Thursday, 28 October 2010
Holt's writing generally relys on characters who are fish out of water to provide much of the humour, and Blonde Bombshell is no exception. Here, there are both machines trying to pass as human and the Ostar relationship with people: they are shaped like dogs, and keep pets who are like humans, and the inversion is a natural source of jokes. But the jokes are all essentially the same, and this lack of variety palled for me quite quickly. In essence, the problem I had with Blonde Bombshell is that I didn't find it very funny. Some Tom Holt books do strike me this way, including Wish You Were Here. This one is not as bleak, being instead a tired repeat.
I like Holt's work, but not in this case: my rating - 4/10.
Edition: Orbit, 2010
Review number: 1410
Wednesday, 20 October 2010
Folklore graduate student Marie Brennan has taken this thought and put together a story of a connection of a different kind between the two queens, a pact which guarantees the security of the English realm and its fae reflection. But it is not a treaty without cost, and the queen's spymaster Francis Walsinghamn has begun to suspect that tere is an unknown player in the game with direct access to Elizabeth. He chooses one of his agents, William Deven, to investigate, knowing that the young man is already more involved than he realises: Deven has been courting Anne Marston, waiting lady to the Countess of Warwick, and known to Walsingham as a likely agent of this unknown power. And indeed Anne is a glamour put on by Lune, a lady of the Fae Onyx court below London, to appear human so she can act as a spy for Invidiana, the Onyx Queen (the name meaning "hateful", as opposed to Elizabeth's allegorical name Gloriana, "glorious").
Atmospheric, interesting and with good characters, Midnight Never Come is well worth a read. I don't normally like books based on role playing game scenarios (I probably wouldn't have read it if I'd realised it was before borrowing it from the local library). It's biggest problem for me was the title, which comes from a play by Marlowe and which in context gives away important aspects of the ending. My rating - 7/10.
Edition: Orbit, 2008
Review number: 1409
Saturday, 16 October 2010
From this point on, The Dying Light is a political thriller with a conspiracy theory at its centre, set in a dystopian Britain in which every move is watched by the authorities. The development of the systems which allow this and the accompanying erosion of civil liberties are Porter's main concern.He mentions the way in that events he was describing as he wrote the novel turned out to be true as he was writing, not a comforting prospect for someone writing a dystopia. Most of Porter's work has made me think him the natural heir to Len Deighton; but the campaigning nature of The Dying Light is more akin to John le Carré's recent novels, such as A Most Wanted Man. The agenda may be different, but a similar sense of outrage comes through. The comparisons to le Carré and Deighton are not just thematic, too. Porter is one of the best thriller writers to emerge in the last decade.
The theme is personal freedom, and the way in which the British public have allowed their politicians to whittle away at personal rights to an unprecedented degree: the United Kingdom is now the most heavily surveiled nation in the world, so that our rulers know more about what we do (theoretically) than those of North Korea or China. As with the curtailment of liberty elsewhere in the Western world, the excuse used is the fight against terrorism, which is at first sight a reasonable idea but is less so when the possibility of emergency powers being abused (as has happened on a small scale with local councils using anti-terrorism powers to track down benefit fraud) or when it fails to halt attacks. The inquests into the deaths of those killed in the 7/7 bomb attack on the London underground are happening as I type: clearly the new powers and surveillance, almost all in place in 2005, were unable to save these lives. The bombers were identified on CCTV footage, but only after the attack itself took place. At the same time, the Guardian has reported that counter-terrorism would be kept safe from the government's massive programme of cuts: the UK will still be spending billions on surveillance of its citizens. (Most of the links in this post come from the Guardian not because of its political leanings, but because of its interest in civil liberties beyond that of much of the UK press.)
One legislative move which particularly concerns Porter is the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 (official description / critical assessment).This gives wide ranging powers over a thirty day period to the government in the event of a disaster (natural or otherwise), removing the right to assembly, allowing movement to be restricted to and from "sealed areas" and mobilising the armed services. It didn't originally define the emergencies in which it could be used very stringently, leading to accusations that events dealt with by the emergency services as part of their normal working would be possible triggers for the act; this has since been amended. It still doesn't provide any sanction for misuse (if the "emergency" turns out not to be one). It has been described as making it possible that "at a stroke democracy could be replaced by totalitarianism".
I have gone into detail about this partly because, as Porter points out, it is important and yet ignored by those it affects. I was already aware of the surveillance, but had never heard of the Civil Contingencies Act: this is a novel which made me want to write to my MP.
The relationship with Brandenburg is that the earlier novel is about the fall of the Soviet bloc communism, so is about the gaining of rights, while The Dying Light is about the extinction of rights. To me, the title and theme suggest Dylan Thomas' famous lines (about death):
Do not go gentle into that good night.To give away our rights without protest is to gently acquiesce in the dying of the light of our civilisation.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light
Edition: Orion Books, 2009
Review number: 1408