What’s Your Choice for World Book Day ’17?

This is my physical TBR pile going into March. If you had to choose 1 book to read next, what would it be? Please post your answer in the comments section below:)

(Adam Roberts’ Adam Robots and Brian Aldiss’s The Secret of this Book are short story collections.)

The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories (2017) Edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin

“Indeed We created man from dried clay of black smooth mud.  And We created the Jinn before that from the smokeless flame of fire”
(Quran 15:26-27)

Up until quite recently, I was only familiar with the word “genie” as a descriptor for supernatural beings that have a reputation for living in old lamps and granting wishes. The stories in this collection use either “djinn”, “jinn” or “genie” to represent these entities that are very different from the Robin Williams-voiced, cute, animated character seen in Disney’s Aladdin. So, what are these mysterious, misrepresented creatures? Here is what the website “islamreligion.com” says about them:

“The Jinn are beings created with free will, living on earth in a world parallel to mankind.  The Arabic word Jinn is from the verb ‘Janna’ which means to hide or conceal. Thus, they are physically invisible from man as their description suggests.”
(Source: islamreligion.com. Link here.)

the-djinn-falls-in-loveIn The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories, editors Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin have compiled a wonderfully varied collection of 22 tales of “Djinn” from authors including Nnedi Okorafor, Sami Shah, Monica Byrne, Claire North, Kamila Shamsie, Kirsty Logan, K.J Parker, Saad Hossein, James Smythe and Neil Gaiman. It was nice to find a mixture of writers I knew as well as ones who were new to me; one of the great things about short story collections.

And what a collection this is. I haven’t enjoyed a short story collection as much as this in a long time. This is a wonderful book and a book full of wonders. Every tale is well told. It’s a cornucopia of enchanting tales that sheds light on the human condition as well as the supernatural Djinn. It was difficult to select a favorite so I’ll write a couple of lines about the stories that really stood out for me. Continue reading

Counter-Clock World (1967) by Philip K. Dick

“The two basic topics which fascinate me are “What is reality?” and “What constitutes the authentic human being?” – Philip K. Dick, from a speech he gave in 1978

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Counter-Clock World
is the twelfth PKD novel I’ve read this year, accompanied by a monthly quota of 75 pages of The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick. Out of the twelve books I’ve read, this has become one of my favourites. It is built on a simple concept: what if people’s lives started running backwards? So, instead of being born as a baby from the womb, people are “old-born” from the grave and age in reverse, getting younger year by year. Dick calls this process “the Hobart Phase”.

“Those who were presently being old-born had been the last to die: final mortalities before June 1986. But according to Alex Hobart, the reversal of time would continue to move backwards, continually sweeping out a great span;” (p.14)

The older we get, the more we dream of slowing or halting the aging process. Isn’t this what so many of us desire? But this is a PKD story which means it has his unique take on such a concept. And if we stop and actually think about the ramifications of reverse-aging, we might not see it as being such a great thing after all. For one thing, can you imagine regaining consciousness in a coffin six feet underground? Continue reading

Occupy Me (2016) by Tricia Sullivan

“I leaned into HD. My body folded like a paper airplane and I went down as a shaft, shedding importune photons like confetti. He got closer and closer. Every beat of my heart was dedicated to this one thing. Fly like an arrow. Fly. Every breath. Every impulse to muscle and every thought. My teeth sang in the wind.” (p.25)

 

31423509Tricia Sullivan won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1999 for her novel Dreaming in Smoke. She has written nine SF and three Fantasy books, but I’d wager you haven’t heard of her. (Although I would be happy to be mistaken.) I recently read a fascinating speech she gave at Stranimondi 2016 about the difficulty of attaining recognition as a female SF writer. Here is a link to that speech. Occupy Me (2016) is her latest book. I picked it up on impulse because I liked the sound of what I read on the back cover.

The story opens with a page of instructions for using a “HD waveform launcher” with a warning about its “internal gravity”. We are not told what it is or even what it does, just how to switch “from scan mode to launch mode.” (p.1) The narrative voice then switches to the second-person with the narrator telling “you” how a “briefcase turned up in your life.” (p.2) The problem is “you” don’t have any recollection of where this briefcase has come from. And for some reason you are afraid to open it. But at the last minute you pick it up and take it with you. Continue reading

Retrospective for Year One – Oct. 2015 to Nov. 2016

 
It’s been a year since I started reviewing books on this blog, so I thought I would write a retrospective post to celebrate. It all began with Richard Matheson’s 1971 horror novel Hell House which I chose to read for Neil Gaiman’s All Hallow’s Read. His idea was to gift a scary book to a friend for Halloween:

 

“I propose that, on Hallowe’en or during the week of Hallowe’en, we give each other scary books. Give children scary books they’ll like and can handle. Give adults scary books they’ll enjoy.

I propose that stories by authors like John Bellairs and Stephen King and Arthur Machen and Ramsey Campbell and M R James and Lisa Tuttle and Peter Straub and Daphne Du Maurier and Clive Barker and a hundred hundred others change hands — new books or old or second-hand, beloved books or unknown. Give someone a scary book for Hallowe’en. Make their flesh creep…”

-Neil Gaiman, Blog Post “A Modest Proposal (That Doesn’t Actually Involve Eating Anyone)”, Saturday October 23rd 2010.

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The Man in the High Castle (1963) by Philip K. Dick

“On some other world, possibly it is different. Better. There are clear good and evil alternatives. Not these obscure admixtures, these blends, with no proper tool by which to untangle the components.” (p.227)

 

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Folio Society Edition

Often considered to be Dick’s best work, as well as his most mainstream, The Man in the High Castle imagines a future in which Germany, Italy and Japan won the Second World War. America is occupied by both the Germans and the Japanese. The story concentrates on events occurring in California, now part of the ‘Pacific States of America’ controlled by the Japanese. As is common in a lot of Dick’s writing, ordinary people dealing with unusual or extraordinary events are the focal point of TMITHC.

 

These everyday people make up the main characters of the book. Thus we meet Mr. Tagomi, a Japanese trade official, Bob Childan, an antiques dealer, Frank Frink, a jewelry maker, Frink’s ex-wife Juliana, a judo instructor, and Joe Cinnadella, a truck driver. In the background lurks Hawthorne Abendsen, the author of an alternative history novel popular at the time, despite it being banned by the Nazis. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is a book within a book, an alternative history within an alternative history. Dick soon has everyone questioning what is real… Continue reading

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang (1976) by Kate Wilhelm

“I’m going to dissect your every thought, your every wish, every dream. I’m going to find out what happened to you, what made you separate yourself from your sisters, what made you decide to become an individual, and when I find out we’ll know how never to allow it to happen again.” (p.122)

51pl9fv9u8l-_sx331_bo1204203200_The story begins as civilization is on the verge of collapse. The causes, pollution, disease and climate change, are briefly touched on by the author but she keeps them in the background. Instead, her focus falls on one extended family, the Sumners, and their attempts to survive. They have wealth and education on their side. Their isolated setting near the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia shields them from the worst of the global meltdown until a problem develops with their livestock. They are found to be infertile. When this infertility spreads to the people, the end really does seem nigh. Facing extinction, some of the survivors begin experiments in cloning, first on animals then later on themselves.

Kate Wilhelm’s dystopian novel on cloning won both the Hugo and Locus Awards for Best Novel in 1977. The title of the book is a quotation from William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73. This sonnet focuses on the theme of old age:

                      That time of year thou mayst in me behold
                       When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
                       Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
                      Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
                                                                                            (The first four lines of Sonnet 73)

  Continue reading