The Galaxy, and the Ground Within

Title: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within

Author: Becky Chambers

Summary: When a freak technological failure halts traffic to and from the planet Gora, three strangers are thrown together unexpectedly, with seemingly nothing to do but wait.

Pei is a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, torn between her duty to her people, and her duty to herself.

Roveg is an exiled artist, with a deeply urgent, and longed for, family appointment to keep.

Speaker has never been far from her twin but now must endure the unendurable: separation.

Under the care of Ouloo, an enterprising alien, and Tupo, her occasionally helpful child, the trio are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they might be to one another.

Together they will discover that even in the vastness of space, they’re not alone.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I was automatically approved for a review copy of this book by NetGalley, and despite the utter hassle getting an epub onto my nook has become these days, for the fourth (and final) book in the Wayfarers series I would have endured worse. With the previous book being a slight disappointment for me compared to the first two, I approached this one with a little more caution. I needn’t have. It is absolutely bloody fantastic.

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within feels like it brings together elements from all three of the previous books. The adventures of space similar to Angry Planet, the limited number of main characters akin to Common Orbit, and the feeling of isolation from a Spaceborn Few. It takes those elements and makes something wholly new and wonderful.

All five of the main characters are loveable, another common trait for this series of books. Roveg was my standout favourite, though. For someone with a literal hard shell, he was so soft at heart. Similarly, Ouloo, the host of where this group are stranded for several long days, only wants everyone to be happy and does everything she can to make that happen. Pei and Speaker were fascinating, both individually, but especially together; their tentative relationship and the juxtaposition of both their species’ histories. Tupo is the glue holding all the other characters together, simultaneously a moody teenager and a ball of curious energy, xe was definitely my second favourite character.

With an unforeseen hiatus from their travels and stuck for several days on a pit-stop planet with nowhere to go, every single character goes on a journey regardless. They learn from each other, about each other, and give each other advice. There is a blast of action at the start of the book, and some tense action at the end. The middle is a quiet and meaningful meander from one to the other. The characters gradually give up more of themselves and their stories as they get to know one another, and on the whole it was just so peaceful.

Of course, there is the amazing world building that Chambers writes so well. Details and information dotted and sprinkled throughout, always adding depth and interest to the characters; the various species, cultures, and social norms; as well as to the story as a whole. The book touches on important topics as commonplace as dietary requirements, accessibility, and language, to equally important but more philosophical topics such as the concept of home, the merits of war, and the erasure of an entire species.

This book is just… so… lovely. It left me with a feeling of such warmth. A group of such diverse folk in a difficult situation, all making the best of it, being nice and considerate to each other. What does it say about the real world (or perhaps my perceptions of it), that a book about people simply being kind to each other affected me so much?

They say that sometimes a book finds you exactly when you need it. I think for me this was one of those books at one of those times. I didn’t want this book to end. I felt safe while I was reading it, and dragged it out far longer than I needed to. But I just absolutely adored this book. I’m sad to see this series end, but look forward to revisiting it again in the future.

The Wheel of Osheim

Title: The Wheel of Osheim

Author: Mark Lawrence

Summary: All the horrors of Hell stand between Snorri Ver Snagason and the rescue of his family, if indeed the dead can be rescued.

For Jalan Kendeth, getting out alive and with Loki’s key is all that matters. The key can open any lock an possession of it may enable Jal to return to the three Ws that have been the core of his debauched life: wine, women and wagering.

But the Wheel of Osheim is turning ever faster, and it will crack the world unless it’s stopped. When the end of all things looms, and there’s nowhere to run, even the worst coward must find new answers.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: From my review of the previous book in this series, The Liar’s Key:

“[I’m] very keen to read the last in The Red Queen’s War series. I hope Jal continues to acknowledge his own skills, courage, and caring. I hope he and Snorri get into some wonderfully dangerous adventures. I hope he kills Edris Dean with his own goddamn sword. I hope he just generally saves the fucking day, honestly.”

Let me tell you… I was not disappointed.

Jalan is just… one of my favourite characters ever, actually. His self-deception is like nothing I’ve ever seen. He’s convinced himself he’s a coward who’d give up his nearest and dearest to save his own skin, while continuing to never, ever do that, and he’s just so likeable for it. Seeing him really, truly come into his own and show people what he’s capable of (even if he’s not one of those people) was satisfying to see. And Snorri… the big, beautiful, bozo that is Snorri. Continuing to see and believe only the best in Jal, being so righteous and noble and good, and just having the biggest heart and the loudest roar.

The friendship between Jal and Snorri really shines in this book, after seeing them bond over so many adventures in the previous books. And the fact that they’re not together for a portion of the book only made me appreciate their interactions and how they work together all the more. It also was wonderful having some of Snorri’s story when he was alone, and getting to see what Snorri really thinks of Jal and no i did not tear up with happiness about it, shut up.

Unfortunately Kara and Hennan still feeling too much like tacked on extras and plot devices, rather than fully realised characters. Kara still comes across as very suspicious and not wholly likable, which disappointed me. Hennan is too quiet and not utilised in enough (or in any?) ways until he proves useful towards the climax of the book (see: plot device). It was nice getting to appreciate more characters that had been painted as worthless or horrible by Jal, most notably the genuine connection Jal finally recognises and acknowledges with his father and brothers. The Red Queen continues to be a kick arse and formidable woman, along with her twin siblings. I loved Jal letting his mouth run, standing up to her and instead of giving her the key, giving her what for! The sudden respect that earns him from her, and how that leads and affects the rest of the story is brilliant.

Talking of the story… it is non-stop. What Liar’s Key lacked in a plot to keep the book moving, this book improved on tenfold. There is never a dull moment… almost to the point of wanting a dull moment. Almost. It was unnerving at first, Jal reappearing from Hell without Snorri and no explanation. I was worried about Snorri until his magnificent reappearance that literally had me whooping. There was just no let up… Jal’s meeting with Jorg, his rescue of Lisa, how he conclusively dealt with Maeres Allus, how he earned everyone’s respect by being a freaking incredible general (after convincing himself he’d done a half-arsed job of it up until they were attacked)… just. So much. And that’s only in the first half.

There was a lot packed into this book, and even though I knew there would be confrontations for Jal with Edris Dean and his Unborn sister… when they came they surprised me. With so much going on I stopped thinking about what might happen and just needed to keep reading to actually find out. I was a bit ‘meh’ on the ending of Lawrence’s first series The Broken Empire, but this one was brilliant. It was satisfying with enough possibility to keep me guessing. It had relief without compromising on emotion and genuinely high stakes. It was pretty perfect.

Other than the witty, clever, and endlessly quotable writing, the genre of these book is my absolute favourite thing about them. It’s a perfect science fiction and fantasy meld. I love it. Set a thousand years after a nuclear war that happens in our conceivable future, it hints at a history and technology the characters don’t fully understand. I had so much fun trying to figure out what Jal was describing, because they don’t have a clue. A white cube with “ghosts” inside. The builder’s wheel that’s been turning all this time and bringing magic into the world. And my personal favourite… a freaking iron pineapple!! This is such a good, niche genre, and I want 100 more books written in this vein immediately.

I read this book in a week which, along with Prince of Thorns, is the quickest I’ve read any of the books in either series. I could barely stop reading it, and when I did I was only thinking about reading it. It’s incredible how everything ties up with The Broken Empire series and I really want to re-read both series with the insight I now have. Of course, who has time for that when I need to be getting on with the next series?

The Liar’s Key

Title: The Liar’s Key

Author: Mark Lawrence

Summary: The Red Queen has set her players on the board…

Winter is keeping Prince Jalan Kendeth far from the luxuries of his southern palace. And although the North may be home to his companion, the warrior Snorri ver Snagason, he is just as eager to leave.

For the Viking is ready to challenge all of Hel to bring his wife and children back into the living world. He has Loki’s key – now all he needs is to find the door.

