In the last few weeks I’ve been asked by a couple of lovely people for recommended reading in fantasy and science fiction. My only qualification is that I have read so much in these genres over the last [redacted] decades that I have opinions based on vast experience, but here goes.
A few general points first …
I’m not going to mention a book or series by name unless it’s one I recommend. That saves me from saying “this is a good book” every time and it saves you from even hearing about bad books.
Inline links are (unless otherwise noted) to my own reviews, most of them very short, on this blog or on Green Path.
There’s nothing wrong with escapism but I do prefer fiction which provides insights into ourselves or the way we live. I’ve said elsewhere that SF is brilliant for thought-experiments, but so is fantasy.
Continue reading “Favourite Fantasy”
Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is old enough that it should hardly need an introduction but some people have been unfortunate enough not to encounter his magical (in both senses) world. It’s their loss, not mine, but I am always sorry to see people missing out on such a feast of freewheeling humour, ingenious invention, sharp satire and humane wisdom.
For their benefit, then, I have put together a quick introduction to the series, short reviews of two of the books, and advice about making the sprawling series more approachable. All of that makes this blog post long enough to need its own index but I’m also going to put the Reading Guide here at the top for convenience.
Introduction • Making Money • I Shall Wear Midnight • Navigating the Series
Continue reading “Introducing Discworld”
The Night Circus
Harvill Secker, $32.95, October 2011
The Night Circus is an astonishingly rich and detailed work of the imagination, bringing to life a world firmly grounded in late nineteenth century England and, within it, a small group of people with magical powers.
Two shadowy master magicians pit their prize students, Marco and Celia, against one another in a duel which neither of them wanted nor fully understands. Their arena is a travelling circus, the Circus of Dreams, which is a mix of illusions and real magic, circus artists and magicians – acrobats, a tarot reader who can indeed see into the future, an ice garden, jugglers and an illusionist whose feats are not tricks. Only after Marco and Celia find themselves in love do they discover that their duel can end only in death. Or can they escape the trap their teachers have so callously constructed?
Twilight has driven a surge of interest in paranormal romance but The Night Circus rises far above that level, beautifully written and seamlessly integrating a wealth of esoteric knowledge. It merits comparison with Susannah Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which won nearly every fantasy award in its year of publication. That was a debut novel, as is this. History may be about to repeat.
• Review written and first published in 2011, added to this site in December 2020.
• Plenitude is now over ten years old and this review, added to the blog in January 2021, was first published in 2010. Ten years is a long time in terms of our understanding of climate change but Schor’s analysis and conclusions are as relevant as ever.
Global warming, Peak Oil and the instability of our financial system mean that Business As Usual will doom us and the next generation to miserable lives in a degraded environment.
Yes, you have heard it all before (and may or may not believe it) but Juliet Schor has an answer: ‘Plenitude’, her term for an alternative to BAU which avoids any eco-miserly austerities but will give us happier, richer lives while avoiding eco-disaster and another financial melt-down.
How can we do it? We must simply move gently out of the mainstream economy by reducing hours in traditional employment and making up for lost income by moving towards self-sufficiency in food, reducing our use of fossil-fuelled energy by installing our own renewable power supplies, reducing our narrow dependence on our employer and our nuclear family by strengthening ties within our broader local community.
Yes, you have heard it all before (and may or may not believe it) but Juliet Schor (Wikipedia) is an economist and she argues for the ‘alternative’ ‘green’ agenda from economic necessities and benefits, not shamanist mysticism, and supports her thesis with an impressive array of references. Cutting back on our ‘day’ jobs, she says, will help re-balance an economy which has grown over-dependent on debt-fuelled over-consumption, and reduce the environmental pressures which are a direct result of that excessive consumption.
Writing as an economist, Schor provides a valuable new rationale for the greenie programme.
Nikki Gemmell tackles big themes in her new novel – science, religion and the evils of tyranny, no less. She universalises her subject by disguising ethnic groups, religions, cities and languages and the supposed origin of her text, while simultaneously individualising it by focusing on a mother’s love for her children.
The political situation is all too familiar to us, an authoritarian regime attempting genocide against a minority within its own population. (No, I won’t call it ‘ethnic cleansing’, because that disgustingly cynical phrase attempts to give state-sanctioned racism, persecution, brutality and murder a semblance of virtue, and using the term legitimises it.) The minority is defined by both ethnic and religious affiliation — again, an all-too-familiar scenario.
One minority family is caught in the middle. Continue reading “Gemmell: The Book of Rapture”