Tag archives for Pan Macmillan

Anticipated Books (Summer-Fall) 2014: Science Fiction and Horror

2014Welcome to the third post in my Anticipated Books series for the second half of 2014. Today I bring you both my science fiction and my horror picks. For some of these I already have an (e)ARC or review copy, so they’ll definitely be read and reviewed. And for the rest, I’ll have to see whether I get the chance to get my hands on them!  Continue reading »

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Author Query – Ray Celestin

raycelestin-theaxemansjazzRay Celestin is an international man of mystery. Well, in so much as Googling him only gives links to his publisher’s author pages and results for his debut novel The Axeman’s Jazz. I haven’t even been able to track down a picture. That, and he writes mystery/crime novels, so you know mystery man in more ways than one. The Axeman’s Jazz sounds fantastic and it’s my first back-up novel in my historical fiction month, so if I read faster than expected, I’ll review it near the end of the month and otherwise soon after. Today, I’m really pleased to be able to share the following interview with you and solve a bit of the mystery!  Continue reading »

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Anticipated Books (Summer/Fall) 2012: Historical fiction

The second-to-last of my Anticipated Books (Summer/Fall) 2012 is all about historical fiction. In the first six months I’ve truly rediscovered my love of historical fiction and some of my favourite reads so far this year have been historical fiction books. In the second half of the year there are still some awesome titles to come. The last post will follow on Saturday, with the Anticipated Reads post up on Sunday.

July

Stella Duffy – The Purple Shroud (Virago)
Once, Theodora was little more than a slave, the daughter of a bear-keeper, running barefoot through the streets of Constantinople. Now she is Theou doron, ‘the Gift of God‘, Empress of Byzantine Rome and the most powerful woman in the world.

In Stella Duffy’s compelling new novel, the beguiling and extraordinary Empress Theodora emerges from the shadow of history into brilliant light. Clever, courageous and ruthless when betrayed, Theodora rules alongside her husband, the Emperor Justinian – a true love match in a world of political marriages.

While wars rage on the borders of the Empire, Theodora discovers that the greatest danger to her reign – and her life – lies much closer to home. From the catastrophic and terrifying riots that burn through the city; to vengeful enemies at the palace who will never accept ‘Theodora-from-the-brothel’; to plagues and plots and murder, Theodora learns what it truly means to be Empress.

Spanning over twenty dramatic years of Theodora’s reign, The Purple Shroud is a vivid portrait of a charismatic, exceptional woman and a fascinating exploration of both the pleasures and the burdens of power.

Barbara Lazar – The Pillow Book of the Flower Samurai (Headline)
I am Kozaisho: Fifth daughter, Woman-For-Play, teller of stories, lover, wife and Flower Samurai.

In the rich, dazzling, brutal world of twelfth century Japan, one young girl begins her epic journey, from the warmth of family to the Village of Outcasts. Marked out by an auspicious omen, she is trained in the ancient warrior arts of the samurai. But it is through the power of storytelling that she learns to fight her fate, twisting her life onto a path even she could not have imagined…

 

 

August

James Forrester – The Final Sacrament (Headline)
September 1566. William Harley, Clarenceux King of Arms, lives quietly with his family in London, with a document in his possession that could destroy the state. The aged Lady Percy, Countess of Northumberland, has not given up trying to find it. Nor has she forgotten how he betrayed her and the Catholic cause – she has spent the last two years planning her revenge. But then eloquent and adventurous courtier, John Greystoke suddenly seems most concerned for Clarenceux’s safety. And why, on behalf of the government, does Francis Walsingham have spies watching Clarenceux’s house day and night? When his wife and his daughter go missing, Clarenceux finds himself on the run with his other young daughter, hunted by Lady Percy’s agents. He knows he must finally destroy the document, even if it should cost him his life – but how can he, until he has reunited his family?

Tim Severin – Saxon: The Book of Dreams (PanMacmillan)
Frankia 780AD: Sigwulf, a minor Saxon prince, is saved from execution after his family is slaughtered by the ruthless King Offa of Mercia. Thanks to his Devil’s Mark – his eyes of different colours – Sigwulf is exiled to the Frankish court of King Carolus, the future Charlemagne. There Sigwulf survives on his wits while at the same time trying to come to terms with disturbingly prophetic dreams.

