Tag Archives: book reviews

Excellent reviews for Garry Kilworth’s The Iron Wire

The Iron Wire by Garry KilworthLovely to see some great early reviews for Garry Kilworth’s new novel The Iron Wire, the story of a young telegrapher taking part in a venture in the Australian outback that would change the world of the 19th Century.

Over on her blog, World Fantasy Award nominee Anna Tambour hails it as a new Australian classic:

Kilworth captures so much of the mystery, beauty, night terrors, and fascination of the uninhabited Australia that I especially recommend this novel to the vast majority of Australians who would no more venture into the bush than they would, drink a cup of pre-barista International Roast… The Iron Wire: A novel of the Adelaide to Darwin Telegraph Line deserves to take its place amongst Australian classics — and is a ripper of a read, anywhere.

Readers posting reviews on Amazon have been equally positive:

I read this book in one go because eh! Suspense! The descriptions are very vivid. You can almost taste the dust! … It’s also beautifully written. It makes you realize that while we can all write a sentence; we can’t all write a beautifully turned sentence. It’s wonderful to read something so well written.

For anyone who loves history, this is a must read. Mr. Kilworth has taken a virtually unknown event in Australia’s history and brought it to life.

A great yarn that carries the reader into the heart of the then barely explored Australian outback as history is being made by ordinary men.

Very evocative of time and place. A well-researched book which grips from the beginning…

The ebook edition of Garry Kilworth’s The Iron Wire is available from: Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon CanadaBarnes and NobleKoboAppleSmashwords

The print edition is available from: Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon CanadaCreateSpace – and other booksellers

A good reading year

A few years ago when I was guest writer at a local university writing class I was asked, “Do you read much science fiction these days?” My immediate response was to say that I only usually read SF when I’m paid to do it. Then I realised that sounded quite bad. What I meant by my answer, and went on to explain, was that much of my reading – in any genre – is dictated by what I’m asked to read for reviews and critiquing, so it’s usually a luxury for me to get to sit down with a book I’ve actually chosen for no other reason than that I want to read it.

I’ve read some fine books this way, and made some lovely discoveries, but I do miss the opportunity to just go off and explore books like I used to many years ago.

Wolves by Simon IngsThis year I’ve managed to find a bit more of a balance, though. Add that to my good fortune in finding some superb review books and the first half of 2014 has provided some of my  best reading in a long time.

One of the highlights was Simon Ings very welcome return to SF with the stylish augmented reality whodunnit, Wolves. My Guardian review of this won’t appear until the mass market paperback edition of the novel appears later this year, but in it I draw comparisons with JG Ballard and Christopher Priest. It’s weird and unsettling, presented in an understated manner that almost sidesteps the fact that it’s an SF novel until everything builds up and all the elements pull together. I’d love there to have been more from Ings over the years, but with this novel alone he’s rapidly playing catch-up.

The Unquiet House by Alison LittlewoodAnother Guardian review book, Alison Littlewood’s The Unquiet House reads like a classic haunted house story that, save for the obvious contemporary elements, could easily have been written at any time in the past hundred or more years. Throughout, Littlewood strikes a pitch-perfect balance between mystery and steady revelation, building anticipation and fear with the kind of verbal brushstrokes you’d expect from Joyce Carol Oates. A master class in haunted fiction.

I reviewed Andy Weir’s The Martian for the Arc blog, and here’s my opening paragraph:

Please indulge me while I get this out of the way at the start: Wow! Andy Weir’s The Martian is an incredibly accomplished first novel. Hell, it’s an incredibly accomplished anythingth novel.

It’s a space survival thriller, cleverly loaded with technological detail and balanced with a jokey first-person confessional narration. A book so full of mathematical extrapolation (just how long will the oxygen etc last?) really shouldn’t be such a gripping page-turner, but it is. This is the kind of thing that hooked me on SF as a teenager, and it’s the kind of book the proves SF is a genre still full of life and potential. Great stuff!

The Moon King by Neil WilliamsonAs well as these three stand-out review books, as I said earlier I’ve been reading more for pleasure, too. In genre fiction, the real highlight has been Neil Williamson’s The Moon King. This is stylish, quirky fantasy at its very best. Beautifully written, full of fabulous imagery and strikingly original, this novel follows events in an island city dominated by the cycles of the Moon in what may be the end days as the machines tethering the Moon to the city’s skies begin to fail. Williamson has written some deft and moving short fiction over the years, but with this novel he’s really hit his stride and this is a novel that should feature prominently on the big award shortlists next year.

Moving away from genre fiction, this year I’ve returned to one of my all-time favourite writers, Roddy Doyle. I started with the free short story, Jimmy Jazz, which picks up the story of Jimmy Rabbitte, former manager of Dublin soul band The Commitments, now in his late forties and trapped into listening to jazz in order to please his wife Aoife. Doyle’s a genius for characterisation and voice, with dialogue that makes me smile like a madman as I’m reading and a particular knack for creating powerfully moving moments that sneak up on you unnoticed until they deliver the body blow.

