Books Read in 2014 62. Tears in Rain – Rosa Montero

Genre: Science Fiction

Narrative Style: Third person from different points of view. Largely chronologicalUnknown

Rating 2.5/5

Published: 2012

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Bruna Husky is a technohuman or a replicant. She is also a private detective. One morning, her next door neighbour – also a rep – goes mad and attacks her before plucking out her own eye and dying herself. More stranger murders / suicides start to happen and reps become equally feared and despised. Bruna is called upon to investigate and soon finds herself involved in a conspiracy that goes right to the very top. 

I was offered this as a free kindle book from Amazon when I downloaded some classic sic-fi. There was a choice of four and this seemed the most interesting. Otherwise I don’t think I’d have picked it up. I prefer my Science Fiction to be of the dystopian kind not the robots and aliens kind.

Having said that, this did have dystopian elements. There was certainly a strong moral objective about difference and equality and at first, I thought I would enjoy it more than I did. It was clearly indebted to Bladerunner, both in its choice of heroine and in its landscape but I didn’t mind that. Bladerunner is a great film and there are certainly worse things to base a novel on.

The main problem was the writing was a bit flat. I’m not sure if this is a problem with the translation or also present in the original but there was little in the way of style and the narrative was often slowed down by the leaden prose. There was the misuse of the word literally –  as in she was literally sick everywhere. Oh, I know that the OED have added this use of the word to its definition because it is so widespread but that doesn’t make it any less wrong. There were redundant sentences of the “it really had been a dreadful night” variety which just irritated me. I found that the writing distracted from what could have been a rollicking adventure.

The characters were equally flat. Bruno’s personality was all over the place. She was whatever was required of her by the narrative rather than having any personality of her own. The other characters responded to her and were equally without personality. Some appeared and disappeared without really even touching the narrative and you had to wonder what the point was.

In the end, there were few surprises. It was always obvious who the love interest would end up being, who the bad guy was and what the outcome would be. When I finished, I felt as though a good had idea had been wasted. But maybe that’s not quite what I mean. After all, Bladerunner was the good idea and there is probably no way for that to actually be bettered.

Books Read in 2014 – 60. High-Rise – J. G. Ballard

Genre: Dystopia, anti-heroes

Narrative Style: Third person three different perspectivesUnknown

Rating: 3/5

Published: 1975

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Robert Laing quickly spots the careful class demarcations when he moves into the high-rise. Whilst ostensibly for the rich, it quickly becomes apparent that some are not as rich as others. These demarcations follow the floors with the lowest on floors one to ten and so on. When the electric start to fail, panic and violence quickly ensue. Before long, everyone has returned to a savage state and society has completely broken down. 

This has what is perhaps my favourite opening line ever – “Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr. Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.” This raised my expectations quite highly. The plot then moves through those three months. Unfortunately they don’t quite live up to this powerful opening line.

The story is told from the perspective of three men – one from the lowest ranks, Wilder; one from the middle, Laing; and one from the top, Royal who is one of the architects of the high-rise. Before civilisation starts to break down, there are already petty jealousies and rivalries about who can use which swimming pool and which lift. This seemed realistic enough and it was easy to see how such grudges might escalate into something bigger.

However, I wasn’t convinced by the triggers for the escalation. Very quickly, it seemed, people were no longer leaving the high-rise and hunting in packs for people from the other floors. Once that had happened, there were very few places for the narrative to go. Nothing else really happened and it felt like events levelled out. They didn’t really get any worse and there was clearly no way for them to get better.

That wasn’t the only problem. I couldn’t really decide what point Ballard was trying to make. I suppose that the high-rise was meant to represent a microcosm of society with the three levels representing upper, middle and working class but because these were all from the same class, the point didn’t quite work. At the end. only Laing is left eating his barbecued dog suggesting perhaps that the middle classes are the ones that will survive and then because they wait it out passively. I’m not sure what sort of moral lesson that is supposed to be.