He gains the friendship of some – Count Hroudland, Carolus’s powerful and ambitious nephew but – mysteriously – several attempts are made on Sigwulf’s life. When he obtains a Book of Dreams by chance, a rare text giving understanding to their meaning, he attracts the attention of Carolus himself. But the Book proves to be a slippery guide in a world of treachery and double dealing. Carolus sends Sigwulf and his slave Osric into Spain to spy on the Saracens ahead of a planned Frankish invasion. There, Sigwulf becomes caught between loyalties; either he honours his debt to new friends among the Saracens, or he serves his patron Count Hroudland in his quest for glory, gold and even the Grail itself.

One after another Sigwulf’s predictions come true, but often not as expected, and he finds himself swept forward into a final great battle that reveals who his enemies are . . .

September

Tim Powers – Hide Me Among the Graves (Corvus)
London, 1862.

A city of over three million souls, of stinking fog and dark, winding streets.

Through these streets walks the poet Christina Rossetti, haunted and tormented by the ghost of her uncle, John Polidori. Without him, she cannot write, but her relationship with him threatens to shake London itself to the ground.

This fascinating, clever novel vividly recreates the stews and slums of Victorian London – a city of dreadful delight. But it is the history of a hidden city, where nursery rhymes lead the adventurer through haunted tunnels and inverted spires. And where the price of poetic inspiration is blood.

Tim Powers – The Stress of Her Regard (Corvus)
Lake Geneva, 1816
As Byron and Shelley row on the peaceful waters of Lake Geneva, a sudden squall threatens to capsize them. But this is no natural event – something has risen from the lake itself to attack them.

Kent, 1816
Michael Crawford’s wife is brutally murdered on their wedding night as he sleeps peacefully beside her – and a vengeful ghost claims Crawford as her own husband.
Crawford’s quest to escape his supernatural wife will force him to travel the Continent in the company of the most creative, most doomed poets of his age. Byron, Keats and Shelley all have a part to play in his fate, and the fate of Europe.

October

Simon Scarrow – The Sword and the Scimitar (Headline)
1565; In its hour of greatest need, Malta must rely upon the ancient Knights of the Order of St John for survival. Bound by the strongest ties: of valour, of courage and of passion, the Knights must defend their island against ferocious and deadly Ottoman attack.

For Sir Thomas Barrett, summoned by the Order and compelled by loyalty – to the Knights, to his honour and to his Queen – returning to the besieged island means revisiting a past he had long since lain to rest. As the beleaguered Knights grapple to retain control, decade-old feuds will be reawakened, intense passions rekindled and deadly secrets revealed.

November

Lisa Hilton – Wolves in Winter (Corvus)
ITALY, 1492.

5-year-old Mura is a strange and bewitching child. Daughter to a Nordic mother and Spanish father, she has been tutored in both Arabic learning and the ancient myth cycles of the north. But her widower father has been arrested by the Inquisition, and Mura is sold to a Genoese slaver.

In the port of Savona, Mura’s androgynous looks and unusual abilities fetch a high price. She is bought as a house slave for the powerful Medici, arriving in Florence as the city prepares for war against the French. When the family are forced to flee, Mura finds herself gifted to the notorious Tigress of Forli, Countess Caterina Sforza.

Beautiful, ruthless and intelligent, the Countess is fascinated by Mura’s arcane knowledge. As the Tigress educates her further in the arts of alchemy, potions and poisons, she becomes much more than a lady’s maid. Mura becomes a potent weapon in the Machiavellian intrigues of the Renaissance court…

Phil Rickman – The Heresy of Dr Dee (Corvus)
All talk is of the End-time… and the dead are rising.

At the end of the sunless summer of 1560, black rumour shrouds the death of the one woman who stands between Lord Robert Dudley and marriage to the young Queen Elizabeth. Did Dudley’s wife, Amy, die from an accidental fall in a deserted house, or was it murder? Even Dr John Dee, astrologer royal, adviser on the Hidden and one of Dudley’s oldest friends, is uncertain. Then a rash promise to the Queen sends him to his family’s old home on the Welsh Border in pursuit of the Wigmore Shewstone, a crystal credited supernatural properties.

With Dee goes Robert Dudley, considered the most hated man in England. They travel with a London judge sent to try a sinister Welsh brigand with a legacy dating back to the Battle of Brynglas. After the battle, many of the English bodies were, according to legend, obscenely mutilated. Now, on the same haunted hill, another dead man has been found, similarly slashed.

