Books, Close Encounters Book Club

A Feast For Crows – George R R Martin

As mentioned in my Asterix post, Book Club is on hiatus at the moment until things begin to look brighter here in the UK and it’s safer to meet as a group and socialise again. That being said, I’m still actually playing catch up from February when things were tough for me personally (I still have Akira vol 2 to go, not that there’s pressure to read everything, it’s my choice to do so), but I began A Feast For Crows shortly before the last time we actually met up, sat and listened to everyone discuss a book I’d only read about 200 odd pages of and then continued to grind my way through it.

And what a grind it’s been. If this book was a game, it’d be the tedious bit in a JRPG where you’re just doing random battle after random battle for what feels like forever as you try and get strong enough to actually finish the damned thing.

To say I struggled through it would be an understatement, but I’m here now, it’s done and it can be checked off. Now, I know this book divides fans, some think its the best, others think its the worst. I think I fall on the side of the latter, and if it’s not the worst, then it’s definitely my least favourite, and there are a few problems I have with it.

It’s biggest issue is the pacing, at over 700 pages long the reader knows they’re going to be spending a long time with these characters, and that’s not an issue. I wasn’t expecting things to zip about and lots to happen, this is A Song of Ice and Fire, after all, it’s famed for a lot of not a lot happening, but here, it feels like literally, nothing happens until the final few chapters of the book. That’s not to say that everything beforehand is pointless, but it feels like padding and like it belongs as part of something bigger. Of course, Martin admits this at the very end of the book, he wrote too much and rather than split the story in half (which I think kind of worked in the paperback publication of A Storm of Swords’ favour), he decided to pick a few characters and tell their stories with the following book telling the other characters stories. Why he chose this particular chain of events I’m not sure, there’s probably an interview out there somewhere, and this isn’t a case of me preferring other characters (I love Sam, Brienne and here Cersei is at her venomous best) but their arcs here mostly feel drawn out.

Whilst we’re on the subject of characters. I know most people regard this as Martin’s feminist book, maybe that’s the wrong term, but I’m putting all this down after only having about five hours sleep on the third Sunday of the British Governments so-called “Lockdown”. But the core of the cast here are his key female characters (aside from Danaerys), which when I heard that before starting, I was genuinely excited by. What I didn’t expect though was just how much oppression they’re all put through and that they all are imprisoned in some way or another.

Brienne, we all know how devoted she is to being honourable and servitude, but here she’s held captive by her own moral compass, spending far, far too long searching for Sansa Stark and doing so in a naive manner. It’s only when she has to begin to use her training as a knight that we begin to see her break free of these trappings and begin to see her question other peoples motives. Through Sam, we also get to learn more of Gilly, who herself is imprisoned by the orders placed upon her by Jon Snow as she travels with the Slayer to the Citadel.

Both Arya and Sansa are imprisoned by their identity, Sansa is in hiding, pretending to be someone totally different and has to be cautious all the time, her new persona is for her own protection, and whilst Arya shares some of these issues, her challenges with her identity are for a totally different reason, she’s trying to break free of her family name. Sansa actually surprises me here, I’ve complained about her before, but of all the characters she’s been subjected to the most horrific of things throughout all the books so far and if anything this book gives her a little respite, even if it’s not the world she dreamed of for so long, and despite Creepy Petyr being Creepy Petyr, she’s possibly in the best place she’s been in since she left Winterfell.

However, as I alluded to earlier, out of the female cast it’s Cersei that gets the vast majority of the good stuff, though its not good stuff that happens to her. We begin to see how her mind really works here, but we also see her dive headfirst into madness and paranoia, the more she tries to control everything around her the more things fall apart and slip through her fingers and this is best shown in her relationship with Jaime (who’s chapters are also brilliant I might add). Both constantly think of the bond between them, but whereas Jaime seemed to genuinely love his sister, Cersei’s thoughts on their relationship appear to be purely about having him under her control and being of use to her, with his sword hand now gone and her brother going through a lot of personal change (overall for the better I might add) he no longer provides the same uses as he once did.

I think, also, that the tone of the book is the series at its worst and that’s possibly situational, Westeros is in a bad place, its people have suffered due to the war, winter is definitely on its way and we get to see first hand that nobody is prepared for it, crops are burned, corpses hang from trees and nearly everyone (maybe aside from those at Highgarden?) are suffering, and in these troubled times we are all currently living through, its a tough pill to swallow. Still, its read and done now and there’s going to be a bit of a break where I can maybe read something a little more positive over the coming weeks.