As all wait for the ice to unlock its jaws, the Dead King plots to claim what was so nearly his – the key into the world – so that the dead can rise and rule.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: I read and loved Prince of Fools last year, and I was determined to read this series quicker than I managed to read The Broken Empire series. Which is why The Liar’s Key was the first book i picked up this year. Lawrence’s writing is always clever and an effortless mix of humour and heart. This book was no different.

Our main character, Jalan, was just as much a delightful prick as he was in the first book. Self-declared squeamish coward, but with so much self-deceit he almost has no idea who he really is. He continues to do brave and noble things, while convincing himself he’s selfishly just trying to make his own life easier. I kind of adore him. Snorri is… still very much Snorri. Self-assured, headstrong, and… the regular kind of strong. Dragging his friends across Europe on a dangerous quest to open the door to Hel and find his dead family. Tuttugu i didn’t remember clearly from the first book, but i adored in this book. A kind, soft heart following his countryman and friend into dangerous situations because it’s the right thing to do.

We also get a couple of new characters. Kara, a witch who joins their journey and helps them along the way, but who clearly has something to hide. I loved having a main female character join the group, and i loved her immunity to Jal’s “charms” and advances. Her secrets and unclear motivations were intriguing, but also made me wary of her. Hennan, a young boy they pick up almost randomly and pointlessly along the way… for a long time he was a bit part, barely speaking and adding nothing to the plot. But he grew on me by the end.

Now, this book took me the entirety of January to read. That’s not usual. Most other of Lawrence’s books i’ve finished in 2-3 weeks. But this one… this one took a while to really get going for me. The first half… nothing really happens. Nothing of larger consequence, anyway. It’s a meander. A travel blog. They get into some hairy situations, meet a few folk along the way… but there is nothing significant driving the plot. Only Snorri’s desire to use the key to open the door to Hel and find his family… which isn’t shared by our main character… or any other character. This led to there not being much drive for me to pick up the book to keep reading. I still read regularly, but I didn’t read much each time–only one chapter or less.

I really enjoyed Jal’s dream-jaunts into his family’s past. Seeing his grandmother, the Red Queen, as a young girl so ruthless and ready for action. His great aunt and uncle by their sister’s side, the three of them an almost unstoppable force, even at such a young age. Those snippets gave Jal and the reader so much more information about the war being fought, the motivations, and actions, and just how long the game has been in play.

It wasn’t until about halfway through that things really seemed to pick up some. When their journey brought them to Red March, and Jal saw his home town as the end of his travels. Of course, as the reader, it was obviously anything but. But seeing him trying to slip back into his old life, while finding nothing quite the same as it was and not deriving the same pleasures from it… that was brilliant to watch unfold. The story culminates in Florence, and the last 200 pages were where this book really shone for me–I couldn’t read those last 10 chapters quick enough!

As much as a lot of this book seemed too slow and meandering, it ended on such a high, with a great final showdown of wits and smarts and conversation. It has me very keen to read the last in The Red Queen’s War series. I hope Jal continues to acknowledge his own skills, courage, and caring. I hope he and Snorri get into some wonderfully dangerous adventures. I hope he kills Edris Dean with his own goddamn sword. I hope he just generally saves the fucking day, honestly.

Banthology: Stories From Unwanted Nations

Title: Banthology: Stories From Unwanted Nations

Author: Various

Summary: In January 2017, President Trump signed an executive order banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen – from entering the United States, effectively slamming the door on refugees seeking safety and tearing families apart. Mass protests followed, and although the order has since been blocked, amended and challenged by judges, it still stands as one of the most discriminatory laws to be passed in the US in modern times.

Banthology brings together specially commissioned stories from the original seven ‘banned nations’. Covering a range of approaches – from satire, to allegory, to literary realism – it explores the emotional and personal impact of all restrictions on movement, and offers a platform to voices the White House would rather remained silent.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: Comma Press are probably my favourite publisher. They focus on short stories and delve into genres not commonly published, such as weird, translated, and activist subjects. They also cover science fiction, crime, and horror. Plus they have a few great book series including Refugee Tales and Reading the City. They’re a little niche, but it’s such a me niche, and the quality of the writing they publish is superb. Not to mention their gorgeous cover designs.

