Journal of the Flood Year by David Ely

 Journal of the Flood Year is races the reader through a gripping story.  The protagonist is the dour and obessesive William Fowke and the story is told entirely from his perspective.  Through a series of journal entries that detail his views and conversations we share with Fowke his gradual disillusionment in the veracity and ability of his government.

William Fowke is a monitor, a ranger, who’s task is to record and report on the state of the Wall, a huge dyke, the creation of which has expanded the American land mass by millions of square kilometres.  Fowke is passionate about the Wall, his fifth entry is an ode to its extra-ordinary construction as he sits atop the granite 150 metres above the land while the Atlantic smashes against the other side.  So when he finds seepage that indicates that the Wall has a flaw he will not cease agitating his superiors to come and fix the problem.

His determination to get action only has negative effects and his career, his ‘marriage’ and his freedom are taken from him. Fowkes’ refusal to stop trying to get action to save the Wall leads to a loss of citizenship rights – no longer one of the included, punishments and indoctrination camps; we start to see that there are more flaws in this rigid, stagnant society than just in the Wall.

The only reason Fowkes is able to escape and continue his mission to save the Wall is through his relationship with Julia.  It is a relationship started in a random Telesex interaction.  This is  another very peculiar aspect of Fowkes society; human contact is only through the medium of machines so touching, sex and birth are taboo and disgusting to Fowkes and the other included.  Ely conceived this concept in 1992 and the awful thing is, with the current news about AI sex toys, is it does not seem as strange as it should do.  Robots, murids and ursids, are the indefatigable police and enforcers in Fowkes world and they are frightening because they are immune to any appeal.

A clever story though  the curmudgeonliness of William Fowkes, with his serial escapes, does wear a bit thin at times.  The aim now is to read another David Ely though I note with interest that there is an eighteen year gap between this, his last novel, and Mr Nicholas written in 1974.


Thin Air by Michelle Paver

I am sitting here with a battered copy of Thin Air by Michelle Paver.  My husband picked it out off the bookshelves in Manchester Airport and held it out for my approval.  He is not a keen reader and he is cautious about selecting books but I thought this one would suit him very well.  I knew he would like the setting, the Himalayan Mountains, as he has hiked in Nepal and I knew Paver was an excellent writer as our son had avidly read, as did I, all of her Chronicles of Ancient Darkness.

Husband did not surface from the book until we were almost in Dubai.  He enthusiastically extolled the ability of Paver to depict the bitterly harsh environment and the pressure it put on the climbers.  ‘Oh, and the mystery was good too.’  Before I make time to read it we were in Australia and husband handed it with great fanfare to my brother-in-law.  He was another happy customer and thought the description of the physicality of the climb painfully realistic.  I packed Thin Air to come with us on a sailing boat in the Whitsundays but, influenced by husband’s rave, another crew member snaffled the book from where I left it on the table and is was again out of reach for several days.  Guess what?  Yet another great review. ‘She really grabbed me by showing how the altitude made feelings of paranoia and claustrophobia more intense.’  Crew member made a note of all of Paver’s other novels for future reading and then reluctantly handed me the book.

Thin Air was salty and misshapen but the story that leapt out of those stained pages was enthralling.  I was fascinated by the expedition members.  They were so dependent upon each other, and upon the sherpas, but machismo, prejudice, dishonesty, superstition, and jealously blight their relationships as it did that of the expedition in 1907, almost thirty years previously.   Kangchenjunga is the aspiration and nemesis of two tragic expeditions.  Paver’s story is stunning.

Noumenon by Marina J. Lostetter


I have been mulling over Noumenon for a while.  I was really engaged by the book, which was written in a smooth style with an extensive use of conversation, read it quickly and I thought about the story afterwards. (Some books have less permanence than bubbles.) It is upon reflection that many elements in story seemed problematic.  At times I felt that I was looking through a microscope, an intense and absorbing look at character or action or the environment in the space ship, but at other instances in the novel the action and sense was blurry.

