The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Title: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Author: Douglas Adams

Summary: One Thursday lunchtime the Earth gets unexpectedly destroyed to make way for a new hyperspace bypass. For Arthur Dent, who has only just had his house demolished that morning, this seems already to be more than he can cope with. Sadly, however, the weekend has only just began, and the Galaxy is a very strange and startling place.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: After failing spectacularly at reading during 2020, i have set my sights incredibly low for 2021. I have a goal of six books, and the low-pressure of ensuring those books are whatever i want. Graphic novels, short story magazines, and novellas? Yes please.

Which brings me to my first book of 2021: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I’ve seen the film, so I knew the basic plot. Science fiction is pretty much my favourite genre (if you’re making me choose!). I know it’s light-hearted and silly. And, obviously, it’s short. I started reading it on the first of January with the only aim to finish it by the end of the month. Yay me–I managed it!

Overall, I really enjoyed it. It has plenty of chuckle and snort out loud moments (nothing quite as strong as a laugh). The dialogue was perfection–so simple, with characters repeating themselves and stating the obvious and just… being real, i suppose. It was (pardon the pun) down to earth, relatable, and made for easy reading.

The characters are fun, and while the book as a whole is quite cheerful, it does touch on a couple more serious things. Namely Zaphod’s discovery that he has messed with his own brain and memories, and Marvin the robot’s depression. My favourite character by far is our main lead, Arthur Dent. He’s just… so… frank? Restrained? Unassertive? British? He somehow both doesn’t at all keep up with the new world around him, and also keeps up so well he gets ahead of it a time or two. And, of course, there’s my favourite line:

Arthur blinked at the screens and felt he was missing something important. Suddenly he realised what it was.
“Is there any tea on this spaceship?” he asked.

For a book set in space, it is very British, and I can’t deny I love that about it.

My main issue with the book is how hard it’s trying. To be silly, to include random facts, and to elbow in little stories. I enjoy silly random facts and stories as much as anyone who picks up this book knowing what they’re getting into. But. But i like them to be relevant to the story, not just a random aside. This links in strongly with my dislike of footnotes; I just think if it’s important enough to mention–put it in the main body of the bloody story. This book bypasses that issue by putting random snippets not at all important in the main body of the story. It did feel like being forced to read footnotes and i kind of hated it.

Of course, only having one female character and all the action happening at the very start and very end of the book didn’t help either.

But still, overall it was a good read. As light-hearted and fun as i’d expected, if not quite as outstanding overall as i’d hoped. I’ll probably give the next book in the series a go, mostly because i have no idea what happens in the sequels, and that could be even more fun.

The Shining

Title: The Shining

Author: Stephen King

Summary: Danny is only five years old but in the words of old Mr Hollorann he is a ‘shiner’, aglow with psychic voltage. When his father becomes caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, Danny’s visions grow out of control.

As winter closes in and blizzards cut them off, the hotel seems to develop a life of its own. It is meant to be empty. So who is the lady in room 217 and who are the masked guests going up and down in the elevator? And why do the hedges shaped like animals seem so alive?

Somewhere, somehow, there is an evil force in the hotel–and that too is being to shine…

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I first read this book about 15 years ago. I loved it then and (spoiler:) i love it now. I decided to re-read it ahead of reading Doctor Sleep for the first time, and I’m really glad i did. I remembered part of the book really well, but other parts were a total blur. It was wonderful to re-visit the scenes i loved enough to remember, and the story was still suspenseful enough because I couldn’t recall all the details of what happened.

The main thing I remembered from when I first read the book was how genuinely scary it was. The particular moments that stayed with me had been the topiary animals and the fire hose. On this re-read those moments were still scary, but there were more scary moments. The tunnel in the snowy playground, the lift whirling into life in the middle of the night, the wasps. But more than that, I think this time I had more appreciation for the more human horrors. Jack’s alcoholism (and, underneath that, his deep insecurities), his father’s abusiveness, his mother’s passivity, and Wendy’s history with her mother and how she could see that playing out again in herself. As much as this book has horror and supernatural elements, it has human issues at its heart.

