek Nimmo

To the Navel of the World by Peter Somerville-Large (Yaks and unheroic travels in Nepal and Tibet)

We bought and Island by Evelyn Atkins

Book Review – Lord Foul’s Bane by Stephen Donaldson

wpid-20150109_144108.jpgLet’s start this review by saying that Lord Foul’s Bane is a really good book. I tweeted and wrote progress updates on goodreads while I read the book and while suffering from bouts of descriptive amnesia, “it’s good” was all I could muster. OK, maybe not the most in depth descriptions in the world, but most definitely true.

The flow of Stephen Donaldson’s wonderful prose is one of the things that keeps you reading the book. Forget the story lines and characterisation, his descriptive ability, especially of the forests of Morinmoss is great, on a par with the best I’ve read elsewhere. Stephen’s prose is spot on, although some of his choice of vocabulary didn’t sit quite so well with me. I have to admit that this is at least in small part due to my own vocabulary evidently being somewhat smaller than his! I could have found Stephen’s use of interesting words off putting or jarring to the flow of the prose, but his writing is so good that you pretty much know what the new word means without having to check. I just found that in places it detracted slightly because there wasn’t a need for it. Unfortunately, I think I will still have to check what each word means if I find any of them in other text 😦

I have to say that I can not fault any of the main story arcs in the book. I found myself reading yet another book that starts off in the normal world and moves somewhere else. This is interesting in that I thought they were pretty rare, and here is another. I, like many have a book idea burning smoldering quietly in the back of my head, and that also has a bit of location hopping. On writing now, more and more examples are coming to mind; His Dark Materials, Stardust, the Jon Shannow series and of course The Sword of Shannara. What Lord Foul’s Bane does that most of the others does (except mine!) is use the move between worlds as one of the main plot hooks. Thomas Covenant is a complex character. They say give a character at least one flaw and that can be the making of them. Well, Covenant has quite a few! I think they are the making of him as a lead, but there are many who found him just a bit too much. He is grumpy, violent, self centered and in at least one significant event unexpectedly evil. I found myself wondering why he acted the way he did in some scenes, but as mentioned, Stephen Donaldson did a fantastic job of characterisation throughout the book and Covenant is true to himself. There are many times when the emotion of an individual or of a whole group is very effectively conveyed to bring the story alive against your own emotional experience, and you cant ask a lot more than that.

It has been said that the Unbeliever books, of which Lord Foul’s Bane is the first, follow the LOTR story. I started the book thinking that I was going to get a repeat of The Sword of Shannara, but I didn’t, possibly because my knowledge of LOTR is not tip top anyway? This might be a good juncture to introduce the fact that my memory is *slightly* on the poor side. It does what it needs to, and it appears to work relatively well for both my job and excruciatingly odd facts, but occasionally when I need the normal use of a memory, it falls woefully short. This has both positive and negative effects. In the negative are all the obvious things that a lack of memory is known for. My absolute worst is names. I can attempt to have a conversation about a film and people become “the one that jumped off the building” or “the one that wasn’t Batman!” (I joke you not!) On the positive side, I do have a very good memory for plots and detail (I’m a stickler for continuity errors) as long as someone reminds me I have seen the film it usually only takes a few queues and I’m back in the game. Anyway, I let you into that particular mental issue because I don’t really remember the finer detail of some of The Fellowship of the Ring, and I haven’t read the others yet (strike me down with hellfire and brimstone instantly!) The Sword of Shannarah definitely registered on the LOTR alarm, but although I had been warned that Lord Foul’s Bane was also quite closely related, I didn’t notice it. After about 3/4 of the book I finally managed to link the “important ring” story arc and when the Ranyhyn appeared at the end, what with the mountain and all, yeh, well, that was pretty familiar too!

In the almost conclusion to this review, I think that it is suffice to say that; I own the first trilogy of the Thomas Covenant books… I also own the second trilogy of the Thomas Covenant books, and if they are all as good as the first one, then I am looking forward to reading them. For a multi-volume story Lord Foul’s Bane even managed a good ending. It’s not knock your socks off brilliant. You don’t get an “I never saw that coming. WOW!” moment. But all the loose ends tied up, it provides a strong enough reward for the build up and it does make you want to continue the journey. That journey will happen for me in between other horror, comedy books and the usual genre mixing that I am trying to chaotically follow.

