Micro-reviews (April 2019)

April 29, 2019
Semiosis, Court Out and A Gentleman in Moscow



Semiosis by Sue Burke

The initial premise of this novel is a bit of a hoary old sci-fi cliché:  idealistic refugees from an Earth beset by environmental disaster travel to an alien planet (which they name Pax) and attempt to create a better society there, aiming to live more in harmony with their environment.  But it was very well reviewed, so I thought I’d give it a try.  Things get off to a rocky start for the colonists when Pax turns out to be inhabited by sentient plants, some of which respond rather aggressively to the human interlopers.  The first few sections felt a bit pedestrian/formulaic and I wondered what all the fuss was about.  But I’m glad I persevered because it turned into something much more original and thought provoking than your typical humans vs aliens conflict story – not least because some of the plants appear to be more welcoming, including an intelligent bamboo who develops into one of the main characters in the story.  

“An intelligent bamboo?  Really?” I hear you ask.  Well, yes, put as baldly as that, it may sound a tad absurd, but we already know that plants on Earth are, for example, able to send messages to one another to warn of pests etc (see this blog post) – so why shouldn’t the author imagine that in a different ecosystem, some plants might have developed those abilities to a level which allows them to think?   And whereas on Earth, humans are very much the dominant species, on Pax, it’s not entirely clear who’s domesticating whom – in particular, you begin to wonder if the bamboo is manipulating the humans for its own ends.  I also liked the novel’s portrayal of the way that, in order to survive on Pax, the colonists are forced to compromise some of their initial ideals – thus avoiding what could, in lesser hands, easily have become a rather pat exercise in “greenwashed sci-fi”.  The novel has its own website here and Sue Burke’s website is here.



Court out by Elle Wynne

A well-written self-published comic novel combining a racy, legal thriller-type plot (our heroine is a barrister) with chick lit-style romantic comedy.  As some other reviewers have pointed out, there were some typos but not enough to spoil my enjoyment of it.  I always struggle to find much else to say about comic writing – it was funny and had a good story, what more do you want?  I’m also hardly an afficionado of the genre, but I would guess that the legal thriller aspect differentiates it from quite a lot of chick lit.  As a lawyer, I can say that the legal aspects felt authentic - although not being massively familiar with the world of criminal law, it’s hard to say exactly how accurate it is.  At the time of writing, it was free on Smashwords.  There's a good number of positive reviews on Amazon too. 




A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

It’s 1922 and Count Rostov is expecting the usual fate reserved for Russian aristocrats by their new Communist overlords.  However, having written a poem that is seen as an important contribution to the pre-Revolutionary cause, it is decided that it would be bad form to simply shoot him in the head.  Instead, he is sentenced to house arrest in one of Moscow’s grandest hotels.  Booted out of his suite, he is relegated to a servant’s quarters in the attic and forced to earn his keep as a waiter in the restaurant.  The novel follows what happens to him right through to the mid-1950s.  

As you might expect, the contrast between the main character’s aristocratic background and the new post-Revolutionary Russia provides a rich source of humour.   It could all too easily have bubbled over into a rather frothy, nostalgic and somewhat rose-tinted view of what was, for many people, pretty awful period in Russian history.  After all, the protagonist ends up being somewhat insulated from the outside world by his house arrest, which means he’s not supposed to leave the hotel (although he does manage it on occasion).  He’s also protected by the fact that the authorities find him quite useful to keep the hotel running, whilst fortunately not being so interested in him that he’s ever at any risk from one of Stalin’s purges.   

However, although our hero isn’t directly affected by such developments, other characters that he makes friends with are – and the novel’s handling of these issues is made more effective by not spelling out exactly what happens to some of them and leaving it to your imagination (keeping its perspective aligned with that of the central character, who can only see what goes on within the hotel).  The hotel is also regularly used by the Communist top brass, which allows for a privileged view of what’s going on with the new Russian aristocracy – again, helping to avoid a sense that this is a story taking place in rather splendid isolation from what’s happening in the wider world outside.  The Count also has enough self-awareness to realise that despite its constraints, his “life sentence” might actually make him one of the luckiest people in the country – so rather than chafing against the confines of his existence, he aims to make the most of it, which is one of the things that makes his story such a pleasure to read. 

