“The Silkworm” by Robert Galbraith (2014)

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TheSilkworm

The magic continues…

“‘Someone bloody famous,’ said the hoarse voice on the end of the line, ‘better’ve died, Strike.'”

The literary world was taken by storm and surprise last year when a decent but not-great-selling novel turned out to be written by none other than J. K. Rowling, an author that everyone can name, whether they read or not. She returned to the bestseller lists with new characters Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott, a private detective and his secretary, each hiding secrets from one another and trying to track down the murderer of a famous model.

This year, Galbraith/Rowling released The Silkworm, and the literary world was once again taken by storm, although this time fictionally…

In the sequel to the brilliant first novel, author Owen Quine has gone missing and Strike is hired by his wife to find him. She says that sometimes he does just disappear, but this time he’s been missing ten days and she’s starting to get worried. It turns out, though, that just before his disappearance he was trying to publish his newest book, Bombyx Mori, which contains grotesque, thinly-veiled attacks on everyone he knows, from his wife and his mistress, to his editor and agent. While the literary world attempts to keep the novel hushed up, Strike continues his search for anyone who might have last seen Quine.

But then Strike finds Quine dead, killed in the exact same manner as the hero of Bombyx Mori, leading to the obvious suggestion that the murderer is someone who has read the manuscript and, even more likely, is depicted horribily within its pages. Suddenly everyone in literary London wants to talk to Strike, to explain that they couldn’t have done it, but to be equally sure that he knows how hated Quine was. Everyone has an ulterior motive to try and expose someone else, but Strike and Robin are smarter than that, and they soldier on to an explosive showdown…

The book seems to draw much inspiration from Rowling’s experiences within the world of publishing, although I’d imagine she hasn’t been involved in many gory murders therein. However, Strike is scathing of this world in which everyone wants to write. As one character says, the world needs more readers and less writers. Like last time, the novel is populated not only by excellent characters (Cormoran and Robin are two of my favourite characters from the last few years) both big and small, but also by locations in London that I’m now itching to go and visit. Clubs, bars and restaurants are described in great detail as we are invited into literary London. In the first novel we entered the world of models and fashion, and once again we are thrust into a world that most of us will never experience first hand. As Strike notes, London becomes very small once you reach a certain altitude.

Strike is, ultimately, a wonderfully likeable man who obviously has dealt with many struggles in his life, not least the loss of half is leg in Afghanistan, but also problems of the heart, such as his manic ex-girlfriend Charlotte, who he finds out in this novel is just about to get married. Seeing him deal with this turn of events is almost heart-breaking. And on the subject of relationships, Robin’s other half Matthew is never painted in a particularly favourable light; he’s a man who doesn’t understand why Robin would want to do what she does. Robin herself, however, is another brilliant creation, instantly warm and a woman who doesn’t take shit from anybody, as particularly evidenced in a scene where she is harrassed by youths on a council estate.

If I have a complaint, it is the same one as I had in The Cuckoo’s Calling, and that’s just simply that I’d like to spend more page time with Robin. Like I say, Strike is a fascinating character and I enjoy him hugely, but I would like the Holmes/Watson relationship to become a little more balanced, although by the end there are hints that in future books this will be the case. Strike relies on his network of friends and colleagues, and Robin has definitely proven herself to be capable of holding her own among them.

There’s no denying that Rowling can write (and I take back any time I said she couldn’t) and I think it’s brave of her to go for a subject that she clearly knows a lot about (publishing, not murder) because given the topic under discussion, I bet there are a few publishers and editors scouring the pages for mentions of themselves. There are some tongue-in-cheek conversations about writers being odd or vain, and I guess as a writer myself, it’s hard to deny them, but they’re quite funny.

Despite being set in the 2010 winter that froze us all to the bone, the book has a considerable amount of warmth, mostly coming from the easy relationship between the two heroes, and as a continuation of the series it is anything but a disappointment. I remain excited to see what else there is to come from Cormoran and Robin, as Rowling is proving once more that she is better when it comes to a series and she has many more pages to play with.

