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

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