Waterstone's Liverpool One Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club

Waterstones Liverpool One Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club

"This is space. It's sometimes called the final frontier. (Except that of course you can't have a *final* frontier, because there'd be nothing for it to be a frontier *to*, but as frontiers go, it's pretty penultimate...)"
- Terry Pratchett, Moving Pictures

About Us

This is the official blog for the book club held in the book lounge of Waterstones Liverpool One.

The group meet at 6pm on the first Monday of the month to discuss their thoughts and opinions on the books selected. The books range from classic fantasy to brand new science fiction short story collections.

It's a fun and friendly atmosphere and all are welcome: from those who have never read any science fiction or fantasy before, to those who don't read anything else.

The group, and this blog, are administered by Glyn Morgan, the Bookseller responsible for the Science Fiction section of the store and an avid reader of SF who is currently studying for his PhD at the University of Liverpool.

If you would like to comment on any of the books we've read, this month or in the distant past, please feel free to contribute to the comments section of the relevant posts.

Visit this club's little sister: Coffee and Comics

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury


It's the week before Hallowe'en, and Cooger and Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois. The siren song of the calliope entices all with promises of youth regained and dreams fulfilled ...And as two boys trembling on the brink of manhood set out to explore the mysteries of the dark carnival's smoke, mazes and mirrors, they will also discover the true price of innermost wishes ...

What Did We Think?

 That we read this book over the month of October, that is to say - over Halloween, was entirely serendipitous.

Most of us were delighted by Bradbury's most famous horror title, finding it unique and original despite its archetypal status. What most impressed everyone however was the stylised language Bradbury uses to tell his story. The prose is flowery and beautiful and creates an atmosphere which is at once tense, sinister and immersive, however it also makes the book nigh on impossible to skim.

There's a definite air of nostalgia around the two main characters: William "Will" Halloway and Jim Nightshade, both thirteen year old boys. So powerful is this nostalgia for an innocent childhood that at times it can be overly sweet and cloying. That said, his representation of the boys as two sides of the same coin was refreshingly different from the normally lazy characterisation of such figures in horror or boys-own-adventures, where normally duplicate children are all more or less the same and only more than one so that they have someone to talk to.

Whilst nicely drawn, more interesting than the boys were the chief villain, Mr. Dark: a powerful and exciting Faustian character, and Will's father Charles. Charles Halloway is an inciteful and complexly brilliant character with doubts and philosophies which come across as being honest and representative of genuine wisdom, possibly Bradbury's own (he was 42 when this novel was published in 1962). There are no significant female characters to speak of, and those that do exist seem to conform to the classical template of the maid, the mother and the crone, although this fits with the novel if seen as a boys-own-adventure story.

Obviously this was one of the first novels, if not the first, to exploit the circus freak mystique for horror purposes (although one wonders whether Bradbury had seen the 1932 horror film Freaks). Its influence on media as diverse as the TV show Carnivàle and Stephen King's It are clear (King references the novel is several fictions of his own, notable The Dead Zone)

What detracted from the novel was, paradoxically, what also made it so beautiful - the florid language making it at times hard to follow, especially if read in short bursts. Also, possibly a symptom of its age, the horror of the novel was far less horrific than would be liked in a modern novel, indeed it might be more acurate to consider it a suspense novel than a horror novel.

Nevertheless, there was an overall positive reaction to this book and a strong appreciation for Bradbury's skill as an author.

Votes were as follows: 9, 9, 8, 7, 7, 7, 7, 5

Monday, 25 October 2010


I don't like to double post about the same thing but if reading Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes for the session on Monday has got you into the mood for chilling tales of darkness and the macabre then you may be glad I reminded you that this Friday we've got the Twisted Tales Event in store.

From 6-8pm there will be readings from Fantasy / Horror authors Tom Fletcher, Nicholas Royle, Conrad Williams, and Ramsey Campbell. The event has already attracted quite a buzz and tickets have sold well (though there are still some available), it's even been mentioned on the British Fantasy Society page, University of Sterling's Gothic Imagination (the biggest website for studies of the Gothic in the world) and Horror magazine Black Static's "Things To Do At Halloween".

If we get as strong a turnout as I'm hoping we will, I plan to commission a series of such readings across the coming year. Not just horror, but science fiction and fantasy as well. I've already got a few authors lined up for the first sequel, and I'll be announcing the details for the first time at the event.

So come along and meet some of the biggest names in British Horror fiction working today. Hear them read their own stories, ask them questions, and get them to sign books.

Twisted Tales
Friday 29th October
Tickets cost £2
For more information, or to reserve tickets, call 0151 709 9820.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

The Brentford Triangle by Robert Rankin


'Omally groaned. "It is the end of mankind as we know it. I should never have got up so early today" and all over Brentford electrical appliances were beginning to fail…' Could it be that Pooley and Omally, whilst engaged on a round of allotment golf, mistook laser-operated gravitational landing beams for the malignant work of Brentford Council? Does the Captain Laser Alien Attack machine in the bar of the Swan possess more sinister force than its magnetic appeal for youths with green hair? Is Brentford the first base in an alien onslaught on planet Earth?

A sequel to "The Antipope", this is the second novel in "The Brentford Trilogy".

What Did We Think?