So yeah, i love Comma Press and own a small pile of books they’ve published. Surprisingly this is only the third i’ve read. (So many books, so little time!). Unsurprisingly, i loved it.

This book was created in response to the travel ban put in place in America, with authors from the countries included in the ban writing to “explore themes of exile, travel, and restrictions on movement.” I thought this was a brilliant idea, and with only seven stories (one from each country included in the ban), the book isn’t an intimidating read.

All the stories are wonderful. Not all are happy–in fact it could be argued that none of them are happy–but they are all so wonderfully told. I’m thinking about which ones i enjoyed the most, but i genuinely can’t pick a favourite. The few that stood out the most for me were Jujube, The Beginner’s Guide to Smuggling, and Storyteller. These were all about people looking to move and settle in other countries, but each story was unique in its approach to the character, the history, and the outcome. The other two stories that stood out for their much more unusual and less straightforward approach were Return Ticket (about a cosmic anomaly village called Schrödinger) and The Slow Man (about a conflict between the Egyptians and the Babylonians that changes the course of history).

Though these were stories, authors, and subjects outside of my usual reading matter, I really loved this book. It is a short, but worthwhile read and I would encourage anyone to pick it up and give it a go. Finishing it led me to the Comma Press website once again, and in an unsurprising turn of events i have added several more of their books to my “to buy” list. Oops?

Prince of Fools

Title: Prince of Fools

Author: Mark Lawrence

Summary: I’m a liar and a cheat and a coward, but I will never, ever, let a friend down. Unless of course not letting them down requires honesty, fair play or bravery.

The Red Queen is dreaded by the kings of the Broken Empire as they dread no other.

Her grandson Jalan Kendreth–womaniser, gambler and all-out cad–is tenth in line to the thrown. While his grandmother shapes the destiny of millions, Prince Jalan pursues his debauched pleasures.

Until, that is, he gets entangled with Snorri ver Snagason, a huge Norse axeman, and dragged against his will to the icy north…

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: After loving Lawrence’s first series set in The Broken Empire, of course i was going to read the second. I’m just surprised it took me so long.

I just really love this setting. This is a fantasy story, with necromancers, magic, and horse riding… but it’s set in a Europe that’s 1000 years post a nuclear war. There’s a trusty map at the start of the book, but the shapes and names are recognisable and familiar. I get so much more into the world of this book, knowing it’s this world–or at least, what this would could become. It has fantasy themes and tropes, but when they are set in a foundation of speculative science (pseudo as it is), it excites and interests me infinitely more that straight fantasy.

Almost immediately i was reminded just how brilliant Lawrence’s writing is. It reads as if it was effortlessly written (though was no doubt anything but), with quick wit and turns of phrase dropped is so smoothly it might slip past without you noticing. But i loved to notice. At least once in every page or two was a sentence or a paragraph that stood out as just damn good writing. I underlined and posted to tumblr so many quotes. Also had to stop and read several out to my partner, who didn’t really care but indulged me anyway.

So okay, the characters. There are two main characters: Jalan and Snorri. I adored them both. Snorri the affable and imposing Norseman, making friends just as easily as he breaks bones. He’s both the more serious and the more light-hearted of the two. And Jal, our anti-hero of sorts. I found him fascinating. A self-proclaimed coward and damn proud of it. He gets himself into the stickiest of situations but always finds a way to slip himself right out of them. He constantly tells himself he needs to find a way to get out of the mission he finds himself on, to get home to his creature comforts, but never seems to try very hard at all. He’s an excellent liar, and the most successful of his lies is convincing himself he’s a coward.

“I’m a good liar. A great one. And to be a great liar you have to live your lies, to believe them, to the point that when you tell them to yourself enough times even what’s right before your eyes will bend itself to the falsehood.”