So to the actual conclusion: I started my reading of Lord Foul’s Bane by finding a dog ear on page 308 that had evidently been put there by the previous owner of the book. The page contained what I now know to be one of the best pieces of verse in the many that the book contains. It is about death and I end the review with it because I think it is quite beautifully written and, well, because this is the end (of the review.)

lordfoulsbaneverse

Rating: 8/10

Link to Lord Foul’s Bane on Goodreads

Book Review – The good man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ – Philip Pullman

This is going to be the shortest book review I have ever done. Very little comment and not a huge amount of opinion!

The Good man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ was disappointing. I won’t beat around the bush, it could have been so much and it really wasn’t. It sums to a pretty basic retelling of the salient parts of the Christian story with the odd suggestion that the miracles (including the resurrection) could be explained away. The thinking is sound, the story idea is sound, the book is not.

It’s saving grace is the Afterword which contains almost 20 pages directly from Philip Pullman explaining why and how the story came about. I enjoyed this part of the book. Philip Pullman can write very very well, his message is good and I wish he had written a more in depth book in the style of that last chapter instead of try to commit it to a story.

Ho Hum. I’m giving the book 6/10. It was readable, the Afterword saved it at least one full star. It could have been so much more.

Rating: 6/10

Link to The Good man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ on GoodReads

Book Review – The Man in the Water – Ali Sparkes

41f9YtSdjbL._BO1,204,203,200_Well now, this review is a little over due as I finished reading The Man in the Water on the 16th Dec. That was last year!!! The book took me 2 days to read and 2 weeks to get round to writing a review. I have read and reviewed Tuesdays with Morrie since then, and am probably going to finish Love all the people today if I have any choice in the matter.

The Man in the Water is a young adult book that successfully tells a strong story simply. The book is set in Jersey and follows a family on holiday. It has two main plot lines. One concerns the man in the water that uses some of Jersey’s war history to tell a well realised ghost story. It’s a bit spooky without being over to top for the target audience. The second story arc is about the family and relations with their holiday neighbours. It touches on class divides and some related themes, but to maintain my ethos of not giving away the plot in my reviews I won’t give any further detail 🙂 Suffice to say that the two main arcs come together very successfully at the end.

This book was written by Ali Sparkes for charity. I described some of the background and about the charity when I announced that I would read it. All proceeds from the sale of the book are going to help a very worthy cause ( Paediatric Intensive Care Unit at Southampton General Hospital.) I know that a huge amount of work went into creating, editing and publishing the book by everyone who was closely involved. I have shamelessly plugged this book a bit on twitter to see if my HUGE influence could contribute in some way to sales before Christmas. I’m sure that orders flooded in, but in one (or two) last ditch attempt(s), I’m sure you know a young reader who has some Christmas money or an Amazon voucher burning a hole in their pocket? This would be a very good use of their money from both a literary and charitable angle.

In conclusion, this is a very good book (did I mention that?) I enjoyed it, and I know that young readers will like it even more. Go buy it!

Rating 8/10

Link to The Man in the Water at Amazon (because it isn’t on goodreads and unusually I want you to buy this one!)

Book Review – Tuesdays with Morrie – Mitch Albom

This is a VERY quick blog post! My family and I stayed in Kew, London last night as a treat between Christmas and New Year. Our hotel room had various nice things in it, including a basket of books 🙂 A quick look at its contents bought me to Tuesdays with Morrie by MitchAlbom. 6900I have previously read The five people you meet in heaven  also by Mitch and I really liked that and I knew that it wouldn’t take me too long to read. I was however maybe pushing it with a single night in the hotel and a Christmassy illuminated walk around Kew Gardens to fill my time. My kids were relaxing in front of the goggle box after a long day, so I had a first crack at the book. It was very good, in a similar way to ‘5 people’ without being too close. I cracked through it at that wonderful speed where you have a reason to finish a book quickly, but need to properly take in all of the info. My estimates of time take are:-

  • 45 mins first stab before dinner
  • 20 mins after dinner
  • An hour and a half sitting with a pint after the kids were in bed

So, that’s just over two and a half hours, and I was finished. I had achieved what I set out to, had snuck in an additional book between the ones I had planned and it was a really good read!

