FictionFan Awards 2015 – Genre Fiction

Drum roll please…

 

…for this year’s nominees and winners of the annual FictionFan Awards of 2015.

For the benefit of new readers, and as a reminder for anyone who was around last year, here’s a quick résumé of the rules…

THE CRITERIA

All nominees must be books I’ve read and reviewed between November 2014 and October 2015 regardless of publication date, but excluding re-reads. The books must have received a 5-star rating.

THE CATEGORIES

The categories tend to change slightly each year to better reflect what I’ve been reading during the year.

There will be Honourable Mentions and a Winner in each of the following categories:

Genre Fiction

Factual

Crime Fiction/Thrillers

Literary Fiction

 

…and…

Book of the Year 2015

 

THE PRIZES

For the winners!

I guarantee to read the author’s next book even if I have to buy it myself!

(NB If an author is unlikely to publish another book due to being dead, I will read a book from his/her back catalogue…)

For the runners-up!

Nothing!

THE JUDGES

Me!

* * * * * * * * *

So, without further ado, here are this year’s runners-up and winner in

GENRE FICTION

 

The FF definition of ‘genre fiction’ for the purpose of these awards is basically anything that doesn’t quite fit into one of the other categories. I’ve not read nearly as much genre fiction as I intended this year, and a lot of what I did manage to fit in were re-reads of some classic sci-fi. Despite that, I had some great reads during the year… a mix of old and new.

 

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

 

dune messiahDune Messiah by Frank Herbert

 

It’s twelve years since we left Paul Muad’dib at the end of Dune – twelve years in which his war against the Harkonnen and the Emperor has grown into a jihad resulting in the deaths of tens of billions and the destruction of several planets. Paul’s beginning to wonder if perhaps things might have gone a little too far. His power of prescience has made him an unwilling Messiah to his people, but the ability to see so many possible futures, none of them good, has left him desperate to find a way out that will stop the killing…

Though this is the sequel to Dune, I think it’s a better book, but it really is necessary to read them in order. Unfortunately the books go badly downhill after this one, so I abandoned the series. But the first two books undoubtedly deserve their status as classics for the quality of the writing and the imagination that created the unforgettable desert world of Arrakis.

Click to see the full review

Art by Henrik Sahlstrom
Art by Henrik Sahlstrom

* * * * * * * * *

the haunting of hill houseThe Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

 

Hill House has a reputation for ghostly goings-on – so much so that even the servants won’t stay around after dark. So it’s the ideal place for Dr John Montague to carry out an investigation into supernatural manifestations. He collects together a little group of strangers – selected because they have had previous experiences of strange happenings, and they all set off to spend the summer living in the house…

Finding Shirley Jackson is one of the many benefits I’ve had from blogging – she’s not nearly so well known on this side of the pond as in the US. This one shows all her skill in playing with expectations, her gothic references always just a little subverted, making the whole thing feeling slightly off-kilter. Though I thought the ending fell away a little, there were plenty of genuinely creepy moments along the way, along with some delicious humour. Another true classic.

Click to see the full review

eleanor

* * * * * * * * *

twenty trillion leagues under the seaTwenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea by Adam Roberts

 

It’s June 1958, and French experimental submarine the Plongeur has taken off on her maiden voyage to test her new nuclear engines and her ability to dive to depths never before reached. The first trial dive is a success, so the Captain gives the order to go deeper, down to the limits of the submarine’s capacity. But as they pass the one thousand five hundred metre mark, disaster strikes! Suddenly the crew lose control of the submarine, and it is locked in descent position. The dive goes on… past the point where the submarine should be crushed by the pressure… and on… and on…

Stylistically this reads like classic sci-fi from the early twentieth century and is filled with references to many of the greats. But the quality of the writing and imagination lifts it from being pastiche and makes it something unique. Again, I felt it fell away a bit towards the end, but for the most part I found this an exciting ride, cleverly executed and full of imagination, and with a great mix of tension, humour and horror.