The plot itself is simple enough. A journey across land and across sea, with a few highs, lows, and adventures along the way. The more important journeys are the personal ones, the ones that see the characters develop and bond and bloom. Considering the scope of this world and aspects of the plot, this is very much a character-driven story. And i’m totally on board with that.

There is are a couple of chapters that have a direct overlap with The Broken Empire series. These books are set at the same time, and here we meet Jorg and his brothers returning home to Ancrath. As much as i loved seeing these characters again–and from a completely new point of view–it seemed to drag a little. Jal and Snorri’s stop over in Ancrath felt a little too contrived, just so the crossover could happen. In the end it added little to either timeline, and i’d’ve much preferred a fleeting and memorable encounter with the Brothers on the road.

But yes, love. I loved it. I want to start the second book in the series immediately, but i’m going to hold off for a few books. Long enough to build some excitement and suspense, but not so long that i’ve forgotten all the details. I would really love more people to read these books, but i fear not enough people enjoy fantasy, or would enjoy this fantasy for the same reasons i do. Alas, i will love them all to myself.

Internal Wilderness

Title: Internal Wilderness

Author: Claire Scully

Summary: A journal of a sequence of events occurring over a period of time and location in space.

Based in London, freelance illustrator Claire Scully works in pen, ink and digital with a heavy focus on drawing. Her work explores a variety of themes including the relationship between ‘man’ and his environment. Internal Wilderness is part of an ongoing project looking at ‘landscape and memory’ – our relationship with the environment, effects we have on the world and space around us and in turn it’s profound affect on our own memory and emotions.

Each of these landscapes is a starting point to a much bigger adventure that strives to answer the question of what lays beyond the horizon. Within the space on each sheet of paper a world can be created either from a distant memory of a childhood holiday or from the desire to see parts of the world that for now are only dreamed about.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: With no words, this little book was a quick, but wonderful read. Each page shows a landscape: mountains, fields, lakes, forests… Each page is its own little escape. They are all set at night, with a full moon featuring in almost all of them. The light from the moon reflects back on the sea, on steams, on cloud cover and mist. The colour palette is black, white, and shades of blue. It’s all gorgeous.

I spent long minutes looking at these pages, taking in the art and the detail, but also letting go. I wondered if these were real places–real views. I let myself believe there was a corresponding spot on the earth somewhere where i could stand to see these images in real life. I also thought about places i have been where i’ve seen similar views, and the feelings i experienced there. The knowledge that the world is so vast, while i’m so small. How minute my own worries were in the face of that.

This book took me away for the time i was reading it, and the places it took me were lovely. It’s a book i’ll pick up again, when i need to escape, but can’t go anywhere.

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The Girl in the Road

26200137Title: The Girl in the Road

Author: Monica Byrne

Summary: One day Meena gets out of her bed covered in blood, with mysterious snakebites on her chest. Someone is after her – and she must flee India at once. As she plots her escape she learns of The Trail, an energy-harvesting bridge across the Arabian sea. It has become a refuge for itinerant dreamers and loners on the run. Now it will become Meena’s salvation.

With a knapsack full of supplies, Meena sets off across the bridge to Ethiopia, the place of her birth. But as she runs away from the threat of violence, she is also running towards a shocking revelation about her past.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: ‘Weird’ and ‘What’ were the two words i thought when i’d finished reading this book. And currently one of the most positive things i can say about it is that it still has me thinking. There are plenty of things to ponder on, in hindsight, if you choose to.

On the face of it, this book is about two women, each on a journey. Alone, their stories were somewhat interesting, but not interesting enough. It was clear to me from the start that their lives would overlap at some point and i spent most of the book waiting for it. Meena, with her strong will, fierce independence and sexual freedom, i liked a lot at first. Then she started showing how shallow, selfish and reckless she was and i didn’t care any more. Mariama intrigued me enough all the way though, and the fact that she had a set of supporting characters that were not simply memories helped her story a lot.

