‘Boy And His Unicorn’
Score: 4/5

Steven R. Boyett
£4.75

In contrast to that last book I read, I really did get into this book. I found it quite engaging, even though I wouldn’t have expected the subject to interest me.

It’s not giving anything away to tell you it was written in the early 80s, and is set in an almost post-apocalyptic US where technology no longer works but some magic does. And it’s about a boy and a unicorn. (This is all part of the set-up in chapter 1 so there are no spoilers here. This tells you much less than the blurb on the back of the book.)

The tale is told simply, and it does suffer from the occasional ‘Why don’t they just…’ but even so it was fun to read and I did keep turning the pages.

After a couple of decades of saying there’d be no sequel, the author has apparently relented and written one. I’ll let you know how I get on with it too.

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‘Didn’t Get Into It’
Score: 3/5

Paul McAuley
£7.19

I felt like reading some science fiction a while ago, so when I came across a shortlist for some science fiction award I bought some of the books. I can’t honestly remember which award it was, but it could well be the ‘2014 John W. Campbell Memorial Award’ because I bought several of the books there. (This book came 2nd, apparently.)

Anyway, it seems a nice enough book but I just didn’t get into it. I didn’t feel like the characters were real, and the different settings never felt like a coherent narrative. This is a personal thing, but I found some of the other works on the list much more engaging. (I also thought one of the others was a pile of pants.) It’s not that this book was bad, just that I didn’t think it particularly good either.

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‘Charming Tale Of Israel’
Score: 4/5

The author finds himself spending a year in Jerusalem, and so he draws cartoons of his experiences and interactions with the locals. Some are friendly, some are hostile, some are baffling, and (to the best of my knowledge, which isn’t very far) it seems a fair enough portrait of the peoples.

I enjoyed this graphic nature of the narrative. At times it was thoughtful, other times poignant, and often funny. It did make me think, too.

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‘I’m Confused As Ever’
Score: 4/5

Lee Smolin
£6.99

I’ve never really understood what time is. It obviously seems to exist, but I’ve never really come up with a good definition or way to describe it. Things like temperature have nice enough definitions and explanations that make sense – not just enough sense to be practical, but enough allow for testable predictions.

Not so time.

(FWIW I’m equally confused when it comes to space. What does it actually mean to say that a wall is 3 feet away?)

A lot of the current physics models say that time doesn’t really exist, because there’s no real ‘arrow’ of time in the equations and so the equations are reversible. Smolin’s approach here is to say that this doesn’t mean what it’s currently purported to me, and that instead physics should try treating time as ‘more real’ than space.

It’s an interesting idea, and one which should give some testable predictions. As to whether it’s right or not, even the author says he doesn’t know but that it’s important to try thinking about.

Maybe we are at a turning point in some of our thinking, like before the Copernican view of things where the paths of planets couldn’t really be explained. Once we had the heliocentric model, things started making a lot more sense. At the minute(?) our confusion over time may be similar – we’re just waiting for the right leap to a new model.

As for the book itself? I thought the first half was interesting but the second half dragged on a bit. I appreciate that it’s worth the author exploring the different approach in all the different avenues, but my attention span isn’t what it once was and I didn’t get as much from that as I got from the start of the book.

The book didn’t really end my confusion so much as add a new layer on top of it. Still, fascinating stuff.

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‘More Brain Twisting Fun’
Score: 4/5

Daniel P. Friedman
£19.95

This follows on from the earlier book ‘The Little Schemer’, and it’s a similar structure. Fun examples that lead to complete brain meltery. This book tackles things like ‘continuations’, something a lot of programmers these days aren’t that familiar with. It adds an interesting way of tackling problems, and it does need a slightly different way of thinking about things.

Confused Note: I have no idea why Amazon’s listing makes no mention of Matthias Felleisen as co-author.

Other random note: Amazon tells me I bought this book in May 1999. Yes, that’s how long my to-read pile is. 15 years.

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“Darkly Different African Drama”
Score: 4/5

Kwei Quartey
£8.75

Confession time – I have no idea who recommended this book. (If it was you – thanks!) I bought it in 2011 and it finally made it near enough the top of the to-read pile for me to grab it.

It’s a lovely story. It’s a police mystery/thriller, but what makes it more compelling is the setting (Ghana) and the different textures surrounding everyday life there. There are inevitable comparisons to The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, but this is quite different in tone as well as setting.

I have no idea how realistic a depiction this really is, but I don’t think I’d be averse to reading some more of the Darko Dawson series.

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‘The Culture, Only Nasty’
Score: 3/5

Ann Leckie
£7.03

An interesting take on the notion of ships-as-people, or what could happen when we have pervasive AIs and pervasive monitoring.

I still miss Iain M. Banks and his Culture novels though.

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‘Not Worth The Effort’
Score: 2/5

Christopher Priest
£6.20

You know when you get a book and you struggle through it and you reach the end and it’s so satisfying that you don’t mind the struggle, it was all worthwhile in the end?

This is not that book.

I struggled through the chapters, the different settings, the different voices, the same-scene-but-differents, and really, it just wasn’t worth it.

Others will probably rave about this book. I just didn’t like it at all.

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‘Imaginative Setting, Compelling Story’
Score: 5/5

Max Barry
£5.51

OK, this is a science fiction book, but that setting is secondary – it’s primarily a thriller. It’s nicely done, with things being revealed at appropriate moments rather than it all being spelled out in advance.

The flashbacks do make it hard (towards the end) to keep track of what is happening when though – I don’t know if this is deliberate or not, but sometimes I was left guessing ‘did this happen before X or after it?’

Still, that’s a fairly minor point about what is overall a lovely book. The story is interesting, the setting imaginative, and the characters interesting. Excellent.

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‘As Others See Us’
Score: 4/5

Matt Haig
£3.59

I’m not usually a big fan of Sci Fi books that try to view humans from an alien perspective. Maybe it’s because I just haven’t seen it done well. Usually there are some trite ‘silly humans do this’, and ‘believe it or not humans do that’ observations but no real insight, and no real empathy.

This book has plenty of observations and while some of them may be trite they are at least combined with some empathy. This was a nice book, a humorous book, and easy to read.

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