Devious politics, small-town corruption, twisted religion and a brooding superstition leave John Dee isolated in the land of his father.

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China Miéville – Un Lun Dun

‘UnLondon is at war. We’re under attack. And it’s been written, for centuries, that you will come and save us.’

Stumbling through a secret entrance, Zanna and Deeba enter the strange wonderland of UnLondon. Here all the lost and broken things of London end up, and some of its people too – including Brokkenbroll, boss of the broken umbrella’s; and Hemi the half-ghost boy.

But the two girls have arrived at a dangerous time. UnLondon is a place where words are alive, where a jungle lurks behind the door of an ordinary house, where carnivorous giraffes stalk the streets…and a sinister cloud called Smog is bent on destruction. It’s a frightened city in need of a hero…

Back in 2010 I read my first and thus far only Miéville. I’d only become aware of his writing due to starting to read book blogs, but everyone was highly complementary, so I knew I needed to read some of his work. However, I was also a little intimidated, because Miéville’s work was described as very smart and layered and here I was thinking: “What if I don’t get it?” Luckily, I did get The City & The City – I think – so I really wanted to read more of his work. And in August last year I got really lucky and won a copy of his book Un Lun Dun in a giveaway on Mel’s Random Reviews. It still took me a while to get to it, but once I did I was again swept away by Miéville’s fantastic writing and his imaginative creations. In a word, Un Lun Dun was amazing!

Un Lun Dun is a YA book and as such perhaps far more accessible than say Miéville’s Embassytown (which, for the record, I haven’t read) and I totally adored this book and his UnLondon. The book was just so much fun. UnLondon is a wonderful creation, which has some clear echo’s of the London we know and love, but also is a place totally its own. The Ghosts have their own Quarter and are peopled with those who can’t move on, but also don’t have a place in the world above any more. This wonderful world of moily houses and discarded appliances which pop up randomly in the street is populated by some amazing creatures, such as binja’s, the Black Windows, Unbrella’s and the rebrella’s. They are not just described in a wonderful fashion, they are also included as illustrations drawn by Miéville himself, which makes them even more fun.

Un Lun Dun is not just an example of great, imaginative world building, but also of fantastic playing with language. Miéville plays with words in so many ways, whether it is by punning, by creating onomatopoeic representations of regular words, such as The Schwazzy and the klinneract, or by creating words or names with double meanings, such as Brokkenbroll, the master of the Unbrella’s or the broken brollies. It was a joy to try and identify these words and every time I got one I felt full of triumph, though this task might be easier for native speakers!

The fact that Deeba was the UnChosen, which of course makes far more sense for UNLondon, is not just a word joke – which I really liked – but also part of a larger phenomenon in Un Lun Dun—the subverting of traditional tropes. I loved how Miéville played with the tropes of the genre, sometimes seemingly following them and at others just turning them on their head. For example, the prophecy, which turns out to be incorrect and the quest for the UnGun, setting us up for a classic ‘following the predetermined path to gain the needed McGuffin in seven easy steps’ which Deeba decides to cut short pretty brutally. Un Lun Dun is also pretty scary and Miéville doesn’t keep back from killing off characters, the loss of some of which left me a little teary.

You can see where Miéville draws inspiration from Gaiman – something which the author acknowledges in his afterword – and it wouldn’t have helped that I read Neverwhere in the days prior to starting Un Lun Dun. But even though the influence is clear, Un Lun Dun is its own story and completely Miéville. Un Lun Dun is a fantastic story, which while it’s classed YA, is also suitable to the more mature MG reader, however parents might want to check beforehand whether they think their child is ready for the book. In any case Un Lun Dun is not just must read Miéville, but also must read YA fantasy.

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C.J. Sansom – Heartstone

Summer 1545

England is at war. Henry VIII’s invasion of France has gone badly wrong, and a massive French fleet is preparing to sail across the Channel…

Meanwhile, Matthew Shardlake is given an intriguing legal case by an old servant of Queen Catherine Parr. Asked to investigate claims of ‘monstrous wrongs’ committed against his young ward, Hugh Curteys, by Sir Nicholas Hobbey, Shardlake and his assistant Barak journey to Portsmouth. There, Shardlake also intends to investigate the mysterious past of Ellen Fettiplace, a young woman incarcerated in the Bedlam.