Set in the foreseeable future, the science fiction aspect of the book was subtle, believable and very interesting. It was also simply a setting for the narrative; the advanced technology plays no intrinsic role to the plot (other than that of The Trail, which still is a setting and could easily be switched out without affecting the core elements of the story). I both loved and regretted that the science fiction wasn’t a larger part of the book. Loved, because it allowed the focus to fall on the characters while allowing the narrative as a whole to be more than contemporary. Regretted, because it was interesting and i would have loved to see more of this world.

I found the first 200 pages really hard to get through. I felt no drive in the story; there was nothing intriguing enough for me to want to pick up the book and keep reading. The book starts out strong, throwing the reader into the lives of these women immediately after something terrible has happened to each of them and we’re left trying to keep up. But after the initial chapter or two the time in both narratives, though particularly in Meena’s, moves very slowly. Days and week stretch out, and we see them make slow, slow progress on their journeys.

It’s only at the last 100 pages where both the plot and the pace pick up. By this time there were overlapping elements in both narratives, but how, exactly, the two women were linked was saved until the last few chapters. The questions the revelation brings are numerous, and the role these women play in each others’ lives and the magnitude of that is only given the last 10 pages or so. It’s a shame in some ways, but an excellent place to finish for others.

Or, it would have been an excellent place to finish, were it not for the epilogue. I’m generally not a fan of epilogues–of dragging a book out and wrapping it up too thoroughly–and this epilogue wasn’t even the worst. It was open ended, it left the reader with something to think about. The thing is, the book does that well enough without the epilogue! There are plenty of elements to think about and pull together, without throwing in another one in the epilogue. I think the book, as a whole, is stronger without that extra intrigue; it feels a little self indulgent of the author (as most epilogues do).

The details and symbolic parallels between the two women’s lives are scattered throughout the book, and it is this aspect that i am mostly still pondering on. Some details are small, seemingly insignificant things like names and brands. Other are larger and more important concepts and themes. These are the really intriguing parts of the book for me.

It’s a shame that the first two thirds of the book wasn’t independently stronger–it hinges so much on the revelation at the end of the book. I suspect the best way to enjoy it and get the most from it would be on a re-read. Unfortunately, it was such a slog to get through it the first time, that i’m disinclined to read it again.

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The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

22740972Title: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

Author: Becky Chambers

Summary: Somewhere within our crowded sky, a crew of wormhole builders hops from planet to planet, on their way to the job of a lifetime. To the galaxy at large, humanity is a minor species, and one patched-up construction vessel is a mere speck on the starchart. This is an everyday sort of ship, just trying to get from here to there.

But all voyages leave their mark, and even the most ordinary of people have stories worth telling. A young Martian woman, hoping the vastness of space will put some distance between herself and the life she‘s left behind. An alien pilot, navigating life without her own kind. A pacifist captain, awaiting the return of a loved one at war.

Set against a backdrop of curious cultures and distant worlds, this episodic tale weaves together the adventures of nine eclectic characters, each on a journey of their own.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: This book, my stars, this book. I received a review copy from NetGalley, but took so long to start reading it. I regret that with every fibre of my being. This books is all sorts of amazing. I didn’t want it to finish, and i dragged my heels reading it so i could make it last as long as possible. I honestly only have good things to say, and that fact surprises no one more than me.

First of all, the world building, or, more accurately, the universe building. It’s so rich, so alive and so effortlessly portrayed. It’s not overly explained to the reader in blocks of uninspiring exposition, but rather sprinkled throughout, in different and interesting ways–it’s more part of the essence of the book and the writing style. It made it such a wonderful reading experience, feeling immersed into the world. Everything from the wider concepts of the Galactic Commons, the different species and their history and cultures down to the small details of a wide variety of food stuffs and the intergalactic postal system–all of it is so obviously well thought out and perfectly brought to life.

How massively inclusive and representative this book is blows my mind a little. I was trying to list the awesome subjects this book addresses, either simply by representing them, or by touching on and exploring them, to my partner and i couldn’t get them all. For the rest of the night i kept remembering more and simply crying out, “Cloning!” “Polyamorous relationships!” and, “Gender neutral pronouns!” at random moments. Every new diverse theme broached made my grin a little wider and my heart a little bigger.

