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32. Espedair Street by Iain Banks

This month's Bibliogoths book.

I haven't read this since 1991, when one of my bandmates foisted The Wasp Factory on me and I subsequently went to his house and raided the complete set, which at the time only went up to Canal Dreams.

I remember finding it primarily sad rather than funny (like everybody else did), but still enjoyed it hugely. After we'd all read the book, my band used to sit around going "we're doing it wrong". On the other hand, it's where I learned the importance of songwriting credits and publishing royalties. It's never been one of my favourite Banks books (and yes, I've read them all, except for the Culture short stories) - I remembered it as being quite lightweight.

This time round, I laughed out loud a lot more, but mostly I noticed the writing. He captures all of the different Scottish accents of his characters perfectly. The pacing is magnificent, and the prose is incredible in parts.

It's still not The Crow Road, mind, which is funnier and sadder.

I can't think of another author I've been reading so consistently for so long, or over whose works I've bonded with so many people from so many different backgrounds. There was a few years there where the Culture novels especially were a bit off, but just when you were about to give up he'd put out something like The Steep Approach to Garbadale. When he died, a number of people were going on about giving the whole oeuvre a re-read; I'm beginning to think that might be a good idea. Except Canal Dreams. I will never know what the hell he was thinking there.
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40. The Quarry by Iain Banks

Banks swore blind in his last interview that he was 80,000 words into this book when his own cancer was diagnosed. I was dubious at the time and I'm even more so now that I've read it, but that's possibly not giving his skill as a writer enough credit and it's easy to read too much into it.

It's the story of Kit, a young man on the Asperger's spectrum somewhere and his father Guy, who is dying of lung cancer. Guy invites all his friends from university for one last weekend together in the big, falling-down house on the edge of a quarry where Guy and Kit live.

Not a lot happens, but it's a quick read, and is in turns hilarious and sad. This is Banks, so it probably would have been thus even without real life events.

Not his best, but far from his worst either.

Again, I feel like I should have more constructive things to say here, but I don't.

Iain Banks

Jun. 18th, 2013 09:46 am
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I haven't posted anywhere on the subject of Banks' demise, because although I'm gutted, I haven't thought of anything constructive to say.

Anyway, I had a though while queueing up to get my book signed by Neil Gaiman on Friday night.

I discovered Gaiman and Banks at roughly the same period in my life - round about 1991, give or take. I think Sandman came first, but only by a couple of months. With regard to Banks, I started with The Wasp Factory, read what was then the back catalogue, and the first one I bought when it came out was The Crow Road (when it hit the secondhand shops, because I was poor back then).

Anyway, they are the writers that have consistently been part of my life for the longest period of time. Given how all over the place my life is, and how short my attention span is, that's really something. And now only one of them is with us.
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27. The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M Banks

I started to start this several times when I first bought it, but didn't get stuck in properly till we were on holiday, and it's still taken me another month to finish it. I was about 2/3 of the way through when I heard the news about Banks.

Which is odd, because for a Culture novel it's poisitively linear. As usual I had some trouble wrapping my mind around the visuals Banks is trying to describe. The Gzilt, A non-Culture civilization, is counting down to Subliming, only there might be a hitch. They have been known as the only culture whose book of religious prophecy all came true; only this might have been a practical joke on the part of a species long since Sublimed. So the search is on for the oldest man in the Culture, who was there at the time and will know...

I particularly liked the idea of the Hydrogen Sonata being written for a musical instrument which then had to be invented, and that four arms are requried to play it competently (as someone who once wrote a song in C# minor and 9/8 time, because I *could*) and that the main character has had two extra arms added so that she can.

So yeah, one of the more readable Culture novels. Some really good lines, some good concepts, and a minimum of trying to figure out what the hell he's on about.
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So much for not doing this.  I can barely remember the first couple.

28. Cold Mirrors by CJ Lines

Yes, [ profile] naturalbornkaos, I've finally read it!

This is a spiffing collection of short stories, mostly, but not all, in the horror vein.  I've read some of them before - Lambkin was in the Tiny Terrors collection, CJ put The Trending up on line some time before the book came out, and I was one of the test readers for Patrick O'Hare: King of the Freaks.  I particularly like The Trending - the idea of using Twitter to do ritual magic is simultaneously genius and blindingly obvious.  Extra credit for giving a story the title In Every Dream Home a Heartache, and having it be a completely suitable title for a really creepy little number.  Clownn Stations is just dowright disturbing.

I was most impressed by the variety of the stories, and of the style and voice used.  CJ writes characters you actually care about (except maybe in Dream Home, but I've known more than a few people like them), a real achievement in such short pieces.

I can't recommend this book highly enough, and I'm honestly not just saying that because I know the author.  I did have some more constructive thoughts but my appalling memory strikes again.

