The Quarry by Iain Banks: a review

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This was always going to be a difficult read. The Quarry is the final book to be written by Iain Banks before he died of Cancer. One of the main characters in the book is, yes, dying of cancer. Since the publication of The Wasp Factory Banks has dealt with extreme and dark situations. The Quarry isn’t as extreme and dark as that, but it does step from one shadow to the next.

The story revolves around a group of old university friends having a reunion one weekend about twenty years since their course. It is told through the eyes of Kit, the son of Guy, who is the man dying. The dialogue is gritty, earthy and hard-hitting. In one sense it explores the fact that all the characters, and perhaps us the reader, are all dying / failing / insignificant* (delete deepening which metaphor you want to explore). It doesn’t pull any punches but never dissolves into sentimentality or kitsch.

The Quarry is humanity in all its depravity and futility, yet also in all its fellowship and potential. This won’t bring you tears of joy, or indulge you in escapism. You may find yourself staring at the pages and seeing yourself in the words you read. Banks holds a mirror. As we look into it we see our lives… this was always going to be a difficult read.

Mine by Robert R McCammon: a review

I’m pushing myself to read a lot more this year. I was shocked to see the low number of books that I finished in 2013. I’m also trying to clear a pile of books that had been sitting around for a while. Mine by Robert R McCammon was one of those. I had begun to read it last year but had put it down after one and a half chapters not really getting into it. However, I picked it up again and…

… having got past the first couple of chapters, I was hooked. I will not use the cliché that I couldn’t put it down, but there were a couple of days when I read well over 100 pages in one sitting. For someone who struggles with attention at times, this is almost unheard of.

The psychological drama of the book is gripping. The two main characters are desperate to meet their needs and nothing will stop them. In a journey across the United States they leave a trail of death and destruction. The theme of child abduction is every parent’s nightmare and with a protagonist as warped and insane as Mary ‘Terror’, the nightmare is amplified.

If you want a thriller that will keep you gripped throughout, then Mine is a very good read.

Getting it right – Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey: A Review

Is it possible to always do the right thing?

What if the right thing is different depending on who you are?

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Doing the right thing is explored through the two central characters in James S.A.Corey’s Leviathan Wakes. This is the first novel in the series The Expanse. Miller, a detective in the asteroid belt, and Holden, the second in command of an ice tanker, are drawn into events that could change the very fabric of life itself. It’s space-opera time, and Leviathan Wakes ticks all the genre boxes.

Leviathan Wakes is well-paced and thankfully, as far as the space-opera genre goes, without too many characters. It covers standard ground: political divisions, company arrogance and alien life.

Each chapter is delivered, from the perspective of the two main characters, alternating between each. It isn’t just the chapter perspective that is different. Both Miller and Holden are very different characters. Their views on what is the best course of action vary throughout, although it doesn’t veer into buddy cop territory.

Leviathan Wakes comes to a satisfying conclusion, whilst leaving plenty to explore in the following books of The Expanse series. If you like a little space-opera sci-fi then Leviathan Wakes is well worth a read.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman: a review

Adults follow paths. Children explore

The Ocean at the End of the Lane cover

Exploration is what Neil Gaiman does in this wonderful story. He defies genre as you read through the eyes of a young seven year old boy. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is myth, metaphor, fairy tale, theoretical physics and a childhood memoir in equal parts. It’s about growing up and staying young. It’s about truth and truths, memories and happenstance.

Neil Gaiman captures the feelings and emotions of the seven year old perfectly. At the same time these emotions are filtered through the adult who is recalling, retelling and demythologising the events. The air of mystery and awe throughout, lures you into the magical, or should that be real, world that the young boy travels through.

The story explores the themes of personhood, self-worth and sacrifice. Traditional religious metaphors are conjured with and presented in fresh and unique perspectives. To look for a comparable work, one of the closest would probably be C.S.Lewis’ Narnia series, but Ocean isn’t a Judeo-christian reimagining.

This book should play with your feelings. As such, my truth would suggest the best review would tell you how I felt, well…

I smiled as I remembered, I felt awe as I was transported and I cried as I imagined who and what we could be.

Dread – Friday Fiction

glasses of water
The cold emanated from within. It spread from deep in his gut. Expanding up and down his torso to his arms and legs. It rose up his neck and filled his head like a glass bowl. Cold, and yet it brought sweat. Tiny beads of salt water appeared on is forehead. The cold within, now worked its way out. His skin felt like ice. It was pallid, the only tones made from grey.

He rubbed his hands together and felt their clammy texture. He rubbed them together, trying to rid them of the false damp feeling. Was he shaking? Yes, only just perceptible but it was there. Again coming from his gut. It was like his body had an engine inside, running, humming and juddering, waiting to release its full potential.

His mouth was dry. He swallowed, nothing. He ran his tongue round the inside of his mouth, trying to get the saliva moving. Nothing. He would need a glass of water. But he had forgotten to bring one. He dry gulped again.

He lifted his eyes and looked. He saw the three hundred or so school children seated in the hall before him. He hated public speaking, but as headmaster, assembly was his responsibility.

This is a short piece of Fiction. Written in Fifteen minutes, on a Friday. Unedited

Scrivener, my goto writing app

I am finding myself using Scrivener, the writing application from Laureatte and Latte, for more and more of my writing. For a writing application I suppose this is good news, and to be expected. However, I bought Scrivener to write fiction, and now I am finding it useful for almost every piece of writing I do.

I suppose it is the way that the application can be configured in so many ways, many of which I still haven’t got my head around, that make it so versatile. Being a productivity geek, list writer and index card user, I find the virtual cork board a wonderful tool. The variety of export functions from html, epub to standard text formats, means that my finished work can be ready for its purpose. I am able to plan, develop, write and then publish my content all from one application.

I am using Scrivener for fiction, non-fiction reports, research, blogging and general idea development. The list is growing too, as I find out more about the application. I thought it was worth the cost just to write fiction, but now I am using it for most of the writing I do, it has become one of my best buys ever.

Just to balance things out, Scrivener has got a lot of functionality and it can be daunting to get your head around. But, I am a geek, and one of the joys of geekdom is playing with a piece of software and discovering what it can do. There are a lot of tutorials online and that helps, but just to warn you, it may take a while to feel comfortable using it. They do offer a free trial version though, so if you want to see what it can do, you can have 30 days at no cost.

If you want an application that will help the process of writing, then Scrivener could be for you. It was originally a Mac app, but there is a windows version available, and with a free trial available, what’s stopping you form giving it a go and creating something wonderful!