Books, Close Encounters Book Club

Asterix in Britain – René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo

When Close Encounters posted on the Books With Pictures Facebook group page that we were going to be reading an Asterix book, I’m not going to lie, I had two thoughts, the first was “but isn’t that a kids book”, then it was “wow, I’ve not read one of those since Year 8” and it was at that point I became genuinely excited to read it. You see I loved Asterix as a kid. I was never big into comics back then, but on visits to the library I’d always check if any Asterix books had been added to their kids section, usually though it was the same three or four titles, but it was those plus comic adaptations of Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds and Stingray that were my introduction to comic books. Friends would by the Dandy and Beano and I’d had a read of those, I’d also flick through them whilst waiting for my Dad to make his picks on library visits, but they never really grabbed me.

Then in Year 7 and 8 my form tutor, who happened to look like a cross between Henry VIII and Obelix, was also my languages teacher and in order to help us learn sentence structure for French he’d often photocopy pages from his French language editions of Asterix comics and give us panels to translate (as best as we could for students in one of the worst schools in that area), funnily enough, during that time, French was one of my strongest subjects. However I changed schools (to a much better school) for year 9, found myself behind on everything and I struggled with my French teachers teaching methods from then on, plus hormones intervened and she happened to be a very attractive blonde woman who had a preference for fitted blouses (hell, on a fundraising day she wore a French Maid’s outfit). My marks should have gone up, in hindsight, but, well, I was 13…

As you can imagine, once I picked up my copy of Asterix in Britain, I was hit with a wave of nostalgia, all of the above came flooding back to me. If I’d actually read this volume before then it didn’t feel like it, but my immediate reaction was delight at just how colourful and detailed each and every panel was. When compared to something from the big American comic houses in the 60s and even its competitors in the form of the Beano and Dandy, every panel is lovingly created and doesn’t feel like Albert Uderzo has skimped at all.

Characters are full of life, colour and detail, and I’m not just talking the key cast here, but side characters too are given plenty of attention. Of course these being caricatures there are things that tie them all together, every Englishman here has an extravagant moustache and prominent nose, but these make the artwork endearing more than anything else.

The story is full of amusing moments, culminating in a rather violent game of Rugby, though my favourite moment takes part towards the end of the book when the potion Asterix and Obelix had supposed to have provided for the British to help them fight off the Roman’s, actually ends up in a river, an unsuspecting angler thinks he’s caught a big fish, only for it to pull him off the banks of the river due to the added strength it has received from the Gaul’s special potion.

 

Books, Close Encounters Book Club

We3 – Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely

This month’s Books WITH Pictures pick was We3 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely through Vertigo. It’s a book I’ll honestly admit I’ve never even heard of so my expectations going in were all over the place, especially as I flicked through it on the bus home before I sat down to read through it properly.

First off, its not a very long book and there’s not a lot of text to absorb, instead Morrison provides the script to allow Quitely’s art to tell the story. A picture tells a thousand words and all that. That tale is one of three animals, a dog, a cat and a rabbit, that have been given cybernetic suits of armour that turn them into military weapons. After a senator visits the research facility that holds them and reveals to the staff there that the future for creatures is to have them decommissioned, one of the scientists (who happens to have closer bonds to animals than she does humans) engineers their escape and what follows is an ultra-violent version of Homeward Bound.

I mean there is dialogue, the humans obviously talk and the three animals have some very basic speech thanks to implants (the dog, referred to as 1, uses behaviour based commands that you and I would use to interact with him if he were our pet, so he responds to things like “good dog” and “home”), and its this sparse use of dialogue that really drives home the emotional aspect of the book, especially when 2 (the cat) asks “?HOME IS?” and 1 responds “HOME? IS RUN NO MORE”. This is driven home by the use of the original 3 issue run using Lost Pet posters as each of the three covers, all of which are replicated at the proper interval here, giving the 3 companions they’re true names whilst giving weight to the senators command that future projects will need to use animals specially bred for such purpose, so not only is “Bandit” (1, the dog) looking for a home, he already had one, as did  “Tinker” (2, the cat) and “Pirate” (3, the rabbit).

