Cryptonomicon

This is a door-stopper of a speculative fiction novel. I have mixed feelings about it. The two time frames, one during WW2 and one in the late 90s, were well imagined and quite cool. It is set around factual events but has a couple of random additions which I didn’t feel were necessary – the invention of two fake countries for example. The characters were well written and fleshed out well. One character seemed quite mysterious and although on the face of it presented quite a big plot hole, upon reflection I quite like this aspect. I particularly liked the mirroring of certain themes between the two time frames. 

The plot was good and centred on code breaking giving rise to modern computers and crypto currency. It does not seem to have been edited in any way however. Perhaps it is a testament to his writing that I didn’t struggle to get through it – it just took a long time because it’s so long – but I think it could have been easily trimmed to a sixth or seventh of its length without losing anything. Indeed this would have made it a bit easier to follow in places. I suspect his style is to write in a bit of a vague fashion with an underlying assumption the reader will infer what a character is doing or something that has happened off page without writing it. While it is his style, the book could have been more successful if he had written it in a more conventional way I think. He probably doesn’t care about that though.  

The spine of a cracker is there, it was just fleshed out to the nth degree, sometimes with rambling extraneous info and at other times random cryptography sections that would be better off in a text book. Overall, packed full of interest and action. A real epic.  

A Good Man in Africa

Back to my favourite author as I continue to ration his books so I don’t go through them all at once. This was his first novel and is quite the lesson in authorship. It is, as he has continued to demonstrate throughout all the other books pf his I’ve read, superbly measured – every word in every sentence counts, there is not one sentence out of line. This book creates a marvellous picture of the setting and of the main character. His flaws are excellently observed and his escapades hilariously told. A fantastic book.  

Kolymsky Heights

This was described by Philip Pullman as the best thriller he’s ever read. That should have made me wary as I think Pullman himself is massively overrated (I found the Northern Lights stuff a bit tedious and boring). This was the epitomy of tedious and boring. There was really nothing thrilling about this book. The intricate detail to which the writer goes into is unnecessary and makes for a snails pace throughout. Despite the detail he goes into, it is also incredibly vague. At the centre of it, the story is weird and the only saving grace is the bit at the end (I won’t tell you) although that is nowhere near enough to justify reading this book. Pullman is mistaken I think. This was a proper slog and far too long. Avoid.  

The Secret Rooms

This was an absolute gem of a find. Bought from a local bookshop in Wiltshire, I liked the look of it but was also aware it could be a gamble. Thankfully it was one that paid off. This is a superbly written account of an aristocratic world of old that doubles as a moving and detailed account of the 1st world war to boot. It flows brilliantly and it really does read a bit like a thriller as the author leaves her finds in the titular secret rooms of an enormous castle as tantalisingly hanging at the end of the chapters. 

An insight into a real life Downton Abbey sort of thing (I’ve not actually watched it but I think that’s a fair thing to say), I would thoroughly recommend this book. 

Death and Croissants

The best thing about this book is its title. It really is a cracker and it sold it to me in one go. Unfortunately it’s all downhill from there. The plot is a bit simplistic, the prose is disjointed and built around various dad jokes  rather than the other way round and there is some shoddy, confusing dialogue on the other. Thankfully quite short so you can get through it nice and quickly but really, best avoided. Have a chuckle at the title but don’t be fooled to go any further than that. 

A Foreign Country

I sought this out as I read another of his books – Box 88 – and really enjoyed it. This lived up to my expectations. He writes very well and the action is tense, interesting and slick. I love the spy aspects it goes into and I will certainly be reading the other books he has written. 

Under The Blue

This was a random pick up in Waterstones. Cracking buy it was too. Although it was a classic cliched apocalypse novel, it was also a thought provoking account on the worth of humanity and how it regards itself. It carries an important environmental message and added to that, it is written very well. Enjoyable and I would recommend. 

It was fairly obvious from the outset that this book was going to be biased. It felt consistently as if the author was trying to ‘sell’ biogerontology. This became even more blatant during the last chapter where he as good as admits the book was written to raise political pressure to push forwards the drive to ‘cure’ ageing altogether. While he has obviously done a lot of research into a field that is still significantly speculative and in its infancy, he comes across as almost fanatic at times, treating the subject as would a child with a toy. It is occasionally rambling. What concerns me the most however is the glaring absence of any discussion about the ethical effects on the world should ageing be successfully cured. That is but for a small paragraph near the end. He even includes a link to an extra chapter which goes into the ‘counter argument’. Perhaps he didn’t want to write this in his book because of the obvious role it would play in completely undermining everything he has written about. To leave this aspect out is hugely irresponsible and his comment that the net ethical benefit would so clearly be in favour of stopping us from ageing that it is not really worth including is utter nonsense. This is not a balanced popular science book no matter what it is marketed as. It is a sales pitch – propaganda. Don’t be fooled. And to be honest, it was a bit boring.

Every Song Ever

Initially, I enjoyed this book. But very quickly it descended into a realm of pretentiousness that I really can’t stand. Clearly this man has an encyclopaedic knowledge of music. Clearly he has lived his life within a world of music so I will be at least a little cautious in criticising him too much as I haven’t. However, he is the sort of guy who has every vinyl record ever and loves to bask in people’s amazement when he talks about the most obscure artist or song ever as if it was the most obvious and well known thing in the world. 

His analysis of music itself is overly complicated and I feel a little too clinical. He goes on tangents of such irrelevance that the book becomes a mess. The chapter headings that hint at some sort of structure are false. This book was a real slog towards the end which is a shame as the concept was, at least on the face of it, a sound one. Excuse the pun. 

Avoid unless you are a super super geek for music. Even then, probably avoid.  

Snow, Dog, Foot

An intriguing book, translated from Italian. This was gifted to me and can be read in an evening. I am no connoisseur of translated works but it seems to me they have done a marvellous job. The story itself is good. It charts the descent of a mountain man into dementia or madness over a winter, all in the presence of his dog. As things progress the dog becomes more and more human while the man changes in quite the opposite way and is a reflective account of humanity. Glad I read this.