(notes to follow)

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Wirral Fantasy, Horror, and Science Fiction Event

Hi all, just a little shout out for a reading that will be going on as part of the annual Wirral Bookfest. I'll be going and I thought you might like to hear about it too:

Parallel Dimensions returns for its second year to bring together some of the UK's strongest emerging writers of the Fantasy, Horror and Science-Fiction genres.
Colin P Davies, Adele Cosgrove-Bray, Carol Falaki and Adrienne Odasso will share new fiction with their audience. Last year's lively Q&A session, which followed the readings, proved very popular.
Colin has seen over forty of his short stories published in anthologies and magazines. He is the author of "The Bookmole", a novel whose sequel is due out soon. His illustrations have also appeared in international genre magazines.
Adele Cosgrove-Bray's short stories appear in various anthologies published by Hadley Rille Books and Dark Moon Press. Her non-fiction writings have been featured in Prediction Magazine and Your Future. She is currently writing her forth in a series of Dark Fantasy novels set in Wirral and Liverpool.
Carol Falaki's first novel, "Birth in Suburbia" draws on her professional experience as a midwife. She has also enjoyed publishing success with her poetry.
Almost fifty of Adrienne Odasso's poems have been published in a wide variety of magazines, chapbooks and anthologies. Her six published short stories have also aded to her growing reputation as a talented writer.
Tickets are already on sale from all Wirral Libraries. Entry costs just £3 and includes refreshments.
Parallel Dimensions takes place on Saturday, October 16th, 2010 at West Kirby Library, Wirral. Doors open at 2pm. Be early to ensure a seat, as last year's event was very well attended.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Happy Birthday Blog

"Happy Birthday to Blog
Happy Birthday to Blog
Happy Birthday Waterstone's Liverpool One Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club Blog
Happy Birthday to Blog"

Exactly 1 year ago today I posted the first entry on this blog. Since then we've grown and grown, receiving a record 704 views last month from people other than me. As the map on the right shows, these views have come mainly from the UK but also from distant lands (the figures are based only on the stats recorded by the blog for the last three months, not the whole year).

Other birthday stats: The most visited post on the blog is "Sister Book Club Forming: Coffee and Comics" with 76 views, closely followed by the summary of our discussion of The City and The City by China Miéville. The Sister Book Club post probably did so well thanks to some Twitter publicity from Graphic Novel author (and author of 800 Years of Haunted Liverpool), John Reppion. The blog also benefited from a recent piece of good PR by Science Fiction critic and publisher Cheryl Morgan (no relation) who picked us out for praise on her site.

So here's to a successful first year and the hope of many more.

Upwards and Onwards!

- Glyn

Edit: Apparently the blog shares its birthday with Liverpool-born horror supremo Clive Barker himself. Let's hope he hasn't seen the score we gave to Hellbound Heart....

Friday, 1 October 2010

Apologies for absence - October 4th

I'm sorry but I won't be at Monday's 6pm meeting to discuss The Brentford Triangle by Robert Rankin.

I've won last minute tickets to a big gig at the Hammersmith Apollo in London and the offer was too good to refuse. Sorry for letting you down but if someone takes some notes and most importantly records the score, I'll get it posted up on the blog ASAP.

Have a good meeting. See you next month, if not before, to discuss Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes.

All the best,


Thursday, 23 September 2010

Sister Book Club Forming: Coffee and Comics

I'm happy to announce that the Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club has a baby sister!

I'm founding a new book club to read and discuss comic books / graphic novels / manga (call it what you want) under the name "Coffee and Comics."* We're going to meet at 6pm on the third Monday of every month, meaning that in theory it will smack in the middle between sessions of the Sci-fi/Fantasy Book Club.
The first meeting is on Monday October 18th.

Because I don't know what kind of people will turn up, I've selected two very different books for the first session and we'll discuss which ever one most people have read, hopefully we'll be able to say something about both of them. The books are the brilliant and touching Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and the exciting and infamous Hard Goodbye, the first volume of Sin City by Frank Miller. The aim was to pick two books that had commonalities but which were also very different. I also wanted self contained stories which were relatively inexpensive (as graphic novels go).Read one, both, or neither, then come along and chat.

There will be a few common sense rules, at least at first, the comics will have to reasonably cheap - not £30 hardbacks for example, and be able to stand alone as a single book even if they're a part of a series. Other than that, anything goes and all are welcome to attend.

If you're worried about this taking time away from my work with the Sci-fi/Fantasy Book Club (or even my studies) then worry not because thinking about this very possibility I've enlisted a sidekick for Coffee and Comics to help me run it and take over on occasions when I'm over stretched. It'd be great to see some familiar faces there so if anyone fancies coming along you'd be more than welcome. Same place, same time, different date. No doubt if it takes off there will be a sister blog too.

Hope to see you there!

*Drinking coffee is not required.

Monday, 20 September 2010

EVENT: Twisted Tales - Horror Readings

I could let the flyer talk for itself, but that's not my style.

On Friday 29th October 2010, at 6pm you can come and hear Horror short stories being read by real published Horror authors. Tom Fletcher's first novel The Leaping came out earlier this year and pits young graduates from Manchester against an evil in the Cumbrian Fells. Nicholas Royle's book Antwerp follows a brutal and mysteriously fascinating killer, Nick also runs Nightjar Press, a horror specialist small press. Conrad Williams, you may remember, was in store recently. On Saturday it was announced that he'd won the British Fantasy Award for Best Novel 2010 for his novel One, which will be going up as one of my suggestions for this group's future reading by the way. Ramsey Campbell is a Liverpool native and is listed in the Oxford Companion to English Literature as "Britain's most respected living horror writer", amongst his many awards he has 4 World Fantasy Awards and no less than 13 British Fantasy Awards!