“The Tenth Planet” by Gerry Davis (1976)

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Well, ninth... poor Pluto.

Well, ninth… poor Pluto.

“The long low room housed three separate rows of control consoles and technicians and resembled Cape Kennedy Tracking Station in miniature.”

I’ve covered Doctor Who novels on a number of occasions, but this one takes us right back to the time of the First Doctor, as played by William Hartnell. The episode is from 1966, the book is from 1976, and it’s one of those ones that definitely shows its age.

Basically, in this story, Earth’s long lost twin planet Mondas has reappeared in the sky and the natives, Cybermen, are coming back to Earth to conquer it and steal all of its power. The Cybermen (for non-Whovians) are an alien race that were once like humans but had a desperation to survive at all costs. They replaced their body parts with metal and plastic until no flesh or bone remained and their brain was replaced with a computer. In their quest for eternal life, they lost their emotions and now run on pure logic.

On Earth, it is the year 2000 and the only people capable of stopping the invasion are the Doctor, his companions Polly and Ben, and the scientific crew of a space tracking station buried beneath Antarctica. But the Doctor is ill and his strength is failing fast. He must work with the humans to stop the invasion and remove Mondas from the sky before the Earth loses all of its power and the human race is deleted from history…

Cybermen have never been my favourite Doctor Who villains, although they look marginally more scary now than they did back then. They come across as creepy, but this is their first appearance and the writers are still clearly working through a few flaws. The Cyberman have names here (possibly the only time they ever do) and there’s still some semblance of humanity about them. They are slightly more hive-mind-like in later appearances; here they still seem to be individual. One particularly odd moment is when they disguise themselves as human soldiers.

The novel also includes the Doctor’s first regeneration at the end of the book. This can’t count as a spoiler, as the cover mentions that it is the First Doctor’s last adventure, so you know that it’s coming. It builds up to it slowly. The Doctor doesn’t do much here, merely gets older and paler, and then turns into Patrick Troughton.

The story has dated in the way that anything from that era that tries to predict the future does. It’s the year 2000 (their future, our past) and mention is made of a manned mission to Mars having just returned to Earth. I miss that optimism and, once again, I must say that it’s about time we started getting interested in manned spaceflights again. We owe it to the past, if nothing else!

A quick read, and of its time, but nonetheless interesting to see an early incarnation of both the Doctor and the Cybermen.

“Dead Man’s Folly” by Agatha Christie (1956)

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dead-mans-folly“It was Miss Lemon, Poirot’s efficient secretary, who took the telephone call.”

There’s no denying that Agatha Christie novels, after a while, begin to follow a format. Take a big country house, fill it will suspicious looking people, toss in a couple of dead bodies, sprinkle with red herrings and there you go! Your basic Christie novel! Christie, however, was well aware of what she was doing and that formulaic approach may have been what led her to write Dead Man’s Folly, possibly the most meta of all her novels.

In this one, we once again meet Ariadne Oliver, a crime novelist and friend of Poirot who pops up occasionally. She is Christie’s self-insert, as it were, being the mouthpiece for Christie’s opinions on writing and the structure of crime novels. She’s also sometimes used so that Christie can complain about things she doesn’t like, or correct mistakes she’s made through earlier novels by making Oliver make the same ones. Although she only appears in seven novels (and a handful of other short stories), Ariadne Oliver is definitely one of my favourite characters in the Christie canon. Anyway, on with the plot.

This novel is set in a big country house full of suspicious people. Sir George and Lady Stubbs have recently moved into Nasse House, former seat of the Folliat family, which has stood empty for years. When the last remaining Folliat, Amy Folliat, finds that the house may soon be sold off, she convinces George to buy it and marry the young woman in her charge, Hattie. Now, to celebrate the return off the house to its former glory, they’re holding a summer fete for the surrounding neighbours. Ariadne Oliver is invited to set up a Murder Hunt, sort of like a treasure hunt, except players must follow clues to find out who committed a murder. A young Girl Guide is employed to be the body, and the game is afoot!