The book reads like a mini series, with each chapter containing enough plot, topics and character development to fill a short story or television episode. This gave my reading experience much more depth, like i was really living with these characters for a time, rather than visiting with them for a single narrative. Each and every character learnt, grew and changed over the course of the book, and were so well-rounded for it.

Talking of characters, i loved them all. That’s such a rare thing for me to say, but it is entirely true. Some i loved instantly, some grew on me over time, but all of them were so unique, so vibrant, so perfectly imperfect. I’m not the biggest fan of character-driven stories, but this book walks the line between character- and plot-driven, and with characters as wonderful, diverse and real as these, it was a delight to have them driving half the book.

I read somewhere that this book is like a cross between Firefly and Star Trek, and while i see where that comparison is coming from, i don’t think that’s quite fair to any of those three fine and wonderful fictional worlds. Yes, if you look for it, you can see similarities to the rogue and friendly crew of Firefly as well as the varied races and ethical explorers of Star Trek. But if you’re looking for that, you miss what only The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet has.

There is a companion book set in the same universe coming out later this year, and I must have it. I can’t get enough of this book and these worlds and these characters and their adventures. I pretty much wanted to be reading this book forever.

The Paper Men

tpmTitle: The Paper Men

Author: William Golding

Summary: Fame, success, fortune; a drink problem slipping over the borderline into alcoholism, a dead marriage, the incurable itches of middle-aged lust. For Wilfred Barclay, novelist, the final, unbearable irritation is Professor Rick L. Tucker, implacable in his determination to become The Barclay Man.

Locked in a lethal relationship they stumble half-blindly across Europe, shedding wives, self-respect, illusions. They confront terrifying abysses – physical, emotional, spiritual – continually change roles, change themselves, change the worlds about them. The climax, when it comes, is as inevitable as it is unexpected.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4.5/5

Review: Golding is an author who’s work i am making my way through at a sedate pace. I haven’t loved every book i’ve read so far, but i have liked, appreciated and admired them all. He’s an author who doesn’t stick to the same genre, format or message. Each of his books is unique, and i love that. The Paper Men was, gladly, another score for the ‘love’ list.

I was apprehensive at first, as i had read some pretty damning reviews. The only thing those bad reviews liked was the ending; they adored the last line. Unfortunately, as i am wont to do, i had already flipped to the last page and read the last line. So i knew going in exactly how this book ended. (Therefore it was not at all as unexpected as the synopsis claimed–they never take into account people skipping ahead!) But screw all the bad reviews–this book was brilliant!

There is humour–oh, so much humour, i laughed loud and often. There is meaningfulness, introspection, commentary. How people can gloss over or miss that and complain that not enough happened makes their taste and intelligence poor, if i’m being honest in my own opinion.

I adored Wilf. I’m not sure i was supposed to, but there we have it. He isn’t perfect, by any means, but he is unapologetically himself, and hurts almost no one but himself. Almost, except those closest to him (though whether he is close to them is debatable), and of course Rick L. Tucker. Wilf travels the world on no whim but his own, drinking, sleeping and writing. He makes no demands on people, letting the wind take him wherever it decides to blow. Rick L. Tucker, on the other hand, goes exactly where Wilf does. His obsessive, stalker, relentless behaviour really, really bothered me. He just wouldn’t give up chasing Wilf around, trying to convince him to let him be his official biographer. How many times can Wilf say, “No,” and disappear to another country before Rick gets the message? Never enough, apparently. Sorry, but harassment is not an endearing quality, and for all Wilf’s faults, i’ll take him over Tucker any day.

That covers the plot, really. The rest of the interest of the book is more Wilf’s mind and thoughts, so i supposed having a soft spot for Wilf makes me more inclined to enjoy his words and the book itself. He is very much a writer, often comparing the world to how things would be done in one of his novels, and offering insight into the mind of a writer. He tos and fros between thought processes, opinions on himself, and choices and reasons. He’s an intellectual and literary man, and he’s also one of the most unreliable narrators i have ever read. His words were a joy, his drinking problem worrisome but occasionally controlled, his paranoia palpable but relatively harmless. He was, ultimately, fascinating.

