books of 2011: mini-reviews

(nicked from my Twitterings, because I’m too knackered to do it properly)

Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes (@laurenbeukes): Brilliant. Compared favourably with Michael Marshall Smith (@ememess), I’d have to agree. Dark, gritty, deliciously original. Buy it. Thank me later.

The Fallen Blade, by Jon Courtenay Grimwood (@JonCG_novelist). Vampire assassins in Venice. Seriously, what more do you need to know? utterly brilliant.

 

Currently reading The Watchers, by Jon Steele, which has the tagline “Imagine the Bourne Identity rewritten by Neil Gaiman”. I’m *so* intrigued…

 

My top ten books

Inspired by World Book Day, I thought I’d pull together a list of my top ten favourite books[1]

So, in no particular order, I recommend:

1. Only Forward ~ Michael Marshall Smith

This was Mike’s debut novel, billed as a cross between Blade Runner and The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s neither, but an entirely original blend of smart-talking protagonist, weird & wonderful situations and locations, holding together a dark, funny, unforgettable story. This is the book I’m most likely to recommend to you on any given day.

2. The Stainless Steel Rat ~ Harry Harrison

My dad had a copy of this on his bookshelf at work, and I was drawn to it by the fabulous spaceship on the front. It’s a corking read which zips along without pausing for breath. The thing I love about old sci-fi books is that they’re short, skinny little paperbacks that you can get through in a couple of hours, but packed with excitement, adventure and really wild stuff. This is the story of Slippery Jim DiGriz, ace con-man, and titular Stainless Steel Rat, and his recruitment into the Special Corps, run by criminals to catch criminals. Who better to catch a thief than another thief? Brilliant. I’m not ashamed to say that Monty owes a lot of his heritage to the Rat.

3. Dune ~ Frank Herbert

Yes, it’s long, and yes the later books in the series do go on a bit, then turn utterly bonkers. But Dune is wonderful, deep and complex, laden with atmosphere.

4. The Kinky Friedman Crime Club ~ Kinky Friedman

A friend gave me a copy of this many years ago, and I was instantly hooked by the tales of Kinky Friedman, loft-dwelling, cigar-smoking, espresso-guzzling private dick for hire in NYC, with a great line in one-liners

5. Pashazade ~ Jon Courtenay Grimwood

The first of his ‘Arabesk’ trilogy, it’s a book I’ve read many times. Jon has a knack for finding a sentence or turn of phrase which is just *so* delicious and perfect that I find myself reading and re-reading sections, just to work out how the hell he did it. Masterful.

6. The Eyre Affair ~ Jasper Fforde

Ah, no list would be complete without Jasper. The adventures of Thursday Next, Jurisfiction Agent. The first book is literally stuffed to the gills with ideas which make your head spin. Superb.

7. Against a Dark Background ~ Iain M. Banks

A lot to choose from for Mr Banks, but this is my favourite. Dark, oh so dark, but a cracking good read. The Lazy Guns alone are worth the price of admission.

8. Pyramids: A Discworld Novel ~ Terry Pratchett

Again, lots to choose from. Pyramids is my favourite and most-read of my Pratchett collection. The opening scenes where young Pteppic joins the Assassin’s Guild are a joy to behold, and Arthur’s line

‘This is a No.2 throwing knife. I got ninety-six percent for throwing knives. Which eyeball don’t you need?’

cracks me up every time I read it. I went to get my copy of the book to check I’d quoted it correctly, and giggled when I read it.

9. Neverwhere ~ Neil Gaiman

I first read Neil’s ‘American Gods’, quite enjoyed it, but couldn’t quite see what all the fuss was about. Gaiman fans seemed to be *everywhere*, but on the basis of AG, I wasn’t entirely sure why. Then I read Neverwhere, and never looked back. Genius.

