I’m supposed to write book reviews as I finish the books, but that’s just not going to happen any time soon. So here are short reviews of five books, two indies, two mainstream and one business/self help book.
The River (Amazon US) is a hard tale to place in a genre. Science fiction comes closest, but at first I thought it was a romance with medical thriller trappings as heroine Del Hawthorne tries to understand her father’s disappearance and what it has to do with the genetics lab where he worked. Then it seemed to be a Clive Cussler style tale of hidden treasure, as a coded notebook leads Del and a group of friends take to canoes on the Nahanni River of the title- but still with the traits of a romance prominent. Eventually it became something else entirely, something very strange and quite endearing. It’s all a little mad, in a good way. The dialogue is a little flat in some places and characterisation can be a bit off, but it was never enough to drag me out of the story.
The Venom of Vipers (Amazon US) suffered from some of the same dialogue and characterisation problems as The River but, again, never so badly that it brought my reading to a halt. In the not too distant future humanity is being decimated by the Molio virus, which has no known cure. Genetically modified humans- Homo sapiens sapheris- have been created in an attempt to find a cure. Saphers heal rapidly and are immune to the virus, but they can’t reproduce without the help of human surrogate mothers and, as yet, have not provided a cure. They also have no human rights, are kept locked up in scientific facilities and are hated by a large number of the human population. The story follows dramatic events at one of the sapher facilities and revolve around Ryder Stone, a sapher with particular talents, as conspiracies and murderous plots unfold. An interesting feature of the way the story unfolded was how so many of the problems stemmed more from inaction, miscommunication and self interest than explicit action or evil.
These two books are independently published. I imagine a “proper” publisher would have had them rewritten to remove some of the more interesting elements and smooth the rough edges. They’d have been worse for the effort. What they display is the independent mindset- create something personal, experiment a bit, learn from the experience and move on.
The Library of Gold (Amazon US) is one of the many many books striving for a bit of the Dan Brown pot. It succeeds in being a bland Da Vinci Code knock off. Ivan the Terrible’s Library of Gold has been guarded down the ages by a powerful and secret cabal who have grown corrupt. Now they’re planning something with something somewhere and it’s all terrible and secretive and……. Frankly, who cares.
I did get further into Library of Gold before I gave up than I managed with Ghost Watch (Amazon US). I struggled through the prologue and first chapter with a narrator/central character who proved to be racist, sexist, homophobic, arrogant, ignorant and, the worst crime of all, not very interesting. Maybe the rest of the tale, told in flashback, explains how he got to be that way, but I really don’t care.
Poke the Box (Amazon US) is more of a long essay than a fully fledged book. It’s subject and tone lie somewhere between business book and self help manual. The essence of its message is that businesses, and the individuals in them, should learn to keep trying new things. No great advance, or profit, comes from striving to maintain the status quo and the next leap forward is going to come from the person willing to poke the box (fnar). The flip side of this is that not every idea is going to work, for whatever reason, so we have to learn to accept the risk of failure on the way to finding the ones which do work. Basically this is a short book about the philosophy I’ve tried to apply to my own life (with more failures than successes, I know, I’ll say that before anyone else does).
The curved deco frontage of the old cinema in Stretford has long been one of my favourite pieces of architecture in Manchester, so it’s been awfully lax of me not to go and find out more about it before. This blog gives a potted history of the building and is keeping up to date with the current owners plans to bring it back into use.
Here’s a poor picture I took of the frontage ages ago.
And some better, and arty, pictures by Flickr users Gene Hunt and bitrot.
This interesting feature, which I photographed on a recent ride, is the side entrance to the cinema. I don’t think the main building and this row are connected any more.
When it opened as the Longford cinema in the 1930s the front entrance was grander, designed to look like a giant cash register by architect Henry Alder. It was lavishly appointed inside and outfitted with a stage so that theatre performances could be put on one week out of every four. It became an Essoldo cinema in 1950 and, as audiences dwindled, was bought by Ladbrokes in 1965 and turned into a bingo hall. A large chunk of the frontage was bulldozed away in 1979 when Chester Road was widened, leaving just the fondant curves which caught my eye the first time I rode through Stretford. (All of these details have been cribbed from the longfordcinema.co.uk history page, which goes into more, and fascinating, detail.)
I have an inkling to model the Longford, or at least adapt its curves for use on model railways, probably using 3D printing. I’ll be watching developments with the real version with interest as well.