This is as much about masculinity as it is about class and the three men show different ways of being male. Wilder, as his name might suggest, is very much ruled by his sexuality, Laing is more refined, preferring to wait and see what happens and finally Royal is a leader, at least for a while, by virtue of his money and his penthouse apartment. This also relates to stereotypical versions of masculinity and class e.g. the beastlike working class male. The women in this novel are underdeveloped, there to largely be raped or rescued depending on the man in question. That also was disappointing.

Ultimately this was an interesting idea which was well-written but just didn’t quite work for me. This is the second Ballard I’ve read lately that has left me a little cold but I’m sure I will be tempted again as the initial ideas just sound so interesting. They have made a film of this, to be released next year and it maybe that it will work a little better as a film. I’d certainly be keen to see what they do with the material.

Books Read in 2014 – 46. The Rapture – Liz Jensen


2014tbrbuttonGenre: Madness, Dystopia

Narrative Style: First Person, Chronological

Rating:4/5download (13)

Published: 2009

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: When Gabrielle Fox starts work at a secure psychiatric unit for teenagers, her main concern is coming to terms with her paralysis following a horrific accident. She is understandably vulnerable so that when she meets Bethany, a crazed adolescent who killed her own mother and has visions of an apocalyptic nature, she starts to wonder whether the visions could have some truth to them. 

Reading Challanges: The TBR Challenge.

Time on Shelf. Two years. No reason, just kept slipping to the bottom of the pile. 

I love a good thriller and apocalyptic fiction is always good for that. In that respect, this certainly did not disappoint. It was a roller-coaster ride from the very first moment that Bethany and Gabrielle met. Bethany senses an unique audience in Gabrielle, due to her own vulnerabilities and it isn’t long before Gabrielle is taking the girl’s visions seriously.

It was easy to suspend my disbelief and Gabrielle’s own sense of the ridiculousness of believing Bethany is quite acute. As events progress, there is barely time to draw breath, never mind doubt what is happening. Jensen draws parallels between religion and the notion of the Rapture and believing in Bethany’s more disturbing vision of the future and suggests neither is more ridiculous than the other.

The characters were well drawn. Gabrielle as the destroyed woman, grieving for the use of her legs and the man she lost in the accident is full of insecurities that were easy to relate to. Bethany was at times monstrous but at others sympathetic. The romance between Gabrielle and the physicist that she takes Bethany’s drawings to was convincing and sexy. I’ve never been quite so relieved to discover that a man wasn’t cheating as when he revealed that the subterfuge had been for a completely different reason than Gabrielle had assumed.

The ending is brilliant – a clever take on the Rapture that everyone in the novel is waiting for – but it is also depressing. And, of course, this is as it should be. I’d have been disappointed with anything else but at the same time I longed for things to be different for them.

Books Read in 2014 – 42. Chocky by John Wyndham

download (12)
Genre: Dystopia
Narrative Style: First person, chronological
Rating 4/5
Published: 1970
Format: Kindle
Synopsis: When Matthew starts to communicate with an unseen being named Chocky, his parents are understandably worried. After all, Matthew is too old for an imaginary friend. Furthermore, Matthew is starting to ask questions that seem to have come from somewhere beyond his own mind. As time passes, they grow more and more concerned and involve outside help. This turns out to be a big mistake.