Click to see the full review

twenty trillion leagues 1

* * * * * * * * *

dark matterDark Matter by Michelle Paver

 

It’s 1937 and war clouds are gathering over Europe. Jack Miller is poor and struggling in a job he hates, so he jumps at the chance to join an expedition to Gruhuken, an abandoned mining settlement in the Arctic. But the expedition begins to hit trouble even before they leave London, with a couple of the men having to drop out at the last moment. And the troubles don’t end there – once they are in Gruhuken a series of events mean that eventually Jack is left alone to keep the expedition alive…and the long dark Arctic winter is beginning…and Jack begins to feel he may not be as alone as he thinks…

This is a great ghost story – or maybe it isn’t. Is there something out there in the never-ending Arctic night or is it all in Jack’s mind? We only have his own narration to go on and, as with all the best horror, nothing is certain. It’s all done by a brilliantly executed build-up of psychological terror – from ‘don’t go there’ warnings from the captain of the ship to things barely glanced from the corner of the eye, sensations of a presence, and distorted perspectives. The writing is top quality – this book would sit just as well in the literary fiction category as in horror. I dare you to read it…

Click to see the full review

arctic night

* * * * * * * * *

FICTIONFAN AWARD WINNER 2015

for

BEST GENRE FICTION

 

the martian chronicles

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

 

Written as short stories for magazines in the late 1940s and pulled together with a series of linking pieces for publication in book form in 1951, the book is set around the turn of the millennium, when man is beginning to colonise Mars.

Because of the way it developed, the book is very episodic in nature and Bradbury reinvents Martian society anew depending on the story he wants to tell. After reading the first few chapters, I was a little puzzled by the book’s status as an acknowledged sci-fi great  – the stories were good but relatively standard. However as the book progresses Bradbury allows his imagination to take full flight and some of the later stories are beautifully written fantasies with more than a little philosophical edge. Many of the later stories blew me away, leaving indelible images in my mind. As with the best sci-fi, the book is really an examination of what it means to be human and Bradbury approaches the question from many different angles, each as thought-provoking as the one before. And on top of all that, he produces some of the highest quality writing I have come across in sci-fi. I’d hate anyone to be put off this one by the genre label – it’s as stimulating and well written as most ‘literary’ novels and shows a great deal more imagination than they usually do.

Click to see the full review

the martian chronicles 4 les edwards 2009
© Les Edwards 2009.

* * * * * * * * *

Next week: Best Factual Award

Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

children of duneJust say no…

😀 😀 🙂

(This is the third book in the Dune series and therefore the review will contain spoilers for the first two, Dune and Dune Messiah. And maybe even some for this one. You have been warned!)

It is 9 years since the blinded and heartbroken Paul Muad’dib walked off into the desert of Dune to die. His weird little children, Leto and Ghanima, take after their Auntie Alia in so many ways – prescient, gifted or cursed with the memories of all their ancestors, nuts. Until now I thought the horrid little kids who sing the duet in Polar Express were the creepiest children ever, but Leto and Ghani have them beat hands down! Alia, meantime, has overindulged so much in the spice drug melange that she has become what the Bene Gesserit feared – an Abomination! No longer able to control all the voices of her ancestors inside her head, she has fallen under the influence of the strongest of them – the evil Baron Harkonen. Leto and Ghani look on this as a warning and are assiduously avoiding doing the spice drug conversion thingy that Rev Mothers do, as they think this is what caused Alia to become Abominable.

Alia and the Baron Harkonnen from the 2003 TV Mini Series - imagine having him inside your head!
Abominable Alia and Baron Harkonnen from the 2003 TV Mini Series – imagine having him inside your head!

Meantime Jessica has returned to the folds of the Bene Gesserit and has now been sent back to Arrakis (Dune) for reasons that remain somewhat hazy. Basically she appears to be trying to protect the genetic line by persuading Leto and Ghani (9-year-old twins, remember) to mate and breed. It’s always good to have a supportive granny, isn’t it? And has Paul really died in the desert? Who is the mysterious Preacher who keeps popping up and calling Alia names? If he is Paul, why is he trying to undermine his family’s rule? Why do Leto and Ghani want to get to Jacurutu? How come Leto is having prescient dreams if he’s not taking spice? What is the Golden Path that Leto keeps banging on about as the way to save something? Save what? Or who? Seriously – if you know the answers, do tell – personally I’m baffled!

Leto and Ghanima from the 2003 TV Mini Series, which clearly decided to age the 9-year-old twins considerably...
Leto and Ghanima from the 2003 TV Mini Series, which clearly decided to age the 9-year-old twins considerably…

By all the descriptions this had to be Fondak, and no other place could be Jacurutu. He felt a strange resonant relationship with the tabu of this place. In the Bene Gesserit Way, he opened his mind to Jacurutu, seeking to know nothing about it. Knowing was a barrier which prevented learning. For a few moments he allowed himself merely to resonate, making no demands, asking no questions.