I loved all of the characters, to some extent. Danny was so smart and pure for his five years, with this psychic ability he didn’t understand. In the hands of an adult with more information this whole story could have ended much quicker… or have not taken place at all. Having all the knowledge and so little of the understanding in the hands of a child feels heavy and meaningful. Dick Hollorann was a clear favourite. He was so genuine and lovely, instantly connecting with Danny and having the drive to do everything he could for a kid he’d met for a hour several months ago. Wendy. Wendy i love, and i love her growth over the book from “Danny’s mum” and “Jack’s wife” to a strong, smart woman kicking as much arse as she needed to to keep herself and her son safe. From flashbacks and early stages of the book, she seemed too complacent and reluctant to rock the boat. But when shit gets real she steps up without question and does what she needs to.

And then, of course, there’s Jack. I love who Jack wants to me, who he has the potential to be, and who he almost is right at the start of the book. As the story developed, I slowly began to hate Jack… but in a way that I loved and was really well done. He begins in a good place–despite some poor choices ending him up in a difficult situation, he seems ready to move on and start again. He obviously loves his wife and kid and wants to do right by them. But as we slowly learn more, exactly, of Jack’s past and as the time spent isolated in the hotel increases, he becomes more and more of a horrible, self-centred, egotistical maniac.

Now, the thing i love most about this book is the possibilities. There are never, really, any definitive answers. I can see several possible reasons for what happens in this book… and i accept them all. One, the Overlook and the evilness contained within it completely manipulated Jack and forced him into the actions he took. Two, the Overlook was able to manipulate Jack and get him to do the things he did because Jack already had the potential to be that person; to some degree he thought and felt those horrible things and the hotel then amplified them and drove him to depths he might never had reached without its influence. Three, the Overlook has very little or no supernatural evil spirits and it was all simply cabin fever that drove Jack mad and induced a group hallucination. And really, anywhere along that scale. There are details and moments that could point in favour of one explanation or another, but I really don’t think there is anything to state definitively what happened. And i LOVE that. I could play devil’s advocate and argue any of the options and I would enjoy doing so.

Another thing that struck me was a line from Grady, a previous winter caretaker who murdered his family several years before:

“Your wife would object to that very strongly, Mr Torrence. And she appears to be… somewhat stronger than we imagined. Somewhat more resourceful. She certainly seems to have gotten the better of you.”
Grady tittered.
“Perhaps, Mr Torrence, we should have been dealing with her all along.”

This actually made me pause and think… “What if they had?” What if, for whatever reason, the Overlook had got into Wendy’s head instead of Jack’s. Manipulated Wendy into throwing away the snowmobile battery and murdering her family? And again, i can imagine multiple possibilities, all of which i could see happening. One, Wendy is less easy to manipulate because she doesn’t have as many underlying issues as Jack, and so she throws off the hotel’s influence more easily. Two, a similar situation as with Jack; she is manipulated into these malicious acts and causes some harm but is ultimately beaten by Jack’s determination to save his son, Hollorann’s rescue, and Danny’s love. Three, Wendy is stronger and more resourceful than Jack, simply poisoning their food or slitting their throats in their sleep. I would actually love to read a re-telling of this book with the Overlook manipulating Wendy instead.

Overall i really loved the pacing of the book. How much it managed to keep me on edge, even when i knew how it was all going to end–i couldn’t remember enough of the details to figure out exactly how they got there. At points the tension was so high i had to take a break, putting the book down while i did something else for 10 minutes. The suspense was also nicely broken up by chapters showing Hollorann’s journey across the country back to them at the Overlook. He was trying to get to them as fast as he could, but the anxiety of his travel did not match that of the events unfolding at the hotel. Slowly though, as Hollorann got closer and closer, his storyline also became more tense, until the last eight chapters of the book had me strung out on a knife edge. I loved it.

Lastly, the only real reason this book didn’t get five stars is because, let’s be honest, King is not the best writer. There are a few issues that I can’t ignore. Mild, but still utterly present… sexism, racism, unnecessary and awkward sexual interactions, and generally clumsy, cliched literary devices. All (mostly) forgiven with an eyeroll and acknowledgement that to me he is a good-but-not-great author.

