Saturday, 29 July 2017

Midsomer Murders with witches

Witches of Lychford (Lychford, #1) Paul Cornell's Witches of Lychford is a novella set in a village in rural England. Residents are divided over a proposal to build a new supermarket, and one elderly woman called Judith knows that if the development goes ahead, dark forces will be unleashed.

The story's premise is appealing in that it brings fantasy into a modern, stereotypical village setting; a sort of Midsomer Murders with witches. Its three main characters are likeable: Judith the elderly witch, Lizzie the vicar, and her childhood friend Autumn who runs the local witchcraft shop.

Ultimately tho', I found the book disappointing. The story is told in the 3rd person and jumps from character to character to describe the action. I often found this confusing and couldn't work out if the narration was from a specific character's point of view. The writing style also felt uneven. Some sections, more often than not the dialogue, were really enjoyable and fast paced. Others used unnecessarily lengthy constructions, or lacked enough detail to bring a scene to life.

In addition the novella length was unsatisfying. The structure didn't seem tight enough to be short, nor long enough to really develop character and plot.

I had a niggling feeling that it was not really a self-contained story. Yes, it has a beginning, middle and end, and most of the threads are tied up. But it's clearly written as the first of a series, perhaps with a TV adaptation in mind. I know this is how many writers make money, but as a reader I find it unfulfilling.

Nevertheless, by the end I'd got to know the three women and wondered what exactly had happened in their past to make them who they were. Paul Cornell had dropped several hints, but not enough for me to buy the next book in the series.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

The new gods of America

American Gods (American Gods, #1) [-] there are new gods growing in America, clinging to growing knots of belief: gods of credit-card and freeway, of internet and telephone [-]

Neil Gaiman's American Gods imagines what it would mean to be a god in the modern world. Its premise is that the gods brought to America by successive waves of immigrants, are growing old and forgotten through lack of belief. Modern gods have been created out of media and technology; these are the things in which people now put their faith.

It's a great idea and a great story, mostly told from the point of view of Shadow, an ex-con who is employed by the mysterious Mr Wednesday. They drive around the country visiting old gods and supernatural beings, as Wednesday tries to gain support for the coming war with the new deities. Sometimes the action takes place in the spiritual "backstage" and intermittently the narrative is interrupted by folk stories, myths and fables, which give background to the old beliefs.

Unfortunately the book didn't quite grip me. Sometimes the writing was beautiful, other times I found it clunky or rambling. Or perhaps it was just too long for my taste. Nonetheless I enjoyed the plot, loved many of the characters and how Gaiman conjured up their daily lives in the modern world.

One might wonder what the old gods think about Facebook and Instagram. Many social media followers share posts and photos with religious zeal and keep faith with strict dietary commandments. New gods are indeed growing every day.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Hollywood highbrow in 2050?

Childhood's End
... most of [Hollywood] 2050's productions would have seemed incomprehensibly highbrow to 1950.

Oh dear. I can't see this vision of the future becoming reality any time soon.

Childhood's End begins in the aftermath of WW2, when the development of nuclear weapons threatened to annihilate life on earth. Spaceships arrive and hover over the world, and alien Overlords establish order to ensure humans do not destroy themselves.

As a story, I can see why the book is highly rated but it just didn't appeal to me. The writing style felt unemotional and the characters flat, which left me struggling to identify with anyone. There was a distinct lack of decently portrayed women, perhaps because at the time of writing, women's main role in society was to raise children. So perhaps I'm being unfair in judging the book on such quotes as, "it was such a nuisance that men were fundamentally polygamous", or, "Jean ceased to pine for the car, and discovered all the things one could do with one's own kitchen."

It's not a character driven story and neither is the setting important. I didn't get a sense of place, apart from scenes set on the island of Athens. When the book was published in the early 1950s, space travel was what excited people; to imagine what is out there beyond planet earth in terms of other worlds and higher intelligence.

So, does it matter if Clarke's descriptions of life in the 21st century were off target? Probably not.