The book starts off well, getting straight into the story. I was about to say that it’s important to read these in order or you wouldn’t have a clue what was going on but… I did read them in order and I still found this one almost completely incomprehensible! I can only assume that Mr Herbert too may have been sampling the delights of mind-altering substances while writing, and I wondered if perhaps it’s necessary to be doped up to the eyeballs to follow the ‘plot’. Unfortunately, having no illicit drugs to hand, I was forced to attempt it on wine only and that clearly wasn’t strong enough. (I also tried sobriety – but that was so much worse!)

wine bottles

The thing is it seems as if it’s going to be good. The writing is as good as usual and Herbert creates a nicely chilling atmosphere. The description of all the personalities within Alia trying to take control of her mind is brilliantly done, and Leto and Ghani channelling the thoughts of their dead parents is incredibly creepy. Herbert uses Leto’s mullings on what he should do as a vehicle to indulge in a bit of philosophising about the Cold War concerns of his own time, concluding unsurprisingly that the American Way of Life is best. There are loads of conspiracies going on with everyone scheming against everyone else, and Herbert makes this a fascinating look at the loneliness and ultimate fragility of power.

But… Herbert forgets to tell us what’s actually going on! Having a rotten memory, I usually jot down brief notes for review purposes – here’s one of my notes… “About 2/3 now – haven’t a clue what’s going on, don’t like anybody, don’t care who wins (wins what?) and thoroughly bored with the psychedelic drugs, man! Lots of pseudo profundity that’s supposed to be taken seriously and sooooo repetitive. Just want it to be over now.” You can tell I was really enjoying it!

The last third shows some brilliant imagination even if it’s frankly weird to the point of laughable. I have to mention the sandtrouts…

(Spoiler!!! Spoiler!!! Spoiler!!!)

Dune Leto II - The Tyrant by andrewryanart who seems also to have decided to age him.
Dune Leto II – The Tyrant by andrewryanart who seems also to have decided to age him.

The bit where Leto and the sandtrouts merge is without a doubt one of the most inspired pieces of lunacy I’ve ever read, made beautifully squirmily disgusting by the quality of the writing. But when the process turns Leto into some kind of pint-sized superhero who can leap tall buildings in a single bound and destroy hardened warriors with one punch, I began to giggle. And, during the big dramatic finale, that giggling turned into uncontrollable, tears-running-down-the-face, hysteria when he picked up his Abominable Auntie Alia and swung her around his head! I’m not altogether convinced that was the effect Herbert was aiming for…

Alia feinted to the left but her right shoulder came up and her right foot shot out in a toe-pointing kick which could disembowel a man if it struck precisely.

Leto caught the blow on his arm, grabbed the foot, and picked her up by it, swinging her around his head. The speed with which he swung her sent a flapping, hissing sound through the room as her robe beat against her body…Alia screamed and screamed, but still she continued to swing around and around and around.

(End of spoiler)

Great start, incomprehensible middle, unintentionally hysterical end. The last sentence of my notes reads “Right load of old tosh!” and I stand by that! Will I be reading more of the Dune books? Not for the foreseeable future… see? I’m prescient too…

…though…

God Emperor of Dune by BlazenMonk Apparently this is what happens to Leto in the next book. Seriously, just say no to drugs... before it's too late! I'm almost tempted to read it now...
God Emperor of Dune by BlazenMonk
Apparently this is what happens to Leto in the next book. I’m almost tempted to read it now…

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 56…

Episode 56

 

The TBR is down 4 this week to 135! Am I on target to meet my New Year’s Resolution to reduce it to 70 by the end of the year? Hmm…

Here are a few forthcoming attractions – no fiction this week since I’ve just started the 800+ pages of Death and Mr Pickwick, which I suspect may take some time…

Factual

 

the rival queens

Courtesy of Weidenfield & Nicolson, this is subtitled “Catherine de’ Medici, her daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal that Ignited a Kingdom”. Sounds fun!

The Blurb says Set in magnificent Renaissance France, this is the story of two remarkable women, a mother and daughter driven into opposition by a terrible betrayal that threatened to destroy the realm. Catherine de’ Medici was a ruthless pragmatist and powerbroker who dominated the throne for thirty years. Her youngest daughter Marguerite, the glamorous “Queen Margot,” was a passionate free spirit, the only adversary whom her mother could neither intimidate nor control. When Catherine forces the Catholic Marguerite to marry her Protestant cousin Henry of Navarre against her will, and then uses her opulent Parisian wedding as a means of luring his followers to their deaths, she creates not only savage conflict within France but also a potent rival within her own family.

