Saturday, 29 July 2017

Review: A Closed and Common Orbit

A Closed and Common Orbit A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having loved The long way to a small, angry planet, I was reluctant to read this "sequel" - though it directly follows the events of the first book, it concentrates on different characters - because I was worried it wouldn't be as good and, therefore, spoil the memory of the first. I needn't have worried.

It doesn't quite have the same magic of The long way, but nothing does the second time around. I still thought it was a well put together novel with good characters. Yes, you could accuse it - just as you could The long way - of being sentimental. Both have the core theme, after all, that family comes in all shapes and forms and is about who you connect to rather than you who you are genetically related to. But, it's no bad thing to focus on what life could be like if we just tried - particularly given the awful things that have been going on in the world of late.

There's apparently a third Wayfarers novel in the work and, this time, there'll be no reluctance on my part. I will be reading it as soon as it is published.

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Thursday, 13 July 2017

Review: The Day of the Triffids

The Day of the Triffids The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A disturbing view of what humans become should society break down - basically, they do whatever is needed to survive. I think what Wyndham does really well is not to be too judgmental about how people try to carry on after a catastrophe, weighing up the pros and cons of every approach.

Given that it's written in the 1950s, I expected the book to be a bit sexist (men in charge, rescuing women etc) but I was surprised at how well-rounded and competent the main female characters were portrayed to be. There's even a great speech, from a man obviously, about the need for women to step up to the plate and learn how to do the traditional male jobs (these days it would very much come under the category of mansplaining, but it's better than nothing).

What I really disliked is the notion that the majority of the population going blind (not a spoiler) would be a society-ending event. Yes, there would be panic and chaos initially but I think people would learn to adapt eventually and things would get vaguely back to normal. In fariness, as is pointed out later in the book, the whole killer plant thing doesn't help matters. But, ultimately it's suggesting that disability equals helplessness - which is a problematic view to say the least.

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Friday, 7 July 2017

Review: A High Wind in Jamaica

A High Wind in Jamaica A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book is apparently now out of print (I had to buy my copy from an online second-hand bookshop; I was reading it for my book group) and it quickly becomes apparent why - it's really racist. Black people are referred to as "negroes" and are generally portrayed to be ignorant and childlike (with questionable morals). There's even one use of the "n" word. I know that this was written in less enlightened times (1929), but it makes for uncomfortable reading.

I am not sure if this is meant to be a children's book or an adult book that just happens to have children as the protagonists, but it certainly has dark themes. I'd certainly agree with the view that it's a precursor to Lord of the Flies (ie, what happens when usual social conventions are not enforced).

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Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Review: Bedlam: London and Its Mad

Bedlam: London and Its Mad Bedlam: London and Its Mad by Catharine Arnold
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An interesting review of how people with mental health problems have been managed over the centuries, with a focus on London's most infamous asylum - Bedlam. Depressingly (no pun intended), how well the "insane" were treated seemed to completely depend on who was in charge of the asylum at at the time. For every enlightened practitioner, an arrogant one seemed to follow. Today - I didn't actually realise it was still going - Bedlam (now Bethlem Royal Hospital) offers the best available care for people with mental health problems. But unfortunately, as is well documented, society's approach to mental health still leaves a lot to be desired.

I do feel a bit guilty about giving the book only three stars - I would give three and a half if I could. The writing falters at times (it occasionally reads like a lightweight newspaper feature rather than a history book) and there's certainly some waffle here and there. But, overall, I thought it was a good read.

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