Wednesday, 30 November 2011

55 - The Green Odyssey by Philip Jose Farmer

This sci-fi/ fantasy adventure is set in a distant future where humans have colonised the solar system. Green's space ship crash lands on a primitive and barbaric Earth like planet where he is forced to live as a slave. He works his way up and becomes a gigolo for the local Duchess who is beautiful but extremely smelly. One day he hears that another space ship has landed and that two Earth men have been captured and he decides that this could lead to his return home. He decides that he must act now if he is to escape this planet.

This is only my second audio book of the year and it actually made a pleasant change and perhaps gave my eyes a rest ! On a positive note this book (written in the fifties) was quite imaginative and I really liked the strange world that Green found himself on. It has lots of quirky inhabitants and creatures and an amazing sea of grass with islands that move like lawn mowers. However I found the action scenes to be a little lacklustre and at times I did find myself struggling to stay awake. And to be honest I did find that the narrator got on my nerves after a while with his over the top bad acting. You see that's the thing about reading your own book. The characters are all in your own head and so are their words, it just isn't the same with an audio like this, especially when the narrator is a little bit annoying.

Overall this book was imaginative, quite clever and funny in parts but I rate it as an average romp. Maybe more suited to those that like the typical adventure story. Maybe I would have enjoyed it better if I had read the actual book instead of listening to it on audio.


Friday, 25 November 2011

54 - The Running Man by Richard Bachman/Stephen King

This is set in a gloomy future where the streets are full of garbage and vermin and where the government is power crazy and polluting the air with dangerous toxins. Women and children are dying of lung cancer and other terrible diseases. In this terrible vision of the future half the population are living like rats while the other half are brainwashed by their TV Sets.
Richard's baby daughter is dying of a lung condition and the only way he can afford to buy her antibiotics is to appear on one of the governments flagship Game Shows while his wife seems to resort to prostitution. One Gameshow forces kidney and heart patients to run on a treadmill until they are taken away in body bags whereas Richard's gameshow is the worst one of all. He becomes 'The Running Man'.
He has to survive 30 days on the run while government hunters and everyday people try to kill him.He is safe nowhere and cannot trust anybody. It's pretty much him against the world and nobody has ever won this game.

Such a storyline could only come from the twisted mind of Stephen King ! This is the last book in my series of Richard Bachman books that I've read this year. (In the late seventies and early eighties King wrote these books under the fictitious name of Richard Bachman). So what did I think ?

The Running Man was highly original, imaginative and unique, but I found the storyline to be a little bit unrealistic in parts and generally not as well constructed as King's other books. I also didn't feel emotionally connected to the main character or the story in any way. It was kind of like reading from an arm's distance instead of being in the thick of the action, if that makes sense ? I liked the fact that it was twisty and different but I never quite got into this book.

By far the best Richard Bachman book I have read this year was the magnificent 'The Long Walk', closely followed by Roadwork. I'd rate this as 7.5.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

53 - A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.

Alex is 15 and likes nothing better than a bit of ultra-violence mixed up with some horrorshow classical music and a little bit of moloko with something added to get him in the mood. The world is his oyster and he spends each night leading his pack of Malchicks like he owns the world. But then the world catches up with him and he ends up facing up to his crimes in a way that he could never have imagined.

