Thursday, 2 January 2014

2013- A book recap

So 2014 has started and I reigned it in in the rich British tradition of drinking too much and finding myself in a McDonalds at 5am. Beautiful. But what of the year that passed? 2013 was the year I started reading a lot more. I have an incredibly slow reading speed and it's something that gives me self confidence problems when it comes to reading. But this was a year when I grew in confidence and read a lot more books.

And being a talentless hack writing about things on the internet I thought why not recap this great feet? Here is the 2013 book review. I recap all the novels I read and give my opinion on them. I won't be discussing non-fiction, short stories, anthologies or comic books since my reading of those was very scattered.

Brave New World (Aldous Huxley). I'll admit to cheating a little bit with this one. I'd already read most of this novel before the end of the year and finishing it didn't take too long. That said I finished it in 2013 so I'm counting it. This book was incredible. I think Huxley can be quite difficult to read at times but he really is one of the most thought provoking writers I've ever read. His dystopian piece about a genetically catered future is quite terrifying at times. That said his style of writing is a little hard to get through at times. Much of the novel is spent with loathsome characters and setting up the premise. However at around the halfway point I believe the novel becomes much much better and escalates from there. The ending is brilliant and tragic, I also believe it resonates strongly today and is an apt critique of today's fickle and celebrity obsessed media culture.

Titus Groan (Mervyn Peake). This was the first novel I started in 2013 and boy was it a way to start. Titus Groan is a divisive book, most people who've read the Gormenghast series didn't really enjoy it and I can honestly understand why, it's long, overly descriptive, and bizarrely characterized. But in honesty that's what I liked about it. The characters are all strange caricatures who mostly despise each other and most rigidly adhere to ritual. It's a lot like Charles Dickens in some respects, despite being a fantasy novel. At times the story of Steerpike (arguably the first book's protagonist) is genuinely intriguing as he devises ways to make his vile schemes work. However one thing I was not expecting was the text to be broken up by a more traditional fantasy tale about a woman and her two rival lovers. This is the story of Keda and it is strange and handled with more seriousness than Steerpike's story. Sometimes the sudden change in tone is so sudden that it takes you out of the text. And in truth the first book in the series can probably be skipped as most of the story is recapped rather quickly in the second book. That said sometimes the prose is genuinely moving and worth reading.

Battle Royal (Koshun Takami). Moving from Titus Groan to Battle Royal may have been a mistake for me. I was eager to start Gormenghast but I didn't want to spend another two months tackling Peake. Battle Royal is divisive for entirely different reasons. It's all about Japanese school children who are taken to an island and made to fight each other to the death. It is an action packed novel and filled with social commentary. But the social commentary is a little too on the nose for my tastes. I did spend much of the novel thinking "I doubt 15 year olds would hold these opinions". The meat of the book can be summarised as having three types of chapters. 1) Social commentary about the Asian government given to us by Shogo and Shuya. 2) Battles involving Shuya. 3) Battles involving mostly extraneous characters. Some of the characters are annoyingly useless and their deaths are often predictable. If a chapter starts with a new character and exposition about what they are like they will almost certainly die in said chapter. It gets a tad formulaic. But that's not to say the novel isn't good. When we're with characters who actually matter to the plot then the novel is gripping. The story of Shinji is the best side plot in the novel and could easily have been its focus. For the most part the action is exciting, which is supposed to make the reader uncomfortable, but sometimes it takes a turn for the visceral and gorey in scenes that can really make you wince.

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (Philip K Dick). 2013 was the year I developed a love for the writing of Philip K Dick. It all started with reading Faith of our Fathers in Dangerous Visions. From then on I was hooked. I rushed down to the library to pick up more, and that's where I found Three Stigmata. I had little idea what I was in for. This was a wonderful piece of science fiction. It's eery and trippy. It tells the tale of a man called Palmer Eldritch who brings a new drug that lets you enter a fantasy world where anything is possible. However we begin to realise that Palmer Eldritch is more in control of this fantasy world than he would let people believe. It's an unbelievably layered and ambiguous story, where you're never sure if the world being presented to you is the real one or a false one cooked up by the titular character. It tackles many subjects, from drugs and drug addiction, to religion, to psychology, all interwoven into one wonderful package. If I had one complaint it's that all the notable female characters have or have had a sexual relationship with the protagonist, and for a novel that isn't about sex I found that a little worrisome. But on the whole I found it to be a tremendously rewarding book.

Fight Club (Chuck Palahnuik). At the recommendation of my friends I started reading Fight Club. Weirdly enough this took me quite a while to finish, considering it's a very short novel. But that said it was definitely  a great book. I'd already seen the film and was expecting much of the same but it's actually rather different. The film is much more linear as the medium usually demands but the book has some strange chapters that aren't in the film. The character of Tyler Durden is also far less of a romantic anarchist. He's presented in a shadowy way, and delights far more in the wanton destruction of all he views as contemptible. The homoerotic undertones are also more obvious as revealed in the prose. We also don't see nearly as much of the titular club as much as we do of Project Mayhem. That's not a condemnation of the text however. The ending is also more ambiguous and we're presented with the possibility that the narrator may go through a very similar trauma again. It's simply written thus allowing the biting satire to really shine. Well worth the read.

 Good Omens (Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett). This novel was pretty much made for me. It was written by two of my favourite living fantasy writers and is incredibly funny. However like with Brave New World I think I'm rather cheating with this one as I haven't actually finished it. I don't really know why but for some reason I just struggled making progress with this book. It's not because it's bad, far from it, it is a hilarious piece of comedy and rather clever as well. I think it was the huge roster of characters that irked me. There are a lot of characters in the book and the focus of the story is sometimes all over the place. Half way through the book I realised that we'd only met a little over a third of the characters presented in the roster at the beginning. Yes, there is a roster because it can be really difficult to keep track of the multitude of people involved in the plot. That said the novel is brilliant and I frequently laughed out loud and the many jokes in it. I will no doubt pick it up again in 2014, enjoy it, and hopefully finish it.

The Forever War (Joe Haldeman). This is story is fantastic beginning to end. There is not a single point I felt like the story slipped up. It's a gripping story about how soldiers at war fail to recognise or feel connected to the home they've been fighting for. It's often thought provoking and incredibly clever in its use of scientific principles. The action is often quite brilliant as well. It's often a tragic story as well, as the protagonist continually finds he has less and less to fight for or care about. The only issue I had was that I was a little uncomfortable with the ease of which some character's sexuality changes (it felt a little indicative of the "Gays can be Cured" idea). But I wouldn't call the novel homophobic. The journey the protagonist goes through in his tenure as a soldier is simultaneously, tragic, horrifying, and joyous. Now, what remains to be seen is whether I look into its sequels.

And so we come to the end of the list. Now, what will I be reading next year? Well I think it's back to the good old castle of Gormenghast first of all. I'm referencing Peake in my independent study so there's more than just my fanboyish enjoyment of the series to reading it. Also I'll be picking Good Omens up again and no doubt chuckling all the while. Philip K Dick is on my bookshelf as well, what remains to be seen is whether I read Doctor Bloodmoney or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. I've also been listening to an audiobook of Robert A Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. So far it's a great book but I'm beginning to wonder if the website it's on has the entire book or not. There are more free audiobooks floating around on the internet that I'll have a look at as well, one of them being The Worm Ouroboros. I've also picked up another book called Necromancer's Gambit by A J Dalton. I started it a while ago and found the premise to be pretty interesting but was found the way exposition was handled to be a little lacklustre.

Here's to reading and to 2014!

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