Thursday, November 22, 2012

Reading Choices

   This has been a really good week for reading. The three books I've read this week have all been exciting, well-written, and thought-provoking - two Advance Reading Copies: 'Nexus' by Ramez Naam (Angry Robot, Jan 2013) and 'Pantomime' by Laura Lam (Strange Chemistry, Feb 2013), and one from the 'To Be Read' pile: 'Mortal Engines' by Philip Reeve (Scholastic UK, 2001).
Omnibus ed: Angry Robot, £12.99
   I've been meaning to write about Angry Robot for a while. Since I started researching new science fiction titles to order in to the shop, they've become one of my favourite publishers. So many of the most exciting and innovative new titles are coming from there. Lavie Tidhar (who a few weeks ago won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel for his newest novel 'Osama') first published his amazing Bookman stories ('The Bookman', 'Camera Obscura', and 'The Great Game') with Angry Robot beginning in 2010. The cover design has consistently been excellent (check out images online for 'Empire State' by Adam Christopher, 'Zoo City' by Lauren Beukes, and 'The Damned Busters' by Matthew Hughes). Strange Chemistry is Angry Robot's new Young Adult imprint, so the success of this week's reading is really a double whammy for them. 
Angry Robot, £8.99
  'Nexus' is a thrilling near-future science fiction tale of human modification and enhancement. Kaden Lane is a young scientist working illegally on the next generation of a mind-linking nano-drug called Nexus. The possible uses of his alterations to the drug are not lost on US military agencies, and he soon gets caught up in a storm of espionage and real physical danger. I was struck very early on in this story by how detailed and well-researched it was, so it came as no surprise for me to discover that the author, Ramez Naam, is a professional technologist who has previously written a non-fiction book on the subject - 'More Than Human: Embracing the promise of biological enhancement'. What was a surprise, then, was how well-written the action scenes were, and how believable and moving the emotional ones. I did find some of the technological exposition a little clunky as the novel went on, but this really is a minor quibble, and I think this book definitely has broad appeal. 
Angry Robot, £7.99
   In contrast to the hard  and technologically-advanced science fiction world of 'Nexus', the world of 'Pantomime' is a colourful world rebuilding after the near-destruction of previous civilisations. Nobles of the present day collect items known as 'Vestiges' - remnants of these previous civilisations which mystify with their strange powers. Micah Grey is a young man who has just run away from home, and manages to join a circus due to his preternatural climbing skills. But his real name is not Micah, and indeed he is not really a young man at all. I flew through this fascinating story last night and this morning, completely captivated by the mystery of this main character as he struggles with issues of gender, identity, and sexuality. This would be an interesting enough story with just these elements, but the backdrop of the new world of Ellada, of strange personal interactions with apparently technological Vestiges, of the myths of Kedi - wonderful beings worshipped by past civilisations, and of allies and enemies in the circus, make it a much more complete creation, and seem to be evidence of a writer with many wonderful ideas.  
New ed: Scholastic, £6.99
   I've been meaning to read Philip Reeve's 'Mortal Engines' for a long time, having read and adored two parts of his prequel trilogy to this series 'Fever Crumb' and 'Web of Air'. In the future, centuries after an apocalypse of some sort, cities and towns are mechanised to allow them to roam the devastated landscape scavenging for parts, fuel, and food for their citizens. Tom Natsworthy is an apprentice Historian, training in the recovery of old Tech (seedees and other computer parts) and artifacts. When he foils an attempt on the life of the Head Historian and is thrown from the moving city of London by the same Head Historian in thanks for his efforts, he is forced to reassess everything he thinks he knows about this man and about his city. He teams up with the would-be assassin, a hideously scarred girl called Hester Shaw, and together they make their way on the ground, investigating the reasons for London's sudden foray into the Great Hunting Ground, and the consequences of that for their world and for their new friends. I was reminded while reading this book of China Miéville's second Bas-Lag novel 'The Scar'. 'The Scar' features a ship/raft conglomeration in the same way that 'Mortal Engines' has moving cities as its main locations, and the people of both novels are diverse, confusing, and multicultural, forming a similar tone and background to both stories. I can't wait to continue with Reeve's series!
   This consistency of this week's choices immediately makes me think of how often I've got books wrong. I've picked a book based on the cover, author, blurb, reviews, adaptations, and it has often gone horribly wrong. I didn't enjoy J.K. Rowling's recent blockbuster 'The Casual Vacancy' - too much gritty real-life for me. I unfortunately hated Charlaine Harris' wildly popular Sookie Stackhouse series (the basis for the 'True Blood' TV series, which I did like) - I couldn't stand the style of writing, and can't understand how so many readers can endure the writing to find out what happens to the characters. When I read Stephen Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant years ago, I disliked his language and style. Although, it's such a long time since I read those that I should give them another chance, but I'm sure I'll never have time for that, when there's so much else to read.
   When I remind myself of those books, I'm glad that my 'To Be Read' pile is looking so good at the moment, with lots of interesting older paperbacks, and some lovely ARCs - Cassandra Rose Clarke's 'The Mad Scientist's Daughter', Anne Lyle's 'The Merchant of Dreams', and Lisa Graff's 'A Tangle of Knots'. 


  1. I love Mortal Engines, and I'm a big fan of Angry Robot. You clearly have excellent taste :)