It’s not just the art itself that tells the story, throughout they use panels intelligently, this is most notable, in my opinion, in two particular sequences. The first is a 4 page series of panels where, rather than use the standard 9-panel format, the duo cram 12 panels onto each page, showing a variety of CCTV images that reveal the means of “Weapon 3″‘s escape. In another moment Tinker is on the offensive (and when that cat begins an attack there’s definitely only ever going to be one outcome, it’s one bad kitty) and the panels skew and contort giving the impression of a flicker book. There are other moments throughout that really play with the medium in this way and gives the action the kinetic energy that I’ve not often seen in western comics but certainly know from Manga (especially Shonen Manga). This point also applies to the level of gore on show, which at times reaches similar levels to that of Akira.

We3, as a whole, is something I’ve had to really think on, I’ve actually now read it twice and will probably read it again as I think the work that Quitely has put into the action element of the book is more likely to stand out as I return to it again and again and it’s for that reason I think I’d say I enjoyed it. The story itself is, I think, fairly easy to get to grips with and as I’ve mentioned, its hardly dialogue-heavy, but its definitely worth a go.

 

Books, Close Encounters Book Club

I Am Legend – Richard Matheson

Novembers “Books Without Pictures” book was I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. I originally read this book years ago, not long before the Will Smith movie, so its been I’ve enjoyed going back to it, particularly as I’d somehow managed to blur the lines between some of the events of the book and the film, though, I must point out, that doesn’t include either ending, which I won’t discuss here.

I’m going to go out on one here and say that I Am Legend isn’t a book that an individual enjoys. That’s not so say it’s not an excellent read, but to enjoy it would, in my mind, kind of miss its point? Well, I think so.

The reason I say this is that it’s so unbelievably bleak, which you’d expect as post-apocalyptic vampire filled piece of literature. But its not just these elements that contribute to its bleakness, as many other authors have had fun with such concepts over the years.

No, what makes it so bleak is its leading character, Robert Neville, and his utterly white aggressive attitude towards pretty much everything. Throughout the story, its driven home that Neville lives in Compton in the 1970s (though the book itself was written in the 50s) and the impression is given is that Neville is a typical blue-collared White American male just trying to go about his daily routines but is afraid to go out after dark because of the number of vampires in his neighbourhood, many of whom gather on his lawn at night trying to goad him into leaving his house, a former colleague calls out his name constantly whilst “the females” all try and gain his attention via their sexuality.

Neville’s actions really drive home the Nuclear Family father figure element, pre-outbreak, he goes to work and comes home to his wife and child, the feeling is there that when he gets home he puts on his slippers and his dutiful wife brings him his evening meal. Post-outbreak, he’s reluctant to really do any standard household chores, these things are a distraction from the “Man in his shed” system of him throwing himself at his hobbies (researching how he can rid the world of the so-called vampires), there’s absolutely no change in his behaviours throughout the book and he is shown to be an absolute dinosaur right to the end.

But that’s not why it’s so bleak.

Why then, do I keep saying its bleak? Well, because the world that Matheson has created seems to revel in being consistently cruel to Neville from the very beginning. Each and every time there’s the hope that something will happen that may help change him, that may help allow the character to grow, its ripped out from under the feet of both Robert and the reader, every bit of research he does leads to a dead-end, each time you think he’s finally got someone to offer him companionship, be it the dog he tries to befriend or Ruth, its literally torn away by the end of the chapter that Matheson introduces it, and yet somehow, after a period of drinking himself stupid, Robert Neville gets back up again, dusts himself off and goes for yet another round.

It’s like a Rocky movie, but without the knowing that despite being absolutely beaten up, the lead characters going to turn out okay, he’ll learn along the way and defeat the mountain in front of him, instead, he relents, he decides to try and fit in with the new world presented to him by Ruth, and guess, what… that’s ripped away from him too.

It’s an absolute car crash of a book, and by that I’m not criticising the writing at all, you find yourself reading to find out just what will happen next to this character, this sole individual who, lets be honest, doesn’t really have any redeeming features, I’m definitely not of the mind that we’re supposed to like him. But at the same time, we don’t really want him to be floored over and again before the referee awards the victory to his opponent, that’s not how we consume our media, certainly not in 2019 where even the anti-hero (such as the Joker in Todd Phillip’s recent film) gets their day, Richard Matheson’s Robert Neville never gets his moment (unless you watch the movie).

Books, Close Encounters Book Club

A Storm of Swords 1: Steel and Snow – George R R Martin

It’s that time of the month again, first Wednesday of the month means Book Club update and we’re back to the A Game of Thrones series. This month I’ve been reading A Storm of Swords 1: Steel and Snow, which is actually the first part of the much bigger original release of A Storm of Swords, we’ll be reading the second part in December I think.