But Oliver is convinced that something is wrong – female intuition perhaps. Her worry prompts her to call Hercule Poirot, telling the others that he is there to give out prizes, but in reality he’s there to prevent whatever dastardly deed Oliver suspects. Soon the game is underway and it all seems to be going very well. But when the fake victim is found dead for real, things take a turn for the worrisome. With hundreds of people at the fete, it seems impossible at first to know who did it. And on top of that, Hattie’s estranged cousin has just turned up, there are youngsters from a nearby youth hostel trespassing at all hours, and Hattie herself has completely disappeared…

So, I noted above that this is a meta novel? That’s because Christie is writing a plot about an author writing a murder, albiet a murder that actually happens. As such, it’s very clever and a fascinating romp. The “folly” of the title has a double meaning, but at first seems to refer to a folly that has been built on the grounds of the estate, but hidden in the woods rather than out for all to see as would be usual. It becomes a pivotal point in the novel, but every character seems to have an opinion of it.

The criticism I’ve seen again and again about this novel in reading other reviews is that the characters are flat, and I concede that they aren’t the most exciting bunch that Christie has produced, with Poirot and Oliver stealing all of their scenes. There are perhaps too many characters, many of whom are only there to cross off the suspect list immediately, but it has the adverse effect of not allowing enough page time to each. Granted, this is a novel with a few decent red herrings, but there remains also an issue of a few questions being unresolved, as far as I could tell. A couple of threads are left hanging, and the story ends with more to come – the ultimate fates of the surviving characters are unknown to us.

I liked it, I always like Christie, and I’d ignore the naysayers. The suspects may be a little flatter, but Christie’s ingenious plotting is in full force here and her use of the murder mystery within the murder mystery is brilliant.

“I Play The Drums In A Band Called Okay” by Toby Litt (2008)

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drums“Wouldn’t the coolest thing now to be to be Japanese, eh?”

Something that seems to flummox many people about me is that I don’t have much interest in music. This might seem odd as anyone who knows me knows that I can’t walk down the street without first plugging headphones in. I like music as much as the next man, and I have my own tastes in it, but I’m not a die hard fan of anyone particularly. I’ve been to perhaps three gigs in my lifetime. I like music, but I don’t own any CDs, I can’t remember the last time I bought an album and I haven’t known what’s number one in the charts for about a decade.

As such, I perhaps didn’t get Toby Litt’s ninth book as much as some others might. I’ve read Litt twice before, with Beatniks and Finding Myself and I think this one ranks currently somewhere in between the two.

It’s a novel, certainly, but actually it’s probably better defined as a series of short stories. They’re all told from the point of view of Clap, the drummer in the band okay (all lower case, in italics) and tell the ups and downs of life in a rock band over twenty years. Along with his bandmates Syph, Crab and Mono, our hero drummer experiences the best and worst that fame, fortune and fans have to offer. The stories are given slightly out of order, and feature such episodes as Syph’s near-fatal overdose, Clap’s introduction and conversion to Buddhism, Mono meeting his wife Major and their joint fondness for fishing, and the suicide of a young fan who killed himself listening to okay‘s first album.

First and foremost, the book is witty and wise. There are lashings of Douglas Coupland in here, with plenty of one liners, some funny and some profound. It’s sad too, shining the torch onto the gritty world of rock and roll and showing that it isn’t all sex and drugs, and the bits that are don’t necessarily seem as cool as you’d imagine when you get a closer look at them. It is a story about people who refuse to grow up, and what happens to them when the universe makes them grow up anwyay.

