Bitter Reads

Books As ever, I have two books on the go, one on Audible and the other on Kindle. Neither of them are thrilling me. You know when a book has gripped you; you can’t wait for another opportunity to read on. If your attitude is “oh well, I guess I’d better read a bit more of this” then you know the book has done enough to prevent you abandoning it outright but failed (at least so far) to get its hooks into you very deeply.  It’s not a good sign when you look at your Audible app and your heart sinks at the number of hours still to go.

The Kindle book is Fallen Dragon by Peter F Hamilton.  It has improved a little as I approach one-third of the way through and some aspects have a certain charm.  But overall it is equal measures ham-fisted and cliched.  It seems to have been written to appeal to gung-ho teenage boys. A lot of “boys own”wish-fulfilment teenage sex, fancy weaponry, a military platoon camaraderie set-up, fancy hi-tech communications systems and copious references to the excitement of deep space exploration.  Mixed in with that we have some more mature sci-fi themes, such as Earth-bound and interplanetary politics, and quite a lot of well researched material on living in space and terra-forming planets. The notion of Earth being run by giant corporations is hardly new – it put me in mind of Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, or even further back with Rollerball (Murder).  The “asset realization” idea is more noteworthy. The “realities” of space travel are mostly played up for yuck-factor and the science of manipulating planetary environments and eco-systems, which should have been fascinating, is mostly dull. This book may continue to improve so am ploughing on, but still a little nervous of the risk of concluding, after the equivalent of say 500 pages, that I have been investing time in a dud.

So what to make of Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis which I am consuming as an audiobook? It was the Sword & Laser podcast which drew this book to my attention but they reviewed it ages ago and I only remembered the basic premise: alternative WWII reality in which the Germans have developed use of super-powers to assist in the war effort and the Brits counter by using magic.

It sounds daft and mostly is. Tom Merritt and Veronica Belmont, the Sword & Laser hosts, really went for this book in a big way.  I’m not really with them at this point. It may be that  it doesn’t work so well as an audiobook, at least not for me.  The narrator’s accents come out as mock British, mock Scottish and mock Nazi in a pretty annoying way.  But the book as a whole seems to be a parody of 1940s Britain.

It is not all bad, though.  The Gretel character is intriguing. Much of the writing is of good quality, in particular the opening sequence with its raven metaphor was very well crafted. Against that, a lot of the “action” sequences could be taken from the Biggles books I read when I was at school. The book is also fast-paced, skipping past a lot of detail that other authors would have indulged themselves in, using short flashbacks or references to fill in the gaps in the narrative. In any event, I am well over half way through and shall stick with Bitter Seeds to the bitter end.


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