Books, glorious books

This last week or so has seen my eager little claws sinking in to a nice advance copy of the new Iain M Banks SF novel – his first for four years – The Algebraist. The wonderful Jessica from Orbit (who also publish two of the other local SF Mafiosi, Ken MacLeod and Charlie Stross) sent me one with a note saying that the first batch was restricted to a mere twenty or so and that the press will have to wait a couple of weeks yet. Very nice to be treated to one of the early batch. I’m about a third of the way through already and I can tell those eager to see a new Banksie that so far it has been bloody brilliant; one of those books that makes you very annoyed when your lunch is over and you realise you have to put it down and go back to work. Some excellent space opera in there, interesting mixture of different societies and species, including an ancient race called Dwellers who live in gas giants (inspired by Arthur C Clarke’s ideas on this similar tack, perhaps???). It also has flashes of the perversity that reminds you this genial smiling, bearded man who seems so cheery and chirpy with a single malt in his hand is also the man who brought us the Wasp Factory, possibly one of the most freaky and unusual Scottish novels of the last 20-30 years (and it’s not even classed as one of his SF novels). For a nasty instance a rather evil tyrant keeps the severed head of the last man to oppose him and almost beat him. He keeps it hooked up to advanced life support and medical systems to keep it alive and in good repair then hangs it from the ceiling of his office to use as a punch bag. For years. Oh, yes, it seems to me Iain is back on form!

And then today in comes the next instalment in Neal Stephenson’s glorious Baroque Cycle of massive tomes, The System of the World. I predict another sudden log-jam in my already hectic reading schedule as I allow myself to sink deep into this final volume of an incredibly literate, detailed and richly evocative historical fantasy (for want of a better term – it rather defies categorisation, which in my (non) humble opinion is often the mark of the finest writing). The first volume, Quicksilver, won this year’s coveted Arthur C Clarke Award, and I think it is fair to say if it were not being classed as SF&F then more broadsheets would rave over the cleverness of the writing style, the lush historical detail and the massive concepts running throughout. Still, we’ve done very well with it and plenty of our customers have purchased the first two despite their 800 page plus count. For scholarly accuracy and fluid writing I would honestly compare this series to the works of Umberto Eco. And as I hold Eco to be an utter genius, that’s very high praise. That’s my tuppence worth in my opinion as a heavy reader, reviewer and professional bookbeing, for what it’s worth.

I was also rather pleasantly surprised to receive a copy of a historical novel set in Roman times (as many, many are at the moment) featuring French hero Vercongeterix battling old Julius. It’s called the Druid King and is by an old SF hound who I haven’t heard of in many years – Norman Spinrad. I was planning to bite into this interesting novel (under TimeWarner’s normal fiction imprint rather than their Orbit SF imprint) after finishing Banksie’s Algebraist but methinks System of the World will over-ride all other literary priorities, alas even the proof of the new Jon Courtenay Grimwood (one of my favourite of the excellent new wave of Brit SF writers) will have to wait. Oh, so many books, so little time. I need a couple of extra arms and heads I think. But I’m not quite hip enough to look like Zaphod Beeblebrox. I think I could carry of a decent Zarniwoop though.

In a literary sidebar, the BBC contacted our bookstore and talked to Alex about our monthly SF Book Group. Seems they may be interested in doing something on book clubs which are a little different – we’ll have to wait and see when they get back to us, but it does sou