It wasn’t the easiest read, and I think part of that is simply because I have so little interest in the subject matter, which is unlike me as I’m willing to read pretty much anything. Why did I bother reading it then? Well, valid question. Truth be told, the first book by Litt I read, Finding Myself, was so good and so smart that I guess I now continue to seek out his other work to find something as good as that. Neither book so far has been, but then again they’ve both been heavily about music. However, after a while, details of another tour, another overdose, another girl become boring and run of the mill. Clap is a good narrator and while not exactly someone I’d immediately want to befriend (Mono seems the best of the four bandmates, incidentally), he tells his story with love, tinged with regret, which I guess is how all the best love stories are told.

It’s worth a skim, and Clap’s list of advice to the fans is pretty beautiful (“Don’t mourn your own life”), but if you don’t really care about the music industry, then you might not get that much out of it.

“Henry VIII” by William Shakespeare (1613)

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HENRY_VIII“An untimely ague stayed me a prisoner in my chamber when those two lights of men met in the vale of Andren.”

I mentioned a while ago on here that I have very recently been to Stratford-Upon-Avon and, as such, Shakespeare was bound to turn up on the blog eventually. So, here he is, although perhaps not in the form that anyone expected.

Y’see, I’ve had continual issues with Shakespeare over the years. He’s the finest writer in history, sure, but he was not a novelist. He was a poet and a playwright, meaning that his work isn’t really supposed to be read, but rather seen. I’ve seen a few performances in the past, as well as some modernised adaptations, and I do generally enjoy them. So when in Stratford I stumbled upon a new way to enjoy the plays, I jumped at it. This is Shakespeare manga.

Manga, for those who aren’t aware, are comics made in Japan, conforming to certain historical rules. The style is often beautiful, alternating between simple and detailed, rarely coloured, and they cover a whole variety of genres. Manga is not just for children – it is read by most of the population. In recent years, the popularity of the format has spread globally and, with its bold designs and ability to tell any story, it seemed logical to put Shakespeare’s stories into this format. As far as I can tell, fourteen of his plays have so far been adapted for the style, and I have begun with his last play. It is one of the less well known of the canon: Henry VIII.

As you may have surmised, the play tells the story of the eighth King Henry of England and his dealings with his first two wives, as well as political figures like Cardinal Wolsey, Archbishop Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell. With Catherine of Aragon seemingly unable to provide him with a son, he moves to marry Anne Boleyn, although must first contend with the church and get a divorce. Meanwhile, Wolsey has gone crazy with power, so it seems, and many of the lords are plotting to remove him from his seat to further their own means.

While interesting and engaging, Henry VIII is not the Bard’s finest work. It is actually commonly suggested that collaborated with fellow writer John Fletcher on this one, although perhaps a collaboration with Andrew Lloyed Webber would’ve been more exciting. Otherwise, the play is notable for two other reasons. Firstly, the original has more stage directions than any other of his plays. And secondly, it was the play that was being performed when the original Globe theatre burned down in 1613, when a special effects cannon ignited the thatched roof.

Maybe this wasn’t the best one to start with – the other manga I bought are plays I know better, and will feature here in due course – but I didn’t dislike it, and the method of storytelling is a rather smart one, given that the medium is supposed to be visual. Just goes to show that you can’t keep a good bard down.

“Look Who’s Back” by Timur Vermes (2012)

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And he's führious.

And he’s führious.

“It was probably the German people, the Volk, which surprised me most of all.”

Speaking of monsters, there is one man who is considered the most monstrous of all. Hitler is a figure so universally hated that his name has become a byword for all that is wrong and evil in the world. Before we get going, I am going to state for the record here and now that what Hitler did was wrong. Genocide is wrong. War is wrong. His belief system was screwy and the man was quite possibly mad. I neither condone or support the atrocities he caused or allowed to occur. I shouldn’t have to say that, because it should be obvious.

Unfortunately, in this very difficult review, I have some things to say that I never thought I would. Let’s begin.

