Review- In The Morning I’ll Be Gone by Adrian McKinty

9781846688201Every great trilogy knocks you out with the first one, takes it up a notch with the second one and then blows you away with the final chapter. There a few great trilogies. Many fail at the second hurdle let alone the final one. But not Adrian McKinty. The Sean Duffy books are a truly great trilogy and destined to become a classic of the crime genre and the third and the final volume is the best yet.

Things were not looking good for our hero at the end of I Hear The Sirens In The Streets. Sean Duffy had been demoted out of CID and dispatched to the border lands. His career in the police force appeared to be over. That is until a mass breakout occurs from the infamous Maze Prison in September, 1983. One of the IRA’s most dangerous men, Dermot McCann, is on the loose and planning a campaign of terror against Britain. MI5 are prepared to do anything to bring him in, including giving Sean his old job back.

Sean has a connection to Dermot but no one is giving anybody up in Northern Ireland. Sean’s digging instead leads him to an unsolved murder. A locked room mystery that has got everybody stumped. But the key to unearthing Dermot’s whereabouts maybe be found in unlocking this seemingly unsolvable mystery.

As with the previous two books McKinty skillfully blends humour and the grim realities of living in war torn Belfast in 1984 with a gripping, realistic mystery. Sean Duffy is perfectly flawed and damaged but determined to do the right thing, even if that means doing a couple of wrong things. It is a tragedy that this series must come to an end because what McKinty has been able to produce has been quite special and he has taken his writing to a new level. There’s a fine line between social commentary and compelling mystery and not many writers, crime or literary, can do both. McKinty has not only been able to pull it off brilliantly but he has done so over three amazing books.

I’m going to miss Sean Duffy but I also can’t wait to see where Adrian McKinty goes next.

Buy the book here…

Review – Wool and Shift

9780099580485Wool

“Is seeing always believing?”

There are so many things to love about this book. It shares nothing in common with The Hungers Games, The Passage or The Matrix ( the first film not the dodgy sequels) but if you liked those stories you will go absolutely nuts for this book like I did.

“You’ve felt it, right? That we could be anywhere, living a lie?”

Originally self published as a short story that grew into five eBooks it is now available as one eBook together and will be published in December in paperback. I read an advanced print copy that had each part as a separate volume and I wish they were publishing the print book this way because having five distinct parts I think is essential to the overall reading experience of this extremely impressive novel.

“Something had happened. A great and powerful thing had fallen out of alignment.”

Part One is only 48 pages but it is more than enough to blow your mind. We meet Holston who is a Sheriff and is waiting in a holding cell to die. Holston lives in a gigantic underground silo which is over 130 stories deep. The outside world is full of toxic air and wastelands. The silo is organized and supplied so that people do not need to go outside. They have food and water and the population is kept in check. A couple cannot have a child until someone else dies and a lottery is held. There is a Mayor, a Sheriff and the laws of The Pact. If a law is broken the punishment is ‘The Cleaning’. ‘The Cleaning’ involves going outside in a specially designed suit and cleaning a gigantic lens which allows the inhabitants to view the outside world. It also involves certain death. Holston is waiting in a holding cell to do ‘The Cleaning’. A task he has volunteered for.

“A project to pull the wool back from everyone’s eyes. A favour to the next fool who slipped up or dared to hope aloud”

Holston is the catalyst. His actions set everything in motion. A new Sheriff must be found. As the next four parts unfold we learn more about life in the silo and how each level is divided up in order for everybody to survive. You also begin to piece together a bigger picture and a more complex world that will astonish you and leave you gasping for air as you read. What at first seems to be a great lie is in fact something else all together and discovering the truth is more dangerous that anyone can possibly imagine.

“This is how the uprising begins”

This is a story bursting with imagination and ideas. Thought-provoking seems an understatement. Howey does what all great speculative fiction should, he creates a world seemingly removed from our own, in an apocalyptic future, and slowly peels the differences away. There is a lot of hype around this book. This is one of those rare occasions where not only does the book live up to the hype, it exceeds it.

