Thursday, 17 January 2008

Review: "The Star Fraction" by Ken Macleod

I recently finished "The Star Fraction" by Ken Macleod, whose work I have enjoyed frequently since moving to his place of birth in Stornoway. I had previously read the portions of Ken Macleod's "Fall Revolution" series that are available at the Stornoway public library (the second and fourth books in the series). Thankfully, each book is a standalone work with a few recurring themes and characters, and lends itself to this treatment.

Macleod's novels commonly develop two or more narratives in parallel, such that there's a small bit of adjustment (like a mild form of culture shock) when moving from chapter to chapter. The reader has to hold a number of isolated threads in memory (I know, i sound like a computer geek) until the threads start to combine, then split apart, then recombine. His works are, in short, satisfyingly complex.

Anyway, I've now read three of the series. Of the three, I would have to say that I enjoyed "The Stone Canal" and "The Sky Road" a bit more, but "The Star Fraction" is still a good read and well recommended.

Review: "His Dark Materials" Omnibus by Phillip Pullman

Early in December, my wife and I went to see the movie "The Golden Compass" with my mother-in-law in Los Angeles. My mother-in-law has been listening to the audio version of "The Golden Compass", and a nibble through a few sections of the omnibus edition held my attention, so I picked up the book as yet another of many gifts to myself for Christmas. I read through the book on the way back to Scotland, and finished it a few days ago.

Years ago, when I finally read "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep". I was disappointed that the spirit of the work had been stripped away to make "Blade Runner", leaving behind a beautiful surface reading of the work cast as sci-fi noir. It was a succesful and great film, but I wonder if it couldn't have still been great and retained some of the philosophical, psychological and spiritual aspects of the novel.

I had a similar feeling when reading "The Golden Compass". I hope that now that the groundwork is laid out, the rest of the trilogy can come to the screen with a little more of its spirit intact.

Review: The "Engines of Light" Trilogy by Ken Macleod

Ideally a book would have no order to it, and the reader would have to discover his own.

-- Mark Twain

As several of my friends and associates have heard, I have been known to read portions of books in an order other than that suggested by their page numbering. I started doing this when I was reading "The English Patient" and "In the Skin of a Lion" by Michael Ondaatje while travelling. Those books in particular were structured in a way that lent itself to a fractured reading. I read through some sections two and three times as I continually forayed through the work, until I no longer encountered unfamiliar material, or until I decided to go back through the book from beginning to end, skipping or skimming through the sections I had visited before.

The idea is not dissimilar to the work of William Burroughs, in which he intentionally distorted the narrative using his "cut up" technique. However, where Burroughs edited the randomness, the method I ocassionally use is truly random, and is a nice way to nibble at a work before eventually consuming it outright.

I hadn't made use of this technique for a while, having fallen back into the usual front to back method of reading. It was quite by accident that I engaged in a variation on the theme over the holidays. I purchased a handful of Ken Macleod novels at a bookstore in Los Angeles, and read through them over the course of a few weeks. It was only after reading through "Dark Light" and "Engine City" that I discovered that what I thought was a two part series was actually a trilogy, and that I had inadvertantly saved the first book for last.

As luck would have it, the story arc was structured in a way that lent itself to this treatment. The second and third books are set in an increasingly distant future. The first book is set in the near future. There is a bit more of a gap between the first and second books than between the second and third, so the overall narrative ended up reading like a two-part arc with a very nice prequel.

Anyway, I won't go into too much depth, as I don't want to spoil anything. Suffice to say that the universe in which these three books take place is vibrant, detailed and richly peopled. Of the three, the first ("Cosmonaut Keep") is probably my favorite, as the main character is a project manager working in software development... :)