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 Sarah Bennett takes on some work for a scientist, Dr Keating, who is interested in how the environment around Chernobyl has responded to the nuclear disaster.  She does so with an ulterior motive, hoping to find out more about his role in developing a drug which was supposed to help patients with mental health problems - but appears to have driven some of them to suicide.   I won’t spoil the plot by elaborating much more than that, but what looks at first like it’s going to be a straightforward investigative eco- and/or medical thriller turns out to be about a lot more besides.  

The neuroscience element was reminiscent of some of the issues that Ted Chiang has tackled in stories such as “Understand” and "Liking What You See".  Personally, I think Troy Ernest Hill does an even better job than Chiang, particularly in his portrayal of subtle changes in the thought patterns of one of the characters in response to the drug and his focus on the delicate balance between our capacity for rational thought and our emotions.  Nor is it the case that the book focuses on these ideas to the exclusion of more conventional novelistic material;  on the contrary, the relationships between Sarah, her anxious pre-teen daughter, her evangelical Christian mother and her somewhat self-obsessed ex-partner are convincingly portrayed and entertainingly described (Sarah’s narration has a wry humour and she doesn’t take herself too seriously – which provides a pleasing counter-balance to some of the heavyweight concepts that the book deals with).  Highly recommended.  I can also recommend Troy Ernest Hill’s short story “The Nose”, which you can read for free here and which is reviewed here.



The Last by Hanna Jameson

I really enjoyed this but found it bizarre that it was being marketed as a crime thriller.  I mean, yes, there is a murder mystery element – but the really big thing that has happened is that there’s been a major exchange of nuclear weapons, so it’s more about survival in the aftermath of that.  According to the blurb though, you will want to read it because it’s a crime thriller  - and not because you might be going, OMG, the world as we know it has ended in a nuclear war – how did that happen and how are the survivors going to get on?  It's another example of publishers' unhealthy obsession with pigeon-holing books by genre.  The reason for the somewhat peculiar marketing angle may be that (so far as I can see) Hanna Jameson has up until this book specialized in crime fiction.   It’s possible her publishers were concerned about losing that fanbase, who they patronisingly assumed wouldn’t read anything other than murder mysteries and the like.   Anyway, I think it’s fair to describe it as a thriller, but not really as crime fiction.  Yes, the narrator tries to solve a murder at the remote Swiss hotel where the characters all end up being stranded, but that’s as much displacement activity as anything, trying to fill his days and blot out thoughts about the really terrible BIG THING that has happened.  In terms of what it’s actually about, I’d say it had more in common with Station Eleven, which I reviewed here – it’s the sort of book that makes you think about all the things we take for granted about life in the early 21st century and how you would feel if they were suddenly taken away from you.



Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar

The Czech Republic decides to send an astronaut to investigate a mysterious dust cloud.  Sounded a bit weird, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing in my experience.  Plus, the reviews were generally pretty positive and it won an Arthur C Clarke award.  So I thought I’d give it a try.  I found the early (non-sci-fi) sections about the main character’s childhood after the fall of Communism quite compelling (he has to cope with being ostracised as a result of his father having been a high ranking official in the Czech equivalent of the Stasi).  But the sci-fi element – which, sadly, takes up most of the book - just didn't work for me (and I speak as someone who likes sci-fi but isn’t averse to people taking the piss out of it either).  The author makes use of various sci-fi tropes primarily (I think) to heighten the surreal/satirical quality of the narrative –  and in that respect, the book reminded me a bit of some of Kurt Vonnegut's work.   But after a while, I just stopped caring what happened to the central character - and there wasn't enough going on in terms of original ideas or plot to keep my interest (it was a real struggle to finish and I confess to skimming much of the last third of the book). I’m still scratching my head as to what so many reviewers saw in this book.  I think the author has talent but should stop trying to be so self-consciously wacky and drop the sci-fi (leave that to others who know what they are doing with it).


 

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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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...

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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,...
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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 ...

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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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