Tag Archive | Novel

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Format: Hardcover
Rating:  5 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

I had seen the movie Hugo some years back, not realising it was based on a book. When I discovered the book and saw some images of the pictures that form part of the story, I knew it was one I could read together with my daughter.

We thoroughly enjoyed the adventure with Hugo, learning about the train station he lived in, the mechanical man he works to fix, and its relationship with the old man who runs the toy booth. It was also interesting to have this fictitious account of Georges Melies and go away and learn about the real Georges Melies.

Selznick’s art is magnificent, and together with the prose makes this book an absolute pleasure to read. Rarely have I seen such absolutely gorgeous pencil drawings. Worth every penny.

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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Format: Paperback
Rating:  4 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

I picked the book up (not for the first time, I should add) after watching the movie with our 6yo daughter. She had loved the movie – particularly Marvin, the depressed robot – and asked to have the book read to her.

We loved reading it. It was described as being “like a crazy dream”, and indeed, when the impossibility drive is in action, it certainly is very much like that. Completely wacky and unpredictable, it’s an excellent, entertaining and thought-provoking read. Very much enjoyed in this household.

Pebble in the Sky by Isaac Asimov

Format: Paperback
Rating:  5 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

I clearly wasn’t paying attention when I picked up this book to read, as I hadn’t realised it was a GE tale. So I was delighted to discover I was in a corner of the Foundation empire, albeit a very distant, small corner. Nonetheless, this book, while focussed on Earth, retains the vastness of the GE, and so it was perfect for me.

Joseph Schwartz, in the 20th century, picks up his foot and puts it down in GE 827. Disoriented and confused, he finds himself at a farmstead among people who speak a language incomprehensible to him – as his is to them. Soon he finds himself the subject of a scientific experiment, the Synapsifier, purported to make people very, VERY clever.

Meanwhile, Bel Arvardan, an archaeologist from Sirius, arrives on Earth, intent on proving once and for all that it is the planet origin of the human race. He has his suspicions, but proof would be appreciated.

It doesn’t take any kind of degree to realise that, in Joseph Schwartz, Arvardan has the proof he’s searching for, but more problematic is the Society of Ancients, the rulers of Earth and their hide-bound prejudices – not to mention their intent on wiping out the rest of the Galactic Empire with some nasty bug they’ve developed – and other obstacles that stand in the way of Arvardan even knowing of Schwartz’s existence.

I always love a good story from Asimov, and this is no exception. I didn’t see the resolution coming, and to that I doff my proverbial cap to this master of deception and storytelling.

The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

Format: Paperback
Rating:  4 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

I’ve known of this book for many years, and though people have recommended me, I just never got around to reading it – until now.

Bill Masen, a biologist who works with triffids, is in hospital, recovering from an accident with a triffid. On the day he is due to have bandages removed from his eyes and find out if his sight has survived the attack, he awakens to silence. Certainly, the whole world is different to how it was when he went to sleep the night before. Discovering that he is one of the fortunate ones to have not been blinded when green lights appeared in the night sky, he soon ventures out into the new world.

This story is of how Bill acclimatises to the new world, the people he meets and how he survives. It is also a story of the menace of the triffids.

I really enjoyed this tale. Although it may appear gentle and somewhat primitive relative to more contemporary post-apocalyptic tales, the menace of the triffids is especially chilling, and Masen’s assessment of life is, I felt, quite spot on. I really appreciated how Wyndham really got into Masen’s head and asked (and perhaps answered) genuine questions about how life would be following an apocalypse.

A very good read. Why did it take me so long to pick it up?

The Snow Queen by Joan D Vinge

Format: Paperback
Rating:  5 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

Where to start? This story is so immense that to find that single strand to start unravelling it from is almost impossible.

This is a space opera story. But it is so much, oh so much more than that. The first of a four-book series, The Snow Queen is based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale of the same name. Several things need to be considered here.

The Hegemony

Millennia after the fall of a galactic empire, people continued to live on worlds spread around the galaxy. The people of one world, Kharemough, discover space travel, and learn of other populated planets. And so they form the Hegemony, with a largely ceremonial government travelling constantly between the worlds. A Hegemonic police force is placed on each world, ensuring that Hegemonic law is enforced and adhered to. Space travel is through black gates. While the traverse is instantaneous, years pass for those left behind.

Tiamat

Tiamat is one of the worlds in the Hegemony. It has twin suns that orbit a black hole. Because of its proximity to the black hole, the world is only accessible to the Hegemony for 150 years at a time.

The people of Tiamat are split into two groups: the Winters and the Summers. The Winters live in the northern hemisphere. During the 150 years that the Hegemony has access to Tiamat, a Winter queen rules from Carbuncle, the world’s only city, while the Summers live in the tropical islands farther south. When the orbit of the twin suns draws them nearer to the black hole, Tiamat becomes hot, forcing the Summers north to Carbuncle. As the Hegemony pulls out of the planet, the Winter queen is sacrificed in a ritual death to the sea. A Summer queen then reigns from Carbuncle until the time when the orbit draws the planet away and it cools again.

The Hegemony’s specific interest in Tiamat, it’s sole interest, is the Water of Life, an extract made from the blood of the Mers, gentle sea creatures that populate the world’s oceans. The only way to extract the blood is to slaughter the creatures, and this must be done in massive quantities to meet demand.

The Story

Against this backdrop, we meet Moon Dawntreader Summer and Sparks Dawntreader Summer, merrybegot children who have grown up on the islands. Cousins, they are lovers, permissible by the Summer customs. One day the pair go to a place of choosing to find out if one of them might become a sybil. The sybils are revered by the Summers as speakers for the Sea Mother. They make a pact that if one of them doesn’t get chosen, neither of them will go through with becoming a sybil, but when Moon is chosen and Sparks is not, Moon finds she cannot, and does not want to, pull out. And so Moon becomes a sybil, and Sparks, feeling betrayed, leaves the islands for Carbuncle. The son of an offworlder, he has always been interested in technology, so Carbuncle is a logical choice.

Distressed, Moon seeks to follow him to Carbuncle to declare her love for him, but along the way, her plans get derailed.

Meanwhile, in Carbuncle, the Snow Queen, Arienrhod, is coming to the end of her reign. She has reigned for the full 150 years, her life prolonged by the Water of Life that Starbuck, her consort, slaughters the Mers for. Determined to lift Tiamat out of the technological dark ages the Hegemony enforces on them – technology is permitted during the Winter reign, but when the Hegemony pulls out, it destroys all electronics – she has been stockpiling equipment. But she has also cloned herself, determined that, despite her impending death, she will live on beyond her death and achieve her goal.

My thoughts

I first read this book as a teen, and loved it. Now I’ve read it again as an adult, and I still love it. The world-building is magnificent, and the potential for a bigger story is woven through the book. I just love a complex story, and this one’s right up there. Which is making it extremely difficult for me to review it without releasing any spoilers from their pens. For me, the concept of a little Hegemony scraping itself together using the remnants of a fallen galactic empire, the whole concept of Tiamat and it’s location around a black hole and the implications of that, and the Mers… it’s all wrapped up in a bundle that just satiates my desire for great science fiction and a great story.

Vinge’s writing is meticulous in its detail, and yet she doesn’t get bogged down. The story flows (straight from the pages to my mind), and is engaging and fun. I cannot recommend this book enough, to those who like a good space opera and some visionary scifi.