Sunday, October 13, 2013

Micro-Reviews of Books Read, September 2013

Reviews of books read last month. Again, another all fiction selection
- in fact, all four novels would be classified as speculative fiction.

1. "Wool" by Hugh Howey

An undisclosed global catastrophe (most likely a nuclear war) has
made the earth's surface uninhabitable. Survivors and their
descendants have been forced to live underground in a massive silo,
which goes down more than a hundred levels. Over many successive
decades, silo-dwellers divide into classes with specific roles.
Rules have developed to maintain order in this subterranean, self-
sufficient society. The ultimate punishment is being banished to
the surface to clean the silo's viewport, which is a death sentence.
While most officials are elected, the workers in IT seem to have a
lot of power. Suspicion builds that the head of IT knows more than
he's letting on. Some people start questioning things: what is IT
hiding? Is the wool over being pulled over their eyes? Why?

This is the first of a three book series, which actually tells the
middle part of the story so as to not give away too much too soon.
I found it an enjoyable and well-written start, and look forward to
reading the rest of the series.

2. "The Third Policeman" by Flann O'Brien

The story opens with the narrator admitting to taking part in a
violent robbery and murder. He blames his behaviour on the
corrupting influence of his former guardian and later best mate.
After laying low for a while, the robbers decide it's safe to
recover the stolen goods. Then things take a surreal turn. The
narrator arrives at a police station that defies Euclidean
geometry, staffed by policemen obsessed with bicycles and pancakes,
and who speak in non-sequiturs. The narrator is himself beholden to
the writings and philosophy of a crackpot named de Selby. Is he
having a bizarre dream?

This darkly comical novel felt like a condensed and twisted Irish
version of Crime And Punishment, or a bit like Franz Kafka meets
Douglas Adams.

3. "The Ocean at the End of the Lane" by Neil Gaiman

After attending a funeral, a middle-aged man visits his old family
home and seeks out his old neighbours. His was an unhappy childhood,
spent mostly reading books to escape an unloving father, strange
live-in tenants and a controlling housekeeper. He recounts a magical
episode that happened when he was seven, involving members of his
unusual household and some other-worldly neighbours who lived at
the end of the lane.

The author has had success writing novels and comics, as well as a
handful of episodes of TV shows including Doctor Who. This is the
first novel of his that I've read. Personally, I'm not that into
magic and fantasy, but I can see why fans like his work. It's a
well written and engaging short novel.

4. "The Drowned Cities" by Paolo Bacigalupi

This is a sequel to "Ship Breaker", set in the future when the
Earth's climate has changed irreversibly. The United States didn't
cope well, so China sent peacekeepers to try to restore order. But
when the Chinese left, competing factions fight to control what's
left in a brutal civil war. One of the characters from the earlier
novel, Tool, is a main protagonist. He's an augmented human/dog/tiger
hybrid, bred for loyalty and fighting on behalf of his master. But
after his newly-gained freedom, he struggles to find a purpose.
Should he help war orphan Mahlia rescue her friend from a local
warlord's band of soldiers?

This is a sometimes violent but definitely thought-provoking novel.
It's probably uncomfortable reading for proud conservative Americans
- surely this could never happen?