I do have other thoughts on the book, but they are mostly tied into its relationship and comparison to the 1980 film adaptation. So many other thoughts, in fact, that before I start reading Doctor Sleep, I have decided to re-watch the film and spend some time writing a “book vs film” analysis. Just like reviews of the book and the film, comparisons have likely been done to death… but i just have so many opinions on this, that i need to get them down on page and share them. So, if you have any strong opinions about The Shining, stay tuned for that soon!

Rocannon’s World

Title: Rocannon’s World

Author: Ursula Le Guin

Summary: On the far planet of Fomalhaut II, where three races lived in uneasy peace, the Starlords has landed generations back in their great ships to levy tribute on behalf of the League of All Worlds. Now disaster had struck, and Rocannon, the expedition leader, was marooned on this distant world, eight years away from the nearest planet.

His friends murdered and his spaceship destroyed. Rocannon led the battle to save Fomalhaut II, in strange alliance with the three native races–the cavern-dwelling Gdemiar, the elvish Fiia and the warrior-clan Liuar. And in that desperate battle against an alien foe they myths were born and the legends grew. They were not his people, but the place became ROCANNON’S WORLD.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 3.5/5

Review: I’m still slowly working my way through the books in the Hainish Cycle series and have yet to be disappointed. This one consists of two short but linked stories: The Necklace and The Starlord. I enjoyed them both.

Although strictly speaking a science fiction story there were, on the whole, more elements of fantasy. It is set on a world cut off from space travel and advanced technology, and instead they have swords and giant flying cats and castles and various intelligent beings. With most of the characters not grasping the technology that was described and mentioned and the general setting very fantasy-like, it gave me a similar vibe to the world in The Broken Empire and The Red Queen’s War and i loved that.

The second, longer, story is told from the point of view of Rocannon–the starlord of the title. He’s a space traveller who has been to many different worlds, but finds himself stranded on this one when his ship and crewmates get destroyed. With the help of the native inhabitants of the planet, he sets off on a mission to contact his own people and get revenge on those who killed his friends. Along the way he learns a lot about this world, the other beings that live on it, as well as communication, friendship, and loyalty.

I pretty much loved all the main characters. There was no real tension in their personalities or relationships with each other. They were just together, helping each other till the end of their journey. I loved that. The adventures, dangers, and discoveries along the way were fun, thrilling, and wonderful in turn… almost like mini stories within this already quite short one, and I’m not sure I could pick a favourite!

The writing, as always with Le Guin, was wonderful. She’s so succinct here; never verbose or unnecessary. In an objective way, you could say the writing is quite straightforward, describing only what happens, often getting straight to the point. But for all the writing doesn’t mess around or meander, it holds the important things. Including the emotional parts of the story. I felt for these characters, their journey, and this world. I wanted things to work out well. I even cared about the giant flying cats they rode everywhere, wanting them to get enough food and rest! It’s just… wonderful writing!

The end of the book seemed to come on fast, with the book never wasting time or dawdling along, and I really appreciated that. As fast as it came, and as much as I already understood the ending from the title and summary of the book, the very last line still hit me with such an emotional punch… I’m not afraid to say i welled up.

The Outward Urge

Title: The Outward Urge

Author: John Wyndham

Summary: The ‘outward urge’ was a factor in the Troon inheritance. Successive generations of Troons, looking up at the stars, heard the siren voices that called them out into space. And, as the frontiers of space receded, there was usually one Troon, if not more, out there, helping to push them back.

The five exciting episodes related here deal with the parts they played in the building of the Space Station, the occupation of the Moon, the first landing on Mars, and the trouble about Venus and the asteroids.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: John Wyndham is one of my favourite authors. My absolute favourite, if you ask me on decisive day. I even recently got a John Wyndham inspired tattoo ♥ I’ve not read all his books yet; i’m taking them slowly, because there are only a finite number. It’s been a while now, though, so i thought i’d pick this one up.

This book has five stories set across 200 years, linked by the development and exploration of space, as well as by the Troon family. It is common for Troons to have the ‘outward urge’–that is, to explore space, to go further, to know what else there is out there. And so the Troons are at the forefront of every spaceward progression these stories explore. The first British space station, the first landing on the moon, the first Mars landing, the first Venus landing… I love that Wyndham uses a family to connect the stories. They are more intrinsically linked this way, yet still independent, with so much time passing between them.