10. Un Lun Dun ~ China Miéville

…And if you’re having Neverwhere, you’ve got to have Un Lun Dun. Seriously, just go and buy it. It’s entirely different from China’s other stuff, but weird and wonderful and odd and inventive and just plain bloody marvellous. You can thank me later.

 

There are, naturally, some notable exceptions on there – The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, for one. But then I’d assume that if you were likely to read it, you’d have done so already.

Also there are other books by most of those authors which I’d also highly recommend. Jasper’s second book, Lost in a Good Book, is arguably better than the first, but I think you’re better off starting with The Eyre Affair. In LiaGB he realises that he’s got a readership who will quite happily trot after him down whatever crazy labyrinth of ideas he comes up with, and the story works a little better.

Iain M. Banks (and his alter-ego, Iain Banks) has his Culture Books, The Player of Games or Use of Weapons, and for his ‘mainstream’ books, The Crow Road is brilliant. The Crow Road starts with the line

It was the day my grandmother exploded.

Seriously, how can you not want to read on?

Michael Marshall Smith’s other books are great too – Spares is a very close second behind Only Forward in my book, and some of his short stories are utterly superb, very dark, scary, thought-provoking and funny. If you happen to come across a copy of his collected short stories, More Tomorrow & Other Stories, snap it up. It was only a short print run, but is a great collection. Failing that, go for What You Make It: Selected Short Stories, a shorter collection in paperback.

I could go on, but I think that’s quite enough for now.

 

So, dear reader. What are *your* favourite books? And what did happen to my copy of American Gods?

 

[1]This list is subject to change depending on various factors, including my current mood, what I’ve just read, how much coffee I’ve had and the phase of the moon.

books, books and yet more books

Reasons I love my Kindle: #34,208,930,243

Sample books.

Free samples of books. Clicky the (free) sample button and a free(!) sample gets automagically delivered to your kindle.

Well, to my kindle. Unless you’re doing the clickying, in which case it will most likely turn up on your kindle.

Currently lined up:

Oh, and a subscription to Asimov’s. Brilliant.

And Twittering with authors is fun too – having read and loved JC-G’s The Fallen Blade (review incoming), he recommended Lauren Beukes to me, and I recommended Michael Marshall Smith’s Spares to her.

And to you, if you’ve not read it.  Spares is bloody brilliant.

And also just finished Mike Shevdon’s (@shevdon) The Road to Bedlam (sequel to the brilliant Sixty-One Nails (Courts of the Feyre 1)  (Magda, if you’re reading this, it’s still in my desk. I *will* post it to you, soon!)

Phew. Been reading a lot since I got my Kindle.

So, dear reader. What have *you* been reading lately?

books, authors and writing

Currently reading (and enjoying) Iain M. Banks’ latest novel, Surface Detail. It’s a monster of a book, and if initial impressions hold true, Mr Banks is back on form. He has that enviable skill of turning out phrases so delicious that you have to pause and savour them, rolling them round in your mind to appreciate them fully.

A case in point is the opening line of The Crow Road, which is this:

It was the day my grandmother exploded.

Seriously, that’s got to be one of the best opening lines in a novel, ever. Who could not want to read on after that?

China Mieville and Jon Courtenay Grimwood are others who can do that to me. Though latterly Mr Grimwood has felt a little off his earlier form – his Arabesk Sequence is utterly superb and has a whole host of bits which I find myself re-reading and re-reading trying to work out exactly how he’s managed to distill a particular point down in such a way. There’s a bit in Pashazade (iirc) where the protagonist gets mugged (well, someone *tries* to mug him, at least), and it’s just beautifully written.

Then of course, there’s Michael Marshall Smith. One of my favourite authors – his Only Forward ranks way up on my Top Ten Books You Really Ought To Read list, followed closely by (or preceded by) the equally impressive Spares. Not quite so keen on his Michael Marshall books – they’re more ‘mainstream’ thrillers (for a given value of mainstream – still dark, gritty and well written, but not as groundbreaking or brilliant as his earlier, more sci-fi(ish) output).

