100 books a year part 2: the bad and the weird

 

THE BAD

TheWaterKnife-PaoloBacigalupiTHE WATER KNIFE

First off, I have to say the concept here was admittedly great. A criminal underclass emerging to illegally distribute water is sadly a very believable near future and this aspect was well executed. There’s a scene where the pricing gauge on a commercial water pump breaks and the characters desperately try to siphon as much as they can that is incredibly tense and terrifying on a very primal level. Unfortunately, the characters and dialogue in this book are so unbearably awful that a fantastic backdrop is completely ruined by the actors maladroitly prancing around in front of it. Climate fiction (cli-fi) is a fascinating new genre, but this is not its best exponent.

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THE DIVER’S CLOTHES LIE EMPTY

Second person narratives like this are hard to get right, which is why they are so rarely used (particularly in novel-length stories). I think Tom Robbins pulled it off in Half Asleep in Frog Pyjamas but that was a rare feat. There’s some interesting character study here, but the character also makes a bunch of decisions that are just implausible and irrational. Also, I found it problematic that a book set in Morocco depicts just about all of the Moroccan characters as deceitful and untrustworthy. One bonus: the cover was designed by the graphic novelist Adrian Tomine, who I absolutely adore.

throne of glass

THRONE OF GLASS

This year at Supanova I had a catchup with my publicist and we stopped to talk to some of the other Pantera authors who were appearing there. Seated next to them was Sarah J. Maas, facing a legion of zealous fans queuing for her signature. I wasn’t familiar with her work, but I picked up a copy to see what the fuss was about. I have to say, it really didn’t speak to me. I know this series has a devout, passionate following (and I love seeing readers so invested in stories) but to me it read like sub-par fan fiction. The characters were one-dimensional and the dialogue was bland. I hear Sarah is a really nice person though so I feel guilty for not enjoying her work more.

elantris

ELANTRIS

I first heard about this series in a Tor.com article examining Sanderson’s vast multiverse known as the cosmere. The concept sounded fascinating and a quick search revealed a vast legion of fans avidly discussing his works and their interweaving narratives. I was also impressed with how prolific he was. However, while I loved the setting itself and the central concept, the execution was really disappointing. I have no doubt it would make a fantastic film, but the clunky writing made it a slog to get through. Plus, it’s over 600 pages and the story felt like it needed 400 at most.

Eleanor and Park(2)

ELEANOR & PARK

I’m realising as I type that this is the third universally adored book in a row that I hated this year. I swear I’m not trying to be a contrarian! I will admit that I like to read widely outside of my own immediate interests and sometimes this means that I don’t really connect with the subject matter. Obviously, I am way outside the target audience for this book (a YA romance). I have to admit I thought Eleanor was a great, complex, interesting character. I also really enjoyed all the musical references. However, the classic YA trope of ‘characters create problems for no obvious reason other than to shape narrative drama’ was chronically over-employed in this one. There was plenty to work with in terms of drama without Eleanor & Park trying to out-angst one another. All that said, Rowell’s twitter feed is pretty great.

Night-Vale-Final-UK-cover

WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE

Like an estimated 99.99995684% of people who have read this book, I am a fan of the deliciously outré podcast. The humour is outlandish and brilliant, and each episode manages to be funny and entertaining in new and surprising ways, which precisely why this book was so disappointing. Although some of the trademark humour was there, eg.

“The search for truth takes us to dangerous places,” said Old Woman Josie. “Often it takes us to that most dangerous place: the library. You know who said that? No? George Washington did. Minutes before librarians ate him.”

Sadly, the plot was meandering and meaningless and the writers inexplicably chose to focus on uninteresting sideline characters rather than those from the podcast, which makes little/no sense. I found this boring and pointless.

THE WEIRD

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THE PEOPLE IN THE TREES

A Little Life was one of my favourite books last year, I found it hard to believe it was even written by a human rather than some sort of consortium of divine superintelligent interdimensional species. Obviously I was keen to immediately check out Yanagihara’s other work. This book was…very different. It’s a sort of anthropological sci-fi about a researcher who travels to a secret island and studies a lost tribe who have gained immortality through ingesting the flesh of a rare turtle. It’s also about sex. And violence. And guilt. And responsibility. It’s a weird book, and not so earth-shatteringly brilliant as A Little Life, but definitely worth checking out.

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ZERO K

I’m currently drafting a novel about a cult that’s obsessed with cryonic technology. When I found out that Don Delillo was releasing a novel focused on similar subject matter I was equal parts proud (I’ve tapped into the zeitgeist! I think on similar lines to one of the greatest writers of the modern era!) and terrified (I’m too late! This story has already been written by one of the greatest writers of the modern era!) Luckily, this book is nothing like my own, so after my fear of lawsuits subsided I was able to enjoy this bizarre and brilliant story. Delillo’s recent work lacks the dry wit of his earlier writing but his strange, sparse prose is as brilliant as ever. He has this knack for writing dialogue that is completely unrealistic but somehow seems to sit perfectly within the framework of his narrative. I recently read Pynchon’s latest book, Bleeding Edge, and there were a lot of similarities in terms of style and execution between these two luminary post-modernists.

rapture_UK cover

THE RAPTURE OF THE NERDS

Rather than writing any kind of reflection, I’m just going to offer up some sample text:

I’m not my polygons. Physical coercion is a dead letter here. If you want to get something out of me, you’re going to have to try harder than that. For example, you could try for a quorum of administrative accounts to decompile me and examine my state and logfiles. Though, I have to tell you, the admins aren’t kindly disposed to noobs who go supergenius and multiplicitous without regard for the overall system performance, so you’ve got a lot of digging to do just to get up to zero credibility. 

See what I mean?

 

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THE VEGETARIAN

You know, I was all finished with this post and was about to hit ‘publish’ on Friday when I got called away and never got around to it. Then over the weekend I read the Vegetarian. I’m not sure what to say about it other than it was both one of the strangest and best books I’ve read this year. Extremely dark, unflinchingly bizarre and yet so poetically, hypnotically beautiful. Someone else hurry up and read this so we can talk about it please.

PS If you want to add my books to your list, you can grab them here. Killing Adonis is on sale for just TEN BUCKS HOLY WHAT?!?

PPS People always say to me: “How do you read 100+ books a year? That’s IMPOSSIBLE!” It’s really not. Here’s a few tips.

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