You might also be interested in:
 

I'm British and I'm on a march - something must've gone badly wrong

March 24, 2019


Went on the anti-Brexit march yesterday - this is now my third since 2017, but prior to that, I'd never been on a demonstration before and didn't see myself as the kind of person who generally did that sort of thing (which is where the headline of this piece comes from - it's from a placard at one of the earlier marches).

For anyone inclined to dispute the figure of over a million demonstrators, all I can say is that there were a lot more people than previously.  On the first march I attended,...
Continue reading...
 

Micro-reviews (March 2019)

March 11, 2019
Show Them What They Won, The Book of Strange New Things, The Sparrow



Show Them What They Won by Sean Boling

Ever wondered how many people have to die before gun-enthusiasts in the States start to question whether the easy availability and widespread ownership of fire-arms in their country might be part of the problem?  Somehow though, the latest mass shooter incident always seems to get turned on its head, with the gun lobby managing to deflect blame by deploying absurd arguments about how the ...

Continue reading...
 

Micro-reviews (December 2018)

December 24, 2018
The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks against the United States, Standard Deviation and Perfidious Albion


The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks against the United States by Jeffrey Lewis

Christmas 2018 is almost upon us – and what better way to get into the festive mood than by pondering the chances of North Korea actually using its nuclear weapons?  Jeffrey Lewis is an expert on North Korea’s nuclear programme and this novel starts off in ...

Continue reading...
 

Tragedy or farce?

November 24, 2018



I recently read “Adults in the Room” by Yanis Varoufakis – the former Greek Finance Minister’s account of his experiences trying to negotiate with the EU over the Greek bailout after the financial crisis.  Based on his media profile, I had tended to view Varoufakis as a bit, well, full of himself.  And it’s certainly true that, as the computer-programmed match commentary on my son’s FIFA Xbox football game was almost guaranteed to say if you dribbled the ball around an awful lot w...

Continue reading...
 

The Prancing Jacana

November 9, 2018



The Prancing Jacana by Steven John Halasz is (for me at any rate) what Graham Greene liked to call “an entertainment”:  it doesn’t take itself too seriously, it has an intriguing thriller-style plot that ticks along at a nice pace, but it’s also written with a literary sensibility and manages to deal with some serious issues along the way.

Caroline Parker, a best-selling American author of crime fiction, has set her latest novel in Senegal – where it has just been banned, having offe...

Continue reading...
 

Self-publishing: a review of Amazon KDP

October 3, 2018



So, I have finally got around to putting my novel up on Amazon using Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) - having previously only made it available on sites that would let me offer it for free (such as Smashwords).   I am hoping I can persuade Amazon to make it free for at least some of the time by pointing out that they are being undersold by numerous other sites, where it is free.  

But if I can't, I guess there is still some benefit of having it up there for people who prefer the convenience of ...
Continue reading...
 

Micro-reviews (August 2018)

August 29, 2018
The Speed of Sound, The Bees and The Three Body Problem



The Speed of Sound by Thomas Dolby

Thomas Dolby has had an unusual career – he had some success in the eighties as a solo artist, a film music composer and a producer of other artists (e.g. Prefab Sprout and – rather less successfully, as he freely admits - Joni Mitchell).  But he became increasingly disillusioned with the music industry and switched to being a tech entrepreneur, eventually coming up with the software that enabled mobi...

Continue reading...
 

Micro-reviews (June 2018)

June 22, 2018

Station Eleven
, The 7th Function of Language and Night Heron




Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

The central premise of this novel is not especially new – a virus wipes out most of human race and civilization as we know it collapses. However, the approach is a bit different from most treatments of this scenario.  These tend to focus on either the event itself and its immediate aftermath, or a point in time when it’s become something of a dim and distant memory and a new post-apocalyptic ...

Continue reading...
 

Publishing: the hedge fund approach

June 3, 2018



A hedge fund (De Montfort Capital) is offering new writers a salary of £24K a year and support to develop their careers.  Part of me thinks this approach to publishing is quite laudable - but part of me thinks it's slightly mad.  The bits I liked were the upfront commitment, the 50% royalty on sales and the support  - which is a striking contrast to most publishers, whose usual model involves a paltry royalty rate, limited help with editing, promotion etc and only committing themselves once ...
Continue reading...
 

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.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Make a free website with Yola