Rich in detail and vivid prose, Goldstone’s narrative unfolds as a thrilling historical epic. Treacherous court politics, poisonings, inter-national espionage, and adultery form the background to a story that includes such celebrated figures as Elizabeth I, Mary, Queen of Scots, and Nostradamus. The Rival Queens is a dangerous tale of love, betrayal, ambition, and the true nature of courage, the echoes of which still resonate.”

 * * * * *

Sci-Fi

 

children of duneWill the two horrid little kids be as weird as their Dad, Paul Muad’Dib? Will Alia still be in love with a walking corpse? Will Lady Jessica be worried about wrinkles now she’s a gran? All will be revealed as the great Dune readalong continues…

The Blurb says “The epic that began with the HUGO and NEBULA Award-winning classic DUNE continues …

The sand-blasted world of Arrakis has become green, watered and fertile. Old Paul Atreides, who led the desert Fremen to political and religious domination of the galaxy, is gone. But for the children of Dune, the very blossoming of their land contains the seeds of its own destruction. The altered climate is destroying the giant sandworms, and this in turn is disastrous for the planet’s economy.

Leto and Ghanima, Paul Atreides’s twin children and his heirs, can see possible solutions – but fanatics begin to challenge the rule of the all-powerful Atreides empire, and more than economic disaster threatens …”

* * * * *

Audio

 

amokCourtesy of Audible via MidasPR. I loved the half-narration/half dramatisation format of The Child, and this new production of another Sebastian Fitzek novel promises to be just as good… fabulous cast! (Adrian Lester! Yum-yum!) And Robert Glenister doing the narrating bit.

The Blurb says Based on Sebastian Fitzek’s best-selling novel Amok Spiel, Amok stars Rafe Spall (Prometheus and Life of Pi), Adrian Lester (Hustle and Merlin) and Natasha McElhone (Californication and The Truman Show). The thriller follows an intense hostage situation unfolding at a radio station where a crazed psychopath, Jan May (Adrian Lester), initiates a morbid mind-game. While the show is on air, he calls members of the public at random. If they pick up the phone with a certain phrase, a hostage is set free. If they don’t, a hostage is shot live on-air until the killer’s demands are met.

Struggling with her own personal demons, renowned criminal psychologist, Ira Samin (Natasha McElhone) is called upon by her former fling Olivier Götz (Rafe Spall) – leader of a Special Operations Command troop – to assist in the harrowing circumstances.A specialist in the field, Ira faces a seemingly futile negotiation, played out to millions of transfixed radio listeners.”

* * * * *

Crime

 

humber boy bCourtesy of NetGalley and highly recommended by Cleo at Cleopatra Loves Books and by Carol at Reading, Writing and Riesling. How could I resist?

The Blurb saysA child is killed after falling from the Humber Bridge. Despite fleeing the scene, two young brothers are found guilty and sent to prison. Upon their release they are granted one privilege only, their anonymity. Probation officer Cate Austin is responsible for Humber Boy B’s reintegration into society. But the general public’s anger is steadily growing, and those around her are wondering if the secret of his identity is one he actually deserves to keep. Cate’s loyalty is challenged when she begins to discover the truth of the crime. She must ask herself if a child is capable of premeditated murder. Or is there a greater evil at play?”

* * * * *

 

NB All blurbs taken from NetGalley, Goodreads, Amazon or publicity bumph.

So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert

dune messiahPower corrupts…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

(This is the second book in the Dune series, and therefore the review will contain spoilers for the first book, Dune. You have been warned!)

It’s twelve years since we left Paul Muad’dib at the end of Dune – twelve years in which his war against the Harkonnen and the Emperor has grown into a jihad resulting in the deaths of tens of billions and the destruction of several planets. Paul’s beginning to wonder if perhaps things might have gone a little too far. His power of prescience has made him an unwilling Messiah to his people, but the ability to see so many possible futures, none of them good, has left him desperate to find a way out that will stop the killing. Now married to the old Emperor’s daughter, poor Princess Irulan, Paul’s heart still belongs to his concubine, the Fremen woman Chani, and he is denying Irulan the child that she and the Bene Gesserit want to continue the bloodlines of these two important families. Driven to desperation by his cruelty, poor Irulan has reluctantly joined a conspiracy against him…

Art by Henrik Sahlstrom
Art by Henrik Sahlstrom

In contrast to the first book which took a bit of time to get going, Dune Messiah leaps straight into the plot with a great introductory chapter, giving a brief summary of how the war went after the end of Dune and foreshadowing what’s to come – Paul’s downfall. It’s very definitely a sequel – all the world-building was done in Dune, so anyone trying to read this as a standalone would be totally lost. To my disappointment, Lady Jessica doesn’t put in an appearance, but Alia is now fifteen and plays a major role. Stilgar is still there as Paul’s loyal right-hand man, and Duncan Idaho makes a distinctly creepy return. And the Reverend Mother Gaius Mohiam is back in all her Bene Gesserit single-mindedness.