Look Who’s Back came out in Germany a couple of years ago where, as you can imagine, it shocked and appalled the German people. Hitler is, naturally, a very taboo subject in the country and so to write a novel from his point of view was something that could have gone very, very wrong. As it was, Vermes has done it very, very right. The basic plot is as follows.

In 2011, Hitler wakes up in Berlin, disorientated and unable to remember anything beyond sitting with Eva Braun in the Führerbunker. Now, he’s almost seventy years ahead of that time, wondering what on earth has happened to his country. It’s now run by a dumpy woman, full of immigrants, and none of the people are saluting him. He is taken in by a newspaper vendor and, through the papers, learns much of what he’s missed. Some of it impresses him, but there’s precious little of that.

He begins to attract attention and soon broadcasting people are interested in this man who refuses to give his real name or break character for even a second. Convinced that he is the most realistic Hitler impersonator they’ve ever seen, he is offered a part on a popular comedy show. After his first appearance, people aren’t quite sure what to make of him, but he goes viral and discovers that people are willing to listen to him, even if they are laughing. So while he cannot understand why no one seems to accept him for who he is, the people nonetheless begin to worship him…

I think the most difficult thing about this is the fact that it forces us to remember that Hitler was not a monster or a dragon, but a human being and, like all human beings, was therefore a patchwork of good and bad. This Hitler is not an evil dictator. His ideas, for the most part, are naturally unthinkable to the average reader, but he is not portrayed as ruthless in his manner, or shown to be gunning people down himself. He is, above all else, a politician and an orator, a charismatic leader who, now struggling to come to terms with the events between his first death and second birth, is naive in the ways of the modern world. He forms an oddly sympathetic character, fascinated by computers and the Internet, but unable to understand why everyone is laughing at him and no one recognises him for being the real deal.

This is actually far scarier than him shouting.

This is actually far scarier than him shouting.

I think that that was always the most terrifying thing about Hitler; his humanity. He was charming. He liked children and animals. He supported adoption, reduced unemployment, encouraged development of the Volkswagen, and eliminated foreign debt. And yet, despite that, he still ordered the deaths of millions. We can dress him up as evil incarnate as much as we like, but evil for the sake of evil doesn’t exist. Hitler believed that he was doing the right thing for his country. I am not supporting his actions, they were atrocious, I am merely saying that he, like everyone else before and since, exists in shades of grey rather than a black/white morality.

The book deals with absurdities of modern life, of how technology has advanced to such a point that another Hitler would be even more dangerous (imagine what he could do with the Internet’s audience) and also seems to study the guilt that Germany is left with. After all, Hitler didn’t appear from nowhere first time round. He was elected, and people did his bidding. How much was “brainwashing” and how much was willingly done? It’s also about the cult of celebrity that the Western world now has, as we now seem to rank celebrities above almost all other news.

The supporting cast of characters are also excellent. His young staff are at first nervous about what he’s doing, but they can’t argue with the ratings and it also helps that Hitler misinterprets their positive comments about his work as being positive comments about his beliefs and plans for the future of Germany. Practically all of the dialogue is double-speak, with Hitler and the modern Germans having different intentions and understandings of what is being said. The strongest example is probably when Madame Bellini, a TV executive, warns him off making Jewish ‘jokes’ with the words, “The Jews are no laughing matter”. Hitler misunderstands this and thinks that she means that her opinion of the Jews is like his. Incredibly awkward.

My one flaw? At the end of the book are a few pages giving a few more details on Hitler’s backstory, as well as information about other prominent Nazis and modern Germans who are mentioned. While good, this could really have done with being at the front, although I did read this before beginning. While this book is naturally going to be controversial, I nonetheless think that it is an excellent read. Sometimes it’s written in quite a dense, political style, but I’m told that this is merely mirroring the style of Mein Kampf, which makes the whole thing even more intelligent.

It’s a smart, scary book, and yet another reminder of how wrong humans have been in the past, and that we must strive to never let someone like this get into power again.