Once in Portsmouth, Shardlake and Barak find themselves in a city preparing for war. The mysteries surrounding the Hobbey family, and the events that destroyed Ellen’s family nineteen years before, involve Shardlake in reunions both with an old friend and an old enemy close to the throne. Soon events will converge on board one of the King’s great warships in Portsmouth harbour, waiting to sail out and confront the approaching French fleet…

I discovered the author through last year’s World Book Night. I was lucky enough to get a copy of Dissolution (review) through that event and I fell in love with the character of Matthew Shardlake and his world. So when I was assured on Twitter that I didn’t have to read the books in-between, I couldn’t wait to start Heartstone.

It was possible to read the books out of order, but I did miss some of the nuances of Shardlake’s development. There events referenced from prior books, such as Shardlake’s stint in the Tower, the events that take place in York, his connection to Bedlam and how he originally met Ellen, where Barak came from, how he came to replace Mark and how Barak met and won Tamasin. But it didn’t impede on understanding the story or my enjoyment of it. However, it’s made me want to read the other three books even more badly.

I loved returning to Tudor times and learning more about Henry VIII’s period. Heartstone focuses on wardships, Henry’s wars with the French, and Portsmouth. There’s no Mark in Heartstone and just a little Guy, sadly, as I really loved these characters in Dissolution. However, Barak is a great foil for Shardlake’s almost obsessive desire to solve his cases. My only complaint with Barak is that sometimes his curses seemed somewhat too contemporary and thus were a little jarring. Despite this, there isy a richness to Sansom’s tale that is a delight. Partly this can be found in the details he includes, but it can also be found in the little subplots throughout the book, such as the mystery of Coldiron’s past and Tamasin’s pregnancy.

The connection Shardlake and Barak form with Leacon and his troop was wonderful. It gave the reader a close-up view what life in a company of archers was like in Tudor times. It’s the little details that make this so awesome, such as the buttons Sir Franklin gets all worked up over, the tension of levies thrown together regardless of class, and the little earwax scoop Carswell wins in a bet which he is happy about as it will help him keep his bow string waxed (can I just say yuck to that?). It also provides a different point of view on the war, it’s not all glory, honour and money, for the ordinary man drafted as a soldier, war, and especially this war, is just a damn fool thing. And it is a foolishness that can – and often will – cost them their lives.

Two separate cases form the meat of the book, Hugh’s and Ellen’s. While I found Hugh’s case interesting and a little boggling, I found Ellen’s just to be annoying. I could see Shardlake’s rationale for following through on it, but I was with Barak on this one, I just wanted him to drop it. Then again, Shardlake is known for his tenacity, but in these cases, even the beneficiaries of his work just wanted him to drop it, and his going on felt frustrating as it seemed not to lead anywhere or just seemed plain dangerous.

Of course Sansom solves this frustration brilliantly in the last few hundred pages by showing us there was actually something wrong in Hugh’s case and shows Ellen’s case is actually far more complex than just a young girl driven out of her mind by a brutal attack. The twists to both cases were surprising and where in Dissolution I had seen the culprit coming, in Heartstone the final resolutions were surprising, I hadn’t seen them coming at all. Those last few hundred pages make for a tense finale, culminating in a sea battle, which Shardlake witnesses from very close by.

I love historical fiction and crime and when they are combined in the way Sansom does, it’s a rare treat. Sansom manages to make me want to learn more about the history in his books, in this case about the Mary Rose and Henry’s other warships. To me that is the sign of a really great historical fiction author and Sansom certainly fits that bill. If you’ve read any of his previous novels and enjoyed them, or you just like historical crime fiction, Heartstone is really worth a read. I would however recommend that you read the books in order, just so you get all the nuances in character development that I missed.