New characters are also introduced – Edric, the fish-like Guild Merchant, floating around in a tank filled with melange gas – the spice drug, and Scytale, the Face Dancer, able to change his appearance and even gender at will. Dune has now become the centre of Paul’s Empire, and the hub of the conspiracies that are going on around him. But what the conspirators don’t know, though the reader does, is that Paul has a plan of his own to bring an end to the jihad – a plan so complex and obscure that I’m still not sure what it was, but whatever it was, it was a bad one!!

Edric by Mark Zug
Edric by Mark Zug

The odd thing about this second book is that I really disliked just about everybody (except poor badly-treated Princess Irulan) but loved the book. Paul has turned into some kind of manically depressed dictator – it really seems pointless being able to see lots of possible futures if you always end up picking the most miserable one. I can’t help feeling if he’d got off the spice drug and cleaned up his act, he might have found that as Emperor of Pretty-Much-Everything he could have insisted on peace. Given that the book was written in the ’60s, surely he must have known that there were alternative drugs readily available on any college campus that would have had him happily emblazoning ‘Make Love, Not War’ on his troops’ uniforms? And it was so incredibly mean of him to marry poor Princess Irulan and then to refuse to… well, you know… make a baby with her. No wonder she was slipping contraceptives into Chani’s food and conspiring against Paul – what red-blooded girl wouldn’t in these circumstances? Personally, I reckon they should have ditched Paul and made her Empress! She couldn’t feasibly have done a worse job.

Poor sweet Princess Irulan
Poor sweet Princess Irulan

Of course, then she’d have had to deal with Alia who, you will recall from Dune, at the age of four was cheerfully stabbing enemy prisoners to death to recover their water for the tribe. Imagine what a fun adolescent she has turned into! She has now become the religious figurehead for the regime, much to the annoyance of the displaced Bene Gesserit, and is just of the age to fall in love, which she promptly does with the most spectacularly freakish man in the universe. To be fair, she at least seems to have realised that Paul’s gone nuts, which is more than either Chani or Stilgar seem to have spotted, both of them remaining downtrodden sycophants.

Sycophantic concubine Chani
Downtrodden sycophantic concubine Chani

There is a sense of fatalism about the book. For all his mental powers, Paul is unable to see a future that will allow him to stop the jihad while protecting the people he most loves. In the end, he must decide whether to put the welfare of his family above the greater good, and Herbert does an excellent job of showing his struggle. To the outside world, he is either Messiah or dictator, or both, and is as hated and feared as he is loved. Conspiracy and mistrust are all around him, each faction with its own reasons for resentment and its own differing aims. And perhaps there are possible futures that are hidden even from Paul.

Cute little Alia aged 4
Cute little Alia aged 4

But the stand-out character in this one is Alia. With powers as great as Paul’s, perhaps greater, she hasn’t yet acquired his fatalism and is ready to fight against what he sees as inevitable. Blessed or cursed while yet in the womb with the knowledge and life experiences of the whole host of Bene Gesserit Reverend Mothers who came before her, she still has the normal struggles and desires of a young girl on the cusp of womanhood. The portrayal of the society and women’s subordinate place in it remains as curiously outdated as in the original, but Alia transcends this, becoming a major power player in her own right. Even in her romance she undoubtedly takes the lead. Having a female character of such strength makes the book feel more modern and better balanced than Dune itself.

It’s not often the sequel is better than the original, but in my opinion this one is, and I’m looking forward to seeing whether the high standard of this one will be maintained in the third in the series, Children of Dune.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 51…

Episode 51

 

Well, I think the only answer might be to come up with a new system of counting, ‘cos yet again the TBR has reached a new height this week – 142!! Maybe I should only count books that begin with Z…

Here are some of the ones that are getting near to the top of the heap…

Fiction

 

stone mattressCourtesy of NetGalley. Another Folio Prize Nominee, this collection of short stories will be my first introduction to Margaret Atwood. I’m seriously hoping that by the time I’ve read it I’ll know what a stromatalite is…

The Blurb says “A recently widowed fantasy writer is guided through a stormy winter evening by the voice of her late husband. An elderly lady with Charles Bonnet’s syndrome comes to terms with the little people she keeps seeing, while a newly-formed populist group gathers to burn down her retirement residence. A woman born with a genetic abnormality is mistaken for a vampire. And a crime committed long-ago is revenged in the Arctic via a 1.9 billion year old stromatalite.

