Book Talk: December 2017

At long last; 2017 has come to an end. It doesn’t feel so long ago that the year started, and it’s already now over. My month of December was really good overall. I continued and finished my journey to both Japan and Hong Kong, began my editorship at Empire Times, and started playing a number of different games. Reading wise, this month has been pretty good as well. This month’s readings had themes of things ending and trauma, which I didn’t take notice of until writing this.

Novels

The Songs of Distant Earth by Arthur C. Clarke

Long into the future, the Earth has been destroyed. With the end of the Earth, humanity has taken to the stars and are on their way to a planet in a system they call Sagan. Along the way, they stop on a planet for water, when they find it’s been settled by humans from an earlier mission thought to have failed. It’s here where some of the crew members make the tough choice: continue to the Sagan system, or stay on this new planet?

Compared to my last reading of Clarke (find my thoughts here), I really liked reading The Songs of Distant Earth. It was a good mixture of hard science fiction and engaging storytelling. To me, the main plot reminded me of a summer love story, only set on another planet. The ending too was heartfelt, especially for Loren Lorenson, one of the main characters in the story.

The only major criticism I really have with this story though is the backstory sections. Those parts of the book detracted from the main narrative plot and felt more like info-dumps. Yeah, it was interesting in a way to find out about what happened for them to be out there, but I feel it could’ve been done better.

Overall, I really liked The Songs of Distant Earth. It’s an interesting take on the idea of End of the World and an engaging plot. However, the info-dumps on the End of Earth are a little longwinded and don’t add too much to the main plot, which brings it down for me, unfortunately. Still, give this story a read, you won’t be disappointed.

Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

In Castle Rock, Maine, 1974, 12-year-old Gwendy Peterson meets a man after running up some stairs. This man, who has a bowler hat, gives her a box with buttons on it. By pressing particular buttons, Gwendy can either get chocolates or a perfect condition 1891 Morgan silver dollar. However, by owning this box, Gwendy begins to notice strange things happening in her life. These differences range from her life being great to being horrific which she believes she’s responsible for.

I received Gwendy’s Button Box as a present this recent Christmas and it only took me a few days to read through it. Three reasons for this: this is only technically a novella, the writing is well paced, and the story is thrilling. I was engaged in Gwendy’s storyline right from the get-go, and there were moments which frightened me a fair amount. The cover design and illustrations in my version of the book are also really beautiful, making it feel special.

However, despite being a really good, fast-paced read, the ending just didn’t live up to the rest of the story. The ending to it really wasn’t interesting at all, which was a shame. A couple of the characters also felt a little undercooked to me, especially Gwendy’s best friend Olive. It kind of felt like a wasted opportunity with Olive, which could’ve enhanced the story more since she was important to Gwendy.

Overall though, Gwendy’s Button Box was a good read. If you’re into a story that’s fast-paced and interesting, give this a read. If you get this story, try to get the hardback first edition as its artwork is gorgeous and feels unique.

Short Stories

As per usual, I’ll keep my thoughts on short stories brief to avoid spoilers.

Exhibit Piece by Philip K. Dick

From the Electric Dreams short story collection, ‘Exhibit Piece’ is one of the many twisted short stories from Philip K. Dick. I tried to make sense of what was being said in this story, but had a lot of trouble doing so. Like many of Dick’s stories, this is difficult to understanding, but is full of imagination. I really can’t find out on what to say about this piece because of it being far too confusing.

Herman Wouk is Still Alive by Stephen King

Stephen King comes out yet again with another non-speculative tale. From The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, ‘Herman Wouk is Still Alive’ is told from two different perspectives: a young single mother down on her luck and an elderly couple on their way to a reading. I found this to be an interesting look at two different sorts of lifestyles, and a reflection on a post-GFC America. Plus, how these two storylines connect is really sad and twisted, one that I won’t spoil. Give this a read if you want an interesting sort of story.

Under the Weather by Stephen King

Also from The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, ‘Under the Weather’ features the usual of a Stephen King short speculative story: dark and twisted. However, the story is a little muddled and a bit over the place, which made it a somewhat difficult read. It took me until the ending to finally realise what was actually happening, which was a shame.

Moonlight Sonata by Alexander Woollcott

Part of the Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural collection, ‘Moonlight Sonata’ is an interesting little flash fiction piece. I found this piece to be spooky, but forgetful at the same time. I think this is due to its aged writing style and with it feeling somewhat slow.

The Lovely Lady by D.H. Lawrence

‘The Lovely Lady’ is a piece from the Vampire Stories short story collection. This was my first reading of a D.H. Lawrence story and it was interesting. The atmosphere felt like a true vampire story and the set up to it was really good. However, I found it hard to connect with the characters and understand what was actually occurring in the story.

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