Books Magazine

May ‘23 Roundup

By Pechorin

This is arguably a little late coming out. Still, here we are.

May was a mixed month. One book carried over from April that I loved, a couple that I liked, then several I really didn’t connect with. Still, the one I loved was very good so overall it wasn’t too bad.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke

May ‘23 roundup

This was my April/May chunkster and it was an excellent one. It’s a fantasy novel set in an alternative early 19th Century (basically Austen but with faery). It is quite genuinely one of the most innovative fantasy novels in years. It expands the genre. Most fantasy fiction, good or not, is of interest only to existing fantasy fans. This I would recommend to those with no other interest – it’s a landmark. It’s also often very funny which helps the pages speed by.

Top tip, this is one to read in hardcopy rather than ebook or audiobook. The reason is it’s full of footnotes citing made up historical references or providing commentary. They’re where a lot of the humor lies and they just don’t work as well outside of print.

Grief is the Thing With Feathers, Max Porter

May ‘23 roundup

I read Ted Hughes’ Crow ahead of this. It’s a short novel where a family deal with grief following the loss of the wife and mother. A crow, perhaps real, more likely metaphoric, moves in and brings with it disorder and emotional chaos.

Lots of people absolutely love this. Unfortunately it wasn’t me and I don’t remember enough of it to really say much.

Men in Space, Tom McCarthy

May ‘23 roundup

Another I can’t really recall much of, save that I didn’t finish it. While I enjoyed his Remainder, it’s becoming clear to me that I’m not Tom McCarthy’s reader.

This one is a sort of shaggy dog tale set in Eastern Europe, but through a modernist lens. For me it needed a bit more propulsion, but in fairness that’s me wanting a book other than the one McCarthy set out to write.

Belt Three, John Ayliff

May ‘23 roundup

I needed a bit of light relief after Feathers and Space so read this short sf first novel by game designer John Ayliff. Earth and the rest of the inner solar system have been destroyed by self-replicating alien machines that are slowly moving outwards threatening the surviving remnants of humanity. Society has stratified into a large slave-clone population and their natural-born elite masters. One such clone, masquerading as his former master, falls in with a pirate obsessed with attacking the invaders.

It’s actually pretty good. There’s perhaps a few too many unlikely escapes from peril, but the setup was interesting and I liked the utter indifference of the enemy and the bleakness of the setting (the implication is very strongly that this isn’t targeted at us, it’s everywhere and only just now reached us).

Atlas of Remote Islands, Judith Schalansky

May ‘23 roundup

This is absolutely charming. It is literally an atlas of fifty remote islands. For each there’s a diagram, a timeline of events in the island’s history, and a bit of evocative text. Many of the islands are uninhabited. It’s an exercise of imaginary travel and there’s something very likeable about it.

John Self wrote a review of this back in the day here. He rightly pulls out the understated theme of climate change and environmental damage that runs through the text, perhaps unavoidably so. Even with that it remains quite charming and it is beautifully produced. Highly recommended.

One Day all this Will Be Yours, Adrian Tchaikovsky

May ‘23 roundup

I thought I’d end the month with ever-reliable and ever-inventive sf author Adrian Tchaikovsky. Well, I say ever-reliable but while this was inventive I didn’t much like it so he’s now demoted to mostly-reliable Adrian Tchaikovsky…

Our hero is a survivor of the time war living in a sort of no-when because we broke the timeline. That’s fine and quite fun. Then he discovers that time isn’t as ended as he thinks and finds himself in a very personal war against a woman that travel to the future shows he will fall in love with. He’s no intention of letting that happen.

It’s actually a pretty good set up and in fairness looking at Amazon I’m about the only person who doesn’t like this. I just found the wisecracking tone a bit smug and samey (but then it is essentially an sf rom-com). Otherwise though 1,361 ratings on Amazon as at the time of writing and almost all of the very few negative ones are just complaining about the price rather than the book itself so I’m very clearly an outlier here.

And that’s it! I’ll try to get June and July up before the end of August, but I make no promises…

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