The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award isn’t just about literary debuts – occasionally, young writers can be prolific and I am pleased that there has been some recognition on this year’s shortlist for Claire North, a pseudonym for Catherine Webb. Webb/North has somehow found the time to publish several science fiction and fantasy novels under her own name and two pseudonyms, writing her first book when she was just 14 and is best known for ‘The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August’. Her latest novel ‘The End of the Day’ begins with an intriguing premise in which Charlie is the Harbinger of Death, living in Dulwich and answering to his boss, Death, at head office in Milton Keynes, travelling around the world usually to meet people before their lives end: “sometimes he is sent as a courtesy, sometimes as a warning”. However, the demands of the job begin to take their toll on Charlie and put a strain on his relationship with his girlfriend Emmi. Continue reading
Tag Archives: Science Fiction
Out of all of the debut novels which have been published recently, ‘Spaceman of Bohemia’ by Jaroslav Kalfar has one of the most intriguing and original premises. Set in 2018, it tells the story of Jakub Procházka, a Czech astrophysicist turned astronaut on a solo mission to investigate a dust cloud between Earth and Venus and collect samples for analysis. However, his marriage to Lenka is under further strain as she is left behind on Earth and Jakub has plenty of time on his own to reflect on his family’s past. The appearance of a giant Nutella-loving alien spider called Hanuš who may or may not be a figment of Jakub’s imagination only complicates things further.
One of the books which kept cropping up frequently in lots of end-of-year book lists last month was ‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman and so it got bumped up my TBR list as one of my not-very-festive Christmas holiday reads. The main concept of Alderman’s fourth novel explores what would or could happen in a world where women become more powerful than men in every sense. Due to a mutation caused by a nerve agent used during the Second World War, teenage girls develop the ability to release electrical jolts through their fingertips which can be either harmless or strong enough to kill people. The “power” eventually spreads and although it is initially used by women as a deterrent against violent and abusive men who have oppressed them, it has far-reaching implications beyond that. Continue reading
Set in near-future America, ‘The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047’ by Lionel Shriver follows four generations of an American family who had been waiting to inherit the fortune of 97-year-old patriarch Douglas Mandible. However, a total fiscal meltdown in the form of a cyber attack has wiped out the economy along with the Mandible’s wealth and all communications including the Internet. After the “Great Renunciation” when the President of the United States defaults on the country’s massive debt obligations, the Mandibles are all forced to live together under one roof in order to survive. Continue reading
‘Station Eleven’ by Emily St. John Mandel is a post-apocalyptic novel which opens with the sudden death of Arthur Leander, a Hollywood actor starring in a theatre production of ‘King Lear’. He collapses on stage and succumbs to the Georgia Flu, a pandemic which virtually wipes out the human race in a matter of days. The survivors form the Travelling Symphony, a troupe of actors and musicians moving across territories performing classical theatre and concerts, including Kirsten, a child actress who was with Arthur when he died. Continue reading
I was lucky enough to receive an advance review copy of Michel Faber’s new novel ‘The Book of Strange New Things’ which is due to be published in the UK this month. It tells the story of Peter Leigh, a Christian minister who is chosen by a mysterious corporation called USIC to embark on an out-of-this-world mission to a planet called Oasis in a far-away galaxy. Expecting a hostile reception from the native population, Peter is surprised to find the Oasans are keen to learn from the Bible which they refer to as The Book of Strange New Things and discovers that he isn’t the first pastor to visit them. However, Peter’s pregnant wife, Bea, is struggling to survive as various apocalyptic events unfold back on Earth which is putting a strain on their extremely long-distance relationship. Continue reading
I tried. I really did. But I just couldn’t finish ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell. The whole concept/plot was just too damn weird.
I’m quite proud of the fact that there are very few books which I have never finished but this one definitely defeated me. ‘Cloud Atlas’ interweaves six different stories which include the 19th century Pacific journal of Adam Ewing, the letters of Robert Frobisher living in Belgium in the 1930s, a thriller set in the 1970s, a comic story about someone who gets trapped in a nursing home, a futuristic dystopian world… and this is the point where I gave up after nearly 200 pages. Each of the first five stories are interrupted half-way through and are then resolved in reverse chronological order (although I didn’t get far enough to read these conclusions). Continue reading
What a book to start the year. I loved it. I was particularly intrigued by the original concept of the novel – travelling back in time to try and stop John F. Kennedy being assassinated in Dallas on 22nd November 1963 – and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I would go as far as saying ‘11.22.63’ was probably the most enjoyable and imaginative book I’ve read for a very very long time. Continue reading
The premise of ‘Fahrenheit 451’ is the stuff of nightmares for bibliophiles everywhere. Ray Bradbury’s portrayal of a dystopian society in which books are outlawed would be like hell for all book-lovers: as we are told on the first page, Fahrenheit 451 is “the temperature at which book-paper catches fire and burns”. The book tells the story of a fireman called Guy Montag, except he is not the sort of fireman we would normally imagine – instead of putting fires out, firemen in Bradbury’s not too distant future deliberately start fires in places where books are found. From the moment when his seventeen year old neighbour Clarisse McClellan asks him if he is happy, Montag starts to question everything around him especially when Clarisse disappears and his wife, Mildred, attempts suicide. Continue reading
Today I read ‘Mockingjay’ by Suzanne Collins, the third book of the Hunger Games trilogy. This final installment sees Katniss become a Mockingjay leading all the Districts in a rebellion against the Capitol. Like with ‘Catching Fire’, I have slightly mixed feelings about ‘Mockingjay’. I think this was because I didn’t really feel sucked in to the story even though this was the grand finale of the series. For me, this was because Katniss was a pawn rather than an active participant in the war so I think it dragged a bit for that reason. As for the Katniss-Gale-Peeta triangle, it seems like Collins has been trying so hard to avoid the obvious clichés that she forgot to develop the male characters properly which is something that has bothered me since the beginning because as a reader, I didn’t really care who she ended up with. Continue reading
Today I whizzed through ‘Catching Fire’, the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Uprisings against the Capitol have begun in several Districts and Katniss and Peeta compete in the Quarter Quell with previous victors for the 75th anniversary of the Hunger Games. I found this installment of the series to be reasonably compelling but not completely satisfying.
In some ways, ‘Catching Fire’ is an improvement on the first installment of the Hunger Games trilogy. Right from the beginning, it seemed like a more confidently written book. Continue reading
I’m going to hog my sister’s Kindle for as long as I can get away with it – hopefully I will at least get to read the other two books in the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins before she realises I still have it. Set in a dystopian post-apocalyptic future, the thirteen Districts of Panem must select one boy and one girl to fight in the televised Hunger Games until only one remains alive – sixteen year old Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark are chosen to represent District 12. Like all the best YA fiction, ‘The Hunger Games’ is not just for teenagers.
Even though ‘The Hunger Games’ does have a relatively fast pace from the beginning, it did take me a while to get into the book. I’m not massively into science-fiction and I didn’t think there was anything particularly spectacular about Collins’s writing. Continue reading