If you're going to read it on my recommendation (please do!), don't buy from Amazon - CJ loses money on every copy bought through them - go straight to the source -

29. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

I'd been putting this one off becuase I'd been led to understand that he's a bit of an arse in it.

Well, maybe, but given that I largely agree with his opinions on the wrongness of the status given to religion in our supposedly modern and rational society even by non-religious types, I thoroughly enjoyed this.  There's a lot more evolutionary biology than I'd been led to expect, which was fascinating.

I've read The Selfish Gene and possibly The Blind Watchmaker, but now I want to get the rest of his books, not to mention the huge reading list to check out at the back of the book.

30. Snuff by Terry Pratchett

Samuel Vimes goes on holiday to his wife's family's country home, and discovers all sorts of nefarious goings-on.

It starts out unpromisingly with a fairly un-funny couple of chapters about how Vimes doesn't want to go on holiday, and his fear and loathing of the countryside (which I share, but it still wasn't very amusing).

It gets better, though.  While Ankh-Morpork is any big city, the countryside is definitely England.  There is a neighbour family who are clearly the Bennetts from Pride & Prejudice.  The scene where Vimes tells all six daughters that they should get off their lazy backsides and get jobs nearly made me choke, it was so funny and I was reading in a public place.

As usual, Pratchett's message is applied with a sledgehammer, but since it's about tolerance and Generally Being Good to Others, I can let that slide.

31. Stonemouth by Iain Banks

Kind of a cheat - before it was released, this was the Book at Bedtime on Radio 4, read by David Tennant, so I read the whole thing with his voice in my head, and knew where it was going.

It's about a young artist who'd been run out of his home town by one of the local crime families 5 years before being granted dispensation to return home for a funeral, and gradually reveals what led to his being exiled in the first place.  Which doesn't sound much, plot-wise, but it's still hard to put down.

For a coming-of-age novel, it's a very mature and thoughtful work. 

Another one I liked very much indeed.
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71. Surface Detail by Iain M Banks

The latest Culture novel. It's huge. I spent two whole weeks reading nothing but this book - it frequently takes me longer than that to read books. Big, non-fiction books where I have two works of fiction on the side. So, in terms of effort almost as much as Consider Phlebas and The Algebraist. Sadly it's not as good as either, but it's far from his worst - certainly better than Matter.

As is usual with these things, it's a multi-stranded story, some of which are more interesting than others. The least interesting bits are the Culture parts - the non-Culture societies and characters are much more interesting. The best strand was the wee elephant-like creatures with two trunks. A pair of them break into their civilization's Hell to prove that it really exists as part of a galaxy-wide movement to abolish hells, which are all virtual worlds. Only one of them makes it back out. What happens to the other one is truly heartbreaking.

I actually quite enjoyed the first 2/3 or 3/4, but the last 100 pages or so really dragged.

72. The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs

This is one of the ones that's all Joe Hill and Neil Gaiman's fault. It's a children's spooky-house gothic novel. A 10-year-old orphan goes to live with his uncle, who dabbles in magic & owns a house that used to be inhabited by evil sorcerers.

I *still* can't for the life of me work out whether I read it as a kid. Two of the scenes - where the uncle makes a lunar eclipse, and the car chase scene where they lose the witches by passing over running water - are incredibly familiar. However, it's the sort of thing my 10-year-old self would have loved, so I can't work out how, if I read it at all, I didn't keep re-reading it to the point where I'd remember every little bit.

Anyway, it's all kinds of awesome! Give it to the 10-year-old in your life but read it yourself, first.

73. Mortal Remains by Kathy Reichs

I've been really ill since Saturday. Too ill to sit up and watch TV. Thankfully this arrived for me at the library, then. I was awake for all of 4 hours on Monday, and I read the whole thing then. Not as bad as some of the recent stuff, not as good as the early efforts.

74. The Birthing House by Christopher Ransom

Yes, Simon, you did warn me.

This was Tuesday's too-sick-to-get-up reading. Excellent premise but thoroughly lamely executed haunted-house horror novel. Just because I read the whole thing in one day doesn't mean it's good, although it is the kind of bad that you just can't put down.

Thankfully, today I felt well enough to watch crap TV, because the last schlocky thriller that I had lying around isn't as mindless as the cover would suggest and requires occasional application of brain cells.
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64. The Gates by John Connolly

This is a young adult novel in which a combination of the Large Hadron Collider and a group of Satanists in a cellar in the Home Counties open a portal to Hell, with only a young boy and his dog (and a completely inept demon) to stop the inhabitants of Hell taking over the world. It manages to be scary and silly at the same time.

One of the things that impressed me about Connolly's collection of short stories (the first book of his I read) was the sheer variety of voice that he manages to pull off; he's done it again here. The feel here is nothing like the Charlie Parker novels nor is it anything like The Book of Lost Things, his other young adult number. Although I understand why Book of Lost Things is good, it didn't do much for me, and I prefer The Gates. Even though the jokes are very much aimed at 11 year olds.