“It is not beyond us to kill to keep secrets.”

Buy the book here…

9781780891224Shift

Like Wool, which was originally published as five eBooks, Shift was originally published as three eBooks and is now available in one volume. Shift is the follow-up to Wool but it is actually the prequel. Set in Silo 1 it tells the story of how the silos came into being and why. The book is split into three shifts, each spaced decades apart, as we follow the work of Silo 1 monitoring the other silos as well as managing their own silo population.

Shift is as mind-blowing as Wool, maybe more so. I am totally amazed that the world Howey has created, which is so confined within a Silo, can have so many stories and is bursting with so many ideas. Howey slowly marries up the stories of Wool and Shift perfectly and leaves you itching to read the conclusion, Dust. The wool is well and truly lifted from our eyes but what this means for the survivors in the Silos is far from clear and I cannot wait to find out.

Buy the book here…

He Had Me At Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad

Animal FarmThere were two books that I was required to read at school that stood out for me (and yes, goodie two shoes that I am I actually read them instead of cheating and watching the films instead).

The first (and I’m thinking both this one and the one that follows will be on many others’ top-two lists) was Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. The second was George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the genius fable that used a farmyard and its animals—most notably pigs—to illustrate complex concepts of politics, socialism, hypocrisy, and the absolute corruption of absolute power.

I’d never much understood how a fable could be so powerful—Aesop’s tales had interested me, but not in the same, axis-shifting comprehension-of-the-world way as this book. Nor did I have any clue who Orwell was. He might be a household name and literary great whose surname has been turned into an adjective (Orwellian) to describe a dystopian world, but to me as a schoolgirl he was just another author whose book was on the reading list.

Lack of this knowledge aside, it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with him. He had me at ‘four legs good, two legs bad’, ‘two legs good, four legs bad’, ‘all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’, and a few phrases in between.

1984I just heard that Animal Farm the play will be performed at the Queensland Performing Arts Complex in August. It inspired me to both book tickets and to brush up on my Animal Farm trivia. It also inspired me to investigate Orwell further.

He wrote, I realised, two of the most outstanding books I’ve ever read—the aforementioned Animal Farm and 1984—and yet I know very little about the man behind the words.

What I quickly realised was that not only had he penned two masterpieces in a lifetime (which is two more than most people do, and he not only did this, but did so in fewer words than many of his counterparts), he was absolutely prolific in his writing. And all this in less than 50 years of life all up. Sheesh.

It was through this internet and Wikipedia trivia trawling that I stumbled across Why I Write. Part of the Penguin Great Ideas series, which also includes the writing of Marx, Darwin, Nietzsche, Freud, and Woolf, it comprises some of his essays.

Reading the book, I marvelled at Orwell’s extraordinary ability to excise key, confounding issues, and to frame them in a manner that’s at once accessible, logical, and that highlights their absurdity and/or horror. And he does so in ways that make Why I Writethem memorable. I realised is that Orwell had me at many terms and statements, not least:

  • such terms as ‘newspeak’, ‘thought police’, ‘prolefeed’, ‘doublethink’, and ‘big brother’ (the all-seeing state, not the TV show)
  • the statement that ‘Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind’
  • the introductory sentence to an essay about war: ‘As I write, highly civilised human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me’
  • and, this, an excerpt from one of his early poems:

I dreamed I dwelt in marble halls,

And woke to find it true;

I wasn’t born for an age like this;

Was Smith? Was Jones? Were you?

 

Dystopian Fiction – My One Big Weakness (This Week, Anyway)

What is it about dystopian fiction that really pulls at our heartstrings?

I refused to see the movie The Road, based on the book by Cormac McCarthy, because I found the book so desolate. I am the first to start bawling in theatres, so I figure that if it’s really that great, then I’ll wait until I can watch it on DVD in the comfort and non-judgment of my own loungeroom and cry my little heart out. Funnily enough, I had no problem watching another McCarthy book-to-movie adaptation, No Country For Old Men, which is arguably equally as desolate. But then, it’s that ‘dystopian’ thing, isn’t it?