“The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie” by Muriel Spark (1961)

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prime“The boys, as they talked to the girls from Marcia Blaine School, stood on the far side of their bicycles holding the handlebars, which established a protective fence of bicycle between the sexes, and the impression that at any moment the boys were likely to be away.”

We have become so used to the notion of monsters being non-human. Be they dragons, ogres, trolls, aliens or ghosts, to our mind we tend to associate monstrous things with a lack of otherwise human-like traits. But I think we all know, deep down, that the things that can most accurately be described as monsters are all too human. Cast your mind back, and I daresay that somewhere, locked in a chest or filing cabinet in your memory, there resides the imprint of someone from childhood that you still think of as a monster. And, nine times out of ten, I bet that that person is a teacher.

Miss Jean Brodie is not a monster in terms of, say, Miss Trunchball or Professor Umbridge, but nonetheless she is not a good teacher and should never have been in charge of impressionable young girls. Anyway, hang on, I’ll just give a very quick summary of the plot.

Set in 1930s Edinburgh, Spark’s novel is the tale of Jean Brodie, a spinster teacher with high and mighty ideas of art and politics. She is known to frequently take a group of girls from the Marcia Blaine School that she deems special for whatever reason, and give them lessons that would not otherwise be on the curriculum about philosophy, history and her own life. The story passes through several years, showing the girls – Jenny, Sandy, Rose, Mary, Monica and Eunice – growing up and discovering their womanhood under the shadow of Miss Brodie, who will consistently claim that she is at the prime of her life.

Running parallel is the suggestion that Brodie is having an affair with one or other of the two male teachers at the school, Mr Lloyd the art master, and Mr Lowther the singing master. Concerned by her effect on the young girls and these potential relationships, the headmistress Miss Mackay seeks the assistance of the Brodie set to find a way to oust Miss Brodie from her position, desperate to find an excuse to remove her.

So to continue, Miss Brodie, perhaps saddened by her somewhat pathetic and pointless life, contrives to pass on her desires and wishes to certain students whom she favours. It becomes clear as the novel progresses that she doesn’t necessarily have her students best interests at heart and is merely living out her fantasies through their youth. The stories she tells of her past lovers and colourful history are not necessarily grounded in truth, and the girls come to realise this as they grow, seeing Brodie as a human with needs and desires, rather than just a teacher. She becomes, for them, an example of how not to be, and through her they realise young that just because a group of people are all in authority, it does not mean they are all in agreement.

I wasn’t overwhelmed by the novel, but I enjoy Spark’s style. The plot flips back and forth, casually throwing in mention of what happens to the girls once they’ve left school quite randomly. Thus, we know early on that Mary will die young, and we also know that Miss Brodie herself will lose her job when one of her own betrays her, but who that is and why and how it is done remain mysteries for longer.

Brodie teaches her class things that they should probably not be taught, or at least not in the way that Brodie talks of them. She is dismissive of the sciences, believes art and philosophy are above all else, and is more than a little sympathetic towards fascist leaders in Europe. She is a complex tapestry, being pious in some respects (in an extreme example, she won’t allow Eunice to do acrobatics on a Sunday) but then apparently sleeping with an unmarried man and spending nights at his house, which is deemed shocking.

For a small book, there is a lot going on. Brodie is a fairly unpleasant character, although towards the end one may have a little sympathy towards her. The girls that she “raises”, the Brodie set, are also not altogether without fault, each of them having some admirable qualities, but eventually spurning the woman who dedicated so much time to them. Above all, I believe Brodie to be lonely, thus leading her to form unsuitable relationships and to invite the girls to her home on the weekends.

It’s quaint, but probably its most redeeming feature is that it is short. Not an outstanding book by any means, but one well worth a glance.

“Intrusion” by Ken MacLeod (2012)

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Open wide.

Open wide.

“Like any responsible father, Hugh Morrison had installed cameras in every room in the flat.”

