Sunday 17 May 2015

2015 Reading Challenge - The Difference Engine, The Children's Book

Way back in January I mentioned the 2015 Reading Challenge, did one post on what I'd read so far, and then failed to update further...

I have, however, continued to read voraciously, with 22 books completed and 2 in progress. I've also managed to tick off 22 challenges, although do not have a unique book per challenge.

Rather than catch you up with 19 books now, I'm going to return to my original plan of giving a handful of books at a time. I'm also not going to catch up in order, because I read a couple of series with other books in between, so it seems more practical to adjust the order slightly in order to put those books together... I've also included the textbooks I'm reading for my OU course, but I don't think it's really worth reviewing those.

The Difference Engine - Bruce Sterling & William Gibson
First published September 1990
Challenges covered
         -  None

I finished 2014 by re-reading a lot of books I hadn't read for a long time. This was on the list, so I re-read it even though it didn't match any of the challenge criteria.

The storyline is simpler than it pretends to be: an alternative history in Victorian London in which the computer age has begun. Ada Lovelace has created some mysterious mcguffin computer punchcards that various people are trying to steal. The plot moves jerkily and opens a lot of interesting avenues that are never explored. I was disappointed that the character I found interesting - Sybil - was abandonned after being built up to be a main character, and when she was reinserted into the plot she didn't feel like the same person. Most of the characters were underdeveloped, leaving their motives unclear and their behaviours seeming erratic.

The concept is pretty cool, and I very much got the feeling that the authors had done a lot of research into notable figures of the era, but I'm not sure that helped: there were moments that seemed to be in the book just to show off something they'd discovered that they thought was interesting, but which didn't progress the plot or ultimately achieve anything other than a distraction.

I remember it being a much better book and I probably shan't bother reading it again, but it is an important novel in establishing the steampunk genre.

The Children's Book by A S Byatt
Published October 2009
Challenges covered:
        -  Book started but never finished
        -  Book owned by never read
        -  By an author not read before
        -  Based on its cover
        -  By female author

I bought this a few years ago because the cover is so pretty. I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but SO PRETTY! And the blurb on the back suggested it would be a combination of a fairly dark real world story as a framework for stories written for the main character's children, and I liked the sound of that.

I was really disappointed.

When I first tried to read it, I only got a few pages in, which is very unusual for me. The book sat at the bottom of the pile that collects in, on and around my bedside cabinet and I actually forgot all about it until I went hunting for something else, bookmark still in place. I decided to start again and did manage to finish, but quickly discovered my initial fearrs were true: this was not the book I was hoping for.

There are too many main characters and the book spans too long a period - in that a lot of attention is paid to a small time frame in which characters their relationships and the worlds they inhabit are established - so far, so good - and then various time-jumps are made requiring pages of exposition (that in places feel like an historical textbok) in order that all the characters continue to be developed and all the themes maintained. In so many places I felt like screaming "either do this properly and make this a longer book or let some of this go!" By the end, I found I didn't really care about any of the characters or what happened to them and that was a shame because if I had still cared about the characters the last section (crammed in when some real time should have been dedicated to it) would have been very powerful. As it was, I felt as though the only character who needed some kind of comeuppance (Herbert Methley) was the only one we didn't have resolution on.

I'm not saying it's a bad book: I'm saying it's not the book it thought it was going to be - it's too short to fit the expanse intended.

And whilst there are a tiny handful of fairy stories interwoven, they don't add anything to the narrative.

Next set of reviews will probably be Stephen King's Dark Tower series, which overall I really enjoyed.  

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