As the world reopens, we’re buttoning down all the more to avoid the inevitable second wave. We’re lucky in that we can buy veg locally without risk — it’s a business unit on the outskirts of town and they put a table across the door. We go to the door, tell them what we want while those inside scurry around packing it up with gloved hands, then we step back, they place it on the table; we step forward to use the card machine to pay, pick up our veg and leave. No contact with anyone. I can see why many have resorted to more local sources, though we’ve always tried to use ours.
Our weekly routine has changed little (except that this time of the year we would have gone for some evening walks) but the weekends have started to drag a little. With that in mind, we’re thinking of tackling a couple of DIY jobs. I’ve had to order 4 tins of paint to redo our front door and the frame from three different outlets. Struggled to get a suitable colour, and it seems many shops still lack stocks.
Dipping in to series old and new. Watching the most recent season of The Black List and picking up Brooklyn Nine-Nine where we left off ages ago. Started Altered Carbon, definitely an interesting concept. Just watched Hereditary, a film proclaimed to be something incredibly original when it hit cinemas. Alas, I can’t decide whether it’s slow and dull, or insidious and disturbing. The horror is at times overly melodramatic, at others subtle, perhaps scarily so if you’re easily scared. I neither liked nor disliked it. I think they promoted the film inaccurately, especially when it first came out leading the viewer to expect something quite different which always harms the experience. On a side note, having a dog in the film was entirely pointless.
Another great month.
Forward Collection, Amazon Original Stories:
While I felt none of the stories were perfect, and often that they were a mere glimpse into a larger concept, I can see where the various subjects create a balance with this collection of six stories available together or individually.
The Last Conversation, Paul Trembley
Though I didn’t like the second person narrative, this may be my favourite of the ‘Forward Collection’ possibly made apt as it concerns loss during a pandemic. There’s a lot left to the imagination, and perhaps that’s why it will fail for some readers. The big reveal is not as grand as perhaps we’d hope it to be. Still, this story is multilayered asking many uncomfortable questions. I couldn’t help feeling there’s a longer story hiding within this shorter work.
Ark, Veronica Roth
Enjoyable, but I found this to be the weakest of the 5 Forward Collection stories. An evacuated earth requires too much suspended belief and though the narration is beautiful, there was no true forward momentum and the ending proved a disappointment. This reads more as a vignette rather than a full story.
Summer Frost, Blake Crouch
An exploration of artificial intelligence that perhaps offers few surprises and yet does so with style, asking all the right questions and offering a variety of conceivable answers, all excellent reasons to suspect the development of A.I.
Emergency Skin, N.K.Jemisin
I greatly loved the concept of this story of an explorer returning to Earth long after those who destroyed their planet having fled from it, to find things are not quite how it seems. Oddly enough, this is another timely story being that we’ve all seen during the recent pandemic how the Earth can regenerate without human interference, though any one group being at fault is subversive and plainly fallacious.
You Have Arrived at Your Destination, Amor Towles
At some future point should humans be able to choose not only the sex of their child but perhaps their life, too. And in doing so, does that parent abandon that child to a life that requires no guidance to a path already mapped out? For one man, it’s a question that makes him evaluate his own existence and choices. Alas, I didn’t find this drew me in deeply enough to more thoroughly explore this excellent concept.
Randomize, Andy Weir
This story made me smirk the most. While the technical jargon may fly over most heads, it’s easy to understand what’s going on here, leaving the question of what makes a crook and what part does technology play in the modern world. A reflection on techno highway robbery.
The Witcher: Season of Storms, Andrzej Sapkowski
A prequel to the first two Witcher books, reading much like a standalone book. I would advise to read this as the third instalment, otherwise the story may confuse as there’s little to no introduction of the main established characters. I enjoyed this as the story takes the form of political intrigue and the theft of Geralt’s swords. I’ve seen some criticise the writer’s style. The only thing I find slightly annoying is the repetitive ‘was’ — it was raining; they were walking; it was dark in the alley — style, though this writer is not the only one who over uses this type of narrative, and I don’t know whether it’s in part owing to the translation. The world of The Witcher remains rich and absorbing.