Given the current state of the world where sexism seems at an all time high, wars are still fought repeatedly, people are being sentenced to death for the simple act of loving “the wrong person”, and in Europe, most countries have politically taken a big swing to the right, dystopian fiction has become something that it didn’t seem worth reading. I always wanted to write a dystopian novel but, since we’re now apparently living in one, what’s the fucking point? Anyway, I put aside those feelings for long enough to read Intrusion, and I’m pretty glad I did.

Intrusion is set in the near future (how near is discussed below) and is the story of Hope and Hugh Morrison, an ordinary London couple in many respects. However, in this future, there is a pill women take while pregnant called the Fix, which will strengthen the genome of their children and provide them with immunity to most diseases. Hope doesn’t want to take the pill – her first son Nick doesn’t seem to have been held back too much without it – but there is enormous pressure on her to do it anyway.

The Fix is not compulsory, but the winds are changing and it could be seen by some as child abuse to not give your unborn child a headstart in life. Some people can refuse it for religious reasons (although most of the major religions have no problem with it) but Hope won’t give her reasons and refuses to lie – she just doesn’t want it. This decision begins to divide her family and friends, and soon she, Hugh and Nick are all in terrible danger.

Alongside her story, we have her husband Hugh who has frequent hallucinations, people walking through his life that no one else can see, and a social scientist Geena, who thinks she may have found a reason to make sure Hope doesn’t have to take the Fix after all. When the government gets involved, the Morrisons have little choice but to start running, but in this future where everyone is tracked and watched at all times, that’s far easier said than done.

The most important and interesting question about anything set in the future is the simple, “So what is the world like now?” In this future, all information is conveyed via mobile phones or glasses (like Google glasses), hard copy books are a status symbol, rather than anything people actually read, the world seems at war with India and Russia, the Labour party is in power, vehicles are mostly silent and usually self-driving, there’s snow in summer, and science has made a breakthrough that has allowed for synthetic carbon, meaning that oil and diamonds are plentiful (diamond has replaced glass as the choice material for windows and the like), and even the trees are synthetic.

All of this in turn brings about the question, “When is this set?” No specific dates are ever given, but I would suggest we’re somewhere between 2060 and 2100. It’s very hard to say. Technology is very advanced (the glasses Hope wears tag everyone and every building she passes, display flight numbers next to aeroplanes and record everything the wearer sees) but it is all technology that is currently in production. None of the characters seem surprised by it, suggesting that it’s been commonplace since they were born. In fact, it’s mentioned that some people have traded in their glasses for contacts that do the same thing.

It’s a terrifying future for women, in this world, too. Legislation and laws have changed to make it a crime for any pregnant woman to smoke or drink, and all women of child-bearing age wear a monitor ring on their wedding finger that tracks their environment and lets health experts know if they are in dangerous environments. These laws have since expanded and now women are mostly forced back into positions of homemaker, most workplaces having been declared too dangerous for them, what with second hand smoke and easy access to coffee. This future is a very bad time to be a woman.

I liked Hope, and I liked Hugh, and for the most part the story trundles along quite nicely, shades of 1984 about it, as can only be expected in a world where cameras line the walls of your home. Towards the end, however, MacLeod seems to run out of steam and the whole thing ends with a rather disappointing deus ex machina. The story would be interesting enough, however, without Hugh’s hallucination issue as well, as it turns out he might actually be seeing the future due to a glitch in his genome. It adds a touch of fantasy to an otherwise realistic world, but I don’t know if it was strictly necessary. It seems strange somehow, although it does allow MacLeod to explore a new line of questioning against the Fix.

The best thing about the book, though, is probably just how worryingly realistic it all is. This is a future that, if we don’t pay attention now and make the wrong move in the next few years, may well come to pass. The best dystopias are ones in which we see something that is likely, rather than something far removed from us. This could be sixty years away, but it could be six. And it doesn’t look pretty.