In these nine tales, Margaret Atwood ventures into the shadowland earlier explored by fabulists and concoctors of dark yarns such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Daphne du Maurier and Arthur Conan Doyle – and also by herself, in her award-winning novel Alias Grace. In Stone Mattress, Margaret Atwood is at the top of her darkly humorous and seriously playful game.

 * * * * *

Crime

 

the maltese falconCourtesy of NetGalley, this was already on my TBR as part of the Great American Novel Quest. I’ve seen the film a million times but I don’t think I’ve ever read the book…

The Blurb says Sam Spade is hired by the fragrant Miss Wonderley to track down her sister, who has eloped with a louse called Floyd Thursby. But Miss Wonderley is in fact the beautiful and treacherous Brigid O’Shaughnessy, and when Spade’s partner Miles Archer is shot while on Thursby’s trail, Spade finds himself both hunter and hunted: can he track down the jewel-encrusted bird, a treasure worth killing for, before the Fat Man finds him?

* * * * *

Crime Audiobook

 

wolf winterCourtesy of Audible UK. Mixed reviews on this one, but somehow it appeals to me anyway – sounds nice and atmospheric, and since it snowed here a couple of days ago, it’s still the right time of year…

The Blurb says There are six homesteads on Blackåsen Mountain. A day’s journey away lies the empty town. It comes to life just once, in winter, when the church summons her people through the snows. Then even the oldest enemies will gather.

But now it is summer, and new settlers are come. It is their two young daughters who find the dead man not half an hour’s walk from their cottage. The father is away. And whether stubborn or stupid or scared for her girls, the mother will not let it rest.

To the wife who is not concerned when her husband does not come home for three days to the man who laughs when he hears his brother is dead to the priest who doesn’t care, she asks and asks her questions, digging at the secrets of the mountain. They say a wolf made those wounds. But what wild animal cuts a body so clean?”

* * * * *

Sci-Fi

 

twenty trillion leagues under the seaCourtesy of NetGalley. Trying to read some modern sci-fi/fantasy along with the classics, and this sounds like fun in a weird kind of way…

The Blurb says “It is 1958 and France’s first nuclear submarine, Plongeur, leaves port for the first of its sea trials. On board, gathered together for the first time, are one of the Navy’s most experienced captains and a tiny skeleton crew of sailors, engineers, and scientists. The Plongeur makes her first dive and goes down, and down and down. Out of control, the submarine plummets to a depth where the pressure will crush her hull, killing everyone on board, and beyond. The pressure builds, the hull protests, the crew prepare for death, the boat reaches the bottom of the sea and finds nothing. Her final dive continues, the pressure begins to relent, but the depth guage is useless. They have gone miles down. Hundreds of miles, thousands, and so it goes on. Onboard the crew succumb to madness, betrayal, religious mania, and murder. Has the Plongeur left the limits of our world and gone elsewhere?

 * * * * *

 

dune messiahAfter enjoying my recent re-read of Dune, time for the follow-up. I’ll be reading this alongside my blog buddy, Professor VJ Duke, who’s reading the Dune books for the first time, so that will add considerably to the fun!

The Blurb saysThis second installment explores new developments on the desert planet Arrakis, with its intricate social order and its strange threatening environment. Dune Messiah picks up the story of the man known as Muad’dib, heir to a power unimaginable, bringing to fruition an ambition of unparalleled scale: the centuries-old scheme to create a superbeing who reigns not in the heavens but among men. But the question is: Do all paths of glory lead to the grave?

* * * * *

 

NB All blurbs taken from NetGalley, Goodreads or Audible.

So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

Dune by Frank Herbert

dune“He who controls the spice controls the universe.”