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The story begins with the combined resources of Earth electing to send a mission to a discover what it is ‘that blocking the starlight in LQ Pyx’. It is anticipated that that the voyage will last 2,000 years and this influences the decision to send a convoy of nine ships which crewed by clones of the most appropriate people, 100,000 in all, who will, in space, be replaced by clones.  In this novel a whole city is sent into space.  It is a fascinating concept.  I liked the way that each ship became specialised and, essentially, a guild; the location was enforced by the colour of clothes.  I was not so convinced by the idea of daily ‘commutes’ for education or leisure between the ships.  And there are many times in the story when one is only aware of a very small area and very few characters; it is like being inside one small company which makes the ‘city’ concept redundant.

The story is about ‘C’ who begins as a robotic personal assistant and evolves into the AI and the heart and soul of the convoy.  I was astonished, and not entirely convinced, by the last minute tinkering by Reginald Straifer. The AI is the constant as the humans die and are replaced.  Yet this closed environment is neither stable nor liberal; the author explores a number of difficulties arising from the isolation, the pigeon-holing, the lack of belief, conflict and illness but sometimes at the expense of building engaging characters.

I was enthralled by the description of the encounter with the ‘encrusted star’ and thought Lostetter created a magnificent spacescape and I like the human interaction with it.

I thought the Warden and the creation of an exploited mining population, shades of Rome’s use of slaves in its lead mines, was the weakest section of the novel.  It does give Rail, was the aptness of the name deliberate, an opportunity to proclaim in a moving and passionate speech the unique quality of an individual, even a cloned individual.  But it was a rather clunky arrangement.

The most thought provoking section of the novel was about the return to Earth.  Nothing occurs as expected.  Indeed, devoting a quarter of a science fiction novel to what happens after the mission is completed is unusual, and the analysis of the lack of alignment between those that left and those that stayed leaves enough gaps for the reader to imaginatively enlarge upon the difficulties.  I think too that we meet the most interesting character in Esper.

Do I recommend Noumenon?  Yes, I do.  I will definitely read it again.






When The Children Came Home by Julie Summers

         When The children Came Home is a commentary on the experiences of British children, evacuated to avoid dangers associated with bombing and invasion during WWII, when they returned to the families from whom they had been separated.  Summers has positioned personal stories against the historical background of the military and government action in response to progress of the war.  The stories have the effect of making the general information more immediate and intense.  I found it to be a really powerful witness to the sense of dislocation that war inflicts.


The main impact of the stories was how the years spent in the care of others irredeemably distanced the children from the parents who had sent them away ‘for their safety’.  The focus of this book is to record the effects on families after the return of the absent ones.  On the mothers, who had worked in factories to supply the war and been prematurely aged by their experiences, and tried to welcome home children who only spoke Welsh, who were dressed as and had the mannerisms of Americans, who had not wanted to leave their foster home or who were frightened and repulsed by the grimness of their London home.  On the foster families who had to give up children after five or six or seven years having loved them.  On the fathers who were irritable and impatient as a consequence of direct involvement in the war and made the more so by trying to find a way to re-bond with children, often rebellious, angry and anxious children,  when they were so tied to the conventions of their own upbringing.  On the children themselves who worked around the massive fracture in their upbringing for the rest of their lives.

This book celebrates how the families ‘got on with it’ as their difficulties to readjust were disregarded by the authorities but it is a testament to just how hard that proved to do.

The main effect of this book is to make me realise how ‘uprootedness’ is a demanding and difficult feature in so many lives and has long lasting effects; though as Summers stresses all the way through her book they can be positive effects.  Although it is about WWII it has application to anyone who has had a childhood riven by external changes.  One of the most valuable attributes of this book is it allows people to tell a story they needed to tell years ago.  The Bibliography provided by this book is a gem.

The Sellout

Tinted Edges

This book was just what the doctor ordered. I started reading it while I was stuck in a car line to get into a festival in Oregon for 12 hours (no, I am not exaggerating) to help keep myself from losing my mind. I had heard about it after the author was last year named the first American ever to win the Man Booker prize. I was blown away by the novel’s beginning and I have a keen memory of sitting in that car seat shrieking every few pages. Then, after we finally made it into the festival and wasted a day moving campsites, the following night I became very ill and was tent-bound for two days. This book was my absolute solace. I needed an excellent book to get me through and when my eReader froze just as started getting better, I almost lost it.

