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Pastworld – Review

Title: Pastworld
Author: Ian Beck

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 355
First published: 2009

Genre: Science fiction
The dice landed on: 5
Did I finish?: Yes.
Do I like the cover?: Yes.

Short summary: In 2048 London has been transformed into a recreation of itself in the Victorian era. But it’s not all fun and games, a murderer is loose in the theme park. For Eve it’s all real, she doesn’t even know she’s living in a theme park, but she knows that her guardian is afraid for her. When Eve runs away from home a whole chain of dramatic events are set in motion.

I like the setting, a victorian London almost restored to it’s authentic past. The victorian London is so authentic that visitors (gawkers) aren’t allowed to bring anything modern with them and victorian law also apply. While most people living in Pastworld know what it is Eve doesn’t. I also like Eve, the two other young protagonists and the Jack the Ripper idea.

This story is very unpredictable. With many books I can guess what’s going to happen fairly soon, but this one kept me guessing all the way.

My only big complaint is that it’s too short. I wish the story was fleshed out more. I needed more time to get to know both the characters and victorian London.

So far it’s a standalone novel, but the author doesn’t rule out a sequel. I’d like a sequel.

The Sense of an Ending – Review

Title: The Sense of an EndingThe Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Author: Julian Barnes

Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 150
Originally published: 2011

Genre: Mainstream
The dice landed on:
5
Did I finish?: Yes.
Do I like the cover?: Not really.

One-sentence summary: Tony gets an unexpected inheritance that makes him seek out people from his past to figure out what really happened.

This fall I decided to read at least one of the books shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2011. I started with The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes because it seemed to be many people’s favorite, and it ended up winning.

Tony Webster is in his sixties, is still friends with his ex-wife, has a daughter and grandchildren and has led what seems to be an ordinary life. He recalls his youth with a certain nostalgia, like many tend to do when they get older. But he also mistrusts his memories, what does he remember and what has he been told or imagined from what he knew of a situation.

Then Tony is informed that he has received an inheritance from the mother of his one time girlfriend, a woman he met while visiting his girlfriends family for one short weekend a long time ago. Part of the inheritance is the diary of one of his long dead friend, but the diary is held on to by the woman’s daughter, Tony’s one time girlfriend. Tony quickly gets rather obsessed with getting his hands on the diary, and trying to figure out what really happned all those years ago.

Tony is an interesting character as he explores his memories and starts an infinitely polite, pedantic and relentless campaign to aquire the diary.

I expected this to be a very well written book as it won one of the most famous literary prizes in the world and I hoped it would also have a readable and entertaining story, with a major prizewinner the first is almost always true but the second isn’s by any means guaranteed. The Sense of an Ending has both, great language and a good story with unexpected twists.

Still, it left me a little bit wanting. I would have liked to understand a little bit more of some of the other characters and the things they do. Of course, this is Tony’s story and he seems to understand why some of the people acted the way they did and seems satisfied with that. I, however, don’t. So, I would have liked some explanations for what I consider idiotic acts, and this dissatisfaction is what takes the book down to a 5 for me.

A 5 is still a very good read though and I recommend it to everyone.

Brainjack – Review

Title: Brainjack (or Brain Jack, I’ve seen both.)BrainJack by Brian Falkner
Author: Brian Falkner

Publisher: Random House
Edition: Kindle
Pages: 368 s.
Originally published: 2010

Genre: Science fiction
The dice landed on: 5
Did I finish?: Yes
Do I like the cover?: So, so…

One-sentence summary: Sam Wilson is a hacker who hacks into The White House and get involved in a world of cybercrime and danger of war.

We are a few years in the future. Las Vegas is a radioactive waste land, destroyed in a terrorist attack. Technology has moved forward and neuro-headsets have replaced computer keyboards. Now you don’t have to wait for your slow fingers when you are online. Sam Wilson is a teen hacker, he can’t afford a neuro-headset, but he wants one dearly and uses his hacking abilities to get one. The hack brings him to the attention of some powerful people and the US’ cyberdefense authorities. He’s also starting to worry about the neuro-headsets. If  any computer system can be hacked, what happens when people’s minds are linked to the system?

This is a fast moving and exciting story. There’s lots of action, both in “real life” and online. For example, when Sam is working online and hacking into something he’s creeping, running, hiding… In parts there’s so much tecno-babble that I get a bit lost, but this is not a big problem as the author is careful to use anologies to make it understandable to non-hackers too.

I could have wished to know a few of the other characters than Sam a bit better, and sometimes I’d liked the whole story to slow down a bit. Also, I’m not really sure that I like the ending, but I sort of like that I don’t know if I like it. That sounds weird I guess, but I don’t feel that ambiguity is necessarily a bad thing.

All in all BrainJack is a good book for anyone who likes to read a full on action book, and I was caught up enough in it to give it a 5.

Jellicoe Road – Review

Jellicoe Road by Melina MarchettaTitle: Jellicoe Road (Original Australian title: On the Jellicoe Road)
Author: Melina Marchetta

Publisher: HarperTeen
Edition: Kindle
Pages: 432
Originally published: 2010

Genre: YA
The dice landed on: 5
Did I finish?: Yes, oh yes.
Do I like the cover?: Yes I do.

