This year I’m trying something else: I’ve selected a top few in each of fiction and non-fiction, and want to tell you a little bit more about these in a quick series of blog posts, starting with:
The Handmaid’s Tale
I came late to Margaret Atwood’s most famous novel. I had tried the TV series and found it slow and unengaging. I only decided to read the book after I heard an interview with the author on Radio 4 about the release of The Testaments and realised how long ago the book was originally published.
The story of The Handmaid’s Tale surprised and entertained me throughout the book, but what really delighted me was Margaret Atwood’s playful mastery of language and her clever use of references from diverse mythologies. The result is a beautifully crafted piece of writing which happens to tell an imaginative and engaging story. A rare example of writing as art.
Margaret Atwood’s second Handmaid’s Tale book continues to display her playful use of language and vivid imagination. Clearly the result of a long and loving process of refinement, The Testaments excels at presenting the personality, background and evolution of each of the main protagonists through individual use of language.
A long-awaited continuation of the story of Gilead through the words and experiences of new narrators 15+ years later. The Testaments follows Aunt Lydia’s story and introduces two new perspectives that weren’t featured in the first book: Agnes, an upper-class girl growing up in Gilead and Daisy, a young woman living in Canada.
Through these stories, Atwood adds additional depth to Gilead and continues her dystopian narrative to a satisfying end.
Rivers of London
I listened to every Discworld audiobook in 2018. Then someone recommended Rivers of London as a logical next series to sink my teeth into. I had never heard of these and took my time before getting started on them. I shouldn’t have.
Being a well-known fan of London, I love the familiarity of the places and settings and how well the supernatural elements are slowly and naturally introduced. The novel creates a world both familiar and fantastic, with likeable characters and a brilliant mythology combining places and people in a surprisingly pleasant way.
I’m a BIG fan of Cory Doctorow’s writing. I find it connects with me in ways very few other fiction writings do, presenting often dystopian futures where the technology I work daily to develop has combined with events and regulation to shape society and individuals in unexpected, not entirely unbelievable, terrifying yet exhilarating ways.
Overclocked is one of Cory Doctorow’s collection of novellas. In it, he wields his formidable experience in technology and computing to give us mindbending sci-fi tales that explore the possibilities of information technology — and its various uses — running amok. “Anda’s Game” is a spin on the bizarre new phenomenon of “cyber sweatshops,” in which people are paid very low wages to play online games all day in order to generate in-game wealth to be converted into actual money. Beautifully written and masterfully paced, you just won’t be able to put it down.
Another tale tells of the heroic exploits of “sysadmins” — systems administrators — as they defend the cyber-world, and hence the world at large, from worms and bioweapons. And there is a story about zombies too!