The Sellout

“The Sellout” by Paul…

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The Power by Naomi Alderman

I am not sure why this book won the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.

The Power (Paperback)

Okay, I accept the main conceit that women are suddenly able to ‘infect and teach’ each other how to acquire and implement the physical ability to deliver electric shocks; thus are women physically transformed from being the weaker sex into the powerful sex.  The novel then sets out to explore how this turning of the tables might change the world, might inculcate a world of new possibilities.

Except it doesn’t.  All that happens is that those in power, women, make uninfected women and men into minions and set up a hierarchy. In Power society as remains the same because there is no social development at all as those on top are cruel, dismissive, self-serving, belittling, equate physical power with superiority in all spheres and misuse their physical strength to compel others into obedience, slavery and sycophancy.  It is a very depressing book as it reinforces the might makes right mantra.

      Power is graphic in its description of the cruelties inflicted upon women by men: women imprisoned in cellars, women enslaved in whore houses, girls raped and abused by carers, career women frustrated by prejudice, the use of filthy language to denigrate girls and women …  it counts out these and other horrors and they are shocking in it their magnitude.  As the use of electric shock permeates the female population the men react violently to the threat to their power and in Saudi Arabia we are told that the women are blinded so as men can regain control.  This book gave me the same sick feeling and sense of despair that I had when I read A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James.  Alderman and James are certainly effective horror writers.

The novel follows the path of a handful of women who ride the wave to become prominent in a variety of arenas:  a religious order celebrating the Goddess who gifted women and not men; the political harnessing of the apprehension about wave of women and girls exercising their electric power; the bloody transfer of dominance within a drug running family to a daughter; and the setting up of a nation of vengeful women under the guidance of an abused one.  All of the women who assume power are damaged and re-enact the violence inflicted upon them.  They are as cruel and limited in their vision as the men they replaced.

And there’s the rub.  There is no exploration of what this electric power might have had in positive and creative situations whether it be in families, groups or nations.  We just crash straight to violence and nastiness and the end of the world as we know it.  Power lacks any subtlety.

The sub-plot is that this story of the collapse of civilization is being written centuries after the event by a man, whose genius is blighted by the restrictions and negative assumptions connected to his sex including being advised to write under a pseudonym.  The women’s civilization bears an uncanny resemblance to the one that disappeared.

As far as making a list of abuses by the powerful against the weak this novel has it all. But it has no other message to give save that those at the top behave monstrously.  Makes one wonder why one should strive for emancipation at all.  A dreary vision indeed.  And I think a very wrong one.


Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge


Fly by Night cover

Fly By Night is masquerading as YA fiction but this piece of fantasy X steampunk is a wonderful book.  The heroine, bad-tempered, intelligent Mosca Mye, born on the calendar day sacred to Goodman Palpitattle He Who Keeps Flies Out, joins forces with the thieving, deceiving wordsmith, Eponymous Clent, with a view to making their fortune.

A fortune is a hard thing to make in a land riven by war and persecution.  Mosca and Eponymous Clent’s plans to wheedle money out of powerful persons through writing ballads, delivering messages, spying and retrieving goods are hijacked by even more powerful folk and soon they are relying on their wits to save their lives.  They do have the assistance of Saracen, Mosca’s beloved pet goose; Eponymous is less enthusiastic about this companion as he is a fearsome beast when aroused to fury.

The setting of the novel is loosely based on England at the start of the Eighteenth Century but mightily warped and exaggerated.  It is a place where wet is wetter, the rule of the powerful Guilds more guilty and gritty, poverty is smelly, hungry and desperate, education is a rarity, Dukes and Duchess are mad with power, religion veers between totemic and fanatic, and goodness survives in the cracks.  But this novel is also funny. The transformation of the vain highwayman into the radical saviour of the city of Mandelion is very amusing. Mosca’s versatile, vivid and sometimes vulgar descriptions of the places she sees and the people she meets can make me laugh.

I love books that take sidelong glances at big issues while also telling a rollicking good tale.

Fly by Night is brilliant!!