I read this book (which is part of Penguins Modern Classics) with an open mind. I have never seen the movie and didn't have a clue what it was about, although I had, of course, heard of the book. This won't be everybody's cup of tea. Yes it is violent and those of a certain disposition or mindset wouldn't like it but I liked everything about it. I liked the fact that it is very unique and imaginative. I also didn't mind the violence, for me it made the book even more compelling. A Clockwork Orange is part horror/part sci-fi/part something else and in parts it is very funny ( although there is nothing funny about the acts of violence that make up large chunks of the book.)
But the great thing is that it makes you think about issues like crime and punishment and it asks the biq question; what do we do about violent individuals? Does rehabilitation work ? Can we ( should we) try to change people and what happens when that goes to far ? Are people born with a predisposition to violence where other people are born to be violently sick at the idea of violence ? Or does society work on a sliding scale basis ?
I have never read a book like this in my life and one of the things I loved about it is that the main character and his droogs have their own unique slang vocabulary. When I read the first page I didn't understand it at all and wondered what the heck I had let myself in for ! But as you progress through this short book the language does start to make sense, especially if you go along to the online Urban Dictionary like I did ! The Nadsat slang actually makes 'A clockwork Orange' a much stronger and more enjoyable read.
I would also recommend anyone who hasn't read the book to save the lengthy introducion by Blake Morrison until you have read the last page( like I thankfully did), I suspected it would contain spoilers and it does. Reading this introduction adds to the interest of the novel as you learn a bit more about the author and the subsequent film by Stanley Kubrick and all the other stuff that makes 'A Clockwork Orange' a much talked about work of modern art.

This was, overall, an amazing and very perculiar read, it didn't engage me emotionally like some books but it does I think deserve a 10/10.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

52 - December by Elizabeth H. Winthrop

Ruth and Wilson Carter usually look forwards to Christmas, a special time of snow angels, coal fires and family fun. But this year it's different. Isabelle, their 11 year old daughter has stopped talking. There's that old saying 'you don't know what you've got until it's gone', but normally a child's voice is something you don't expect to disappear. Her parents have tried everything and they are worried that Isabelle's life is ruined and that they could have done something to stop it from happening in the first place. Christmas seems to be ruined and their marriage is beginning to come apart.

I recently got a pile of books from my local library and this was the last on the pile. How glad I was to leave this to the end. It is an exceptionally good read, written beautifully, an emotional journey into the mind of an adolescent. It's almost as if you become a part of this family and begin to feel their frustration and despair. I cannot begin to describe how well Elizabeth H. Winthrop writes with amazing attention to small details and how each page is heavy with emotion and not to mention her ability to weave wit into the story when you least expect it.
The story is quite simple. It really does go to prove that a good book doesn't always have to have bombs waiting to go off or murderers on the loose, this book simply is what it is. It is very good.

One of the best books I have read and a fitting way to achieve my '52 books in 52 weeks challenge'. Now I will see how many books I can read until 2012 when my challenge, hopefully, will begin all over again!


Saturday, 5 November 2011

51 The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien

Harper Collins Children's Books

Bilbo Baggins is minding his own business in his hole and the next minute he is being eaten out of house and home by a Wizard and a collection of dwarfs. He is a Hobbit and is used to doing his own thing but ends up being taken on a quest to fight an evil dragon and to rescue a hoard of priceless treasure.
On the way he encounters trolls, elves, giant spiders, goblins and other incredible creatures. The road is long and treacherous and he soon wishes he had stayed at home to his cosy fire and his kettle.

I have some faint and very distant memory of being read this in middle school but at the time I had this habit of drifting off whilst staring into thin air, into my own world of daydreams. I don't actually remember listening to the teacher or anything he said so it is ironic now that I find myself reading this as a book lover and aspiring ( desperate) writer. I found 'The Hobbit' to be imaginative and full of adventure, my only problem was the fact that I am 40 years old. If I was 9 or maybe even 13 I would probably have loved it and may have eventually named it in my top 5 books or something. However as a free thinking, neurotic father of two teenagers, although I can appreciate how good this children's book is, I didn't really enjoy it like I would have done if I had listened properly at school the first time around. Maybe I am just a bit too old and long in the tooth as they say.
This is probably a brilliant book for any child to read, because as well as being fun and full of adventure, it also introduces the moral themes of greed and selfishness and how by working together we can achieve more than being at odds with others.

I can't really give this book a rating but it is probably the best children's book I have read in this 52 book challenge. I haven't watched any of the 'Lord of the Rings' films but I am thinking of reading the books next year if I can stop daydreaming long enough.