The first story had me sobbing by the end of it, despite the fact it was pretty clear what was going to come. For the first story to hit me like that left me already so invested in the rest. I love that while we meet the first Troon, heading to help build the space station, he is a young man, but when we meet his moon station commander son in the second story, he is 50 years old. It’s so clearly not the same story or character development in each chapter; they each have their own heart and meaning. I loved them all, but the first and the last were stand out for me. The Mars landing was a very close third. Just… they’re all brilliant!

A few stories had some wonderful quotes and meaningful concepts. Wyndham explores that side of science fiction so, so well–the philosophical alongside the technological. I was underlining and dog earring quite a bit, and i love it when a passage strikes me so close to my heart that i have to pause in my reading to take a note of it. One of my favourites was this one:

Odd, he thought, in a kind of parenthesis, that it should need the suspicion of human hostility to reawaken the sense of the greater hostility constantly about them.

I would have given this book five stars in a heartbeat, if it weren’t for one glaring omission. Something that, for Wyndham, is surprising and disappointing. The lack of female characters. Every single Troon in this book, and every single space-bound non-Troon main character is a man. It could be argued that, writing in the 1950s, Wyndham was writing more in line with his era. BUT a) that’s never stopped Wyndham before, and b) the stories are set 40-240 years into the future, give me a god damn spacewoman! So yeah, the omission of decent female characters has irked me, but i also know how bloody good Wyndham is for including wonderful women elsewhere, so i won’t hold a grudge–this time.

In summary, I still love Mr Wyndham, but i’ll need a female-strong book from him next. And to be fair, that wont be for at least six months…

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The Word for World is Forest

Book Review: The Word for World is Forest by Ursula Le Guin 3/5 StarsTitle: The Word for World is Forest

Author: Ursula Le Guin

Summary: When the inhabitants of a peaceful world are conquered by the bloodthirsty yumens, they find themselves forced into servitude, at the mercy of their brutal masters. Eventually, desperation causes them to abandon their strictures against violence and rebel against their captors. But in doing so, they have endangered the very foundations of their society. For every blow against the invaders is a blow to the humanity of the Athsheans. And once the killing starts, there is no turning back.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I love Le Guin’s writing, but honestly haven’t read enough of it. I’ve had this book on my to read list since i first read The Dispossessed five years ago. This book had already been next on my to read pile, though it proved timely, coinciding with Le Guin recent and saddening death. The Dispossessed and The Word for World is Forest are the first two books in the Hainish Cycle, and let’s not pretend the third book in the series, Rocannon’s World, isn’t now top of my to buy list. The books aren’t connected by plot or characters, and can be read out of sequence or independently of each other–but chronologically is how i roll.

But this book. This book was interesting and frustrating all at the same time. Set on a world of islands, all completely covered in trees, the human race (as we know it) has arrived, settled, and started a small logging colony. The world and races created and explored here are wonderfully done. The native Athsheans, small and covered in green hair, are Le Guin’s literal ‘little green men’. From the human’s point of view they are a quiet, simple, unintelligent race, barely worth training up for menial tasks such as cooking and cleaning. The Athsheans are actually a lovely, peaceful, extremely clever introspective race who put much stock in dreaming. I found them quite charming.

Our three main characters are two humans–the selfish, egotistical, and cruel Davidson, and the reserved, observant, and kindhearted Lyubov–and one Athshean–the headstrong, confident, visionary Selver. Davidson, as Le Guin acknowledges in her introduction, is 100% the bad guy. He has no redeeming features, and is there solely to cause trouble and be hated. And oh, was he so easy to hate. I hated him unreservedly, and though that was really the point, and i loved to hate him, it also felt hollow and disappointing, to know he was written in that way and for him to have nothing but hate to give or receive. Selver was a smart man, and i don’t blame him for any of the choices he made–he did the best and smartest things he could given the situation, and he handled it marvellously. For someone who acted so emotionally to trauma and loss, he also seemed, on the whole, quite emotionless. Though i wonder if that may be a byproduct of introspection, of dreaming, of knowing oneself–being able to acknowledge your emotions and make conscious decisions rather than gut reactions. Lyubov, though. Lyubov was my favourite. He was the middle man, the one trying to bridge the gap between the humans and the Athsheans, with very few people on either side going along with that. I found him to have the purest heart, the most interesting perspective, and to be the only one not quite sure of himself.

