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Unfinished business - The Ex-Communicator

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September 23rd, 2010


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10:12 am - Unfinished business
I generally wait to post about a book until I have finished reading it. But I currently have four or five books unfinished, so I think I will post about them now. People might be interested in why I haven't finished them, and that might give you an idea if you would like to read them. Some of these I will finish.

Ulverton by Adam Thorpe
(likelihood of finishing - 6/10, if I can skip this chapter)

This is the one that has been hanging about for longest. It's a technically brilliant and moving novel. It's set in an Oxfordshire village from the English Civil War to the present day. Each chapter is a vivid snapshot about forty years on from the previous, telling a completely different life story. The voice of each individual - age, sex, class, education - is beautifully nuanced. It celebrates the mass of people like Gray's Elegy. The reason I got stuck is that chapter 9 (1887) is written in dialect with no punctuation like this (copied verbatim)
bloody pig-stickin them old hooks jus yowlin out for grease haaf rust look yaa that old Stiff all pinch up screw all pinch an bloody screw aye shut he fast now hup ramshackle old bugger see med do with a stopp spikin onto post wi' that hang yaa a deal more years nor Hoppety have a-had boy eh why Mr Perry why ah well they says as old Tom Katchaside seed his angel a-whiverin over here when he were a-hangin it

I can manage a bit of that, but it goes on for 18 pages. I can't do it.


Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds
(likelihood of finishing - 7/10, because I am most of the way through)

This is an interesting science fiction novel, with a very different setting to any of Reynolds' other books. It's set on Mars way in the future. It begins in a city which is also the ancient root anchor of a sky-cable - not unlike the location for Feersum Endjinn. The surface of the planet is engulfed in technology-suppressing force fields of some kind. Advanced technology survives very high up the shaft of the cable, in precarious sky-cities, and as we approach the planet surface there are zones with increasingly primitive technology. The surface of the planet is steam-punk. Actually it's more like Wild, Wild West.

The start of the book was great, I thought, really lively and interesting. I got a bit bored by the airship-steam-punk. I think - I have no evidence - that this book was written hastily. The first section seems much more polished and controlled. The lengthy middle section seemed a bit scrappy. I didn't get to the end. I will try and finish this soon, because it's a shame to abandon it.


Before the Frost by Henning Mankell
(likelihood of finishing - 10/10)

A Wallander novel on audio. I tried an abridged audio last year because it was all they had on audible.co.uk at the time, and I couldn't understand what the fuss was all about. That was obviously because the strength of these novels is not in the detective solving the crimes, but in the dreamy and poetic atmosphere which is lost by abridgement. In this full version it is compelling. I have seen this story as a TV version, and the novel is way, way better. Even though this is a translation, the language is great. I will finish this quickly and easily.

Incidentally it is about a traumatised survivor of the Jim Jones suicide-massacre in Guyana, and it's thoughtful and occasionally quite violent.


Veteran by Gavin Smith
(likelihood of finishing 1/10)

A misjudgement to buy this. I think it's written by a very young man, for very young men. It's about the adventures of a retired cyber-enhanced soldier, living in a brutal future Dundee, recalled to action to fight Alien invaders. I think that could be a great story, but this is written for a particular type of reader, which is not me. I just opened the book at random to type a paragraph so you could see the style, and I got one about a pimp attempting to cut holes in a captured alien so that people can fuck it. But that's not the reason I didn't like this book, it's just poorly written.


C by Tom McCarthy
(likelihood of finishing, 4/10)

Booker nominee. I saw it in the shop and thought I'd try it. It's supposed to be 'experimental' but what I have read so far seems fairly conventional. It's about a passive lad growing up with an assertive science-mad sister in an Edwardian home for the deaf run by his father. I think it will follow his life. I think from reviews that his life mirrors the development of communications technologies, from wireless onwards. It seems OK. I'm not gripped. I should persevere.

(13 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:watervole
Date:September 23rd, 2010 11:19 am (UTC)
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Definitely skip the chapter in Ulverton. There's no way anyone should have to wade through that stuff when the next chapter is better.
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:September 23rd, 2010 11:27 am (UTC)
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Have you read the whole thing? I was loath to skip it in case it was vital, but I just can't manage it.
[User Picture]
From:watervole
Date:September 23rd, 2010 11:45 am (UTC)
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No, I haven't read it, but it's clear there's no way you're going to learn anything useful from that chapter, and struggling with it may mean you never finish the book.
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:September 23rd, 2010 11:48 am (UTC)
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Yes, it makes my head ache :-)
[User Picture]
From:archbishopm
Date:September 23rd, 2010 12:53 pm (UTC)
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beautifully nuanced

IMO if one simply MUST mock yokels all Bronte-like in print one ought to at least have the decency to do it in the IPA, which I for one personally used in my youth to capture pretty goddam photographically the exciting accents of numerous of my professors whom I maybe in retrospect ought to have paid half as much attention to the content but eh.
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:September 23rd, 2010 01:00 pm (UTC)
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Honestly the rest of the book isn't like that at all, it's much better. I don't get that chapter. My eye just slides across the page.
[User Picture]
From:matgb
Date:September 23rd, 2010 05:41 pm (UTC)
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It's set on Mars way in the future

Pretty sure not, actually, but wouldn't want to swear by it.

I did, overall, enjoy it, but I can't actually remember the end. Wouldn't surprise me if he did rush it a bit, ten year book deal at £1mill per book is a Good Thing, but if you get behind...
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:September 23rd, 2010 05:57 pm (UTC)
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Ah. I haven't read to the end, so I suppose there is some revelation which will invalidate my assumption. My reasons for saying Mars are that we know it's a planet between Jupiter and Venus, that it has the same equatorial diameter as Mars (assuming a realistic flight speed for the dirigibles), and that it has two moons. Also that it is dry and getting colder, as if terraforming were failing. And Alistair Reynolds' blog is called 'Approaching Pavonis Mons by balloon'. But I won't be surprised if these are fake clues. I must read to the end to find out what's going on.

Edited at 2010-09-23 06:29 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:matgb
Date:September 23rd, 2010 06:46 pm (UTC)
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When you're done, LMK what you think again, as if it is on Mars, I missed some big bits of it and will have to reread, as I tend to like his stuff generally that's not a major flaw.
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:September 23rd, 2010 08:28 pm (UTC)
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What I couldn't understand is everyone is drinking coffee all the time - where are they growing it?
[User Picture]
From:coalescent
Date:October 5th, 2010 04:22 pm (UTC)
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The [mystery book!] here is Terminal World; I'm afraid you're the only person I know who's read it and doesn't think it's set on Mars.
[User Picture]
From:matgb
Date:October 5th, 2010 06:55 pm (UTC)
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Ok then. I must've not picked up on the clues, I wasn't in the best of moods when I read it, and had to rush it back to the library as it was reserved by someone.

I'll get it out again at some point, or buy it.

Given the link, I gave up completely on Winterstrike, got it out as so many people had said good things about her, but I just didn't like the book, as Lal put it
Williams has some good ideas but I never
seem to give a damn about her characters, her books have dull middle
sections and she is far too fond of the dovetailing narrative.
and if you don't care for the background, or the characters, that sort of book just seems pointless.
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:October 5th, 2010 09:23 pm (UTC)
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I don't see why people were worried it's a significant spoiler though.

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