To give it a quick review, it is about Mitch who has allowed work and “things” to take over his life since leaving university. He was very close to one of his professors and they get back in touch after the prof (Morrie) is on TV having been diagnosed with ALS (a neurodegenerative disease.) After a first visit, they meet on Tuesdays and the various untangling of both lives with lots of meaning of life advice forms the main body of the book. Some reviews seem to find the book too saccharine sweet, but I think Mitch nailed it. It fitted particularly well with the Bill Hicks material that I am currently reading (reading slightly slower I might add!) If Bill had toned his act down a little, the message (and by Bill’s own request “listen to the message and not the words”) from Bill and Mitch is pretty similar. Look inside yourself to remove the blinkers of the world and understand what should drive you and how you should act. Obviously, I’m paraphrasing there, but you get the gist?

Rating 8/10

Book Review – The Sword of Shannara – Terry Brooks

I suppose that it would be best to start this review by describing my decision to buy The Sword of Shannara in the first place. I have read a lot of fantasy in the past and quite a bit of what I still have in my bookshelves is fantasy based, this is a hangover from when fantasy was my staple genre, back in the day. I tended to read around a small number of authors. Two that spring straight to mind are R.A.Salvator who’s forgotten realms books were brilliant, and David Gemmell who produced some (IMHO) sublime fiction along with some pretty trashy hack and slash! I did read a few others, but I have a bit of a back log of David Eddings, Robert Jordan and Stephen Donaldson (among others) that all hail from that time in my life. Since then my taste has grown and expanded, but so too has fantasy with spectacular work from the likes of Joe Abercrombie (Did I mention I really really like the first law trilogy? If not, I have now. Brilliant books…)

I have, over many years, also dabbled with writing books. My best friend in school and I used to talk about books and writing constantly. He managed to write a whole book while he was doing his A-Levels, but although I thought it was great, he didn’t think it was good enough to send to any publishers, so it is still sitting in his metaphorical bottom drawer… In more recent years I have read a couple of books by successful authors about how they write and about writing theory in general. At least one of these mentioned that The Sword of Shannara was a pivotal book in the development of fantasy, being published at the start of (or being part of the initiation of?) a big rise in the popularity of the genre. This thought skipped gaily into my head one day while I was staring at a rack of books in a charity shop. “Coo,” said I, “there’s that book wot i dun read ’bout.” I bought it, stashed it in the book shelf and that was the end of that episode of my literary life.

With a back story like that it was with more than a little trepidation that I started The Sword of Shannara. Was I going to love it and understand how this book started a fantasy revolution? Or was I going to find it a bit sedentary, the first of a genre introduced with a dodgy basic plot and simple characterisation? The answer is actually a bit of both.

I cottoned on quite early that The Sword of Shannara was, shall we say, quite closely aligned to J.R.R.Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I was a bit miffed at this to be honest. Firstly, because you have a good idea of the main plot, and secondly, this was meant to be a seminal work (relatively speaking.) It helped launch the fantasy genre into the main stream, and it did it by almost completely nicking the main plot and characterisations from the grand master himself. I almost put the book down. Almost, but I didn’t. I had read to  a point just short of half way through the book. I managed to push through acceptance of the LOTR thing. My endurance was rewarded with some really great new characters and a post apocalyptic angle that was similar to the Jon Shannow books by David Gemmell. (did David G get the idea from here – The Sword of Shannow!) Linking Fantasy worlds to ours in any way is dangerous. You have to walk a tightrope to keep the integrity of the story without mixing styles too much. I was surprised to find this plot line in one of the first modern fantasy books, but pleasantly surprised. I was by this point really enjoying the story, it had that fantasy style, so that I saw parallels with the books that I have read, and the book was finding its own voice with the remaining plot. But. This book was still not in the bag for me. I was still finding the quality of the writing challenging. Not plot or direction or even the majority of general grammar! There were loads of niggly little writing inconsistencies. These ranged from descriptive issues (fire made by Gnomes was “man” made) to the way that characters sometimes acted (being quite quiet then suddenly angry for no reason.) It felt like Terry Brooks had tried a bit too hard with the description and in doing so, over-cooking it and managed to add the odd problem. But I didn’t put the book down, and I am glad I didn’t.

So, everything picked up. The story diverged somewhat from LOTR, I found less issue with the writing and everything evened out into a better second half. It appears that this change occurred when Pannamon Creed and Ketleset joined the story. I have a feeling that they really did work on the plot, and the author) in the way that strong characters should. They re-invigorated everything. They gave a fresh viewpoint on what was happening, and I am glad to say that they stayed true to what I hoped they would be, even to the end of the book.

In conclusion, The Sword of Shannara is a good book. There were some pretty big problems with it, but I can see why it was part of the spark that started much more wide spread expansion of the fantasy genre. The book was published in 1977, and the original Dungeons and Dragons came out in 1974, so I think Shannara was part of the push, and not the instigator. Either way, if you like Fantasy, this book is worth a read. Just be aware of the odd foible and you will be fine.