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C.J. Sansom – Dissolution

It is 1537, a time of revolution that sees the greatest changes in England since 1066. Henry VIII has proclaimed himself Supreme Head of the Church. The country is waking up to savage new laws, rigged trials and the greatest network of informers it has ever seen. And under the orders of Thomas Cromwell, a team of commissioners is sent throughout the country to investigate the monasteries. There can only be one outcome: dissolution.
     But on the Sussex coast, at the monastery of Scarnsea, events have spiralled out of control. Cromwell’s commissioner, Robin Singleton, has been found dead, his head severed from his body. His horrific murder is accompanied by equally sinister acts of sacrilege.
     Matthew Shardlake, lawyer and long-time supporter of Reform, has been sent by Cromwell to uncover the truth behind the dark happenings at Scarnsea. But investigation soon forces Shardlake to question everything that he hears, and everything that he intrinsically believes…

Dissolution is set in a very interesting period in history and one I’m not overly familiar with beyond reading Alison Weir’s biography of Henry VIII and seeing the first three seasons of The Tudors. Most of the historical fiction I’ve read is set earlier or Elizabethan and later. So it was interesting to look beyond the court, somewhat, and not focus on the wives-question, but to take a look at what the consequences of Reformation and dissolution were for the rest of the country.

Matthew Shardlake is an interesting character. As a lawyer, he’s part of the quickly growing middle class, or as Sansom puts it: ‘… the ‘new men’, the emerging capitalist and bureaucratic classes, men of property without birth.’ (p. 443) He’s dependent on the patronage of a powerful man, Cromwell, but prosperous enough to consider servants and peasants beneath him. This gives him enough social standing to move about freely, especially once in possession of the papers naming him Cromwell’s commissioner, but at the same time sets him outside the true circles of power. Shardlake is an easy character to like; a self-made man, one with a serious disadvantage as a humpback in an age where physical imperfections were still seen as a mark of evil and as such often disparaged and harassed in his youth. His past however, hasn’t caused him to become bitter and while concious of man’s aptitude for cruelty, he still holds to his ideals.

By pairing him with the much younger and far more naive and sweet-natured Mark Poer, his protégé from his home farm, we not only have a foil for Shardlake’s more cynical observations, but a dissenting voice among the reformers as well. It is Mark who questions Shardlake’s easy dismissal of the accusations of wrong-doing and perjury levelled at Singleton and Cromwell, and Mark who voices clear doubts about the validity of the Reformation or at least the true motives of the Reformers. Another great foil for the Reformer Matthew is Brother Guy, whose Moorish descent makes him as much Other as Shardlake and whose quiet, devout dignity and strong Catholic faith serve to show the other side of the coin. He also forms another sounding board for Shardlake to bounce ideas off, though to a much lesser extent than Mark.

The Reformation is a complicated historical event. Instigated by Luther’s apocryphal posting of his Ninety-five Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg and aimed at reforming the Church back to its more humble origins, away from the ostentation, corruption and politicking it had sunk into, it was a truly theological movement at the start. The Reformation in England more resembled a political power struggle started by a king bent on having his own way, clad in the guise of a religious revolution. While there were many truly devout reformers, many of them seem to have been opportunistic land-grabbers. Shardlake is confronted by Reformist political expediency when he encounters Cromwell’s ruthless role in Queen Anne’s fall from grace. I liked that this discovery didn’t take away from his beliefs and stance on theological doctrine, but it did diminish his naive faith in his patron. The sense of loss and desperation of the monks, both those genuinely devout and those just distressed by losing their cushy place, was tangible and I could really feel for the devout brothers who saw the monastery as a refuge from the world and not as a different arena to gain secular power. It made a good contrast to the Reformist point of view the book is written from.

The monastic setting was very interesting, as it easily created a sort of ‘Orient Express’-like closed circle mystery, were the number of suspects truly is finite due to the enclosed nature of the setting. The murder mystery was fantastic; while I wasn’t completely surprised by the culprit’s identity, their motives were surprising. Sansom manages to drop very clear clues into the story, all the while keeping you distracted with some very plausible alternatives. It is the kind of sleight of hand that happens right in front of you, but you keep blinking at the wrong moment to catch it.

I loved Dissolution, the story was easy to get lost in and also easy to return to when I had to put it down. Like the best historical novels do, it’s made me want to research the period further. If only I had more hours in the day! Still, it is a sign of the quality of this book that it inspired this desire in me. Thank you to Amanda for sending Dissolution to me as part of World Book Night. If you weren’t lucky enough to get a free copy on World Book Night, alas! But be sure to pick up a copy at your local book store or library, as it a good read, both for lovers of historical fiction and crime fiction.

