Micro Reviews (May 2020)

May 31, 2020
Little Eyes, State of Wonder and The Capital

Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin

This has had lots of glowing reviews but I’m afraid I gave up half way through. The premise sounded interesting.  A craze develops for cute-looking 5G gadgets called Kentukis. These are intended as a kind of artificial pet for their owners, but are only active when “inhabited” by other individuals who have signed up to be “Kentuki-dwellers” (they can see and hear through the Kentuki’s camera and mic and make the odd noise, but communication is not straightforward).  The novel uses an episodic structure and there seemed to be no links between the different narratives, so it reads like a series of short stories.  That in itself wouldn’t have been a problem for me – I can think of plenty of other books with an episodic/disjointed structure that I have enjoyed e.g. this one or this one (both better value than this novel).  The trouble was that I didn’t really care what happened to any of the characters (whether owners or Kentuki-dwellers), there wasn’t much going in terms of plot and the idea of the Kentukis wasn’t particularly original or well developed.  For a longer critique (including some thoughts as to whether this is getting an easier ride in terms of reviews because it’s seen as lit fic more than sci-fi), see my review on LibraryThing  – but there are also lots of glowing reviews there, so it obviously worked for some people.

State of Wonder by Anne Patchett

After Little Eyes, it was a real pleasure to read this (actually, it would have been a pleasure to read this whatever I had read before it).  It had most things I look for in a novel:  good plot and characterisation, high quality writing and some interesting things going on in terms of ideas.  Marina Singh does unglamorous lab work for a pharmaceutical firm but is asked by her employers to go to the Amazon rain forest to find out what happened to her dead colleague, Anders Eckmann.  He went there to make contact with the elusive Dr Annick Swenson, who is conducting field work with an isolated Amazon tribe in the hope of creating a breakthrough drug – but seems to have gone AWOL.  

In the hands of a lesser author such material might easily have become cliché e.g. the pharma company would’ve been 100% evil, whilst the Amazon tribe would’ve symbolised what is missing from modern Western society, bla bla bla.  But the pharma company is not evil, it’s just doing what pharma companies do (trying to develop new drugs which, unfortunately, sometimes leads to other beneficial lines of inquiry being neglected – but that’s essentially down to market failure, not the sheer evilness of big pharma).  The Amazon tribe is not idealized either – and neither is the Amazon itself.  And a lesser author would probably have been content with the somewhat severe and enigmatic Dr Swenson being little more than a female version of Kurtz from Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” (with which some parallels are no doubt intended).  But again, the book resists going down that path and eventually gives us more insight into this initially mysterious character than we get into Conrad’s Kurtz.  It’s also the story of the central character, Marina, finally coming to terms with the loss of her father and a number of other events in her past.  Will definitely be reading more by this author.

The Capital by Robert Menasse

This is billed by the publishers as a “House of Cards” for the EU – a strapline which, it seems to me, makes it almost guaranteed to disappoint some readers because the ins and outs of EU bureaucracy (such as they are) simply cannot compare with the no holds barred Washington politics depicted in that series.  Fortunately I took that sales puff with a very hefty pinch of salt.  I found parts of the book very entertaining and I thought the author really nailed some aspects of the EU and the internal politics of the Commission.  On the other hand, there are many flaws, outlined at greater length in my Librarything review and so ultimately, for me, it was a disappointment (the biggest problem is that the author seems to have ambitions to make a big statement about the EU and how far it falls short of its ideals - which is fair enough, but I'm just not sure that works if you've spent the last several hundred pages taking the piss out of the very thing you are now suggesting could be truly great, if only it could realise its potential).  Anyway, there may well be a great novel to be written about the EU but sadly, this isn’t it.


Micro Reviews (April 2020)

April 29, 2020
What Was Lost, Middle England and The Quantum Spy

What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn

I really enjoyed the first section of this novel – which is set in the 1980s and features an eleven year old girl, Kate, who’s obsessed with becoming a detective.  It reminded me a little of an excellent self-published novel by Stephanie Newell called The Third Person, which I reviewed here.  Kate then disappears in mysterious circumstances.  The middle section jumps 20 years ahead and introduces us to Ku...