The book is not without problems. Women treated as objects and commodities by the humans and all the main characters being male are two of the biggest. While the Athsheans have a more equal society, it still rubs me the wrong way that women have their assigned gender roles and men have theirs–it’s not fair to anyone. And while the women as sex objects and baby producers in the human society is certainly a negative commentary, it is never discussed or explored enough to be openly critiqued in the story, and i find that a huge blow.

Stand out in the story is the concept of violence and change. How people and societies develop in ways they need to to their surroundings and threats, but how that change is permanent. Although the threat might have passed, the actions taken are irreversible and will shape the development of things forever. It is, like every Le Guin book i have read so far, exceptional world building and exploration of ideas and themes and characters. I can’t wait to read more.

Ariel

Title: Ariel

Author: Sylvia Plath

Summary: Ariel, first published in 1965, contains many of Sylvis Plath’s best-known poems, written in an extraordinary burst of creativity just before her death in 1963. This is the collection on which her reputation as one of the most original and gifted poets of the twentieth century rests.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ 1.5/5

Review: I’m aware i’m not well-versed in poetry, but i do keep trying. This, however, has been my most unsuccessful attempt yet. What the hell was this?

Plath is so revered as a writer and a poet, the reviews of this collection are flooded with four and five stars. I read The Bell Jar and i loved the prose, the writing style, the depth and emotion. But here, in these poems, i didn’t feel that. I didn’t feel… much of anything, to be honest.

I love the lyricism of poetry, the often ambiguous meaning but a more intense sentiment. I love that they can mean different things to different people, and even different things to the same person at different points in their life. I really enjoy music and lyrics for the same reason. Someone once pointed out to me that songs are poetry set to music, and i’d never considered that before, but i love it.

These poems, though, lacked any kind of lyricism to me. They didn’t flow, they didn’t convey emotional depth or meaning. I felt i needed some sort of key or cipher to translate and understand what i was reading–it read like gibberish! If anything, i felt confused and amused by most of it.

The other does that,
His hair long and plausive,
Bastard
Masturbating a glitter,
He wants to be loved.

…How the hell does one ‘masturbate a glitter’?

Three days. Three nights.
Lemon water, chicken
water, water make me retch

…Is it some kind of terrible cook book?

In eight great bounds, a great scapegoat.
Here is his slipper, here is another,
And here the square of white linen
He wore instead of a hat.
He was sweet

…Yeah, he sounds lovely?

I’m sure in some way, to someone, these poems make sense. The tens of thousands of positive reviews mean i must be one of the few people they don’t make sense to. Alas.

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The Road Through the Wall

Title: The Road Through the Wall

Author: Shirley Jackson

Summary: In Pepper Street, an attractive suburban neighbourhood filled with bullies and egotistical bigots, the feelings of the inhabitants are shallow and selfish: what can a neighbour do to triumph over another neighbour, what may be won from a friend? One child stands alone in her goodness: little Caroline Desmond, kind, sweet and gentle, and the pride of her family. But the malice and self-absorption of the people of Pepper Street lead to a terrible event that will destroy the community of which they are so proud.

Exposing the murderous cruelty of children, and the blindness and selfishness of adults, Shirley Jackson reveals the ugly truth behind a ‘perfect’ world.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: The first Jackson novel i have given less than four stars to. I’m not sure if i’m more disappointed in the book or myself.

It’s classic Jackson. She takes the suburban setting of Pepper Street with its various families, and simply following them in their daily routines shows them as slightly off. Exposing their idiosyncrasies and private relationships in subtle, slowly creepy ways. Children had budding malice, marriages had simmering hatred, families had rivalries and favourites, neighbours had polite distaste, and everyone had secrets.