Straight off the bat, I’m going to say I’m so glad that for the paperback release they split this book in half, I’m not a particularly fast reader and with a half term during the time I was reading this I wasn’t sure if I’d even manage to complete this one. I have though, in fact, I finished it a few days early.

I also think the style Steel and Snow is written in made it a struggle, for all the relief I felt that I was only having to read “half” a book, I also think it’s easy to realise that it’s only half the story whilst you’re reading it. There’s far more plodding narrative here than in either A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings whilst its gathering things together after the events at the end of the second book in the series, so we’re seeing key characters recovering and playing politics, more so than ever, after the Battle of Blackwater. Which is interesting to a degree but the politics never seem to go anywhere. We see the gradual build-up to a number of events, Joffrey’s wedding for one, but none of them really feel like they go anywhere in this book, in fact, a lot of the time the things being discussed don’t come to fruition because they’re all events being saved for the latter half of A Storm of Swords.

This means you’re left with a book that doesn’t progress things and thus feels frustrating to read and its only really a handful of chapters where the reader is given anything to sink their teeth into.

It’s a book full of journeys, with no end in sight, which is fine, it puts you in the shoes of all the key players and whilst it ends on a genuine cliff hanger it feels a bit cheap getting to that point.

That’s not to say there’s nothing to like here, I love Jon’s story throughout, I love that his tale has kind of turned into a spy movie, complete with a girl trying to turn him to the other side by playing on his sexual desires, I like Ygritte as a character, I find her to be both amusing and strong, and whilst I know the outcome for her, I’m enjoying any time we get to spend with her (though as the book ends, her and Jon have been separated, so to speak).

Another character I’m enjoying is Lord Beric Dondarrion. Up until this book we’d only seen him at the tourney in A Game of Thrones, since then he’s been mentioned rather a lot as there have been quite a few characters hunting for him for a variety of reasons, but here Arya happens upon him and I like the contrast between the books Beric and the shows Beric, they’re both the same person, but their physical appearances are (in my mind) very different. In the show, Beric’s been brought back from the dead and received a lot of injuries, but the only visible one is his missing eye which he covers with a path. In the book he doesn’t even do that, his eye socket is there for all to see not to mention the caved in part of his head. The description of him gives the impression of a dead man walking (which of course, he is), but he’s still an absolute badass. I have, however, found myself have to force myself to overlook the fact that The Hound wasn’t scared of his flaming sword when the two fought (even though a point is made that Thoros defeated Sandor Clegane in one tourney due to the latter’s fear of fire, though I may be misremembering that)

The key thing in this book for me is that I think, for the first time, we are beginning to see people’s morals being torn to some degree. Jon is torn between serving the Nights Watch and completing his undercover mission (though that also comes with the caveat that no one knows he’s alive, let alone that he’s acting as a spy rather than turning traitor) and his lust (which he’s mistaking for love) for Ygritte. Tyrion has been forced to marry Sansa to protect her, himself and Shae. Brienne so obviously wants to kill Jaime but must keep that in check in order to serve Catelyn whom she has sworn her allegiance to, and this is a pattern that’s seemingly repeated throughout the book for a lot of characters but I think may have originally begun with Arya’s story from A Clash of Kings onwards as Arya is mostly doing whatever she needs to do to survive despite her not really agreeing with serving the Boltons (for example).

I opened this basically complaining that its a book that doesn’t really go anywhere, but I also think its allowed the characters to breathe a little, I think I have a better understanding of the likes of Arya, Jaime and Jon than I had done prior to picking this book up, that said, I do think its the weakest of the three (or two and half…) books I’ve read in the series thus far.

 

Books, Close Encounters Book Club

The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch

Book Club get together week again and for September we had been reading “The Lies of Locke Lamora” by Scott Lynch.

“The Lies of Locke Lamora” is about an orphan who becomes a thief in a city where certain rules are in place, the key one for this tale is the “Secret Peace” whereby the nobility are protected by the gangs of thieves that operate within the city of Camorr. The tale is split between two narratives, one being the core plot about Locke Lamora as an adult alongside his group of Gentlemen Bastards who do indeed break this Secret Peace but do so in a manner where said nobility hide this fact due to the shame of being led down a path of deceit due to the share level of plotting and planning that Locke provides to his small group of thieves. The second narrative covers the training of four members of this group (Locke, Jean and the twins Calo and Galo Sanza), there is a fifth member, Bug, but he is only introduced in the former narrative where he is a Gentlemen Bastard in training under the tutorship of the other four members.