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LibraryThing in the time of coronavirus

March 30, 2020

At the end of last year, I joined LibraryThing, mainly out of dissatisfaction with the recommendations on Goodreads, which I found to be very hit and miss (more miss than hit, to be frank).  I was going to wait a while before doing a review of my experience to date, but LibraryThing has just announced that it is now free (partly in response to the coronavirus pandemic and everyone being in lockdown), so I decided to put my thoughts down now.

Better at recommendations than Goodreads?

I'm afraid ...
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Micro-reviews (January 2020)

January 29, 2020
Myxocene, The Last and Spaceman of Bohemia

Myxocene by Troy Ernest Hill 

“Myxocene” is a name that some have proposed for where we might end up if we continue to degrade the planet at current rates (the “myx” comes from the Greek “muxa”, meaning slime; adding “-ocene” on the end gets you “age of slime”).  Anyway, that’s the jumping off point for this excellent and thought-provoking speculative thriller (which, by the way, is also self-published).  Freelance journalist Sara...

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The end justifies the means: a bad motto to live by

December 28, 2019

Some thoughts on the UK election

Well, what a massively depressing result – for many reasons, not just the fact that we have to put up with this odious cretin as Prime Minister for 5 years:  

First and foremost amongst them is that (as I feared) the election has not really moved us on from where we were after the EU referendum, 3 years ago.  OK, sure, it has made it clear that Brexit is going to happen – that’s hard to dispute.  But the Conservative Party manifesto did not set out how it ...

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We don't need to talk about Brexit (apparently)

October 30, 2019

It’s October 2019, more than 3 years after the EU referendum and the UK still hasn’t managed to sort out the mess it’s got itself into.  I’ve been on yet another possibly futile Anti-Brexit March (see photo).  Understandably, almost everyone is sick of the whole thing – and there are many calls to just “get it over with”, no matter how it’s resolved.  But I’m going to do a blog post about it anyway.  

Why?  Because it matters how Brexit is resolved.  Unlike electing a governm...

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My self-publishing mid-life crisis

August 17, 2019

Here's a guest post that I was asked to do for a blog run by an outfit called Imprint Digital, that specialises in short run book printing (including for self-published authors).  They've run a number of guest posts by other self-published authors, which are also worth a look.  A common theme from those posts seems to be a general disillusionment with traditional publishers (not that this should come as any great surprise...).

UPDATE 12.2019:  As Imprint Digital seem to have removed my article...

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Micro-reviews (July 2019)

July 21, 2019
Dreams from Before the Start of Time, Bad Blood, The Secret Barrister

Dreams from Before the Start of Time by Anne Charnock

This is a thoughtful, episodic novel following the lives of several generations from 2034 to 2120, focusing on potential advances in reproductive technology – and critically, how they lead to changes in the way that people feel about their lives.  Although slow-paced, it drew me in sufficiently to keep me reading and I enjoyed it - but a little Googling around suggests t...

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User Not Found

June 3, 2019

Last week I went to see “User Not Found”, an impressive production by a small theatre company called Dante or Die, which specialises in performances designed for unusual locations.   This one was in a café next to Battersea Power Station.  It’s about what happens to our digital/social media presence after we die.  

The play opens with the main character, Terry, sitting in the café with his mobile phone and his headphones on (playing the sound of waterfalls through his favourite app).  ...

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R.I.P. Feedbooks

May 7, 2019

A rather terse email from Feedbooks confirming that - as I had suspected for a while - it is dead as a self-publishing platform.  Not very impressed that I had to contact them to ask what was going on - they didn't see fit to email any of the many hundreds of authors who have contributed to their platform, nor have they even bothered to put up a notice on their website about their decision.  And they could at least have provided an explanation.

The site had been going downhill for a few years,...
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About Me

Paul Samael Welcome to my blog, "Publishing Waste" which will either (a) chronicle my heroic efforts to self-publish my own fiction; or (b) demonstrate beyond a scintilla of doubt the utter futility of (a). And along the way, I will also be doing some reviews of other people's books and occasionally blogging about other stuff.
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