There is, really, only one point of criticism i have of The Paper Men. As much as i loved reading it when i was reading, when i wasn’t reading, i had no drive to get back to it. I didn’t think about the book when i wasn’t reading it. When i picked it up again i often had to re-read the last paragraph of the previous chapter to remind myself of the exact circumstances it had left of on. And while this didn’t impede my enjoyment of the book when i was reading it, i did miss that burn–that desire to still be reading and to know what happens. I missed it enough to be distinctly aware that it wasn’t there.

But still, the book itself, regardless of my emotions towards it when i put it down, is thoroughly enjoyable, insightful and such a hoot. I loved some sections so much that when i did have a pencil to mark passages i… i used a pen! And i don’t regret a single inked line.

This knocks one square off my Bookish Bingo: Published in my birth year.

Off the Map

otmgallery1Title: Off the Map.

Author: Hib & Kika

Summary: This is what it means to be an adventurer in our day: to give up creature comforts of the mind, to realise possibilities of imagination. Because everything around us says no you cannot do this, you cannot live without that, nothing is useful unless it’s service to money, to gain, to stability.
The adventurer gives in to tides of chaos, trusts the world to support her—and in doing so turns her back on the fear and obedience she has been taught. She rejects the indoctrination of impossibility.
My adventure is a struggle for freedom.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: This is a book about travelling, about adventure and about an alternative way of seeing and doing things. I loved this book. I love that this book exists, and would encourage any and everyone to read it.

Most people travel on planes and stay in hotels. A budget traveller may travel by train and stay in hostels, but I know from experience that there are some people who can’t even afford to ‘budget’ travel. It was refreshing to see the budgetless travel not only represented, but also loved, chosen and enjoyed.

This is the story of Hib and Kika, who buy a one-way plane ticket from San Francisco to Europe, and spend long months hitchhiking, sleeping rough, living out of backpacks and relying on the kindness of strangers. And there are still people in the world who will offer all the help they can to people who need it.

…you get what you pay for. Pay a lot and you get an expensive life. Take what’s free and you get freedom.

I could pretty much quote 80% of this book. I loved reading views and opinions about the world, and ways to live in it that i could appreciate and share. To read about people who see the world in a similar way to me was a joy. I might not agree with everything Hib and Kika expressed, but the fact that they don’t take the world as it is given to them—that they see and think for themselves—was what i most strongly agreed with.

The book is by no means perfect. The chapters are told from either Heb or Kika’s point of view, but i was never able to tell which until whoever was narrating mentioned the other. That could get rather confusing.

Also, for my tastes, it was at times written a little to poetically; too dreamy. I love to daydream, but i think Heb and Kika’s daydreams were not quite my style. They involved too much a feeling of helplessness and overly feminine tones, such as mermaids, witches and pretty flowing dresses… For two punk girls in dirty overalls, i didn’t like the juxtaposition, personally. As if their real dreams involved being meaninglessly beautiful. Rubbed me the wrong way.

The book is not written as a typical story; it’s not a straightforward account of their travels. Instead it more like snippets and stories of their travels. Time and space skips in large chunks, without pause, and you just have to keep up. I liked it like that. Instead of weaving an intricate narrative, they present you with 30 small ones. It’s a book that you could flip through to read any random chapter and you wouldn’t be thrown into the middle of a story you wouldn’t understand—each chapter is its own story.

My favourite of these 30 small stories was Street Rat Dreamers. I’ll leave you with a snippet.

…off the map and beyond the boarders there are other formulas. Abandoned house – permission = free shelter and adventure. Rain + covered doorway = gratitude. Soon it’s obvious that what you thought was flat actually has an underside, an edge, a core. That the mirrors you grew up with are as warped as the ones in the funhouse, and there’s no going back to them. There’s either giving up, or going on. One way cynicism, the other, dreams.