His short stories are quite another thing, and utterly fabulous. ‘More Tomorrow…’ (of the short story collection of the same name) is utterly terrifying and has one of the most unpleasantly perfect last lines of a story, ever. Makes me shudder just thinking about it. The Man Who Drew Cats is superb, as is When God Lived in Kentish Town. Actually, they’re all great. If you can lay your hands on a copy of the rarer (only a thousand copies, signed and numbered), more complete collection of his short stories, ‘More Tomorrow and Other Stories’, I’d highly recommend it.

My Review of Hackers

Originally submitted at O’Reilly

Steven Levy’s classic book about the original hackers of the computer revolution is now available in a special 25th anniversary edition, with updated material from noteworthy hackers such as Bill Gates, Mark Zukerberg, Richard Stallman, and Steve Wozniak. Hackers traces the exploits o…

fascinating

By dakegra from wakefield, UK on 8/26/2010
5out of 5

Pros: Easy to understand, Well-written, Accurate

Best Uses: Everyone

Describe Yourself: Developer

Hackers is a fascinating history of the computer industry from the late 50’s through to the late 80s, covering the birth of the personal computer, the internet and the gaming industry.This is the 25th Anniversary Edition though, so has been updated with a ‘ten years later’ appendix covering the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, and with updates from Gates, Stallman and Woz looking back at what has changed over the last quarter-century.

It’s a great read, and if I had one criticism it’s the jump between the original ending of the book to the ‘ten years later’ piece, when the world wide web exploded into everyday use. That said, I lost myself for several hours in the history – it’s told in an amiable right-in-the-middle-of-things style which I found enormously enjoyable and interesting.

(legalese)

My Review of Getting Started with Processing

Originally submitted at O’Reilly

Learn computer programming the easy way with Processing, a simple language that lets you use code to create drawings, animation, and interactive graphics. Programming courses usually start with theory, but this book lets you jump right into creative and fun projects. It's ideal for anyone wh…

useful introduction to Processing

By dakegra from Wakefield, UK on 7/16/2010

 

5out of 5

Pros: Helpful examples, Concise, Easy to understand, Accurate, Well-written

Best Uses: Intermediate, Student, Novice

Describe Yourself: Developer

This is a short but useful intro to Processing – it starts with the very basics and through a great set of useful and well-illustrated examples takes the user up to a reasonable level of understanding.

It’s not an in-depth book, but as the title suggests, is a perfect ‘getting started’ companion to a first foray into Processsing. It also lightly covers the basics of programming – for loops, functions and so on, so could be a useful primer for someone new to programming.

I really enjoyed working through the book and trying out the examples – it’s left me with a keen interest to try out more things with Processing and apply it to my own projects.

Great fun. Perhaps not ideal for experienced coders, but ideal for beginners and those wanting the basics of Processing explained neatly and well.

(legalese)

books of 2009: Red Seas Under Red Skies

Red Seas Under Red Skies, by Scott Lynch

Second of the ‘Gentleman Bastard’ series, following up from the brilliant The Lies of Locke Lamora. My friend at work bought it and loaned it to me to read first (nice chap).

In Red Seas, Locke and Jean end up having various piratical adventures on the high seas. Generous dollops of treason, double-crossing, triple-crossing, sneaky high jinks, cunning escapes and thrilling cons. Reminded me of the Pirates of the Caribbean series in places. Huge amounts of fun trying to work out how on earth the author will manage to get our heroes out of this and that.

Republic of Thieves is out in March 2010, according to Amazon. Whatever you do, don’t read the Amazon page until you’ve read this book first! Major spoilers etc.

If you’ve read both, you might be interested to know that Scott has posted up the prologue to book #3 on his website…

http://www.scottlynch.us/excerpts.html

Is it next year yet? 🙂 I really want to re-read them both again, right now.

Added to amazon wishlist for future christmas pressies. 🙂