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Duke Leto Atreides has been ordered by the Padishah Emperor, Shaddam IV, to give up his comfortable home planet of Caladan and take over the administration of the almost barren planet Arrakis, whose vast sandy deserts give it its other name – Dune. Harsh though the environment of Dune may be, it is the only planet in the Empire which can produce melange, the spice drug, which extends the life of those who use it. The financial rewards of controlling Dune are immense, so the previous rulers, the Harkonnens, don’t intend to give up their claim, and it appears the Emperor may be secretly supporting the Harkonnens in their campaign to destroy Duke Leto. But Duke Leto has a son, Paul, the offspring of Duke Leto’s concubine, Lady Jessica of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood. Paul is the result of generations of selective breeding, carefully controlled by the Bene Gesserit to produce the Kwizatz Haderach, a male Bene Gesserit with unprecedented mental powers, including the ability to see possible futures. And the spice drug melange is a crucial part of the process of bringing those powers to their full potential…

Written in 1965, Dune was the first real fantasy saga set on other worlds, and has remained in the fantasy/sci-fi bestseller lists ever since. It’s often compared to The Lord of the Rings for the completeness of its world-building, but the tone of it is much more ambiguous – the dividing lines between good and evil aren’t quite so clearly drawn. It’s a grappling for power and control, set in a society that has aspects of the mediaeval – lordly families wielding ultimate power over their peoples, where marriages are made for political advantage rather than love, and where torture and death are accepted as the norm.

Lovely Kyle MacLaclan as Paul-Muad'dib in the 1984 David Lynch film.
Lovely Kyle MacLachlan as Paul-Muad’dib in the 1984 David Lynch film.

The ecological themes in Dune reflect the beginnings of the anxieties over our own earth environment, which was just starting to become a matter of public concern in the ’60s. The importance of water on this desert planet is brilliantly portrayed, as Herbert shows how its scarcity has led to it becoming part of the mythology and even religion of the planet’s inhabitants. Everything revolves round water and customs reflect that – from water being the major currency to the ritual recovery of water from the bodies of the dead. The Fremen inhabitants of the planet are trying to make their planet more habitable by careful use and cultivation of what they already have, but Herbert, who had an interest in ecology in his real life, shows how changing one aspect of an environment must be carefully controlled to prevent the destruction of others.

Yes, that is Sting playing nasty Feyd-Rautha and look! Capt Jean-Luc Picard himself appearing as Gurney Halleck!  (I've really got to watch this film again...soon!)
Yes, that is Sting playing nasty Feyd-Rautha and look! Capt Jean-Luc Picard himself appearing as Gurney Halleck!
(I’ve really got to watch this film again…soon!)

Much of the language of Dune is based on real-life Arabic languages – there is much talk of jihad, for example, and many of the names are Arabic in origin. I suspect this, combined with the desert landscape, might make the modern reader read things into the story that probably weren’t intended and certainly weren’t obvious to this reader when I first read the book sometime in the ’70s or ’80s. Our familiarity with the Middle East is so much greater now than it was then. However it’s fun to draw comparisons between spice and oil, and to see the struggle between the Fremen and their imperial overlords as a reflection of the wars of the last few decades. But in truth, the reader can only go so far down this route before the comparison begins to fall apart.

Frank Herbert
Frank Herbert

The place of women in the Dune universe is not exactly a feminist’s delight, and seems pretty backwards looking even for the ’60s. Primarily breeding machines, even the Bene Gesserit wield their power through marriage and concubinage (yes, concubines!) and it’s a bit sad that their most urgent desire is to create a male, and therefore superior, Bene Gesserit. Often called witches by the men, and mistresses of the wierding ways, the Bene Gesserit nevertheless are feared and sometimes respected, so women do play an important, if not exactly heroic, role in the stories. And despite their inferior position in society, Herbert has created some memorable female characters, not least the Lady Jessica herself who gradually develops into something much more complex than simply the mother of the Kwizatz Haderach.

Gorgeous Francesca Annis as Lady Jessica.
Gorgeous Francesca Annis as Lady Jessica

Have I made this book sound impossibly boring? I hope not, because after a fairly slow start when the characters and worlds are introduced, there’s plenty of action. Treachery, intrigue, poisonings and battles, a little bit of romance, but not too much, the truly nasty Baron Harkonnen and his evil henchmen, and most of all Paul-Muad’dib and the heroic Fremen all make for a great adventure story. And the giant worms, the makers, are one of the all-time great creations of fantasy. Their role in the ecology of the planet and the way they are viewed by the Fremen, as something to be worshipped, feared and yet used, makes them central to the book. They are a force of nature that man, with all his technology, can’t defeat – indeed, mustn’t defeat, because without the worms Dune would lose the thing that gives it is unique importance. And they are terrifying in their destructive power, made worse somehow by the fact that they are driven by no intelligent purpose.