I simply found, for my tastes, it wasn’t quite creepy enough. I think perhaps the book has not aged well; the concept of secrets and not all being as it seems beneath the surface of happy families is so common these days on TV and in film. The secrets and lies that have been explored and exposed in modern media has been so much more extreme, that Jackson’s attempt here just isn’t shocking.

The plot was minimal; it was much more of a character study with mini stories throughout. I liked this concept, but overall it didn’t leave me with the drive to keep reading. Long chapters with no arc or obvious advancement of the story didn’t help. Although i enjoyed reading when i did, i didn’t think about the book much when i wasn’t reading.

Talking of characters, there are a lot. Almost all were families, with all adults being referenced as “Mr X” or “Mrs Y”. I found it hard to keep track of most of them, relying on context to remember each character’s story and personality, rather than simply their names. It made for a hard slog, and often I’d be halfway through a particular section before realising who it was about and the full meaning of what was happening. There were only a handful of characters i remembered strongly enough by name alone, and for only this reason, they became my favourites. Though, with the nature of the book, i didn’t like any of the characters–and that’s a positive point as far as i’m concerned!

Although this is far from my favourite, it is so quintessentially Jackson. A slow-moving, quiet, unassumingly sinister tale. I would have just liked it to be a little more sinister.

The Invisible Man

timTitle: The Invisible Man

Author: H G Wells

Summary: There are good scientists and there are bad scientists, but Griffin is out on his own. A dazzling mind and a driving ambition have carried him to the very frontiers of modern science, and beyond into territory never before explored. For Griffin has pioneered a new field, the science of invisibility, and dedicated his life to the achievement of a single goal – that of becoming invisible himself.

With such a prize at stake, what sacrifice could be too great? What personal tie would not seem trivial; what ethical scruple not pale into insignificance? Through long, lonely days and nights Griffin has pursued his fantasy of invisibility, yet even as he attains his dream, his nightmare begins…

With undreamt power comes an unimaginable price: out of the ordinary, out of society, out of life – can an invisible man be a man at all?

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: I’ve read two books by Wells before–The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds–one i loved and one i hated. I was nervous about reading another, to say the least. It was my review of the latter where someone recommended The Invisible Man as another i might enjoy, so when i spotted it in a charity shop, i decided to give it a go.

Thankfully, i loved it!

The start had me hooked. Instead of meeting the scientist and discovering how he turns himself invisible, we meet Mrs Hall, the proprietor of an inn, who welcomes her newest lodger. He’s a strange fellow, but she’s friendly and accommodating. Discovering the invisible man along with the entire population of this small town was a delight and a much more interesting way of following the story.

At first i sympathised with the invisible man right alongside Mrs Hall; it was only once he’d had to flee the town and move on that i began to question his tactics and state of mind. By the time he’d stumbled upon Kemp, i was rooting for his downfall.

Talking of Kemp–i adored him; he’s second only to Mrs Hall. His grasp of the entire situation, how to handle it, and how he teased out the back story we were missing was wonderful to read. I feared the worst for him by the last couple of chapters, but i saw it through.

This is perfectly the kind of Wells i want to read more of. There is science, with fudged but sensical enough facts for it make sci-fi sense. But it’s more than just the science. It’s a good story, with interesting characters, well told. So well told! It being self-referencing and omniscient point of view made the reading casual and fun.

I’ve already taken the plunge and bought more Wells. For as disappointing as i found War of the Worlds, The Time Machine and The Invisible Man are brilliant and I wouldn’t hesitate to read more like them. Fingers crossed i pick the right ones!

High Rise

highriseTitle: High Rise

Author: J G Ballard

Summary: Within the concealing walls of an elegant forty-storey tower block, the affluent tenants are hell-bent on an orgy of destruction. Cocktail parties degenerate into marauding attacks on ‘enemy’ floors and the once-luxurious amenities become an arena for riots and technological mayhem.

In this visionary tale of urban disillusionment society slips into a violent reverse as the isolated inhabitants of the high-rise, driven by primal urges, create a dystopian world ruled by the laws of the jungle.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 2.5/5

Review: I moved this book to the top of my to read pile when i heard about the film, hoping to read the book first and get to see the film at the cinema. There were some delays in getting to the book, but even if the film was still showing, i’m not sure i’d want to bother.

