Books wot I red: Cloud Atlas, Grave Peril & Cognitive Surplus

It was a cold winter’s eve back in November 2014 when the last ‘Books Wot I Red’ post winged its way onto the tinterwebs… and it’s a cold November night a year on now. Much has changed since then, but my reading habits – and pace – haven’t.

In fact I’ve even managed to slow down: four books in a year is pretty pathetic going. Reading is still a luxury I rarely afford myself, with TV, gaming and writing still being my drugs of choice. But the books I have been reading I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.

Cloud Atlas David MitchellAfter the easy humour of Dave Gorman I set myself something slightly more challenging: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, after all – news only slightly tempered by its ‘Richard and Judy Best Read of the Year’ award.

I loved the film and I’d heard the book was incredible; but the 500+ pages of tiny font were pretty daunting – but thankfully thoroughly worthwhile. This is a book I’d recommend to anyone with even a fleeting acceptance of sci-fi and fantasy fiction.

While fantastical in places Cloud Atlas is, more than anything else, a celebration of language and storytelling. It effortlessly shifts gears through the ages, glorying in the language of each era as it goes. From Victorian pomp right through to an experimental pidgin English of a dystopian future, it’s quite the writing master class.

My only real complaint was that most sections seemed to drag a little towards the end, labouring a little as the author was clearly having fun writing it. I don’t think we would’ve lost anything of the style or story if it had been 100 pages shorter, but it’s a minor quibble.

Also, I’m glad I read the book after seeing the film as many have moaned about the movie having done so the other way around. I guess many of those people are the type who can’t see these two very different artistic mediums apart and feel one has to be the mirror of the other (get over yourselves – you;re wrong).

Personally I thought the film was great. It looked beautiful and the way they made the actors up through the different ages was really well done. But it does follow a different structure (as it had too, being just a single movie for such a long book), so take that with you going in.

Jim Butcher - Grave PerilAs Cloud Atlas had taken me six months to read it seemed a page turner (well, for me) might be in order, so I turned to book three of The Dresden Files, Grave Peril by Jim Butcher. Two months later and it was done – the last chunk, aptly, being read on holiday.

I spoke about book two of the Dresden Files back in October 2013, so won’t dwell long here – you don’t want to read these out of sequence and I’m not about to start talking about characters/plots as I can’t remember what relates back to who in the old ones.

In short, think classic noire detective stories with added magic. And vampires and werewolves. And the ‘never never’ – and this time holy swords and nightmares. And don’t expect it to be the best written book ever, but don’t let it worry you either – thankfully the rapid-fire story does enough talking to drown out (m)any faults in the prose.

I found out recently that they’d made this series into a TV show, which it was clearly written to be – but it got panned after one season. If anyone saw it I’d love to get opinions on it as I’m truly tempted to grab the DVD.

As for Grave Peril, the best praise I can give it is that I’m fully intending to continue with the series – although I don’t think I can read them as fast as he can write them (he’s up to number 15 now, apparently). But it’s nice to have something to look forward to in a series you know will probably literally outlive you – because it has (I expect) no end game, so there’s no fear of missing any big reveal by my untimely death getting in the way.

Cognitive Surplus by Clay ShirkyAfter two fantastical novels in a row I felt duty bound to read something less fictional – so turned to Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky. It has been on my ‘list’ here since the first one back in March 2013, so not before time!

The book can very much be seen as a potted history of how we interact with the internet; and how that has changed the way we interact with ‘media’ in general since the turn of the century.

Where TV, print etc tend to spoon feed us entertainment and knowledge, the internet has made it much easier for us to participate in the creative process ourselves – and many of us that do so do it out of the love of it (see: this blog), rather than having financial gain as the key motivation.

Shirky does a great job of describing some complex theories in layman’s terms – but can’t do it without making it very clear that he is not one of us stupid people. When talking academically he is all about the ‘us’; when talking about the plebs, it’s very much ‘you lot’, which is a shame. But having spent some considerable time with academics over the years, it’s also pretty much par for the course.

But you shouldn’t let that put you off taking a look at. what the internet has really done has shrunk the world; while changing the way many communities work from being largely geographical to more about our own specific interests. It’s fascinating stuff and a book I’d highly recommend, especially as it’s an easy and relatively short read.

What’s next on the list?

I managed to knock numbers two and three off the list this time, both of which had been around for four lists in a row – leaving space for two new entries:

  1. Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch. Its third time at number 1, having been on five of these lists (a record). I STILL really want to read it; what the hell is going on?
  2. Teach Yourself: The Cold War by CB Jones. I got a copy of Cold War board game Twilight Struggle and wanted to put it in proper context. I really should know more about this history I lived through, so this is on the list – twice so far.
  3. The Dwarves by Markus Heitz. New entry! Having loved the co-op board game based on this book I feel duty bound to read it. I rarely read fantasy books, as they tend to be dreadfully written – and this is a translation too. The story had better sing…
  4. The Bleeding Heart by Christopher Fowler. New entry! The latest Bryant & May detective novel. Nuff said.
  5. Paperboy by Christopher Fowler. I wouldn’t normally consider a ‘memoir’, but this is by the author of the Bryant & May novels – my all time favourites. Has to be worth a try – but will I get around to it? On the list twice and counting…

4 thoughts on “Books wot I red: Cloud Atlas, Grave Peril & Cognitive Surplus

    • I’ve just started reading one I think you’ll appreciate – ‘Paperboy: A Memoir’ by Christopher Fowler. “The least pleasurable of these was the cubs, presided over by a man who looked like Central Casting’s idea of a paedophile. His pressed fawn shorts were so wide at the hem and his thighs so thin that we all had to look away when he crouched down in front of us for fear of witnessing a testicular protrusion. There was a particularly trying bout of suppressed laughter after he asked whether anyone had seen his conkers during a park ramble.”

  1. Glad you are enjoying the Dresden Files. Grave Peril is great – it’s where the worldbuilding really starts to kick in and the ramifications of some things that happen in that book are still kicking around by books 14 and 15. Also Jim Butcher has said that he’s planned the series to last around 20 books plus a final trilogy to round it off.

Leave a Reply