Sunday, 17 January 2010

Some book recommendations

I've read the latest Stephen King novel "Under the Dome". It's nearly 900 pages long and I finished it. This might not seem unusual until I mention I think the perfect length for fiction is the novella. About a hundred pages is as much as you need to write the perfect story.

And yet I finished a book that is more than eight times that length. That should be enough to tell you I thought it was superb. I really did. The story's not original in the slightest (a small American town being cut of by an impenetrable dome being lowered over it - Simpsons Movie anyone?) but it doesn't matter one jot.

Used car dealer and Chester Mill's Second Selectman, Big Jim Rennie, views the dome as a chance to exert some real power in the town - and show the people how great a man he really is. Unfortunately for the town the one man who could possibly stop him, the police chief, is killed by the dome and now Rennie and his lackeys move to take control.

Against him is a short order cook, and Iraq veteran, Dale Barbara, the local newspaper reporter and a handful of kids. Not the best odds you'd think.

King has created a town with barely contained hatred and violence and then added a reason to cause the containment to fail. And he make it all so easy to believe. You come away wondering if this could happen in your home town and if the guy who runs the so and so could be as bad as Rennie. Fabulous novel.

Having finished that I needed something short. Fortunately I'd recently had a delivery of novellas from PS Publishing. So I picked out Mike Resnick's Shaka II and finished it in a single sitting (the joy of novellas for me). Set in the medium distant future. Mankind has started to expand into the galaxy but is far from a united race at home. 

Robert Ole Buthelezi is a Zulu, one who feels that power has been away from the Zulus too long. So he sets out from very humble beginnings to gain power and through a series of clever political maneuverings (yes you can read assassinations) he gets it. But control of a small part of one continent on Earth is not enough for him. He has eyes on the stars.

Wonderful, wonderful writing. Okay, I have to admit to being a total addict of Mike Resnick's writing here so this might be biased. He writes with such a swift pace. Even in his longer novels everything zips by. You rarely find passages which drag in his writing.

Now, I will admit that if you are type of reader who likes to know the colour of the wallpaper in each character's bedroom, the type of rug in their sitting room, the number of plates on the wall rack in the kitchen etc, then this kind of relentless, detail-light pacing might be for you. But I'm generally not one for over-elaboration. So it suits me just fine.

And I needed something like this after the Stephen King.

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