Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Lost in some good books

One last selection of the books that have kept me company through bus trips, coffee shops, and airport departure lounges various over the last couple of months. Apologies for inflicting this on my own readership, know it's not to everyone's taste. Wonder if my Blog will get any reviews?

Exit Lines - Ian Rankin: It's a mark of how little impression it made on me that I've no idea what my one previous Inspector Rebus book was called. This is his last adventure before retirement, and I still don't really like the character (much too snide and unnecessarily confrontational) or rate Rankin as a writer. Can anyone have overused the verb 'shrug' as much? It's addictive and the solution holds together, though of course it involves a ridiculous number of coincidences. And why do characters called Stuart always turn out to be murderers or weirdos?

First Among Sequels - Jasper Fforde: Desparate grab from a hostel bookshelf when I had nothing else to read. 5th book in a comedy series (lazily compared to Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett - aren't they all?) set in an alternate contemporary England, that assumes the hero can visit 'Bookworld' and meet every character in every novel ever published therein. And that she has to solve crimes that take place among them. I like the idea and Fforde is good for a few cheap laughs, but his inventiveness swamps the plot - it's hard to feel any tension when a new authorial device turns up to rescue the hero every time she's in trouble.

Fiasco - Thomas Ricks: Another dissection of the US disaster in Iraq, this time focusing on the military angle rather than the politics. US generals and most of their subordinates seem to have been as incompetent as Bush and his ideologically-blinded team. Ricks is more willing than Bob Woodward to draw conclusions rather than leave that to the reader. I think he relies too much on anecdotes drawn from his visits to the country, but still an absorbing and convincing account.

The Yiddish Policeman's Union - Michael Chabon: My favourite literary discovery of the trip (just edging out Andrew Greig) for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. This time he mixes alternate history, a whodunnit, and chess, so presses lots of my buttons. The book assumes that in 1940 European jews were given refuge in Sitka, Alaska (apparently an offer Roosevelt seriously considered making), and built a yiddish-speaking society there. The plot is a standard detective yarn, though with added doses of the 2nd Coming (well, 1st Coming as far as the Jews are concerned) and Holy War. The detective format, so soon after reading Ian Rankin, and featuring a detective with lots of similarities to Rebus, is perhaps too conventional for this to match Kavalier & Clay in my affections, but Chabon's a fantastic writer and I'm keen to see what else he's done.

The Android's Dream - John Scalzi: Bought partly to support a science fiction bookshop in Vancouver that actually sells only books! No figurines, fanzines, Star Wars tie-ins or other such mince. It'll never survive, but it won't be my fault. Scalzi's nothing special as a writer, and despite sci-fi setting (sort of a David Brin-type Universe in which Humans are lowly but resourceful) it reads more like a contemporary US-based thriller with hokey dialogue and added exposition, which Scalzi downloads in random plot-choking blocks. But it's a fun action-packed plot with some nice twists, and an oddly touching moment between a human and the alien that's about to eat him. Which tips it into the 'thumbs-up' column.

And that's all, folks!

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