Archive for August, 2018

Review: Vox by Christina Dalcher

Friday, August 31st, 2018

In the near future, a populist demagogue comes to power in America and rolls back decades of progress on women’s rights. In the end, women are forced to wear bracelets which limit the number of words they can say in a day — speak more than 100 words and you get an electric shock. The more you speak, the more powerful the shock. Gays are imprisoned, and anyone who resists the new order is sent off to labour camps.

In other words, Vox is a satire of Trumpian America. One reviewer has called it a re-imagining of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, but to me it reads more like a re-working of Sinclair Lewis’ classic novel from 1935, It Can’t Happen Here. Like Lewis’ book, this one focusses on a family divided by the rise of a uniquely American kind of fascism. There are the children who are raised to be little monsters by the state, unrecognisable to their parents. And there is — thankfully — the Resistance. Dystopian fiction without a resistance of any kind, such as George Orwell’s 1984, can be unbearably painful to read.

Vox is an excellent book that deserves a wide readership.

Review: We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Legend and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Film, by Noah Isenberg

Thursday, August 23rd, 2018

This is the story of Casablanca — where the story came from, how the film was made, and its “afterlife” right up until a Facebook post by Elizabeth Warren on a recent New Year’s Eve, where she described watching the film at home.  It’s comprehensive, full of detail, and yet a somehow unsatisfying account.  For example, while much is made of the fact that virtually the entire cast of the film consisted of European refugees, many of them Jewish, the film skips over the issue of anti-semitism completely.  This is mentioned by Noah Isenberg, but not discussed in any detail.  And the author’s attempt to be fair-minded means that he sometimes gives equal weight to conflicting views which cannot both be right.  For example, most of the second half of the book is about the incredible importance of Casablanca in modern culture, and how it has been passed down from generation to generation.  And right in the middle of this discussion, he tosses in a few sentences by someone who says the exact opposite — that audiences today don’t get references to the film, and have never seen it.  It left me wondering if the author had a view on this at all.  But those are minor complaints.  It’s a well-written book that tells a fascinating story, and had me digging through my old pile of DVDs so that like Senator Warren, I could spend a quiet evening at home once again watching the goings-on at Rick’s.

Review: The Boy on the Bridge

Monday, August 20th, 2018

M.R. Carey has done it again. The Girl With All the Gifts was a terrific example of post-apocalyptic zombie fiction and this book is (mostly) the prequel. The problem with prequels is that you know what is going to happen. But that’s not the case here, and despite obvious similarities to the previous book, this is an entirely original story set in the same imaginary world. While The Girl offered a relentlessly bleak view of that world, this book offers a ray of hope, which I appreciated. Carey is a terrific storyteller and this book gripped me from the first page.

Review: The Martian Girl, by Andrew Martin

Saturday, August 4th, 2018

To be clear, this is not a book about Martians, or even girls. The central character is a woman in her late thirties, Jean Beckett, a writer who lives in today’s London. She is writing a one-woman play — later it becomes a novel — about a young woman named Kate French who lived in London a century earlier, and performed on stage as “The Martian Girl”. There are clear parallels in the lives of the two women, particularly in the men who are central to those lives and who turn out to be (no spoilers here) real jerks. This is a brilliant novel, with well-drawn characters, and an acute knowledge of London now and as it was at the end of the 19th century. It’s about writing, and research, and deception, and fear and love. Andrew Martin is an accomplished writer of historical mysteries, but this is the first of his that I’ve read. It will not be the last.

Review: Just one damned thing after another, by Jodi Taylor

Wednesday, August 1st, 2018

I love time travel stories.  And I love history.  This book had a lot of promise.  The main character, Max (who’s female), is witty and loveable.  The book is full of action.  There are lots of jokes about historians.  (Historians in this series carry blaster guns and pepper spray, and have been known to do battle with a T-Rex.)  But there are far too many characters to keep track of, and far too many of them die in combat.  I had difficulty telling them apart.  This book is the first of a rather long series, but I doubt I’ll continue with the others.