What the papers said at the time – Wikipedia

Rating: 7/10
The Sword of Shannara on Goodreads

Book Review – Altered Carbon – Richard Morgan

I suppose that to start with I have to say that Altered Carbon is a very very good book. And that concludes the review. Thank you very much. Good night.
“Why, why?” I hear you cry. Harumph, Oh OK then.
I really got caught up in it’s pace , and since finishing it, I am having slight withdrawal symptoms! It’s an odd feeling I have only had for this long with a couple  other books. I’m now beginning to get into The Sword fo Shannara, but it has taken a while to calm down and relax back into nice calm forests, friends on adventures and the odd Warlock Lord’s minion whipping about creating terror. That seems pretty sedentary if you read it straight after Altered Carbon’s frenetic exploits!

Altered Carbon is a Complex cyberpunk murder mystery. I was originally skeptical of this claim as it seemed like a steep hill to climb.The whole cyberpunk genre is typified by it’s destructive activities, so how does one murder find its way to the top of the story line through all the conspiracy, cracking, hacking  or other subversive carrying on? How do you define one murder as central to the plot over all the other carnage on offer? Altered Carbon manages to deliver this via an additional dimension to the standard murder mystery paradigm introduced by, and not in-spite of the advanced technical setting. The use of the environment and the way that our evolution into it is used allows for many situation that should feel alien to us 21st century beings, but Richard Morgan’s captivating prose managed to take you along for the ride of your life (he he blurb cheese added on purpose.)

In the context of what I have read since starting this blog and why I’m doing it, I need to mention the society that Altered Carbon portrays. A far future where humans inhabit other worlds and have managed to shrug off their reliance on just one body provides a very interesting setting of a book. But look behind the main story and Altered Carbon is also a beautiful rendering of a future where capitalism is still the way things work. More to the point, if you strip away the technology and the years from Altered Carbon, you get a society not too far removed from that depicted in The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists! The rich get richer and the poor are used and abused. The basic premise is further exacerbated when the Meths (a reference to Methuselah from the Bible) can live for hundreds of years and their superiority over normal people is further confirmed.
As I said (tweeted?) when I started this book, there is a lot of reviews splattered over the back page and the first couple of the edition that I have. I usually think that a book is trying too hard if it has that many reviews, but as they are there, I have copied them out below and formed the remainder of this review on what other people said 🙂

“Outstanding. This seamless marriage of hardcore cyberpunk and hard-boiled detective tale is an astonishing first novel.”
The Times

“Hits the floor running and then starts to accelerate. For a first novel it is an astonishing piece of work. Intriguing and inventive in equal proportions and refuses to let go until the last page. A wonderful SF idea.”
Peter F. Hamilton

I completely agree with Peter’s review, and coming from him that is praise indeed. I imagine what it would be like to write a book and then have such a glowing review come in from such a highly regarded author. WOW, that must be amazing.

“Carbon-black noir with drive and wit, a tight plot and a back-story that leaves the reader wanting a sequel like another fix.”
Ken Macleod

I definitely agree about the withdrawal symptoms as mentioned above. Like so many of the drugs described in the book. But I’m always apprehensive of sequels. I have been told that the remainder of the Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons are epic, but the first book and specifically the end of the first book is so good and so complete in its own right that I can’t bring myself to read the rest (and I don’t own them so I can’t just yet anyway 🙂 )

“Brilliant. Unputdownable. Lots similar blurb-writing clichés, only in this case true. I lived it. It is expertly plotted, grips you throughout, a high-tech ride in which the shocks and excitement are placed with machine-tooled polish. It is also superbly written, passages of cool, detached writing that is wonderfully atmospheric, alternating with passages of ultraviolence brutal enough to be genuinely shocking ”
Adam Roberts

I like the cliche reference, very self conscious and I know what he means. Great to juxtapose these reviews with the really short one from Raven (near the bottom of the post.) Also, the book has a few sex scenes. They were very well written and didn’t make me cringe! Further more, the first major sex scene in the book was actually part of the plot! In my experience that is almost unheard of.