The authors will each be reading a work of short fiction, signing and (time permitting) answering any questions. If I can wade through the paperwork we'll also be selling exclusive copies of books that are now out of print or previously unavailable.

Even if you're not a horror fan this is an event worth attending, and the perfect way to mark Halloween 2010!

Twisted Tales

Friday 29th October at 6pm – 8pm
Ticket’s £2
Waterstone’s Liverpool One

12 College Lane
Liverpool L1 3DL
Tel: 0151 709 9820

Friday, 10 September 2010

September Newsletter

As the people most likely to care I thought I'd give you an exclusive preview of a new single-page newsletter for the Science Fiction section in store. I'm going to make one a month and post it up on the pillar next to the book club display. Feedback would be appreciated. [click on the image to open up a bigger version]

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Preamble for The Brentford Triangle by Robert Rankin

It's been a while since I've had the time to write a preamble for one of our books. To be honest, I don't really have the time now, it's just that when I found the link to China Miéville talking about The City and The City, which you can find a  link to at the bottom of my summary of our discussion, it inspired me to look for something similar regarding next month's book Robert Rankin's The Brentford Triangle.

I failed.

I did, however, find a video of him reading from the first book in the series, The Antipope, and you can watch that video here. I've been assured that although The Brentford Triangle follows on from The Antipope, you need not have read the first in the sequence to read Triangle. I certainly hope this is the case because I myself have only ever read Retromancer which is the current new paperback.

Regardless, in this 2009 interview with the British Fantasy Society Rankin himself says that he considers Triangle to be the best he's written.

Rankin's newest release is The Japanese Devil Fish Girl and Other Unnatural Attractions which is a sequel of sorts to H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds.

There have been some supply issues with The Brentford Triangle as all of Rankin's books are currently undergoing a reissuing into new colourful covers. I've done my best to try and order some in though and should I fail you are all aware of the other retail options open to you *shudder*.

That's all from me, hope you noticed and liked the new logo at the top of the page. Countless minutes were spent colouring it in on Paint! See you next month.

Oh - and should the urge take you. Robert Rankin's official fan club is called Sproutlore and can be found here.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The City and The City by China Miéville


When the body of a murdered woman is found in the extraordinary, decaying city of Besźel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks like a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he probes, the evidence begins to point to conspiracies far stranger, and more deadly, than anything he could have imagined. Soon his work puts him and those he cares for in danger. Borlu must travel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own, across a border like no other. The City and The City won the 2010 BSFA award for Best Novel, the 2010 Arthur C. Clarke award for Best Novel (a record breaking third for Miéville), and tied with Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl for the 2010 Hugo award for Best Novel. It has also been nominated for World Fantasy Award and Nebula Awards in the same category.

What Did We Think?

 China Miéville is continuously praised for the strength of his world building. This is showcased in The City and The City in a manner which is in some ways more obvious than in other novels. The reason for this is that what Miéville has written is essentially a straight-forward crime plot set against the background of the amazing and yet seemingly real cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma.

The straight crime plot was where at least one reader fell out with the book, as we discussed there is a case for saying the book is infact neither science fiction nor fantasy, despite accolades from both camps! If you don't like crime fiction it's unlikely that you'll love The City and The City as it conforms to many of the clichés of the genre, especially in terms of characters' relationships: we see both the classic detective-sidekick relationship, and the detective-fish out of water foreign ace detective tropes repeated here, as is the fact that the strongest female character is the murder victim who never actually appears on stage as a character (at least a living one).

Despite this potential flaw all agreed that the novel had a good strong story, interesting characters and strong pacing. The complexities of the world Miéville has created, which I dare not describe in too much depth here for fear or ruining someone else's experience, are enthralling and reading the book can be compared to being a detective in novel as you work out the intricacies of the location. That said, the concept is so complex that some struggled with the first third or so of the novel and it was suggested (although not unanimously agreed) that some form of introductory short story which established the city from the point of view of an outsider would have been beneficial. Whether this would have detracted from, or added to, the experience of reading the novel was a point of contention.

Whether there was a better way of presenting the city or not, it was certainly a heavily detailed setting which many of us wanted to return to. There were interesting discussions about the possibility of the place (hence it not really being science fiction or fantasy), referencing experiments by Quirkology and real world examples of cultural fragmentation within urban areas (something which clearly influenced the novel).

Overall it was a enjoyable, even lovable novel, which whilst challanging was a rewarding read. However, it is still very much a piece of crime fiction and if you're not a fan of Raymond Chandler then you likely won't like this. That said, the setting is engaging enough that it could still win you over.

Votes were as follows: 10, 9, 8, 8, 7, 4


On a personal note: despite ranking this book highly and loving the act of reading it. I wouldn't reccomend it as an introduction to Miéville's fiction, largely for the negative reasons outlined above, if you have the time to tackle such a large book - Perdido Street Station is a superior novel and a massively rewarding read.- Glyn

NEW: Watch a video of China Miéville himself talking about The City and The City here.

Monday, 9 August 2010

EVENT: Conrad Williams Signing

Hey guys! New event news!

Conrad Williams is an author based in Manchester who will be coming into Waterstone's Liverpool One to do a signing to promote his newest release: Blonde on a Stick. Blonde is his first crime novel and features a substantial section set in our very own Liverpool. If that doesn't appeal to you (and you may be asking what it's doing on this blog) then you may be interested to know that Conrad's previous books are of the Horror genre.