65. Affinity by Sarah Waters

A Victorian spinster who has recently recovered from a nervous breakdown becomes a Lady Visitor at Millbank Prison, where she falls under the influence of a spirit-medium serving a 4-year sentence for fraud and assault, and you know it just can't end well.

This is a lot heavier going than any of her books I've previously read, but it's well worth it - Waters evokes the desperation of the unconventional middle-class Victorian woman trapped by a tyrannical mother who cares too much what the neighbours think as effectively as she does the women prisoners at Millbank, and humanises all of them.

66. Transition by Iain Banks

Speaking of heavy going! The latest Banks offering is a multi-POV affair where the central premise is that there is an infinite number of parallel worlds, and that there are people who can move between them,co-ordinated by an outfit called The Concern (or l'Expedience). It is all very cloak-and-dagger with plots and counter-plots.

Very good but not one of his easier reads. Less effort than some of the Iain M Banks books have been, though.

And for reasons I cannot quite get to the bottom of, parts of it reminded me of Glass Books of the Dream Eaters (I think it's the names of the Concern characters).

Now that I've finished the pile of library books which all turned up at once, I can get on with Anathem, which has been somewhat neglected of late.
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23.The Neil Gaiman Reader, edited by Darrell Schweitzer

Quasi-academic essays on Neil's output to 2006. A mixed bag, as these things always are. I think I preferred The Sandman Companion, but there's a mattress in front of the bookcase where (I think) it is, so I can't flip through and do a quick comparison.

24. Grave Surprise by Charlaine Harris

Thanks to [ profile] spitecandy for the heads-up. She was discussing Harris's "Southern Vampires" series, about which I'm not convinced as it sounds like it strays a little too close to the "Romance" label for me; but I discovered that the same author writes a detective series about a woman who was struck by lightning and consequently has the ability to know the cause of death when she gets near a corpse. Supernatural crime stuff = exactly my thing.

This was OK, but probably the least substantial thing I have read in a very, very long time, not excepting Harry Potter. The writing neither grabbed me nor turned me off. I won't be rushing out to read the rest of the series right away, but will certainly give it at least one more chance at some point.

25. Matter by Iain M Banks

I made the mistake of starting this when I had The Lurgy back in March, thought it was too hard & that I hated it. Do not attempt with head full of snot.

Actually, it's one of Banks's better recent Culture novels; it is, however, not as good as The Algebraist (on the other hand, it is neither as hard going or as long).
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21. The Steep Approach to Garbadale by Iain Banks
One of the reviews quoted on the cover says it's his best book since The Crow Road. I have to agree. Of course, if The Crow Road isn't your favourite Banks novel, YMMV. The Crow Road comparison is pretty obvious; this is also about a bloke from an established Scottish family trying to find out things about the family's past. There's fewer laugh out loud moments (probably a good thing for those of us who read in public places), but it's altogether a fun journey nonetheless.

22. The Long Exile: A true story of deception and survival amongst the Inuit of the Canadian Arctic by Melanie McGrath
I saw a review of this a while back and had to get my hands on it; it wasn't until I did that I realised it's by the author of Silvertown, which I read earlier this year.

She probably should have stuck to things she knows. Or at least had an editor who knows the first thing about Canada give it a quick read. The story of the Canadian government's forcible relocation of Inuit peoples from the Ungava region to the high arctic in the 1950s in order to support Canada's claim to that area (still disputed by the US and Denmark) by populating it is an important one that warrants a wide audience, and deserves better than this book.

She focuses a lot on the fact that one of the people who was relocated was the son of Robert Flaherty, the maker of Nanook of the North, where I find it only incidental to the story. Is it because she thinks that readers will only care about the story if one of the protagonists was part white?

What bothered me most was the stupid mistakes that could so easily have been rectified by a half decent editor. The most glaring (and angry-making) one was referring to native Canadians as "Indians". Does anybody other than racists of my parents' generation still call them that? I didn't think one could still get away with that in a publication which is distributed in Canada. It's especially jarring because she's so careful to be respectful of the Inuit. The CBC is not the "Canadian Broadcast Company". In a book about the history of Canada, it's probably not wise to use the term "lower Canada" to refer to all of Canada south of the arctic, because in the context of the history of Canada, "Lower Canada" specifically means Quebec. Referring to all of arctic Canada as "the Barrenlands" is also something I don't think is accepted terminology (those who spend more time in Canada can feel free to correct me there). The interior of Newfoundland is The Barrens, but it's not the same thing. The use of this terminology is especially stupid when a large part of the point of the book is that the original lands the Inuit inhabited in Ungava were anything but barren.

So - um - important story, packaed in an accessible mass-market format, which is good. The execution unfortunately leaves a lot to be desired. I'm glad I got this one from the library.


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