At its heart, The Lies of Locke Lamora is a mafia story. I say this as the setting feels like Lynch has taken influences from Renaissance era Italy, and also because there are a number of gangs but all of them have their own territory and all answer one boss, their Garrista, who takes a cut of everything each gang steals, though the breaking of the Secret Peace by Locke and his companions isn’t known outside of the Gentlemen Bastards as they put up a front, only delivering minimal (but believable) amounts to their Garrista, Capa Barsavi.

However, during one particular scheme, for which the Gentlemen Bastards look to earn tens of thousands of “Crowns”, things begin to unravel.

It’s at this point I have to admit that I struggled with the first half of the book. It was laying a lot of ground work, introducing the world, its rules and characters, whilst also trying to weave Locke’s plot to steal a huge amount of money from a noble, Don Lorenzo Salvara, and his wife. It’s not that these moments were particularly dull, its more that there was so much plotting and Lynch seems to be taking great pride in describing minute details of characters clothing that it often felt like you weren’t making any progress through the story itself. But as people begin to figure out who Locke is and begin to plot against him behind his back, and as things begin to fall apart from Capa Barsavi at the hands of the “Grey King” and we start to see characters for who they really are, everything begins to move along at break neck pace.

This all comes to a peak when things go from bad to worse for the Gentlemen Bastards and the reader is left feeling, much as the troupe do, like there’s no way out. Fortunately for Scott Lynch he’s written a character here that (ad-libbed) “works best when he doesn’t know what he’s doing”, meaning that there’s always an opening for Locke and co to escape peril, though it goes without saying that, during a particularly exhausting moment in the tale, not everyone makes it through leading to some very heavily revenge filled closing chapters.

The thing I enjoyed most of all though was the city of Camorr, it felt grimy and lived in and the people we got to meet along the way really helped flesh it out. The Salvara’s were very naive throughout, despite Locke feeling like he was struggling to fool Dona Sophia Salvara, whilst any time we spent with The Falconer there was always a sense of dread, that things were going to go awry, but one moment that really stuck out was during Locke’s first ever plot whilst he was still being trained by Father Chains. He had been tasked with stealing a dead body to provide to some Black Alchemists as they had no legitimate way of obtaining a cadaver, though once he had managed this particular task, he couldn’t help himself but increase the risk of the task at hand in order to obtain a higher reward (in this case, money) and feigned having his purse snatched (by one of the Sanza’s in disguise), but the way in which the people in the district rallied around him (as he was feigning being an apprentice of one of the churches) and provided him with money (and had the local authorities try and find the purse snatcher/Sanza twin) really drove home that these people, despite not having the best of lives, really valued each other and, for me, that gave real character to the city as a whole alongside Lynch’s excellent descriptions of each district that Lamora or Jean Tannen visited.

Books, Close Encounters Book Club

A Clash of Kings – George R. R. Martin

First Wednesday of the month means book club meeting time! For our September meet, so we read this through August, we covered the second of George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones series, A Clash of Kings.

I’m going to start by saying that I enjoyed this one more than the first book in the series, I think I read the first book quicker, but then that one didn’t have the school summer holidays getting in the way of my reading. A Game of Thrones was, for me anyway, more about setting the world within the tale takes place, establishing its cast of characters and driving home their motivations and methods of achieving those. A Clash of Kings is, I think, where things really start moving.

Another reason I preferred it was because its not half as pervy as A Game of Thrones. This is what I had to say about this particular topic back in July

“Let’s get this out of the way early, its a bit pervy. I know that things were very different in the kind of era that this was set, but this is a fantasy piece of work, its not set in any kind of reality, so the attention to detail regarding the physical developments and sexual treatments of some of the female characters were really uncomfortable to read. Also, it doesnt even really feel like Martin was writing this stuff because “thats how it would have been”, the writing comes across like he’s enjoying writing about these young girls, Daenerys in particular. The strong focus on how Daenerys ‘ relationship with Khal Drogo develops (somehow) from him raping her (because lets not beat around the bush, thats what it was) to her consenting and falling in love with him feels voyeuristic and I dreaded Daenerys ‘ chapters for that reason.”