He is a past recipient of the Littlewood Arc Prize, and the International Horror Guild Award. He was awarded the British Fantasy Society (BFS) Award for best newcomer in 1993, and best novella in 2008 for The Scalding Rooms. His last novel One was been nominated for the BFS best novel this year. Conrad Williams is definitely on the up and if you want to get in on the action now and be able to tell your friends in years to come that you'd read Conrad Williams ages ago and even have some signed editions then come along and meet him, buy a book or two and get them signed.

The event is on Friday 20th August, 2pm. If you can't make it down I can always reserve some books for you. Even if Blonde on a Stick isn't your style, I've got plenty of copies of One and some of his other novels all waiting. Come along, you might regret it in the future if you don't.

Besides, the majority of authors who come to our store are non-genre so we should do all we can to encourage Liverpool One as a must-stop location for genre authors increasing our odds of being selected to host big names in the future (unfortunately as it stands Manchester Deansgate is the "must stop" location in the North West and we follow in second place).

Conrad's Blog and His Twitter Page

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Graceling by Kristin Cashore


In a world where people born with an exceptional skill, known as a Grace, are feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of a skill even she despises: the Grace of killing. She lives under the command of her Uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, and is expected to carry out his dirty work, punnishing and torturing anyone who displeases him. Breaking arms and cutting off fingers are her stock-in-trade. Finding life under his rule increasingly unbearable Katsa forms an underground Council, whose purpose is to combat the destructive behaviour of the seven kings - after all, the Middluns is only one of the Seven Kingdoms, each of them ruled by their own king and his personal agenda for power. When the Council hears that the King of Liend's father has been kidnapped Katsa investigates ...and stumbles across a mystery. Who would want to kidnap him, and why? And who was the extraordinary Graced fighter who challenged her fighting skills, for the first time, as she and the Council rushed the old man to saftey? Something dark and deadly is rising and creeping across the continent, and behind it all lurks the shadowy figure of a one-eyed king ...

What Did We Think?

Reception of Graceling was decidedly mixed. On one hand it was seen as being well paced, a good read and hard to put down. Whilst on the other, it was thought to be badly plotted, with 2 dimensional characters and stilted dialogue.

Praise for the concept was near-universal. The idea of the Graces was well received: mutations which imbue the bearer with an uncanny skill such as fishing, dancing, or killing, but which also mark their carrier with eyes of different colours, its an original and likable idea. The intrigue surrounding the protagonist Katsa’s Grace however was not so all generally loved being perceived by some as a lazy plot twist which was often inconsistently used.

Many, even those who thought the novel well plotted, agreed it was a story with two distinct parts. For many who disliked Graceling, the first half, with its court intrigue, was more engaging than the second and hence the book’s enjoyability decreased. Others, however, found the second half to be much more exciting and the villain of the piece to be chilling if not completely terrifying. Most readers agreed that the book seems to suffer from the by now oft seen “first book syndrome” and Cashore seems to have crammed all of her ideas into this one, quite slim (c.370 page), novel. As a result some aspects are under developed, we would all have liked to learn more about The Council for example, as they seem to have served no purpose in the plot of Graceling other than to enable Katsa to go on the mission which sets events in motion, and to pop up and save her bacon in the penultimate act.

Whether this was a girl’s book was a hot debate, not helped by the fact that all of the male reader seemed to be nonchalant about the novel at best, and at worst hated it. Certainly, this is a rare example of a female writer of fantasy and a female protagonist. Po, the strong male, is introduced as a love interest but Katsa never relies on him, indeed she supports him far more than the other way around. So, certainly this is a feminist fantasy, but the consensus was that it was unfair to consider it a girl’s book purely on this basis as novels such as Daughter of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts have similar themes but are immensely enjoyed by both genders. Whatever the gender, it was agreed (and is marketed as such) that it's certainly a good novel for younger readers who are thirsty for some old-fashioned adventure.

On the whole this was seen as a first novel with promise, but role of women the novel aside, did little to improve upon tried and tested fantasy tropes both in terms of plot, character, and world building.

The votes were as follows: 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts


Russia, 1946, the Nazis recently defeated. Stalin gathers half a dozen of the top Soviet science fiction authors in a dacha in the countryside somewhere. Convinced that the defeat of America is only a few years away, and equally convinced that the Soviet Union needs a massive external threat to hold it together, to give it purpose and direction, he tells the writers: 'I want you to concoct a story about aliens poised to invade earth ...I want it to be massively detailed, and completely believable. If you need props and evidence to back it up, then we can create them. But when America is defeated, your story must be so convincing that the whole population of Soviet Russia believes in it - the population of the whole world!' The little group of writers gets down to the task and spends months working on it. But then new orders come from Moscow: they are told to drop the project; Stalin has changed his mind; forget everything about it. So they do. They get on with their lives in their various ways; some of them survive the remainder of Stalin's rule, the changes of the 50s and 60s. And then, in the aftermath of Chernobyl, the survivors gather again, because something strange has started to happen

What Did We Think?

(notes to follow)


Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut


Prisoner of war, optometrist, time-traveller - these are the life roles of Billy Pilgrim, hero of this miraculously moving, bitter and funny story of innocence faced with apocalypse. Slaughterhouse 5 is one of the world's great anti-war books. Centring on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden in the Second World War, Billy Pilgrim's odyssey through time reflects the journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we are afraid to know.

What Did We Think?