One-sentence summary: Apart from bad memories of life with her mother Taylor Markham doesn’t know much about her own background, but there is much to learn.

There was an accident on the Jellicoe Road. A bad accident killing four adults and one child. The three children who lived, the boy who saved them and a friend aquired at a later time form a unique friendship.

Twenty-two years later another girl lives by the Jellicoe Road. Her name is Taylor Markham. Apart from not-very-happy-memories of life with her mother, she doesn’t really know anything about her background. After her mother left her by the Jellicoe Road she lived with a woman named Hannah, and now she lives at The Jellicoe School not far from Hannah’s house. Taylor has just become head of her house and is one of the school leaders in the annual territory war against the cadets and the townies. Being the leader of a house carries more responsibilities than Taylor feel ready to shoulder,  she doesn’t have the best people skills in the world, Hannah has disappeared and the cadet leader Jonah Griggs is a disturbing presence in Taylor’s life.

The characters are great, many dimensional and believable. The language is also very good.

As you might guess there are links between the kids from twenty-two years ago and Taylor, but the weaving together of the stories take unexpected turns. In many ways it’s a sad story, but not without a lot of hope and love. It’s a wonderful read for anyone who has the patience to wait while the story unfolds.

Melina Marchetta has published two other books…. I have to read them too.

Year’s Best SF 15 – Review

Year's Best SF 15Title: Year’s Best SF 15
Editors: David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer

Publisher: HarperCollins
Edition: Kindle
Pages: 512 s.
Originally published: 2010

Genre: Science Fiction
The dice landed on: 5
Did I finish? Yes!
Do I like the cover? Yes. It does promise more space opera than the book delivers, but I love space opera.

One-sentence summary: Good science ficton short stories.

In science fiction short stories are still an important part of what’s being written, and every year there are several anthologies collecting the stories the editors think are the best from that year.

As in any good short story collection I’ve ever read this one has stories I really love and stories I’m more indifferent to. However, it has no stories that I dislike or think is really bad. The editors have done a solid job of selecting a wide array of different sorts of science fiction stories. Alternate pasts, alternate presents and possible futures all play their part in these 24 stories. They all do what is my main reason for loving science fiction as a genre, they speculate on the what might have been or what might be.  The themes are different, but the stories all have that common core of good storytelling and of speculation. A collection well worth reading.

Un Lun Dun – review

Un Lun Dun by China MiévilleTitle: Un Lun Dun
Author: China Miéville
Publisher: Pan Books
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 520 s.
First published: 2007
Genre: Fantasy, YA
The dice landed on: 5

When London got rid of the smog, where did it go?

Strange things are happening to Zanna. Unknown people come over and call her Shwazzy, and a fox greets her. She and her friend Deeba has no idea what’s going on. Then, they find themselves in a weird world, in UnLondon, where they meet a half ghost and Curdle, the milk carton and Brokkenbroll, the master of the broken umbrellas (called unbrellas) and a lot of other characters. Then they learn that UnLondon is at war with the smog, and Zanna has to lead the war against it. But is Zanna up to the task, like the prophecy says she will be?  And what about Deeba, what part will she play? The amusing sidekick?

This is a YA book, and I think kids will love it, but it also has all the ingredients that makes me as an adult love it. There are interesting characters, play on words, treason, despair, cussedness, courage, black windows and a lot of unbrellas.

I loved this book. I’d recommend it to anyone who might even think they would like a fantasy book, even though there’s not a single witch or wizard in sight. Oh, and it passed my Bechdel test with flying colors.

If you want more serious spoilers, you can read one of these reviews.

The C-Word

The C-Word by Lisa LynchWhen you’re 28 you don’t expect to find a lump in your breast, but that is precisely what happens to Lisa Lynch in the early summer of 2008. The lump turned out to be grade 3 breast cancer.

During the next year she went through all the treatment for “The Bullshit” and told people about it on her blog Alright Tit, a blog that became hugely popular.

The C-Word is written after the treatment was over and is in many ways an elaboration of and comment to the blog. Every chapter starts out with an excerpt from the blog, the earliest from June 2008 and the last from July 2009. The rest of the chapter is about the same events, but written after the treatment was over. The differences in the here-and-now-writing and the in-hindsight writing makes it extra interesting.

You wouldn’t think it, but this is a very funny book. She certainly doesn’t sugarcoat any of the aspects of having cancer. Going through a mastectomy, chemotherapy and  radiotherapy, losing you hair and buying wigs, feeling awful because of the treatment, having to face never having children, getting a breast reconstruction and a new nipple, living on an emotional rollercoaster… it’s all there. So are the good things like being given as good a treatment as modern medicine can offer and having the love and support of a great group of family and friends.

The C-Word is not a “helpful” book with lots of advice on the do’s and don’ts for cancer patients, but then it never pretends to be. What it is is a very readable, honest and funny account of what it’s like getting cancer before you’re thirty, when you’d rather be out having fun with your friends and not have too many cares in the world.

Alright Tit is still being updated. So you can keep up with what has been happening to Lisa after the book ends in July 2009.

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