Apocryphal's 2021 Reads
Our good friend @dr_mitch kept a monthly roundup of his books read over the last two years. I like the format and will attempt to do the same this year. I hope he continues.
The Evidence by Christopher Priest, 2020, 360 pages
His latest novel, recently released, and set in The Dream Archipelago. Reading this is what gave me the idea to propose this year's Slow Read, and I had initially intended this to be the 'novel' of the group, but because of it's recent release, it still wasn't widely available in affordable formats. This is a mystery thriller with a few twists - one being the it takes place in a part of the world where 'mutability' is a factor and the circumstances on the ground can change. This ended up being more of an interesting background element than pivotal to the mystery, which I think was probably just as well. Amusing for me, the protagonist is himself a mystery novel writer who likes to explain his trade to the reader and he keeps telling the reader that there are a number of trusts and rules that a good mystery writer would never break, though it is obvious that Christopher Priest has broken all of them in the writing of his tale. 3.5 out of 5.
Far Rainbow / The Second Invasion From Mars by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, 1967, 240 pages
I continue to read through their catalogue, which also continues to grow in new English translated material from various publishers. This is an older publication in English - part of Theodore Sturgeon's Soviet SF series. It offers two novellas in one book.
Far Rainbow is set on a distant planet, a research colony of mainly scientists and their families, though there are also a few tourists and adventurers. When the colony is threatened by the approach of a new kind of wave (lots of handwaving here), the settlement must prepare themselves to evacuate. In so doing, their must ask what's most important - their own lives and their children's - or their research, to the benefit of humanity. The protagonist, one of the few starship pilots on the colony at the time, faces similar choices. 3.5 out of 5.
The Second Invasion From Mars imagines what happens when H.G. Wells Martians return for their second attempt. This is not at all like War of the Worlds - the second invasion is much faster and more bureaucratic - or so it seems from our limited perspective. The books is a social satire, told entirely from the view of local townspeople who are very reluctant to believe something is happening. Then later, they are either resistance fighters or collaborators. The lead character - a retired astrophysics teacher - is mainly concerned with what will happen to his pension and whether he can deal with the tax on stomach juice. In this, at least, the story has a happy ending! 2.5 out of 5.
3 out of 5 for the collection.
A Boy and his Dog at the End of the World by C.A. Fletcher. 2019, 365 pages
This is a decent novel, told in the first person by someone who grew up after a 'soft apocalypse' during which society ended, but there was no big catastrophic event, just a dramatic dwindling of people. Our narrator lives on an inner Hebridean island with his family. One day, and enigmatic sailor arrives in a sail boat, purporting to be a mendicant trader. Our narrator's coming of age begins when the stranger makes off with his dog, and the chase is on. The story takes us through Blackpool and across the country, ending up in the eastern marshes. We meet various people along the way, and there's a big reveal that might leave you feeling like the title of the book mislead you. So let the title go - it's not really the end of the world, afterall. Overall, a good story. The audio version is narrated by the author. 3 out of 5.
The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston. 2017, 326 pages
This is the story of a the discovery of some previously unknown ruins and a lost culture in the jungles of Honduras. The author was one member of a larger expedition to the jungle to explore and see if something was there, inspired by the colonial era myth of The White City aka The City of the Monkey God. The book covers descriptions of the expedition, the origins of the myth, a history of exploration in the area, and briefly a description of Honduras itself. There's quite a good treatment of the ethical issues of cultural appropriation and archaeological method. The last 1/4 of the book deals with Mucosal Leishmaniasis, which the author and several members of the expedition contracted, and ends with an essay on the spread of infection disease in general. This is interesting, but seems rather lengthy for what is really an aside to the subject matter of the book. Overall and enjoyable read (a listen in my case) with enough here to interest me and get me past the author's vanity (far too much of the book is devoted to trying to impress me - it had the opposite effect). 3 out of 5.
Sleep Donation by Karen Russell, 2014, 110 pages
Our January club pick, and an enjoyable read for me, as you'll know. 4 out of 5