Vonnegut's most acclaimed work is a darkly funny book, peculiar and strange as it hops around all over the place. Part memoir, part (anti)war fiction, part science fiction, its a very difficult book to categorise. For example, we're reading this as part of a science fiction/ fantasy book club - so is it science fiction? We found that depends wildly on your reading of the text. So slight and carefully crafted is the plot that it can be read as being all a wild delusion on the part of Billy Pilgrim, that the time travelling and alien abduction are the result of his Dresden induced trauma interplaying with the dementia his daughter is certain he has. On the other hand you can read it as a literal truth, that it happened (or happens) exactly as Billy claims it does. In either case, some found the lack of definitive science fictional content, particularly with regards to the nature of Billy's time travelling, to be disappointing.

Something that was almost unanimous was a feeling that the novel was extremely honest. There was a sense that Vonnegut contemplated deeply on the question of how to write a war novel, how to understand the point of war. If any. Again, Vonnegut's skill as a writer shone through in that you cannot clearly say that this is an explicitly anti-war novel, rather it is a story which emphasises the pointlessness and pathetic nature of war and leaves you to draw your own conclusions, it very pointedly avoids soapboxing.

Another point of discussion was that of Billy Pilgrim himself, a character Universally seen as being almost unbelievable pathetic, and yet also painfully normal. An observer in his own life he was found to be both frustrating and hard to sympathise with. It was decided that this aspect of his character was almost certainly deliberate and could be a point about passivity and acceptance, or it could be a criticism that people tend to cruise through their lives without sieving the moment. On a more practical note, it could be that Pilgrim's passive nature was a narrative necessity in order to add credence to the idea to the Tralfamadorian model of time being fixed and free-will being non existent.

Overall, feeling towards the book was positive although there was significant disagreement over several issues raised. The group found it hard to agree about what the book actually stood for, or what certain sections and elements meant. Rather than a criticism of the novel however, this is testament to the complex and engaging nature of Slaughterhouse 5.

The votes were as follows: 5, 6, 7, 7, 8, 8, 8, 9, 10, 10

The audio book received considerable praise from Al, it's narrated by Ethan Hawke and has an interesting interview with the author at the end.

Also: in reply to a sub-discussion we had. Yes, the book has been banned and censored from its publication in 1969 right up to the modern day. It ranked 46th in the American Library Association list of the most frequently banned/challenged books to 2000-2009.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Changing Permissions

After some feedback at the last session I've tweaked the permissions on the blog to allow anyone to post a comment, irrespective of whether you have a Blogger account or not. This means the blog is more exposed to spam but hopefully I can keep on top of it and clean up any mess before it becomes too intrusive.

Enjoy the freedom folks :-)

- Glyn

P.S. Discussion summary of Slaughterhouse 5 coming soon.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Suggestion Box

This post represents the suggestion box for books for the group to discuss in the future. There will be a permanent link to it in the right column so that long after it sinks into the depths of the blog you can find it and add your suggestions in the comments section below.

If you're unfamiliar with the procedure, essentially we'll read anything from the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres (and there are arguments for Horror, and maybe even one day the odd Graphic Novel), the book has to be readable in a month which means that exceptionally long novels might be frowned upon, however if there is a reasonable consensus that a book would be good to read we could rig it so that long novels are preceded by shorter works.

All suggestions are taken on board and the final reading list is drawn by blind ballot in book club meetings.

So without further hesitation - let the recommendation begin!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker


Liverpool born and educated Clive Barker is widely acknowledged as the master of nerve-shattering horror. The Hellbound Heart is a story of the human heart and all the great terrors and ecstasies within. It was also the book behind the cult horror film, Hellraiser. In a quiet house on a quiet street Frank and Julia are having an affair. Not your ordinary affair. For Frank it began with his own insatiable sexual appetite, a mysterious lacquered box- and then an unhinged voyage through a netherworld of imaginable pleasures and unimaginable horror! Now Frank- or what is left of Frank -waits in an empty room. All he wants is to live as he was before. All Julia can do is bring him her unfulfilled passions!and a little flesh and blood!

What Did We Think?

(notes to follow)


Votes were as follows: 0, 1, 1, 2, 2, 4, 5, 7

Not the most successful result for our first foray into the world of Horror. Ah well, maybe next time.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Temeraire by Naomi Novik


Captain Will Laurence has been at sea since he was just twelve years old. Rising on merit to captain his own vessel, Laurence has earned himself a beautiful fiancee, society's esteem and a golden future. But the war is not going well. It seems Britain can only wait as Napoleon plans to overrun her shores. After a skirmish with a French ship, Laurence finds himself in charge of a rare cargo: a dragon egg bound for the Emperor himself. Dragons are much prized: properly trained, they can mount a fearsome attack from the skies. But when the newly-hatched dragon ignores the young midshipman Laurence chose as its keeper and decides to imprint itself on the horrified captain instead, Laurence's world falls apart. Gone is his golden future: gone his social standing, and soon his beautiful fiancee, as he is consigned to be the constant companion and trainer of the fighting dragon Temeraire!

What Did We Think?

  Initial reactions to this book were very good, but that could simply be because those who loved it were more vocal than those who didn't. After a few moments of gushing about how refreshingly positive, enjoyable and easily readable the book was, the critique began in earnest.

It seemed that the easy readability of the novel was actually part of a point against it. The problems and solutions presented in the novel were glossed in such a way that it read as emotionally stunted. Not to say that we didn't care about any of the characters, the bond between Laurence and Temeraire seems a brilliant piece of characterization, but rather that it didn't seem real enough (a phrase I hesitate to use regarding a novel in which dragons fight in the Napoleonic Wars). To put it another way, the novel read in such a way to place in a spectrum closer to teen fiction than to the gloves-off grittiness of, say, Morgan's The Steel Remains (see our discussion here), on the opposite end of the scale.