The Doll Who Ate His Mother, Ramsey Campbell
This is a tough book to rate, but when you understand this is Ramsey Campbell’s debut novel, the good and bad points fall into place. If you love Campbell’s work this is a glimpse of a fledgling writer. If you’ve never read Campbell before, don’t start with this for the author went on to bigger and better things garnering recognition well deserved. The story is also dated — understandably, written over 40 years ago. What people expected, accepted, and found frightening was entirely different back then. So was depth required. Both a horror story with satanic elements, and a thriller involving a disturbed boy perhaps corrupted by the perverse beliefs of those who raised him, alas, the book’s greatest flaw is the lack of menace (for a modern audience). I also spotted what should have been a surprise, but such is an annoying habit of mine. Some will dislike the surreal sauntering sensation the book invokes, but this lends a strange uneasy appeal to the narrative and can be forgiven as a writer finding his voice — and a distinctive voice it now is to those who appreciate his work. Still, there were moments when simple everyday things came across as overly described to where I had to read a sentence twice. Ultimately, the book fails to fall into the horror category for me, and it lacks a depth that left me feeling there’s more to explore, leaving characters shallow. The best and spookiest scene comes toward the end and takes place in a basement, and something about this still lingers, like seeing only the surface of a story through a murky window pane.
What Britain Has Done 1939-1945, Richard Overy (introduction)
Possibly glamorised considering its purpose, but What Britain Has Done was originally published in May 1945 by the Ministry of Information. Even if the facts and figures were half true, they are staggering. This is history as they never taught in school, and which should have been part of such education.
The Muse, Jessie Burton
When writers who can write this well receive such mixed reviews, it must frustrate all creatives. The book is multilayered taking place over two time lines. Jessie Burton excels with a rich, sensual vocabulary that makes her easy to read yet brings to life people, places, and the world of creativity without the reader being aware of it, blending it into the narrative seemingly without effort, though a great deal of effort must have gone into this work for the research alone. This book is about the impediments women face both practically and psychologically. It’s about the inspiration of creativity. When I purchased the book, I read a few reviews; some pronounced Odelle and Olive — the principal characters of the book separated by three decades — as irrelevant and unlikeable, but there’s much more woven into this story than we see immediately on the page. Odelle’s experience in unravelling the mystery behind a mysterious painting gives her the foundation to be herself, to push onwards against all obstacles. Olive is also a woman of her time, equally restricted because of it. Olive chooses secrecy; Odelle to claim what is hers. These women are bookends, the opposite of each other and of how society wants them to be as the times dictated, adding more depth. I’ve loved both this and The Miniaturist, but, if I had to choose, I would opt for The Muse. It is by no means a weaker second book, as some noted critics have suggested.
Orcs First Blood Trilogy, Stan Nicholls
Bodyguard of Lightning, Legion of Thunder, Warriors of the Tempest
Read back to back these books seem oddly poignant in today’s climate being that the not so subliminal subtext is one of racism and the environment. The author has tried to turn classical fantasy tropes on their head by making the orcs the protagonists. To an extent, he succeeds, although I’m left feeling these books could have been far deeper than they are. For the most part, they are a light, entertaining read. In other spots they are possibly overly violent, though in a world populated by magical beasts and humans perhaps the brutality is not so surprising. I’ve few problems with the author trying to get down and dirty, but I’m not so sure the lighter passages aren’t at odds with the darkness of the story, the writing akin to Young Adult novels in places. Still, I liked this not-so-merry band of orcs; sadly, they’re too humanised, and I often forgot they ‘were’ orcs, with the pacing uneven and the ending a little anticlimactic. Still, I enjoyed the read.
The re-release of An Act of Generosity took place, and I saw the cover to an upcoming edition of Night to Dawn Magazine which contains a poem and short story of mine.
Stay Well and Happy Reading!