In comparison to that first book there was very little sex, I think there’s only really Tyrion with Shae, also some of Theon’s chapters where sex is written about and its done in a much more adult and less voyeuristic manner. Danaerys still has moments of being partially undressed and there’s alot of discussion about Cercei’s incestuous relationships, but it all feels like consenting and natural within the world Martin has created. There’s an obvious focus on Sansa Stark reaching womanhood and what that would mean for her, but again, it doesn’t feel wrong when she is having those thoughts and the subsequent conversations about Joffrey that she has with Cersei, in fact Martin does an excellent job of portraying the dread that Sansa feels.

On the subject of Sansa, I really didn’t like her in A Game of Thrones, but she grew on me a little in A Clash of Kings. She was still a little naive, but she’d also begun to wake up to the world that she was living in and how everything wasn’t all songs, flowers and noble Knights, I think that throughout the book she’s the one character that showed the most growth and I began to really feel for her plight and the relief she felt when Joffrey accepted the offer of marrying Margaery Tyrell, even if, as it turns out, that doesn’t mean that Joffrey is done with her just yet.

In comparison, I felt like a lot of Catelyn Stark’s chapters dragged the pace of the story down. Maybe this was on purpose, after all she’s the only one that has any sort of travel in her chapters, Danaerys goes to a couple of different locations, and Davos’ chapters mention that he has travelled to different places too, but we don’t learn of the journey between them other than in passing. Catelyn on the other hand, spends a lot of time on the road but its only really the time she spends with either of the Baratheon’s where the story grabs the reader. I think this was a decision that Martin made on purpose, elsewhere things seemed to move at a break neck speed, with the characters all having differing information on what was going on in Westeros, Catelyn seemed to be the glue that stuck it all together, not to mention her and Brienne were the only ones to witness Renlys death, but we’re witnessing a woman who is struck with grief over the family she has lost, whilst everybody else is busy making war with each other.

Lastly, we finally get to witness a proper battle. Martin seemed to skirt around these events in A Game of Thrones, giving us reports from characters that weren’t on the front lines. By the time we reach the final third of this book we’ve seen Jon involved in a couple of skirmishes and the Baratheon’s be on the verge of battle, though that is waved away by Melisandre’s actions, but we get to the Battle of Blackwater Bay and get to witness not only Tyrion (who was the only character to see action in A Game of Thrones) but Davos take up arms and get into the fighting which is told with an excellent amount of intensity and brutality that allows you really picture the battle at hand and the confusing nature of such a fight.

Books, Close Encounters Book Club

Neuromancer – William Gibson

Yay, its book club meeting time.

July’s book was William Gibson’s “Neuromancer”, I book that I’d heard was a big part of the initial cyberpunk movement, a genre that I’ve not read any fiction from but am a huge fan of films such as Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Blade Runner and The Matrix. Alot of distopian literature released since its original publication can be linked back to it too I suppose.

So Neuromancer, for those that haven’t read it, is all about a hacker named Chase, who has turned to a life of hustling in Chiba City, Japan, in order to make enough money to eat and spend the night in a “coffin hotel” which, to me, sound alot like the capsule/pod hotel’s that you can find in Japan, but with a few more bells and whistles like magnetic locks and some sort of computer terminal. Chase isn’t able to access the Global Computer Network due to a microtoxyn that he was implanted with after a job went bad, so is now unable to hack. However, he is approached to do a job, with the reward being that he’ll have the microtoxyn removed (thus allowing him to do the job in the first place). A woman called Molly is also employed to do certain aspects of the job, those being more physical oriented in contrast to Chase’s work in Cyberspace, and their employer is a man called Armitage. However, Chase and Molly don’t really know what Armitage is up to, but they begin to suspect something, and as such the book becomes not just a tale of this heist like job they’ve been employed to do, but also their investigation into who Armitage is and what he really wants.

Now, all that there, sounds excellent, but if I’m honest, I really struggled with Neuromancer. I found its language difficult to penetrate and there was so many different terms, characters and locations and everything moves at such a break neck pace that I found myself scrabbling to remember what had happened, to whom and where, and its not really until the final chapters that I felt the whole picture began to click. It was also difficult to escape the influences its had elsewhere, there’s the obvious names such when they discuss Cyberspace or The Matrix, which are both terms that have been adopted elsewhere in our culture, but also with how events pan out it felt like I was watching a few different films all at once, with drug references, computer terminology and military speak all being thrown around, it came as a surprise, but also a relief that when Chase and Molly team up with a Rastafarian pilot, that I began to understand things a little better, and I think as whole the story would have been easier to follow if the central character wasn’t so deeply entangled within the world of being a “Console Cowboy” and being a part of that underworld as the language being used was so far away from what most people used it, as I’ve said, often got confusing.