There were a couple of reasons for choosing to read this book. I could vaguely remember the TV series and was curious to read the book behind it. Secondly, I had been meaning to read more Wyndham since reading The Day of the Triffids a few years ago. So I had high hopes for the book and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. This is a really good read and the only thing that stopped it getting five stars is that sometimes it seemed a little old fashioned which is inevitable, I suppose, with this sort of fiction.
The story begins with Matthew’s parents noticing little oddities that are out of place for an eleven year old – like having an imaginary friend. It seems harmless enough and although they are curious, they are not unduly worried, as their son seems happy enough in himself.
However, clues begins to appear that suggest that this is no ordinary imaginary being. Matthew starts to ask questions that are almost beyond his understanding. His teachers complain that he is starting to ask about concepts that are too difficult to explain and he sometimes appeared to be arguing with another being. They decide to seek outside help and it is suggested that Matthew may be possessed by an outside force. Understandably, they find this an unsatisfactory answer and seek help elsewhere.
Events do become more sinister – for example, Matthew rescues his sister from drowning without being able to swim. The press start to become interested and Matthew is sent to an important psychologist who equally has no answers for them.
I must admit that I wished I had no knowledge of the events that were to come as I could remember exactly who Chocky was, However, I could not remember the exact storyline and so when Matthew goes missing near the end of the novel, I was as perplexed as his parents. I also could not remember Chocky’s purpose in using Matthew as a reporter on this world. I was impressed by the ecological reasoning used by Chocky in her disgust at our dependency on fossil fuels that will inevitably disappear. This reads now like a warning still unheeded as we are still desperate for a clean, safe solution to this problem. There was a contrast between Chocky’s altruistic attitude and that of the doctors who want to exploit Matthew’s unusual knowledge.
The narrative is written from the point of view of David, Matthew’s father and was convincing in its curiosity about Chocky and its concern for Matthew. The story is written in a straightforward way but that only made the ending seem more devastating because the reader could believe in its reality. Very enjoyable.

Books Read in 2014 – 31. The Stepford Wives – Ira Levin

Genre: Horror, Dystopia, Satire

Narrative Style: Third Person from the point of view of one characterdownload (8)

Rating 4/5

Format: Paperback

Published: 1972

Synopsis: Joanna moves to Stepford at the insistence of her husband, Walter and, at first, it seems to good to be true. She soon becomes irritated by the passiveness of the women and their housework obsession. Then the two friends she thought were different start to show the same obsessions and she starts to wonder what exactly is going on in Stepford. I can remember seeing the 1975 film version of this book when I was fifteen so I knew what the basic story was. You might think that this would spoil the story, making it less tense but this was not the case. Levin unfolds Joanna’s story masterfully and knowing what might happen to her only made me more anxious for her to escape the clutches of the men of Stepford. Joanna begins the novel an independent, strong woman who works as a photographer. She does housework when she has to and is used to having strong female friendships. She is sexual and attractive without the need for make-up. However, when she comes to Stepford she finds all the women are eerily similar and coldly distant. They are unable to find a place in their housework schedule to even meet for coffee. They are beautifully coiffed and clothed. She is rightly appalled by this and by her husband leaving every evening to go to the men’s association. Joanna does meet two other like-minded women – both of whom have not lived in Stepford for long – and they try desperately to get some sort of female movement going. However, when one of them suddenly becomes docile like the other women, they start to worry that they’ll be next. Eventually there is only Joanna left and she tries desperately to warn the one woman to move to Stepford after her before the men seal her fate. Levin cleverly does not tell the reader exactly what happens to Joanna. She merely loses narrative perspective. Ruthanne takes over the narrative point of view and she runs into Joanna in the supermarket, noting her coldness, her obsession with housework and how good she looks. As Ruthanne is a writer, it can be assumes that she will be the men’s next victim. The men in the novel respond specifically to their wives’ attempts at politicising themselves. Joanna discovers that the women were once activists or very successful professionals that held feminist meetings. The message that Levin is trying to get across is clear. Men will not just stand back and let women gain power from them. As Chuck Palahniuk notes in the introduction, perhaps more heed should have been taken. The whole beauty industry and the obsession with women’s appearance is one very successful way of keeping them in their place regardless of their professional position.

Books read in 2014 – 25. The City, Not Long After – Pat Murphy

Genre: Dystopia / Utopia

Narrative Style: Third Person, largely chronological

Rating: 3/5

Format: Kindle

Published: 1989

Synopsis: The narrative centres on San Fransisco after a plague. The survivors are all artists or eccentrics and are all peace loving. When a girl comes from outside of the city, warning of war, they realise that they have to $(KGrHqJ,!l!E8EqSozg6BPNuf3zchg~~60_35defend the city somehow.