Deriving from  an ancient Greek language construction of ‘bad’ and ‘place’, the idea of the ‘dystopia’ has long been fascinating school of thought for skylarking philosophers. Dystopian fiction then, does have a cautionary edge to it for us plebean readers. Like a school teacher that just won’t quit, a dystopian tale often takes place in a futuristic universe, or an alternative history that we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy, and tells us that if we do or don’t do something, then THIS will happen. And it’s generally bad. Besides a foreshadowing of what things may come if we take a certain route, the marks of the dystopian societies are often just skewed reflections of who we are today, right now.

People in modern day society have often made the connection to dystopian novels: the surveillance of Big Brother from Nineteen Eighty-Four through ‘Reality’ TV; the test tube designer babies just as prophesied in Brave New World. To the uninformed Westerner, the society in which Offred lives in The Handmaid’s Tale is Afghanistan; and uninformed foreigner or not, Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, where people are transformed under surgery to become perfection, is pretty much Los Angeles, USA under a different name.

It always comes back to one thing: not the struggle for humanity per se, but the question of what exactly humanity is. This post may seem a little depressing but the latest dystopian novel I’ve been reading has affected me greatly and caused me to think about this subject a lot. I finished it a few weeks ago but I still I have a lot of questions, some answers, and some more questions to those answers.

Stay tuned for my review on Kazuo Ishiguro’s heartwrenching dystopian Sci Fi, Never Let Me Go, tomorrow.

Why Amazon May Not Take Over The World After All

The comprehensive article by Ken Auletta over at the New Yorker this week about the Amazon vs Apple vs Google ebook free-for-all has prompted me to consider how close Amazon came to dominating the publishing industry – particularly when it comes to ebooks.

Now, I don’t want to point fingers or choose sides here. I believe that almost any company in the unique position Amazon has been in for the last few years would have done the same. But there’s a very good argument that what Amazon was trying to do was at least a little bit evil.

Amazon made a tactical error when it remotely wiped copies of 1984 from its customers’ Kindles. This did not prove to anybody that they were not evil.

Basically the story is this: Amazon had a virtual monopoly on the sale of ebooks with the Kindle. And to an extent, they still do. Although there are plenty of other ebook stores, none have the reach, connections, range, consumer trust and reliability that Amazon does. Amazon was trying to set the standard price of ebooks at $9.99. They did this by taking a loss on almost every ebook they sold. But Amazon has deep pockets, and the Kindle to sell, so it was worth it to them to try and grow the industry.

Unfortunately, looking forward, publishers the world over could see that this price point was unsustainable. They feared that as Amazon gained more power over the ebook market, they would force the wholesale price of books down. To quote from the New Yorker piece:

Traditionally, publishers have sold books to stores, with the wholesale price for hardcovers set at fifty per cent of the cover price. Authors are paid royalties at a rate of about fifteen per cent of the cover price. On a twenty-six-dollar book, the publisher receives thirteen dollars, out of which it pays all the costs of making the book. The author gets $3.90 in royalties. Bookstores return about forty per cent of the hardcovers they buy; this accounts for $5.20 per book. Another $3 goes to overhead costs and the price of producing and shipping the book—leaving, in the best case, about a dollar of profit per book.

Obviously these aren’t the exact same margins as in Australia, but they’re very similar, and illustrate my point. What the argument ultimately came down to was this – what is a book really worth? When you take away the cost of printing, which ebooks don’t incur, what should you reasonably pay for a book, and – perhaps more importantly – what does the industry need to receive in order to remain profitable and be able to keep producing books?

The number the industry came up with was $US14.99. They forced Amazon to accept this with the help of Apple and a liberal dose of chutzpah. Google, when it gets into the ebook selling game in the next little while, will help solidify this higher price point.

So, industry saved, right? Right? What do you think? Do you pay too much for books? Would cheaper prices lure you into buying ebooks? Is $AU16 too much for an ebook?