Thats not to say I didn’t enjoy Neuromancer, I absolutely loved it, and I can actually see me reading through it again at some point in the future (which I rarely manage to do with books) with a better understanding of what the cast are talking about. I think if I did do that I may pick up on some of its more deeper themes.

What did stand out strongly though is the American view of Japan. Now, I’m writing this after reading the first of four volumes of Shigeru Mizuki’s “Showa” which details Japan’s history from the early 20th Century and eventually finishes in the late 1980s, though the volume I’ve finishes reading finishes just before the Second World War. Anyway, theres this view that Japan went from being the nation who was responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbour, who it was felt were still in a feudal period, to suddenly, in the 1980s being this tech supergiant, suddenly everything worth having was coming from an Japanese electronics company and that seems to have skewed the American view of Japan somewhat, so when you read through Neuromancer, its difficult not to read the names and places being used, but see a more grimey, American style setting too, much like that we see in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

There’s a very modern, multi-cultural feel to Neuromancer too, which isn’t just brought about by the racial differences in the characters but by the products they use. Items aren’t really referred to by their object name, instead Gibson prefers to use their brand name, much like we do now, so rather than describing a car, we’re told the characters are in a Citroen or a Mercedes, which are obviously devices that will generate specific types of cars in the readers mind, likewise cigarettes are named by their brand, I think one of the brands mentioned is Gauloises, I may be wrong, but it shows the capitalist world the characters inhabit and ties in to the belief from the 20th Century that you could tell a man by what he drank or smoked.

This sort of thing carries on throughout, and its difficult at times to know what was a real world brand and what wasn’t, especially roughly 35 years on from its original publication.

So, to close, I adored my time with Neuromancer, it felt like work at times, but that not necessarily a bad thing, some times a book requires some effort on the readers part for it to really get under the readers skin, and it gave me a hankering to watch Akira, Ghost in the Shell, both Blade Runner movies and The Matrix again

Books

A Game of Thrones – George R R Martin

I was apprehensive about starting A Game of Thrones, I’ve never really gotten on with any Fantasy stories I’ve tried and whilst I’ve seen the show and enjoyed that, the books sitting there on the shelf were really rather intimidating and the show hadnt really inspired me to pick them up before and start reading. I was expecting that I’d be counting down the pages hoping that I’d finish in time for our meet up to discuss it, but I actually finished a few days shy of a week early (although admitedly I did start a week prior to the last meeting as I’d gotten ahead of myself) and quite enjoyed it, I’m actually looking forward to reading the next book through August, although I’m glad for the break between! I certainly couldn’t mainline them like my other half has the audiobooks, shes on the last one of the main series thats been written and has got to that stage in the same time its taken me to read just the one book!

My initial impressions are that the show sticks fairly closely to this first book, or at least what I remember of the key events in the first season stick fairly close to the events of the book, although I haven’t watched the first season through for a couple of years now so I could be wrong on that.

Let’s get this out of the way early, its a bit pervy. I know that things were very different in the kind of era that this was set, but this is a fantasy piece of work, its not set in any kind of reality, so the attention to detail regarding the physical developments and sexual treatments of some of the female characters were really uncomfortable to read. Also, it doesnt even really feel like Martin was writing this stuff because “thats how it would have been”, the writing comes across like he’s enjoying writing about these young girls, Daenerys in particular. The strong focus on how Daenerys ‘ relationship with Khal Drogo develops (somehow) from him raping her (because lets not beat around the bush, thats what it was) to her consenting and falling in love with him feels voyeuristic and I dreaded Daenerys ‘ chapters for that reason.

Another character I couldn’t get on with, but for very different reasons (and Danaerys’ weren’t strictly her fault) was Sansa. I know she’s been brought up with the equivalent of fairy tales in her head and been raised to be a lady, but shes a lady of the North and thus shouldn’t be so absolutely fucking naive all the god damned fucking time. Pretty much everything that goes wrong throughout the entire book (with maybe the exception of what started it all: Bran being pushed by Jaime) has Sansa’s naivety at its origins. Every time the girl opens her mouth I wanted her to shut up as she was always getting somebody, or to be more accurate, her family, into trouble. Losing Lady was unfair, I’ll agree to that but any body else would have seen Joffrey for who he was when faced with the situation with Arya and the baker boy. But time and again she fell foul of Cersey’s ability to scheme and turn things to her advantage, but then I can hardly blame her. Idiocy seems to be in the blood of the Starks.