However, the lack of grit is not necessarily a negative factor for all readers. Despite being at one point compared to "My Little Pony" on a larger scale, the rose-tinted view of the world presented in Temeraire was a refreshing change of pace from the dark, foreboding, negativity of a lot of modern fiction (see Cormac McCarthy's The Road). Novik's novel has a sense of humour,

Another reason the novel was found to be refreshingly different was the charm offered by the "stately language" of the Napoleonic setting. The most obvious comparison on this point is the stunningly wonderful Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke which also blends the Fantastical and Napoleonic history (in a darker, more adult - and possibly more fantastical - manner than Temeraire). The alternate-history nature of fiction means it is less reliant on the Tolkien-esque tropes which riddle the majority of other Fantasy fictions.

The nature of the relationship between a dragon and their rider was a topic discussed at length, natural comparisons were drawn with Anne McCaffrey's extensive Pern series (an essay by McCaffrey on the influence of sexuality and gender on dragon bonding can be found here). McCaffrey's dragons have an explicit psychic connection with their riders to the point that if the rider dies the dragon, in a moment of trauma, "jumps" into the void never to be seen again. Novik's rider-dragon relationship is however, much more based on an intense sense of empathy rather than any explicit psychic bond. Laurence repeatedly refers to Temeraire as a friend, an equal, and this raises interesting questions regarding whether he would have been as willing to retain his dragon had it been of a dimmer-witted breed rather than the intelligent Chinese variety which Temeraire is an example of (no spoiler here!). The relationship is seemingly symbiotic, a supporting role, but unlike McCaffrey, completely platonic.

Picking at the text causes a few threads to loosen which may or may not be addressed in later instalments in the series, not least amongst those is the question of why such intelligent creatures allow themselves to be bred, their children to be sent to war for human gains and why they accept the status of essentially being big pets. The placidity of the dragons was found by some to be annoying, an artificial smoothing of situations to allow the plot to flow unhindered by complex inter-personal relations and issues.

Overall the novel seemed to be enjoyed, though for some enjoyment was as far as it got with some readers finding it hard to enthuse too heavily about a novel they saw as being predominantly teen in focus.

The votes were as follows: 5, 6, 6, 7, 7, 8, 9, 9, 10

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood


Pigs might not fly but they are strangely altered. So, for that matter, are wolves and racoons. A man, once named Jimmy, lives in a tree, wrapped in old bed sheets, now calls himself Snowman. The voice of Oryx, the woman he loved, teasingly haunts him. And the green-eyed Children of Crake are, for some reason, his responsibility.

What Did We Think?

Oryx and Crake represents something new for our little bookclub. It represents our first foray into "respectable literature"; it is, after all, not science fiction at all but "speculative fiction". *ahem*. Atwood herself writes: Oryx and Crake is a speculative fiction, not a science fiction proper. It contains no intergalactic space travel, no teleportation, no Martians. Whatever our opinions on the etymological differences between science fiction and speculative fiction, whether we think this is a science fiction novel or not (it is), what did we think of it? 

The overall feeling was positive. Praise was found for the writing style, the balance of "present" and flash-back scenes, the imagery, the light-hearted tone for otherwise dark material. It was called lively, spirited and well written. This was after all a novel which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and made many critics' book of the year lists in 2003. It is a tribute to Atwood's writing at she makes genetic engineering, gated communities, big business corruption, and ultimately genocide, into readable and enjoyable literature.

In terms of the characters, Crake was a fascinating example of the ruthless genius. Hard to classify as a real villain but certainly a schemer, with an inhumanly monstrous intellect and possibly without empathy. The flipside of the coin is Snowman / Jimmy, our protagonist and the most human thing in the novel. His character arc from innocent child to mentally broken, impractically minded agent of God, via layabout student and dead-end office worker, was both fascinating and enjoyable. Equally enjoyable were the genetic creations of the novel, the eerily intelligent Pigoons and lethal Wolfogs, for example. Criticism landed on Atwood's failure to find a decent strong female character, not even the titular Oryx, despite her reputation as a feminist.

Thematically the contrast of religion and science triggered considerable debate, leading to a discussion of humanity's need for religion and/or science and whether it was inevitable that the Crakers, if they can be called human, would need one or both. Atwood's message of "science imperfect" also got noticed, despite Crake's undeniable genius his plague didn't succeed in wiping out all humanity and it seems that nature is stronger than he anticipated both in terms of an organism's ability to survive but also in the sense of "human nature" as we see familiar traits emerging amongst the Crakers such as leadership and mythology.

The votes were as follows: 9, 9, 8, 8, 3.

The sequel to Oryx and Crake is called The Year of the Flood and is out in paperback in August 2010.

You may also enjoy these illustrations for the novel provided by Jason Courtney. I particularly like his depiction of a Snat, whilst the Pigoons are just scary.

And here is Atwood's article on why we need Science Fiction, or Speculative Fiction, if you prefer...

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Event News: Wednesday, 17 March 2010, 12:30PM

I felt I should say that again, it's so rare a pairing of words with regards to the little corner of fiction which I call home: Event News!