The premise is fascinating. A self-contained society within one multistory block of flats descending into chaos. That’s the kind of story i want to get into the details of, to follow along with as things unravel. Except in this case, that didn’t really happen. The specifics and action surrounding the collapse of the society within the high rise are severely lacking. There are glimpses, but it’s mostly exposition after the fact. The focus is not on the action. Not on what is actually happening or why. The focus is actually one the three main characters. Really, the story is more of a psychological thriller. Instead of detailing the high rise’s decline into dystopia, it follows three men’s descent into varying types of madness.

Spoilers ahead. I can’t talk about how problematic this book is without them, i’m afraid…

There is Royal, the architect of the building, who lives on the top floor and sees himself as above–literally and figuratively–the rest of the residents. This causes him to draw away from his neighbours and isolate himself, instead forming (what he thinks is) a kinship with dogs and birds. There is Wilder, a television producer who lives on the lower floors and is at first keen to make a documentary about the high rise and its self-contained collapse. Over time he becomes obsessed with ascending the building, even abandoning his wife and children to accomplish the feat. There is Laing, a medical professor who lives in the middle of building and mostly just wants to keep to himself. Despite the madness around him, he manages this, pulling his sister in until she’s dependant on him.

The thing is… a story about the fragile egos of three men isn’t fascinating. I didn’t like any of them, honestly. By the end i assumed at least one of them would die, but I wanted all of them to. I just didn’t care about their plights, their mental health, their futures. I just didn’t care.

As male-centric as the bulk of the story is, the end was almost–almost–pretty awesome. While the men have been scrambling about the building, fighting, barricading, protecting… the women have been biding their time, working together and generally getting shit done. BUT, when the focus of the women’s power is centred around caring for children and keeping house i’m left feeling distinctly resentful. Honestly, that’s some pretty dated stereotyping, even for 1975.

Essentially, this was a brilliant idea poorly executed. I had a couple of other Ballard books on my to read list, but i’m seriously going to re-think them. I’m in no rush to read more of his work. I think i will give the film a go, when it comes out on DVD. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s actually better.

Slaughterhouse Five

S5Title: Slaughterhouse Five

Author: Kurt Vonnegut

Summary: Prisoner of war, optometrist, time-traveller – these are the life roles of Billy Pilgrim, hero of this miraculously moving, bitter and funny story of innocence faced with apocalypse. Slaughterhouse 5 is one of the world’s great anti-war books. Centring on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden in the Second World War, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we are afraid to know.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: This was my third Vonnegut novel, and while i’ve enjoyed them all, this was probably my least favourite of the three. Considering the amount of times i laughed out loud, was made to pause and think, and grab my pen to underline quotes… i did thoroughly enjoy this book.

The disjointed non-linear narrative follows the main character, Billy Pilgrim, in his disjointed non-linear leaps through time. We essentially experience the book as he experiences his life. Whether or not Billy really does jump around in time in time is never revealed, and i love the ambiguity in that. I can imagine it being real, but i can also imagine it being a mental health disorder, or something Billy made up for fun. I enjoy aspects of all the possibilities. The same goes for Billy’s belief that he was abducted by aliens.

His alien abduction, whether real, imagined or fabricated, is a key point in Billy’s life. He learns lessons and alters his perception of life due to the influence of the Tralfamadorians, and think it helps him embrace himself, his time travel and his life. He is so laid back about everything, and i appreciate that about him. So many dramatic things happen to him, but he makes none of them dramatic.

I’m thinking too much, now. About all those ambiguous possibilities. I’m putting things together and making them fit in all new ways. I so love books that allow me to do that. To play with the meaning for so long after i finish the book.

This isn’t a book that instantly leaves an impression on the reader, but one that stays with you. It’s crept into my subconscious and will stew there, as i ponder on it more and more. And i’m already changing my mind on this being the Vonnegut i’ve enjoyed the least. Come back to me in a month or two, and i’m sure i’ll have dozens of other things to say about this book. Right now, i’m still mentally digesting it.

The ideas this book has stirred will continue for a good long while, but the book itself is over. So it goes.

This is the eleventh book i’ve read from my Classics Club list.