“Morgan’s first novel is a brilliant start to what promises to be an outstanding career. ALTERED CARBON captures the best of SF and spins it in a new direction that will not only have existing genre fans crying out for more, but will in all likelihood attract the biggest new readership since William Gibson made SF cool again. This is without doubt my hottest recommendation for 2002.”
Michael Rowley, Watertstones Enigma magazine

Michael might just be right that this book could be a gateway to the harder SciFi available on the streets these days. Maybe I should get my mum to try it, or my Bro’ as he got it for me in the first place? Comparing it to William Gibson, that’s a big claim, and to be honest, fair. It’s that good.

 “An exhilarating and glossy adventure punctuated by bursts of extreme violence. The plot reaches terminal velocity early on and stays there. What makes ALTERED CARBON a winner is the quality of Morgan’s prose. For every piece of John Woo action there is a stunning piece of reflective description, a compelling sense of place and abundant 24-carat witticisms. A commanding novel.”
SFX magazine

I agree. I’m not so sure about the wit though? One of the other reviews also mentioned wit. Don’t get me wrong, most of the wit is fine, but there was a couple of occasions where an overly cheesy line clanged a little and pulled me out of the book. In older cyberpunk and SF novels, these  lines weren’t so cheesy, they were new and fresh. A generation of books and films later, and they are beginning to be past it in a book as slick as Altered Carbon. So, should Mr.Morgan have abstained? no, of course not 🙂

 “A crisp, tight SF mystery. Its plotting is nothing short of first rate. The level of sheer pulp violence is almost exhilarating. ALTERED CARBON may be high-octane pulp, but it’s pulp that does exactly what it sets out to do.”
Locus

Sometimes the violence may have been a bit overdone. In most places the action is very well grounded to make the story feel real, but occasionally fingers get broken when the situation didn’t really call for it. The story wouldn’t have lost anything with a tiny teeny weeny bit less violence. I agree that the plotting was amazing. How did he do that?? (Grrrr.) Is it pulp?? Not according to me and all these other reviewers!!

“I was completely blown away by ALTERED CARBON. From the very first page, it’s a pure adrenalin rush of slick, hard-hitting prose, superb characterisation and a plot that grabs you and won’t let go. A superbly rich and varied feast of fiction. Richard Morgan is destined to be a very, very big name in science fiction circles for a long time to come. Welcome to the next big thing.”
The Alien Online

This is the first mention of characterisation in the reviews. Surprising since it is good, nay “superb”.

 “A superb SF Noir-thriller…truly remarkable. Brash and violent, highly intelligent and highly entertaining. Morgan bounds on to the stage with his debut performance and totally astounds the audience.”
SF Revu
“A first novel so exciting, so addictive and so bone-crunchingly in your face that it beggars the need for such virtual reality as it occasionally employs. This is a ceaseless, permanently off-balance sprint through an all-to-grimly-familiar future where miraculous technologies are degraded through everyday use and abuse. There are occasional throwaway mentions of background details here that beg entire novels on their own; ubiquitous pieces of history dismissed in single lines that had my nose twitching, scenting something far bigger lurking, hidden under the surface.”
Infinity Plus
The whole point of the Virtual reality is that you can be even more violent in it! The whole Altered Carbon idea detaches consciousness from body to allow the option of immortality if you can afford it, or at least the option for much more interesting torture techniques. The only thing people really have to deal with is the pain, and ain’t that the truth of life!!
The second half of this review is basically a long way of saying that Richard Morgan has successfully created a realistic world via the use of good story telling and strong preparation / imagination. Basically bloody good writing!
“Dazzling. An excellent, no-holds-barred, fast paced thriller with a strong central character and plenty of betrayals, twists, shocks and action.”
Dreamwatch Magazine
“A tautly plotted slice of noir…the sense of wonder is in the details. Morgan gives notice that there’s a new star in the SF firmament”
The Third Alternative
Nice use of the word firmament. Cap doffed.
“A homage to old-school cyberpunk…ALTERED CARBON reads like a hypermodern vampire novel.”
The Guardian
Obviously the vampire reference is due to all the castles, crypts, fangs and blood sucking??? I kinda get what they mean though.
“High-tension SF action, hard to put down, though squeamish readers may shut their eyes rather frequently.”
David Langford, amazon.co.uk
I’m not sure if this was an official review from amazon or a review that was plucked off the site?? Either way, when its a book and not a film, shutting your eyes doesn’t work! The bad bit won’t go on without you if your face is pointing at a book!
“Combining thought-provoking ideas with page-turning, intense narrative is no mean feat, but ALTERED CARBON delivers. Richard Morgan looks set to become one of sf-noir’s best, diamond-bright practitioners.”
Interzone
So, there you have it. Half my review and half other peoples, but I think you will agree that it conveys my enjoyment of reading the book and my respect for Richard Morgan for writing it. Especially as it is his first novel. Having had a couple of novels floating around my head for many years, I know they need a lot more polishing (and actually writing something) before I risk them against the outside world as Richard Morgan has so successfully done.
Rating: 9/10
Altered Carbon on Goodreads

