Tag Archives: book review


The snow has arrived with the force of a billlion snowflakes.  Because it is a billion snowflakes.  The implications of this for me are a morning shovelling snow and the writing group being postponed for another week at the least.  Which is really bloody convenient because, quite honestly, I am way behind in my assignments!

I blame William Gibson, in part, but in a loving way.  I’ve been reading his novel Idoru as part of my resolution to read a book a month.  I almost finished it twice in the past three years or so before biting the bullet this time.  It’s a good book, but it just seems to catch me at points in my life when it is destined to not be finished.

Gibson writes sci-fi I assume is classified as soft but refuse to verify online at this point for fear of spoilers.  It is stunning in that the future he paints is something feasible and well-conceived; it’s modest enough in its projections that it doesn’t age itself but makes big enough leaps to be an interesting read.  In fact, it didn’t dawn on me it had been written in the late nineties until I suddenly noticed they were all jacking in with wires rather than without them.

There’s a Ghost in the Shell edge to it, for sure, but it doesn’t slap you around the head with cyborgs – normally the first calling card of the dated sci-fi.  .  He also paints a future which is neither dystopian nor utopian, which is immensely refreshing.  The world he shows us just is, the same way the present day world is, with its good points and its bad points.  Though I’ll admit, the good points are very good.  He makes me wish I owned a Sandbenders computer like Chia’s, or could see nodal points in a sea of internet data like Laney.

I’m most impressed with the representation of Japan.  Gibson captures the feel of the place incredibly well: the manic Japan of bright colours and cutesy things and the Japan of feverish overwork and obsession with technology; the orderliness and reservation of its traditional culture versus its capital, the insomniac metropolis.  Even the obliqueness, almost opaqueness, of its bureaucratic circles comes through.  He shows Tokyo being rebuilt with nanobots after an earthquake, which sounds quintessentially Japanese.  It’s truly impressive to properly capture a foreign culture, anyway, but to predict its future in a way which makes someone who knows a lot about Japan, like me, go, “Yeah, probably.”  That’s in a whole other class.

His style is very distinctive, too.  Sentence fragments standing alone.  Whenever he describes any person or small action, it makes you feel that you are his character, observing details as they are happening in a split-second communication between the optic nerve and the brain.  There’s something almost passive about it which makes it feel more real.

His characters are also first class.  Chia, a fourteen-year-old fan of a band, is delightfully competent, thoughtful and not obnoxious in the slightest, and yet Gibson doesn’t forget she is a teenager at any point in his portrayal of her.  Maryalice is completely awesome, the flighty, slightly crazy southern belle of whom we just don’t get to see enough.  Not to mention Kathy, the orchestrator of celebrity at TV network Slitscan, who believes avidly in a natural order of fame and its decline.

I knew Gibson was a legendary sci-fi writer, but reading his stuff really raises my ambitions.  I want to achieve what he does in his work and take what I can from his very distinctive and gritty style.  My only problem right now is that his very distinctive and gritty style is all that’s in my typing fingers when I’m trying to write a comedy!

With that, I shall leave you.  But only with my favourite quote from Kathy Torrence:

“[Slitscan’s audience] is best visualized as a vicious, lazy, profoundly ignorant, perpetually hungry organism craving the warm god-flesh of the anointed. Personally I like to imagine something the size of a baby hippo, the color of a week-old boiled potato, that lives by itself, in the dark, in a double-wide on the outskirts of Topeka. It’s covered with eyes and it sweats constantly. The sweat runs into those eyes and makes them sting. It has no mouth, Laney, no genitals, and can only express its mute extremes of murderous rage and infantile desire by changing the channels on a universal remote. Or by voting in presidential elections.”

Was Noah’s Compass Also Laura’s Compass?

No.  Not particularly.

Let me back up and start again with this one.  When I said I was going to be reflecting on books to help improve my writing, I said so having recently joined a book club.  I reckon it’s a better place to start, in a lot of ways, because it means I’m reading something I would normally never dream of picking up.  I personally need the book club because before I joined, although I was an avid reader as a child, I hadn’t finished a fiction book in ten years.  I know how terrible that sounds on paper, so now I am making up for it.

Noah’s Compass by Anne Tyler is the second book I have read on our reading list.  The book is about a 60-year-old man named Liam whose bout of memory loss causes him to question his current life and purpose in the world.

For the most part I enjoyed the book.  It was well-written and easy to become immersed in its universe.  At one point, as a sat down again and opened to the bookmarked page, I remember consciously feeling myself submerge back into this other universe.  It was genuinely very enjoyable.

Then something unfortunate happened.  Namely that I got to the final thirty pages and started to get a sneaking suspicion that the lead character was not going to have evolved as much as I hoped he would.  In fact, scratch “hoped”: I wanted to see Liam evolve because, after 250 pages with him, I felt I deserved to see him evolve more.  I do understand that the point of the book is to keep afloat in life rather than hunt for personal fulfilment or change, but the writing style flowed so well at times that honestly if there was a major eureka moment regarding this idea I must have glanced over it.  It’s all personal taste, but for my thick noggin it was a bit too subtle.

I can’t take much away from Noah’s Compass, not least because our genres are so different I don’t think there’s much comparison.  One thing it has got me thinking about, however, is that change needs to occur in proportion with the length and pace of a book.  As a reader I won’t be thrilled if I read through 450 pages just for the deadbeat dad to eventually have the sense to buy his infant son one ice cream.  The same is true in reverse: if, at the end of twenty pages of sitting on the couch, Ben the Capitalist suddenly flips his entire world view and makes the sickle and hammer his Facebook picture it won’t be very believable.

No-one is saying that all of a character’s problems should be magically resolved by the final chapter, but an audience generally wants to feel that something has been clearly achieved by the characters during the course of the plot – whether that something is external, internal or both.

To conclude, my writer’s resolution here is to make absolutely sure my lead character takes something away from her experiences in the novel and makes peace with some aspect of her identity.