This is different from other dystopia that I have read, in as much as it doesn’t see the very worst in people. So it may be more apt to call it a utopia. It represents the way that you might hope people would react, the very best that humans can be. Once it occurred to me that this was a utopia, I was able to cope with it a little better.

The characters are all a little bit wacky – a group of dreamers and artists who spend their lives creating works of art rather than struggling to survive. Danny Boy begins a project to paint the Golden Gate Bridge blue. The Machine spends his time creating metal insects and creepy crawlies. Books is trying to write a history of post plague San Fransisco. No one struggles for food.

Jax is guided to the city by an angel (which may have been made by The Machine) and her mother’s ghost. She brings the news that an army is planning to attack. However, the artists are loathe to take her seriously. And even when they do start to prepare, they vow not to kill but scare the army, unnerve them. Even those who have to be dealt with close up are merely sedated.

I understand the points that Murphy is trying to make about warfare and it’s dehumanising effect on the human psyche. She references many historical figures (like Gandhi for example) who used peaceful protest. And the utopian ideas are pertinent. However, I have to admit that I found it a little naive. I couldn’t quite stop my own cynicism from infecting the story. Maybe I’m essentially misanthropic but I find it hard to believe in the best of people. Especially in the area of warfare. At the end of the day, I prefer my post-apocalyptic fiction to be a little harder round the edges. This was too nice by far.



Books Read in 2014 – 23. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Contains Spoilers.)

Genre: Dystopia, Young Adult

Narrative Style: First person narrative, chronologicaldownload (6)

Rating: 2.5/5

Format: Kindle

Published: 2010

Synopsis: Having been pulled from the arena at the end of Catching Fire, Katniss finds herself in the hands of the rebels. She is reluctant to accept the role of Mockingjay but does so when she realises what the Capitol has done to Peeta. The battle for supremacy between the rebels and the Capitol begins in earnest.

This is definitely the weakest book of the trilogy. I was keen to read on at the end of Catching Fire. It wasn’t obvious what would happen to Katniss and I dived in straightaway. It wasn’t long before I felt disappointed though.

There were a number of reasons for this. First of all, Katniss is whinier than ever, determined to take the blame for everything and reluctant to accept her new role. I found her even more irritating than usual. She is naive in her views and the reader is probably supposed to find this innocently refreshing but to me it just seems unrealistic. Gale is much more pragmatic but no less annoying as he seems more a rebel mouthpiece than a real character. The transformation of Peeta to a tool of the Capitol didn’t convince either. He moved between good Peeta and evil Peeta at the mercy of the plot with little thought for his actual character. I didn’t believe in either role. Especially as it started to be apparent that he and Katniss would end up together. There was no tension as to whether his good side would return.

A bigger problem is that of the action, a lot of which happens away from Katniss. The reader is then given a couple of paragraphs about what has happened. (This will be solved in the film, I guess where they will be more able to use multiple viewpoints.) This is particularly troublesome after Katniss shoots Coin and there is a trial happening while Katniss is singing to herself in her cell. But it’s okay because she is found innocent and allowed to go home. Very unsatisfactory.

The ending was equally unsatisfactory. (In fact, about halfway through I realised that there was no way this could end in a way that would please me. I’m glad that Katniss didn’t end up with Gale but the idea that she was able to have a family with Peeta was just as problematic to me.) The epilogue was mawkish and sickening. I felt the same at the end of the last Harry Potter. I’m not sure why it is felt to be necessary. It wasn’t a fairy tale so why end with a happily ever after?

To end on a more positive note, there are some interesting ideas in this novel – the use of propaganda, the nature of warfare, the way power corrupts, for example – I just wish that they had been played out in a different way.