Reading Update 28/07/2020


Hey bookwyrms. You might have noticed I’ve been taking a more lax approach to these reading updates lately; I used to do them every Wednesday but found I’d sometimes end up forcing myself to read when I didn’t want to just to avoid retreading familiar ground each week. Soooo I’m just gonna do them whenever I have new stuff to talk about. I’m not one who deals well with routine anyway. I’m not reading any new books lately, in fact they’re all canny old, so if what you’re really interested in is the shiny new releases you’re not gonna find anything to excite you here. But! If, like me, you think old books deserve appreciation too, then let’s wipe the dust of aeons off those old book covers and dive into some retro fiction.

Recently Finished: THE BIG SLEEP by Raymond Chandler
Some of my favourite books have been influenced by the pulp noir genre. Neuromancer by William Gibson for example, one of my all time favourite books, is saturated with the atmosphere and character tropes of noir detective fiction. Classic cyberpunk characters are the marginalised, alienated loners who live on the edges of society and eschew its rules, much like the anti-hero of Raymond Chandler’s THE BIG SLEEP. Private dick Philip Marlowe is the archetypal rough-around-the-edges, booze-guzzling maverick private investigator we’re all familiar with now and is pulled into the shady underbelly of 1930s Los Angeles when he’s hired by an old general to investigate the blackmailer of his daughter. This was a really good book. Didn’t quite make it to being great, but Chandler’s famous no-nonsense prose was very compelling and, given how much I love William Gibson, I was intrigued by the stylistic prose that clearly influenced what came to be a classic of the cyberpunk genre in Neuromancer.

Currently Reading: THE STAND by Stephen King
I’ve mentioned before in passing how I have a goal to read all of Stephen King’s books in order. I’ve been making slow progress with that but, let’s be real, it’s gonna be a lifelong commitment cos that guy has written a lot of books. You may also be questioning my sanity in reading a book about a killer virus that wipes out 99% of humanity while in the middle of an irl pandemic and I really have no answer for you there, maybe I just didn’t think the real world was dark enough. I’m about ten chapters in and enjoying it well enough so far. I have an odd relationship with Stephen King; he has a weird writing style and his books feel like deep character studies more than books with an actual plot and I think he really needs an editor to tell him to shut the fuck up sometimes, but his books are enjoyable, sort of like chewing gum for the brain.

Next Read: THE MURDER ON THE LINKS by Agatha Christie
This section is almost always entirely nonsense cos I love a good mood read, so will change my mind a hundred times about what to read next, but I finished the first Hercule Poirot book a few weeks ago and loved it. I’m a massive Agatha Christie fan boy now and I’m really digging old crime fiction at the mo. THE MURDER ON THE LINKS sees our old Belgian detective summoned to France after receiving a distressing letter with a urgent cry for help. Upon his arrival Poirot finds the letter writer, the South American millionaire Monsieur Renauld, stabbed to death and his body flung into a freshly dug open grave on the golf course adjoining the property. Renauld’s wife is found bound and gagged in her room. Apparently, it seems that Renauld and his wife were victims of a failed break-in, resulting in Renauld’s kidnapping and death. There’s no lack of suspects: his wife, whose dagger served as the weapon; his embittered son, who would have killed for independence; and his mistress, who refused to be ignored – and each felt deserving of the dead man’s fortune. The police think they’ve found the culprit, but Poirot has his doubts. Why is the dead man wearing an overcoat that is too big for him? And who was the impassioned love-letter in the pocket for? Before Poirot can answer these questions, the case is turned upside down by the discovery of a second, identically murdered corpse… Love it love it love it.

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Review: SNOW CRASH by Neal Stephenson

Book Reviews

⭐ ⭐ ⭐

This crazy cyberpunk romp had me hooked from the get go. The opening chapter is a frenetic, totally bonkers ride-along with a pizza delivery guy in a race against time. This guy turns out to be our main character and he’s employed by a Mafia ‘franchise’ in some dystopian anarcho-capitalist future where nation states have been replaced by criminal syndicates, religious zealots and unregulated corporations.

Snow Crash follows our protagonists, Hiro Protagonist (yep, you read that correctly), a sword-wielding hacker and (now former) pizza delivery driver and Y.T., a fifteen-year-old courier with a kick-ass skateboard and one hell of an attitude, as they team up to save the world from a media mogul with a sinister plan.

First things first, Snow Crash doesn’t take itself super seriously. It’s postmodern and it’s meta and it’s constantly reminding you you’re reading a book. One of the protagonists is literally called ‘Hiro Protagonist for f**k sake. At one point when you’re gearing up to witness a high-octane chase scene, Stephenson straight up tells you ‘What happens next is just a chase scene’.

End chapter.

It’s disorientating and fast-paced and totally over the top at times, but you just have to embrace it. Because none of it should work but Neal Stephenson pulls it off wonderfully. It’s also written in present tense, which adds to the relentless pace of the book. It uproots you from the comfort and safety of so many stories that feel like they’ve already happened. This feels urgent, this is happening now. You’re sitting alongside these characters in real-time and it’s nothing if not a thrill ride.

The plot is a bit disjointed, but honestly I’m not even sure this is a shortcoming in a book that’s so obviously parodying the cyberpunk genre, which is rife with so much disorienting technological, social and cultural displacement. I spent the first third of the story not really knowing what was going on, but it was fine because Stephenson does such an excellent job of introducing the characters and the setting and just the generally bonkers vibe of the world I was watching unfold that I was just happy to strap in for the ride and see where I ended up.

It gets a bit info-dumpy in the middle, which ordinarily would cause me to roll my eyes and sigh through several pages of exposition, but I didn’t care. The exposition is handled pretty well and the info itself is interesting and original enough that it kept my attention.

One criticism I do have is the lack of character development. Everyone at the end of Snow Crash seems pretty much the same as they were at the beginning and the ending itself was a bit abrupt. Again, I wonder if this was a conscious choice that actually serves as part of the narrative parody of the genre.

Because Snow Crash is parody. Not just of the cyberpunk genre as a whole, but of itself as well and Stephenson makes no apologies for it. It’s over the top and cartoonish and I could definitely visualise this as manga or anime. A few minor hitches are easily forgivable in a book this fun.

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