Yes folks, that rare thing - a genre book signing is about to happen at Waterstone's Liverpool One.
The author who is gracing our store is Mr. Joe Hill. If that doesn't ring any bells then I'm not massively surprised, he's a young American author just beginning what I'm sure will be an epic journey. At the moment you can pluck such works as short story anthology 20th Century Ghosts and debut novel Heart-shaped Box off the horror shelves, or the superbly gothic Locke and Key, winner of the 2009 Eisner award from the graphic novel section. Other than the Eisner award, other accolades he's collected include Bram Stoker awards for Horror and British Fantasy Awards. He's a New York Times bestselling author, which although it's a phrase we see a lot on dust jackets, is quite a big deal for a genre writer outside of crime fiction.

Obviously he's not just popping in for a chat but to promote his newest release which is a novel called Horns, due out 18th March this year in Hardback.

If none of this has piqued your interest then I advise you to go flick through Locke and Key, have a read of some of the short stories in 20th Century Ghosts ("Voluntary Committal" and the titular "20th Century Ghost" are particularly good). Failing that, if none of the above intrigues you then perhaps the knowledge that this man's full name is Joseph Hillstrom King, yes son of Stephen King.

You can see his wikipedia page here it offers a slightly more detailed rundown of his work than I've managed to provide here. Just over here you can find his official website and blog which I'm sure will be mentioning this same event in the very near future.

So whaddya say? Will I see you there? Tell your friends.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010, 12:30PM

P.S. Whilst I'm on a horror event theme, let me just say that I went to see a play at the Liverpool PLayhouse (under the Radio City Tower) called Ghost Stories and it was superb. If you happen to be able to get a ticket (£10 each) then I urge you to go - it's scary yet satisfying stuff and will be in Liverpool until 20th February.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick

Plot Synopsis

Mars is a desolate world. Largely forgotten by Earth, the planet remains helpless in the stranglehold of Arnie Kott, who as boss of the plumber's union has a monopoly over the vital water supply. Arnie Kott is obsessed by the past; the native Bleekmen, poverty-stricken wanderers, can see into the future; while to Manfred, an autistic boy, time apparently stops. When one of the colonists, Norbert Steiner, commits suicide, the repercussions are startling and bizarre.

What Did We Think?

Philip K. Dick is always good for interesting discussions, if not only because he can so split his readers but because everyone tends to take different things from his work. Found to be both compelling and 'disturbing in parts', Martian Time-Slip was written in 1964 and touches on some typical Dick themes such as questions of reality.

A lot of attention was given to the characters in the novel. Praise was lavished on their flawed natures, the fact that the "villains" have redeeming features and the "heroes" have severe flaws, that everyone has neuroses of some description from Dr. Milton Glaub's extreme feelings of inadequacy to the schizophrenia of our prime protagonist Jack Bohlen. A major message of the novel seems to be that everyone is abnormal and thus abnormal is normal. In this way the book was very non-judgemental of humanity's foibles.

Interestingly, the subject of the novel's female characters came up and they were revealed as being more two-dimensional than many of the male characters, not necessarily negative stereotypes but certainly drawn from stock female tropes (the widow, the wife, the mistress, and so on). This was, however, recognised not as a sign of Dick's chauvanims, but rather a sign that feminism wasn't on his list of issues, he was writing for and about very different things.

Taking the novel as metaphor it is at once the Wild West, with remote homesteads, limited resources, prospectors, and peculiar natives; whilst at the same time it's also 1960s LA with sordid backroom dealings, power struggles and a dog-eat-dog race for superiority.

However, whether mirroring Wild West, or contemporary LA society, the novel ultimately shows that society, like sanity may appear superficially functional but is at heart completely dysfunctional.

As ever, the novel's ending was found to be perplexing. Dick has always taken a different approach to endings, refusing to tie things up neatly into conclusive packages and is perfectly content to leave questions hanging and loose ends blowing in the narrative wind (it's something Stanislaw Lem praised him for). This lends an unsatisfactory aftertaste to the novel for readers who either dislike Dick's trippy style or the manner in which he chooses to conclude his adventures.

In summary, the novel was largely (but not exclusively) enjoyed, it generated some interesting discussions on time, place and perception (which I cannot hope to do full credit to here - so please continue the discussions in the comments section below), whilst stylistically awkward, and for some perplexing, the relationships and the manner in which Dick draws his characters was enough of an anchor that many of the readers left the novel feeling satisfied.

The average score given to Martian Time-Slip was 7

The votes fell as follows: 4, 5, 6, 6, 8, 8, 8, 8, 8

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

A postponed session, not unfortunately due to snow (how perfect that would have been), but just because I was away in Wales at the time.

Taking place instead on the second week of January, the discussion on Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash was both in-depth and heated.

Plot Synopsis

The only relief from the sea of logos is within the well-guarded borders of the Burbclaves. Is it any wonder that most sane folks have forsaken the real world and chosen to live in the computer-generated universe of virtual reality? In a major city, the size of a dozen Manhattans, is a domain of pleasures limited only by the imagination. But now a strange new computer virus called Snow Crash is striking down hackers everywhere, leaving an unlikely young man as humankind's last best hope.

What Did We Think?

Seemingly, the novel was enjoyed by all, although this does not mean there were no flaws to be found. A particular problem for numerous readers was that of exposition. The librarian character, nothing more than an exposition machine, would engage Hiro in pretend conversations which were in fact long monologues intended to convey a large wad of data or background information in one go. This could be seen as an example of "early-writer syndrome" (Snow Crash was Stephenson's third novel), info-dumping where a more experiences author with more faith in his readers might have drip fed it out to us over time.

