Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Mini fiction reviews

When it drops, Alex Dyson

This is a great debut novel by former triple j presenter, Alex Dyson. Sixteen year old Caleb is a songwriter and nerd, and happy to be left out of the limelight. One of his songs is about the girl he has had a crush on for years, Ella. Of course, that’s just his secret, until his little brother grabs an opportunity to share it online. Is disaster looming? What if Ella finds out? When some in the music industry take notice, is it just possible this could be his big break? This is very fun. There are the usual amusing and awkward scenes in school and with friends, as well as humorous insights into the music industry. What took the cake for me though was the comments on the high school discipline system:

“RUB stands for Rough, Undisciplined Boys, which is one of many categories we utilise here at Riverview for administrative and disciplinary purposes. For example, occasionally we encounter a GIMP at this school, or Girl Initiating Malevolent Practices. Last week we had quite a serious outbreak of HERPES, or Hurtful Event Rendering Pupil Extremely Sad.”

Enjoyable for teens and adults alike.

Pandemic, A. G. Riddle

A fast paced action book following the events of a pandemic over about 2 weeks. Two young men in Africa present to a local hospital with symptoms suspiciously like Ebola. The CDC despatches their experts to assist with identification and management. But at the same time thousands of people across the globe are developing flu like symptoms. Could they be related? How could it spread so fast?

It might seem too close to home at the moment, but it’s not about what a pandemic does to people and societies. Rather, it’s a chase around the globe, as various characters try to solve this high stakes mystery, where nothing it quite as it seems. There appears to be a mighty shadow organisation managing everything, but to what ultimate end?

Riddle has blended actual history with fiction, and science with fantasy, and it’s a reasonably enjoyable mix. There are times where characters talk about having faith, or hope, but there’s no indication of what that faith or hope should be in - the ingenuity of the human race, the ability to survive, kindness of others? It’s unclear. He does seem to be raising the question of what the larger purpose of mankind is and why we exist, although comes to no answers, beyond perhaps is suggesting that without suffering and pain the world would be better.

Either way, it’s hard to tell because it leaves you hanging and having to read Book 2 - Genome, which I haven’t managed to get to yet.

Stoner, John Wiliams

Written in 1965, Williams tells the story of William Stoner, from when he first went to the University of Missouri as a freshman in 1910, where he stayed as a lecturer in the Department of English until his death in 1956. My understanding is that this is a literary classic. I enjoyed reading it and was at times reminded of the style of Gilead (link). There was a similar continuous storytelling with no particular climax, yet much of interest along the way. You see how his life unfolds, with marriage, a child, various university stoushes and friendships. However, in the end, I found Stoner a sad figure. He had a life of very little joy or purpose, as he himself pondered “He found himself wonderful if his life were worth the living, if it had ever been. It was a question he suspected that came to all men at one time or another; he wondered if it came to them with such impersonal force as it came to him.” Many of those around him were much more extreme characters that he was, I particularly found his wife hard to imagine in reality. Those with a broader understanding of literature may appreciate more of the references within the book itself.

The Evening and the Morning, Ken Follett

Follett has already written three books about Kingsbridge, set in the 1100s (Pillars of the Earth), 1300s (World Without End) and 1500s (Column of Fire). This fourth is a prequel, set around 1000AD and moves around the stories of a young shipbuilder Edgar, a Norman noblewoman Ragna who moves to England to marry, and brother Aldred, a pious monk. As per usual with Follett’s books, it's an epic tale told over hundreds of pages. It also fits his usual style, where the main characters are basically good, kind people who are stymied at almost every turn by the treacherous, violent leaders and churchmen who stand against them. As I noted with Column of Fire, there is a crassness towards women in Follett’s writing although I am still uncertain whether that it reflecting the setting or the author. I do enjoy his tales though, they bring aspects of the past to life. 

No comments: