Book Talk: April 2017

April has been a busy month for me. I picked up a whole lot of different books at Comic-Con (see Image One), and I got to meet Arthur Darvill (Doctor Who, Broadchurch) and Brent Spiner (Star Trek: TNG, Outcast).

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Image One: Just some of the books I picked up at Oz Comic-Con.

My uni workload has also increased, which involves working on an animated show and a video game. I also managed to finish Breath of the Wild, celebrate my birthday, read out one of my stories to an audience, and complete the Resident Evil remake. All this has, of course, impacted my reading for this month, but I’ve still done quite a bit of it. Due to my crazy schedule, I read more short stories and even took a dip into some strange styles of storytelling along the way.

Novels

Inverted World by Christopher Priest

First published in 1974, Inverted World is the third novel from British author, Christopher Priest. The book follows the main character, an apprentice named Helward Mann, in his adventures to keep his home city, Earth, alive on an alien planet. Earth is a city that runs on railway tracks and must do so, or face destruction if stopped.

I wasn’t sure on what to expect when I first picked this book up. All over my copy of the book they had that it’s got one of the trickiest twist endings in science fiction. The story itself was interesting, but flicked between the first and third person a little too much for my liking. It was a little confusing to be going from what Helward was witnessing internally to him on the outside and the descriptions of the world. Then again, this shift in narration style allowed me to get more of an idea of this world and how it operates.

The character of Helward is an interesting one. He’s someone who has been born and raised in ignorance and believes everything his authority has ever said. I found it enjoyable once he started to get out there and discover the world, realising things aren’t exactly right to what he’s known.

Perhaps the big part of this story though is its ending. I won’t spoil it, but I will say it’s worth to experience. Just from some hints within it I already had an idea on how it would end, but the way Priest did it wasn’t what I was expecting. It’s little tweaks to the twist ending I like, and Helward’s reaction to it is genuine and enhances his character further.

Inverted World was an interesting read, with a fantastic twist ending, an interesting world, and many key themes of dystopian sci-fi. Give this one a read if you come across it, it’s certainly unusual which is what any good sci-fi book should be.

3.5/5

Short Story Collections

The Man with the Axe in his Back (Collection) by Queenie Chan

Here’s a book I’m going to have a hard time talking about. This book collects four short stories by Australian author, Queenie Chan, and sets them out in a “Frankenstein” combination of comics and prose: better known as comics-prose (see Image Two).

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Image Two: An example of what is comics-prose. From The Man With the Axe in his Back by Queenie Chan.

The question is though did it work? In one way, not really. I found the switching between comics and prose forms to be distracting, especially with images full of colour. However, they worked really well with the stories being told. Having the comics helped with showing me the setting and how the characters looked, and their reactions to what they were witnessing. All of the images have a hint of manga animation style to them, which I found to be unique, especially for an Australian made book.

The four stories in this collection though are fantastic, which redeems the main flaw I mentioned earlier. The Man with the Axe in his Back is set in an unlikely place for a horror story: a lift in an office building. Cassie and Lassie had a woman’s foot being savaged while she reads ghost stories on Reddit. The Hallow Tree follows a young boy hiding in a tree during the Fall of Singapore in World War Two. Civilised People brought us into an unknown Asian city (presumably Hong Kong) during World War Two about a starving family attempting to stay civilised.

This is an extremely interesting book all throughout: from the comics-prose set out, to the blood freezing tales of horror that are within here. The stories in here are great reads and well-written, and the art style is gorgeous, despite being slightly distracting. I recommend this to anyone who wants to read something different, but be aware of the comic-prose style. However, there’s a prose only version of this book, which for some will be a relief.

4/5

Short Stories

As always, I’ll try to be as brief as possible with these short stories.

Graveyard Shift by Stephen King

This was a very interesting read from the short story collection: Night Shift. I was extremely unsettled by the rats within here and found myself connected in a strange way to the main character. I recommend this read if you like horror stories involving rats.

4/5

Night Surf by Stephen King

Also from Night Shift, this is a short story set in the world of The Stand. There was a lot of interesting things within this piece, but I found it a little difficult to follow. I didn’t really like the characters and the story was a bit of a mess. I like the idea of short post-apocalyptic fiction, but this isn’t one of those stories.

2/5

The Haunter of the Dark by H.P. Lovecraft

This is from my giant book of Lovecraft (as seen in the cover image). This story was by far one of my favourite Lovecraft stories I’ve read recently, and certainly one of his few very readable pieces. The plot works really well and I was creeped out while reading it. If you’re new to Lovecraft, check this story out; it’s readable and full of his eldritch styles of horror.

3.5/5