dune-sand-worm

There are several sequels to Dune, and while this one doesn’t quite end on a cliffhanger, the reader is left knowing there is much more to come. From memory the first couple of sequels are excellent, after which the series began to lose its edge somewhat – for me, at least. But I’m looking forward to re-reading the next one, Dune Messiah, in the not-too-distant future, and meantime would highly recommend Dune not just as an excellent read in itself, but as the book that has inspired so many of the later fantasy writers.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 30…

Episode 30

 

The relative quietness of the blogosphere in these sultry summer days means the TBR has fallen to a respectable 96 97, despite the best efforts of some of the regular villains to tempt me from the straight and narrow. So this week, no additions – just a few that are already on the list…

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Crime

 

the feverLoved Abbott’s previous two, The End of Everything and Dare Me, so I have very high hopes of this – courtesy of both Amazon Vine and NetGalley.

The Blurb saysThe Nash family is close-knit. Tom is a popular teacher, father of two teens: Eli, a hockey star and girl magnet, and his sister Deenie, a diligent student. Their seeming stability, however, is thrown into chaos when Deenie’s best friend is struck by a terrifying, unexplained seizure in class. Rumors of a hazardous outbreak spread through the family, school and community.

As hysteria and contagion swell, a series of tightly held secrets emerges, threatening to unravel friendships, families and the town’s fragile idea of security.

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Factual

 

the zhivago affairGetting great reviews in the US but not out here in the UK on Kindle till 3rd July. I’m really, really hoping this doesn’t inspire me to read Dr Zhivago

The Blurb saysIn May 1956, an Italian publishing scout took a train to the Russian countryside to visit the country’s most beloved poet, Boris Pasternak. He left concealing the original manuscript of Pasternak’s much anticipated first novel, entrusted to him with these words from the author: “This is Doctor Zhivago. May it make its way around the world.” Pasternak knew his novel would never be published in the Soviet Union, where the authorities regarded it as an assault on the 1917 Revolution, so he allowed it to be published in translation all over the world.  But in 1958, the CIA, which recognized that the Cold War was above all an ideological battle, published Doctor Zhivago in Russian and smuggled it into the Soviet Union where it was snapped up on the black market and passed surreptitiously from friend to friend. Pasternak, whose funeral in 1960 was attended by thousands of readers who stayed for hours in defiance of the watching KGB, launched the great Soviet tradition of the writer-dissident. With sole access to otherwise classified CIA files, the authors give us an irresistible portrait of the charming and passionate Pasternak and a twisty thriller that takes readers back to a fascinating period of the Cold War, to a time when literature had power to shape the world.

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Fiction

 

birdsongI’ve never read any of Sebastian Faulks’ books except for his Wodehouse homage, Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, which I loved. So time to give this classic a go – courtesy of NetGalley, since it’s being reissued by Random House Vintage.

The Blurb saysPublished to international critical and popular acclaim, this intensely romantic yet stunningly realistic novel spans three generations and the unimaginable gulf between the First World War and the present. As the young Englishman Stephen Wraysford passes through a tempestuous love affair with Isabelle Azaire in France and enters the dark, surreal world beneath the trenches of No Man’s Land, Sebastian Faulks creates a world of fiction that is as tragic as A Farewell to Arms and as sensuous as The English Patient. Crafted from the ruins of war and the indestructibility of love, Birdsong is a novel that will be read and marveled at for years to come.

(Actually it sounds dire – what was I thinking? I suspect this may end up on the abandoned pile at some point – end of chapter 1 possibly – but we’ll see! Maybe it won’t be as nauseatingly sickly as the blurb makes it sound…)

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Sci-fi

 

duneEver since I started my little sci-fi adventure, I’ve had a hankering to re-read Dune. When I first read it a million of your Earth years ago, I was a bit sniffy about it, ‘cos really it’s more fantasy than sci-fi. However, decades later, I still remember many of the images from the book and its follow-ups so they clearly made an impression.

The Blurb saysSet in the far future amidst a sprawling feudal interstellar empire where planetary dynasties are controlled by noble houses that owe an allegiance to the imperial House Corrino, Dune tells the story of young Paul Atreides (the heir apparent to Duke Leto Atreides and heir of House Atreides) as he and his family accept control of the desert planet Arrakis, the only source of the “spice” melange, the most important and valuable substance in the universe. The story explores the complex and multi-layered interactions of politics, religion, ecology, technology, and human emotion, as the forces of the empire confront each other for control of Arrakis and its “spice”. First published in 1965, It won the Hugo Award in 1966, and the inaugural Nebula Award for Best Novel. Dune is frequently cited as the world’s best-selling science fiction novel.

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?