Monday, January 29, 2007

Holiday Reading

It's been an excellent season of holiday reading 2006-07 - plenty of variety within the admittedly narrow reading parameters in which I operate!

Destiny's Children - Stephen Baxter

I recently discovered this phenomenal Sci-Fi author via his book Evolution. Baxter writes within a strong evolutionary context which is consistently fascinating - for example across his works you'll find him asserting that human beings developed big brains because they needed the evolutionary advantage that social skills gave them in cooperative activity - physically they couldn't compete - so his real point is that humanity didn't survive because they had big brains - but rather that they developed big brains in order to survive. Not particularly new, until you find in later books he postulates some human societies (for example in closed Ark ships) where big brains become a liability and so evolution demands regression.

Anyway, I read the 3rd and 4th books in the Destiny's Children series. The 3rd book, Transcendent, was an interesting study on the human quest for redemption - following 2 parallel story lines - the first describing the tortured family life of a man who will in time save the world; the second telling the story of a young girl who participates in a future humanity's quest to redeem humanity's past by "witnessing" the pain of every human who has ever lived. Fascinating pretext - of course, she is watching the life of the man in storyline #1. Excellent series. 9/10.

Pride of Carthage - D A Durham

I enjoyed this compelling historical novel on the life of Hannibal Barca of Carthage (a city state in North Africa now part of Tunisia) - an inspired Carthaginian general who came within an inch of bringing Rome to its knees. The characterisation in this book is really first rate. Not only Hannibal but his family, others within his retinue and the Romans who opposed him. Reminded me how much I enjoy good quality historical fiction. 9/10.

Murder in La Mut - Raymond Feist and Joel Rosenberg

I quite like these Riftwar spinoffs, albeit that I am not a big fan of the collaborative writing ventures these celebrated authors use to spin out ta series! A fun book with a well constructed plot and likeable characters (always the key in these fantasy books). 7/10.

The Roses of Roazon - Cherith Baldry

There were aspects of the fantasy novel that I really enjoyed: the riches to rags to riches story of a relatively minor character, Bertrand; the messianic allusions surrounding the pacifist Duke Joscelin; the underlying spiritual themes - a spirituality of love and grace supplanting a harsh judgmentalism. In the end, it just went a bit far for me - especially, the homosexual love story! 6/10.

The Wee Free Men - Terry Pratchett

Supposedly this book is (a) A Disc World novel and (b) A Children's book. I can't agree with either proposition! For a start it doesn't read like a Disc World novel - Death doesn't even make a cameo appearance! Secondly, I would have thought it too advanced for a child! I did like it a lot - its a really subversive fairy tale about a young girl who becomes a witch with the aid of the "wee free men" who are super hilarious elves who speak in broad Scots accents and live for fighting, stealing and drinking (especially Sheep's linament). Quote of the book (which kinda illustrates the subversive nature of the work):

Miss Tick [Mystic...] sniffed. "You could say this advice is priceless," she said. "Are you listening?" "Yes," said Tiffany. "Good. Now...if you trust in yourself..." "Yes?" "...and believe in your dreams..." "Yes?" "...and follow your star..." Miss Tick went on. "Yes?" "'ll still get beaten by people who spent their their time working hard and learning things and weren't so lazy. Good-bye."

Priceless indeed. Supposedly, its going to be made into a movie. It will be a lot of fun if it is. 8/10.

JPod - Douglas Coupland

I do like satire in small doses - and this is a great example. An hilarious read about a group of software engineers whose surnames all begin with J (a weird HR policy has made it so...). So much borax poked at so many institutions of modern (and particularly digital) society. The book is highly cynical, even for Coupland. In fact, its so cynical that he appears in the book! He doesn't save himself from self-criticism by characters that you've come to like despite the fact that they are miserable, unproductive losers. There are some really funny plotlines in this book - the militant lesbian who has an affair with the main character's mother and then converts midway through the book to the compliant, plastic surgery coveting, girlfriend of a Chinese smuggler/gangster/interior designer; the plot to sabotage a Playstation game with a homicidal Ronald MacDonald character; the asinine competitions the JPod have in the office when they get bored of real work (which is often) eg. writing EBay ads selling themselves (you get to read the ads...). 9/10.

So that's it - my holiday reading. A rewarding mix of my main reading fare - Sci Fi/Fantasy leavened with some well written satire and historic fiction. All available from the library!


Anonymous said...

did you read any real books? ;o)

Jonesboy said...

I read "real books" during the year... well as a lot of unreal ;)

David Anthony Durham said...

Thanks for the positive mention of Pride of Carthage. Just so you know, authors do notice and appreciate it when readers have a kind word for them. I see you read sci-fi/fantasy also. I'd like to mention that I have a new novel coming out this year. It's called Acacia and it's the beginning of a series. If you're interested in trying another one of my "unreal" books please look out for it.



Rhett said...


I'm glad you liked JPod, that has to be one of my favourite books ever, perhaps disturbingly because it fits in very well with my sense of humour.

I loved Feist's Riftwar series, I think I'll have to start reading some of his newer books.

Finally, someone gave Sarah The Wee Free Men as a present, so that's another one I might have to have a look at too.

Jonesboy said...

Hey David,

Thanks for dropping by - I'll be sure to check out Acacia when it appears. Have you considered doing a prequel on the life of Hamilcar and the First Punic War? The fact that Carthage got beat and suffered so badly in the aftermath is all the more interesting when you know that they make a comeback! Also, the end of that war is interesting in that it left Rome unfettered in beginning to extend its empire beyond the boot of Italy itself. At least then if you get a movie deal on Hannibal you can spin it out forever... (surely thats do-able with epics like Alexander (dud) and Gladiator getting made in recent years) I'd recommend Peter Jackson as director...

Good luck with the new book...

Jonesboy said...

Hey Rhett - maybe we should lend Frank some of our real unreal books? Do you have a sci-fi wrestling classic we could use as a teaser?

David Anthony Durham said...


You bet I considered doing a prequel on Hamilcar. I still might. It's an interesting story in a lot of ways and has moments of high drama on par with the big events of the Second Punic War. I talked about doing it with my publisher, but we decided not to mine the same territory again so soon. The idea for Acacia had also been living in me for a while and I was anxious to get to work on it too. But... I'm hoping I do get back to ancient Carthage at some point. Hamilcar would make a great central figure.

As for the movie deals... Well, there's been a good bit of noise these last few years, but by the time Pride of Carthage was making the rounds in Hollywood there were already several Hannibal projects in development. Nothing has come of any of them yet, though. And movies flops like Alexander and lackluster performances like Kingdom of Heaven and King Arthur have made the industry wary of the ancient world. But I'm patient. Could happen 10, 15 years from now and that would be wonderful.

And, of course, I'd learn to do backflips if Peter Jackson got interested in any of my novels. I love his films and I love the way he's made use of New Zealand's cinematic potential. I hope the studio execs cut through the nonsense and let him get to work on The Hobbit!