Whether the book should have been longer (possibly spread over a number of volumes) or compressed into a series of short stories was a matter hotly debated. On one hand the drip feeding of information would require a longer plot with more stages in its development; on the other the plot as it stood was too unwieldy and the characters whilst interesting to look at were ultimately 2D cut-outs, too robust and unaffected by the traumas the novel imposes upon them, a short story format would compensate for that whilst also allowing us a closer glimpse at other fascinating aspects of the novel: characters such as Uncle Enzo, or the inner workings of Fedland, for example.

Its relationship to Gibson probably doesn't need to be flagged but aside from sharing a cyberpunk setting, there is the same sense of massive ideas slapped onto the page, as well as mixing science fiction action and adventure with humour.

What amazed all of us was that, unlike Gibson, Stephenson, as yet, has not returned to this world (some read the next novel The Diamond Age as a loose sequel but even that is debatable). For all the flaws in character and pacing, for all the frustrations with info-dumping, the world in which the novel is set is so colourful and lively that it is astounding that more has not been made of it - it seems perfect for a Graphic Novel or an anime.

The novel sparked extensive debate on socio-political issues regarding the nature (and identity) of control in society and the idea of anarchy. Flaws could be found in both the science and the sociology (as is almost always the case) and yet on the balance this was a novel which no one seemed to regret reading (although some would not read it a second time). It gained marks for being fun, and "cool", where otherwise the manner in which certain aspects were executed would have caused it to suffer in our abitrarty assignation of a numerical score.

The average score given to Snow Crash was 7

The votes fell as follows: 6, 7, 7, 7, 8 (in absentia), 8, 8

Have you read Snow Crash? Do you agree with what I've summarised here? Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? If so then please do comment below.

Also: because I neglected to include a pre-amble to Snow Crash you may not have seen this article about where the title comes from. Take a look if you're interested in any of the background reading.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

A Voyage To Arcturus by David Lindsey

First off, I sincerely apologise for the lateness of this posting. I've been absolutely rushed off me feet this month and had pushed this to the back of my mind. One of the reasons it probably slipped down my priority listings was because I was dreading writing it, it was quite an intense session which split opinions on major matters (such as actually liking the book) unlike any book that has come before. Nonetheless, here is the tardy write up of the session for December.

Plot Synopsis
After attending a seance, Maskull, a restless and rootless man, finds himself embarking on a journey to the planet Tormance, which orbits Arcturus. Alone, he wanders the startling landscape, open to a bewildering range of experiences from love to ritual murder, encountering new monsters at every turn, metamorphosing, constantly seeking the truth about the divinity known as Shaping, Surtur and Crystalman.

What Did We Think?
Published in 1920 by Scottish author David Lindsey, A Voyage to Arcturus is a Science Fantasy novel with extensive philosophical metaphors. Having written that, so divisive was the novel that half those in attendance would probably argue even these points.

The Science Fantasy elements of the novel were seen by some as in the Romantic tradition of the grand voyage of enlightenment, comparable to John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, although very much a journey through Philosophy rather than Religion.

Other readers found the Science Fantasy element to be a major flaw, weakening the text. The framing of what is clearly a Fantasy journey with Science Fiction-like space journeys and technobabble suggested a credibility the author could not support. These readers argued that if the science had been abandoned in favour of a more dream-like spirit world instead of a physical location (the planet Tormance) then the novel would have worked better.

Further points of contention were readily found with the protagonist Maskull. Maskull, abandoned in a strange land wanders across the alien globe. As he wanders he is affected by something and sprouts new organs (third arms or multiple eyes for example) which affect his perceptions of reality and of the people he encounters. These altered perceptions are contemplated and philosophised over, normally representing an aspect of human emotion or character. Each chapter contains a new perception/philosophy and each is discarded by Maskull by the beginning of the subsequent chapter, normally resulting in the death of its proponent.

The new idea, new idea, new idea format which Lindsey adopts is another aspect which caused some readers to find flaw. The majority of the middle chapters could have been arranged in any order, or cut completely, with little impact on the opening or conclusion of the narrative. Other readers found the chameleon nature of Maskull intriguing and admired the nuance that Maskull was changed so absolutely (both physically and mentally) that, from within, he could not perceive the change.

Maskull himself is presented as a completely passive, yet ultimately destructive, force. This presents both problems and opportunities. His passivity allows a different character, or rather a different aspect of Maskull's character, to appear in each chapter; this however presents a protagonist who is hard to "root for", difficult to empathise with thus difficult to follow through the novel.

Regardless of the overall verdict for A Voyage to Arcturus, Lindsey's novel provoked intense debate and also caused multiple references, influences, descendents and comparisons to be drawn into the fray from the aformentioned Pilgrim's Progress to Homeric Myths, C. S. Lewis and Phillip Pullman, to Nietzsche and Judeo-Christian imagery.

Votes: 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

The range of scores awarded in this discussion illustrate the varied reception of the novel. The sheer spread of them, rather than complete polarisation show that many people can get many different things out of such a novel and, to me at least, underline the value of such discussion groups.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Postponement of Snow Crash

Dear all,

Due to my absence from Liverpool for the first few days of this week I've postponed the upcoming session on Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash until the following Monday (11th January - 6pm). Sorry for the inconvenience.

Also, due to simply being amazing hectic the notes from our discussion last month have not gone online yet. They will be posted as soon as I can get back to Liverpool, apologies for the delay.

Hope you had good Christmases and New Years,

All the best,