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Peter F. Hamilton – Misspent Youth

It is forty years into the future and, following decades of research and trillions of euros spent on genetics, Europe is finally in a position to rejuvenate a human being. The first subject chosen for treatment is Jeff Baker, the creator of the Datasphere (which replaced the internet) and philanthropist extraordinaire. After eighteen months in a German medical facility, the seventy-eight-year-old patient returns home looking like a healthy twenty-year-old.

Misspent Youth follows the effect his reappearance has on his family and friends – his considerably younger ex-model wife Sue, his teenage son Tim, and his longterm pals, now themselves all pensioners, who start resenting what Jeff has become.

As I’ve often stated I’m not that well-read on the SF side of speculative fiction. Not having a hard science bone in my body, made me think I wouldn’t understand the science in Science Fiction, so I stayed safely on the Fantasy side of things. After discovering last year that actually I rather liked military SF and that not all SF equals scientific equations, I decided I was going to broaden my scope. Misspent Youth, the first book set in Hamilton’s Commonwealth Universe, is another step on that path. And I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed this jaunt down Science Fiction Road!

While there is most definitely an SF setting – the overarcing story of the EU, the separatists, and the development of technology which sets up for the rest of the Commonwealth Universe – this book is a human tale at heart. Its core plot deals with a father and a son and their struggle to connect again afer the intrusion of advanced (medical) technology in their lives. It’s about the psychological fall-out of the complete transformation that Jeff undergoes, not just physically, but mentally as well. And it’s also a classic story of growing up and gaining independence.

As might be surmised from the above description, Misspent Youth is largely character-driven and as such has a strong cast of protagonists. The four main viewpoints we get are Tim, Jeff, Annabelle and Sue, with here and there interspersed chapters from the viewpoints of secondary characters. Despite this, the characters at the heart of the book are Tim and Jeff. I liked Tim, he was just the right mix of sullen teen and adolescent with a good head on his shoulders. Though in my opinion, he got over some things perhaps a little too easily or at least he’s more forgiving than I would have been. One thing is certain though, Tim is required to grow up in record time and while he messes up at times, he ends up well. And seemingly even at peace with his father and what he has become. I, on the other hand, didn’t know what to make of Jeff. Perhaps following along the same path that Tim’s feelings run, I liked him at the start, but he just did so much wrong things, as Tim’s friends would say, it was really hard to keep liking him. Then again, it must be severely disturbing to go from old and physically creaking, back to the bloom of youth, while still remembering most of the eighty-odd years you’d lived before, so perhaps he should be cut some slack. It’s not just Tim who has growing up to do in this novel, his father has to regain his maturity as well.

On an ideas level, as a librarian, there was a lot that spoke to me. The idea of the Datasphere, the freely available information, is at once what we strive for, but it is also frightening to contemplate. As it is, with the advent of digitalisation of most academic journals and a lot of monographs, our work is slowly moving from providing access to information to more of a filtering and curating sort of position. We need to help our patrons sift through the information deluge and help them judge which information is relevant and trustworthy and which information is better discarded. Information literacy, including transliteracy, is becoming a larger and larger part of a librarian’s job, whether they actually teach it in a classroom or not. The Datasphere would increase this information deluge to an almost unnavigable torrent. Added to this is the far more explicitly expressed consequence (and perhaps danger) to the Arts: the deprofessionalization of the artist, be they writer, musician or visual artist, to the point that originality and quality are rare. It’s taking piracy to extreme, or rather it’s piracy legalised and accepted by society and content creators being forced to accept it as well. In a way it is today’s situation extrapolated, as even today musicians share their music online for free under a creative commons license and more and more self-published authors find their way to the public with the advent of ebooks. On the other hand, the free availability of information also provides opportunity of incredible scientific advancement, as the free sharing of research data allows scientists to cooperate and elaborate on each other’s results. Advocacy for Open Access publication of scientific publications and data sets in institutional repositories and the implementation of linked data are items that are on the agenda of many academic libraries today. The way Hamilton casually mentions things happening today, blew my mind, especially since the book was first published almost a decade ago.