Book Review – Raven – Charles L. Grant


I finished Raven by Charles Grant last night and I have to say that I really enjoyed it. I didn’t really know what to expect when I started the book, but given the genre and the cover picture, I think I more or less got it! My only criticism is that I think the story deserved a stronger ending. The question in the back of your mind  throughout the read is “who or what is the raven?” I won’t spoil the book by suggesting any options, but suffice to say that I would have like to see an “oh my God, really!?” ending opposed to the bitter sweet “which do you think it was?” ending that you actually get. If you read this review then the book, hopefully this information will prompt you to pay that bit more attention to the hints and cues. Maybe there is only one dedicate outcome and I just missed it.

Raven was one long build up of tensions not least aided by the absence of chapters! I have to admit that I didn’t actually notice there was no chapters until I read a review after I had finished it, but that’s not the point. Maybe under the circumstances, it is better and even more powerful to say that this book is so tense that you don’t even notice whether there are chapters or not! But I digress… The story built from a relatively relaxed start to an end where the atmosphere that could be cut with a knife (and a couple of people had a go too!) Here lies the strength of the book. It manages to slowly build, in the longest section for about 1/4 of the book, without feeling slow. Back stories are quietly wound into the events and conversations that occur in the motel, before long Charles Grant has you wondering when something big is going to happen while at the same time quite enjoying the build up and character reactions.

The main thrust of the book is based around the owner of the motel, Neil. It’s his 40th birthday that is being so severely interfered with! This fact is not really a central theme, but it’s mentioned enough to make sure it is regularly bought back into your mind. I got the feeling that although you never get a conclusive understanding of the reason behind the nights events, Neil’s birthday may have a lot to answer for! Maybe I’m being over sensitive as I am almost 40 myself? It feels weird to identify with that aspect of a book that I was lent it to read when I was 20! Maybe I knew I had to wait to get the best out of it?? That’s a long shot as far as excuses go, but I’m sticking with it!!

Raven was not a long book. I could say that this stopped the book losing pace, but I think Mr. Grant (Charles is to familiar and I hate it when articles go with surname only… Full Name or Mr.G, although I can live with dropping the L.) Has manages to condense what could have been a longer book, and for this fact I am extremely jealous…

A long time ago I came up with a concept that I never managed to write (no surprise there then.) I wanted to write what I think of as half way between a script and a book, using the readers own visual queues to paint a vivid picture for a story by only hinting at settings and feelings with minimal short sentences. For example:

Tropical island, beach, parasols, hotel bar, crystal clear water.

I wanted to invoke images with the minimal amount of intervention therefore keeping each readers pure memories or imagination instead of influencing them too much. I never managed to find a way to satisfy that goal and keep writing in a way that retained the required flow. I kind of assumed that’s why English has all those extra words in!! For me, Raven has come closer to that ideal than I have seen in any other book, and annoyingly Charles Grant has still managed to produce an evocative, readable text. My previous front runner was Neuromancer by William Gibson. That book is so visual and evocative of the environments that it portrays, but I always describe it as hard to read. My experience was one where I struggled for the first paragraph or so until I got into the book and “watched the film”. Each time I picked it up; clunk, clunk, clunk, then I was in. I experienced none of that with Raven. On the other hand, Raven was painting it’s story on a much smaller scale than Neuromancer. William Gibson’s book will always have a special place in my heart where Raven was just really good.

Review reviews

There are reviews on the back of Raven, so I thought it would be fun to comment on them for accuracy now that I have read it:-

“Grant’s style of horrors takes hold of your spinal cord and plays it like a violin. His prose leaks with moody atmosphere… And the pace never lags”
Mystery scene

I can’t agree with the first sentence of this comment, but the second is bang on.

“Smooth, sophisticated and frightening”
Publishers weekly

I’m not sure whether this comment was a a quick response when some likely words were asked for, or a very considered response by an impressed reader who took Charles Grant’s lead and removed as many superfluous words as possible. Either was, all of them fit a description of the book.


Rating: 8/10
Raven on Goodreads