Wednesday, September 08, 2004

April-May 2004

June 2004

The inventive Spares by Michael Marshall Smith was our subject matter this month. A war veteran and former detective returns to New Richmond, Virginia while attempting to free the Spares in his charge. Rich people keep clones as spare parts banks (one way of avoiding a risk of tissue rejection). The Spares are kept in dim, isolated places with almost no interaction with others in order to keep them healthy physically but mentally undeveloped – just a living spare parts library for their real counterparts. Until our anti-hero helps them to develop… Actually the Spares rapidly become something of a McGuffin, a mere plot device to get things rolling (causing some of us to think the book was rather mis-named). New Richmond is a now-grounded former flying mega-mall (Smith once said at an event he chose Richmond to be replaced by this grounded mega-mall because he found it to be one of the worst places he ever had to go) and Smith paints a bleak near-future, lightened by some inventive humour and a fabulous line in dialogue, especially the insults and descriptions (‘he looked like three kinds of shit in a one shit bag’). Opinion was divided over the ending.

May 2004

Top-selling British horror writer James Herbert was the choice for May, with his slim but very nasty novel, The Rats. Mostly a straightforward tale of super-rodents invading modern London with the horrific results (people being chewed up, eaten alive or dying from infections from the rat bites) Herbert also manages to work in observations on urban alienation and the British class system (the government minister views our teacher hero as about acceptable, since his middle-class teaching job balances out his lower-class origins). It is quite surprising how much character detail Herbert shoehorns into less than 200 pages (we’re often pleasantly surprised at how much detail there is in the older novels which are typically far shorter than today’s bloated texts).

April 2004

One of the finest of the current crop of Brit SF writers (so good we forgive him for writing the Soddit pastiche) Adam Roberts provided the subject matter in the shape of his novel Salt. Seemingly a simple narrative about a conflict between two groups of settlers on a distant world, Salt is actually a clever novel dealing in religious and political ideology and the justifications some individuals use to justify their actions and their effects on others. Told in flashback the novel alternates between the recollections of both of the opposing group’s leaders, giving their versions of events. The result is a tale in which neither group comes out terribly well.

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