The problem here is, I know alot of what happens to some of these characters. I know theres differences between the books and the show and that some characters and events are omitted from the latter for a variety of reasons so I’m really looking forward to seeing how things develop. I have to say, and I know this is heresy, but I was never a fan of Daenerys . In the show she has acts holier than thou even though, in my opinion, her decisions dont reflect how she see’s herself nor how others treat her. I’m wondering if alot of the love she receives from fans is down to who she is within the story, but we’ll have to wait and see for now.

Books, Close Encounters Book Club

Leviathan Wakes – James S. A. Corey

May’s Close Encounters Books Without Pictures Book Club book was Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey which is the first volume in the The Expanse series that is also an Amazon Prime Video show. I’ve not watched anything of the show prior to starting the book and only watched half the first episode since (my other half had to take a phone call during it so we shelved it and haven’t gone back yet as we’ve gone on a true crime binge since). It’s the first proper sci-fi we’ve read since I joined the group, Day of the Triffids is sort of sci-fi but not SPACE SCI-FI! So I was genuinely looking forward to starting it and ended up blasting through it. I’m not a particularly fast reader but I finished Leviathan Wakes within a couple of weeks rather than having to cram read before we met again.

The Authors (as its a team of two writers (Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) writing under a pseudonym) have jumped head on into bringing us a space opera story that not only fits well within the sci-fi genre but also borrows horror elements too. It was hard not to think of both Ridley Scott’s Alien, Visceral Games’ Dead Space, Paul W S. Anderson’s Event Horizon and a whole host of other space set movies and games, there was also a sprinkling of Red Dwarf in the back of my mind as I read it. Mostly because I kept picturing James Holden as Captain Hollister even though Abraham/Franck’s descriptions do not tally with the image in my mind, nor do the characters actions and, with all due respect to Mac McDonald, the rather attractive Steven Strait (who is a more believable depiction of Holden) was the furthest thing from my mind.

Unlike a lot of tales, I don’t think Abraham/Franck were trying to apply any sort of moralistic story to Leviathan Wakes, unlike the aforementioned Day of the Triffids which looked at survival, communities and how people would behave in the situation depicted in that book, Leviathan Wakes is most definetly a TV Space set action based drama in the vein of something like the earlier seasons of the Battlestar Galactica remake. Initially it all starts with a very horror-movie like feel, with a girl being trapped in a locker after her ship was boarded and not knowing whats happened to her crew mates and then it brings in some body horror moments with the crew being amalgamated into a bionic mass that has taken over (if I remember correctly) the ships drive room. After that we’re thrown into space battles and a pretty cool, almost Blade Runner-esque (more Ridley Scott then) detective drama as the action switches between Captain Holden and Detective Miller before bringing back the horror elements and finally switching to political drama and Star Wars style space combat (minus any Jedi shtick, which if it went down that route would have made the book swing heavily towards Ready Player One territory which wouldn’t have been a good thing).

Abraham/Franck have stated they wanted to go for a setting that sits somewhere between the normal sci-fi stories. Man isn’t on the verge of exploring the stars, nor has it colonized the galaxy, but it has managed to set up homes on Mars and amongst the asteroid belts in between, using water harvested from said asteroids for the inhabitants of Mars and the Belter colonoies to survive on. They try, and mostly succeed, to explore territorial, political and evolutional differences between the three distinct colonies and how relations between the three can easily break down due to one incident. The series has been likened to A Game of Thrones (which we’re reading for June and discussing at the start of July) for this reason (and also because Franck is George R R Martin’s assistant) but (and thus far I can only compare it to the TV adaption of GoT) it’s not quite as political as Martin’s works as the two characters it focuses on are very different and wield very little political power (although Holden has a few bargaining chips up his sleeve as the plot develops).

I had a feeling I would enjoy Leviathan Wakes, so I’m not surprised by how much I enjoyed it, and I fully intend on trying to read other books in the series (Caliban’s War is already on my To Read pile after I found it for 50p in a charity shop) and watching the show, the biggest thing I enjoyed about it was its attention to detail, I loved all the talk about gravity thrust and the quieter moments upon the Rocinante, which its revealed late on is named after Don Quixote’s horse, but I also discovered that Prog Rock band Rush wrote two song’s telling the story of a space pilot who had a ship with the same name who is dragged into a black hole thats worth a listen to (even if the two songs combined weigh in at 25 minutes), if you really want to hear them, I’ve posted them below.