Sue grinned. ‘It means you can avoid the mistakes which Tim and his friends are about to spend the next fifteen years making. You’ll enjoy yourself a hell of a lot more this time around.’ (p. 141)

In the end, Misspent Youth is a book that will stay with me both for the human story it tells and the barrage of ideas it launched at me and the questions it made me ask myself, not just regarding the world at large, but regarding the development of my professional field in particular. Whether Jeff is able to avoid the mistakes we all make growing up, as Sue suggests in the passage above, is doubtful, one thing that is sure is that he makes a whole bunch of new ones no one would have thought of before. How much fun he has this time around, is also debatable. What isn’t up for debate, however, is how much I enjoyed reading this thought-provoking book. The story is great and makes for a remarkably fast read. If you are looking for an accessible novel to get started in reading SF and don’t mind being challenged, I can’t recommend Misspent Youth high enough. Look out for reviews of Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained in the near future, as they’re already to be found on my TBR-pile and have moved up quite a bit after reading Misspent Youth. Maybe there is an SF reader hiding inside me after all…

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China Miéville – The City & The City: a.k.a. Solving my #bookfails part 3

China Miéville - The City & The City
When the body of a murdered woman is found in the extraordinary, decaying city of Besźel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks like a routine case for Inspector Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he probes, the evidence begins to point to conspiracies far stranger, and more deadly, than anything he could have imagined. Soon his work puts him and those he cares for in danger. Borlú must travel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own, across a border like no other.

China Miéville’s The City & The City is this year’s awards darling; it won the BSFA award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, tied for the Hugo Award with Paolo Bacigalupi and was nominated for the Nebula Award. Not having read anything by Miéville before, and knowing that this constituted a major #bookfail, The City & The City seemed a good place to start. It was! Although after about 30 pages I concluded I should re-read the book in a month or two to get all of it. It’s the kind of book that makes me want to write a really erudite, clever and funny review, but these days me keeping the same train of thought for more than five minutes without interruptions is rare. So I figured if I actually wanted to post it this century, it’ll just have to be how I write reviews normally.

Besides the murder mystery there are several other mysteries such as Orciny and Breach. All of these are solved by the end of the novel. Or are they? I have to confess that I’m still not sure about Orciny! But I’ll leave that for you to figure out and decide for yourself. I love the intricacy of the cities. The cities of Besźel and Ul Quam are almost an evolved version of the city of Berlin before 1989. Though instead of one city divided by a wall, there are two cities overlapping each other. All that separates them are insubstantial mental barriers held up by the citizens’ mental discipline and a mysterious agency called Breach. These mental barriers are held up by the discipline of unseeing. Miéville has put a lot of thought and detail into this unseeing. Even explaining that children are taught to unsee the other city from a young age, but aren’t liable for small breaches until they are old enough to be expected to understand and take responsibility for their own unseeing. Similarly the rules are applied more leniently to tourists as well. Though, if a tourist knowingly breaches, they are swept up by Breach just as quickly as a normal citizen. The labyrinthine entanglement of the cities and its origin forms the greatest mystery of all and it’s a mystery not even its inhabitants have solved.

I adore crime series, both in book form and on tv, with police procedurals being my favourite kind. So that side of The City & The City was right up my alley. Borlú, Corwi and Dhatt are great characters. I especially loved the interaction between Borlú and Dhatt. The jurisdictional territoriality came through beautifully in Dhatt and his Ul Qoman colleagues, though Dhatt and Borlú end up working together really well and even build a bit of trust between them, which to my eyes made it even better. What made me really happy was Corwi not being the obligatory love interest I was afraid she might be. I loved that she was just a very capable sidekick and that was it. The crime was solved with a twist which, at first, came out of the blue for me and seemed a bit farfetched until the true conclusion followed. And after the story had had a few days to sink in, I began seeing the clues I’d missed. As stated before, I need to re-read the book to get it all.
Best line of the book this time isn’t a funny line, but a line that touched my inner romantic and which reflects the strange and melancholy history between these twin cities of Besźel and Ul Quam:

Ul Qoman man and Besź maid, meeting in the middle of Copula Hall, returning to their homes to realise that they live, grosstopically, next door to each other, spending their lives faithful and alone, rising at the same time, walking crosshatched streets close like a couple, each in their own city, never breaching, never quite touching, never speaking a word across the border. (p.160) 

I keep wondering about the rest of the story of these lovers. Where does it go, how does it end? One thing is for sure, it probably isn’t happy.

The City & The City lived up to all the expectations raised by the praise heaped upon it online and I can truly see why it’s won so many awards. It’s also made me want to read more of China Miéville’s work, because one taste of his writing just isn’t enough. The book is a definite recommended read and China Miéville a new addition to my must-read-authors-list!

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