The Guts by Roddy DoyleThe short story did its job: I went straight out to find The Guts, Doyle’s novel set a year before Jimmy Jazz, telling the story of Jimmy’s battle with cancer as he struggles to keep his music business going in the face of recession. It’s right up there with Doyle’s best work, which for me means it’s among the best novels I’ve ever read.

Partway through reading this, I was slightly taken aback to realise that while I’ve watched the movie several times, and went to see the West End musical soon after it opened, I’d never actually read the original novel of The Commitments. So I bought it, and now I’m partway through reading it, and loving it, naturally.

Still only in July, and I’ve read some absolutely superb books. While I hadn’t exactly fallen out of love with reading, I think I’d become a bid jaded. These are the kinds of books that put the fire back into reading, though: I’m full of enthusiasm again, and that feeds into my writing, too – reading good books makes me want to write them. And read more, of course.

Battle of the books

It’s not often you come across a new and interesting way to explore books, and for all I know this has been done before elsewhere, but the Fantastic Reviews blog’s Battle of the Books is fascinating.

The premise is this: take 16 books, pair them up, and then for each pair read the first 25 pages; out of that pair the winner is the book the reviewer most wants to continue reading at that point. In the next round we’re down to four pairs and the cut-off point is 50 pages; then in the semi-finals the cut-off is at 100 pages; and finally the last two standing are judged overall.
Harmony by Keith BrookeAt first sight this is a bit of fun, lifting a game-show format and applying it to reviewing. But the reality is far more than that. For the successful books you have a step-by-step extended review, picking out various aspects of a book as they emerge, giving a wonderful insight into the reading of that book as it unfolds, rather than a review written with hindsight. It also provides a very interesting angle for each review; in the most recent entry, for example, my own Harmony (as published in North America; UK title alt.human) is up against China Miéville’s Railsea. Naturally enough, the focus is on how the two books portray the weird and, as the reviewer says, nobody does weird better than China. Earlier rounds have focused on the reader’s engagement with characters and a book’s sheer unputdownability (that is officially a real word: I just told my spellchecker so).

As a writer this whole process has been fascinating; for the reader it should be equally so, although as with any detailed review there’s the danger of spoilers, particularly in the later stages of the battle.

And as an aside, even after around 25 years as an author, it still surprises me when someone really gets one of my stories. That the reviewer in this contest gets Harmony so well is fantastic; that this comes in the week leading up to the announcement of this year’s Philip K Dick Award winner really brings it home. It’s not so much that I’m suddenly thinking I’m in with a shot (Harmony is one of seven on the shortlist, so I have around a 14% chance), but simply that it’s finally, after all this time, starting to sink through my thick skull that there are people out there – like the team at Fantastic Fiction, like the PKD judges – who really do get what I’m doing.

And that’s kind of cool.
Incidentally, it gives nothing away to be posting this: to reach the semi-final against a writer of China Miéville’s calibre, and for my novel to have received this kind of detailed attention, is pretty damned good, in my reckoning. For the results, and the excellent analysis, you’ll have to go to Battle of the Books, Bracket Five, First Semifinal :: Railsea by China Miéville vs. Harmony by Keith Brooke.

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Great review for alt.human (aka Harmony) at the Guardian

“Brooke excels at depicting unknowable and scarily arbitrary extraterrestrials and a human race crushed by endless cruelty and domination. Recommended.” – The Guardian

Ghostwriting: “an excellent collection”

Excellent review of Eric Brown’s Ghostwriting, over at Hellnotes:

“Irrespective of genre limitations Brown is a terrific storyteller as the present collection effectively proves… All in all an excellent collection of entertaining and well written dark fiction.”

Nice to see Eric getting this kind of recognition for this set of haunting, psychological horror: as I’ve said before, I think it contains some of his finest writing.

Review: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

As I’ve said before, I’m not planning to post lots of reviews here (see Criticality for my reviews), but occasionally I have one that’s lost its natural home. This is another review that was dropped from The Guardian as another reviewer had also covered it (these mix-ups happen sometimes). So here we go:

Paolo Bacigalupi’s first novel, The Windup Girl, was one of the most acclaimed science-fiction novels of recent years, winning five major awards and immediately identifying the author as one of the hottest names in the field. Ship Breaker, while less striking than Bacigalupi’s debut, shows that the acclaim was not misplaced, and has itself been shortlisted for the US National Book Award.

Set in a dystopian and grimly believable post Global Warming future, Ship Breaker is the story of Nailer, a teenager who works the salvage crews on the US Gulf coast, stripping wire from oil tankers stranded and wrecked among flooded cities. It’s a life where no one is worth keeping if they don’t make a profit, and Nailer has no future when he outgrows the cramped spaces and is no longer any use on the gangs.

In many ways, Ship Breaker is a very straightforward adventure novel which limps a little as it approaches its climax in what effectively becomes a long chase. The novel is lifted above the crowd by the author’s deftly constructed and quite awful future, and by the way he can paint the most vivid and memorable characters and settings with minimal brushstrokes.

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