2000 - 2007 Other Prizes Science Fiction

Perdido Street Station – China Miéville

 Winner of the 2001 Arthur C. Clarke Award and the 2001 British Fantasy Award. Nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, Locus and British Science Fiction awards

When the Booker longlist was announced there was some anger from the science fiction community that China Miéville was excluded from the list. Damien Walter was particularly vocal on Twitter, and so, keen to ensure I wasn’t missing out on a great author, I decided to read one of his books. It was agreed that Perdido Street Station was the best and so I bought a copy. I was a little daunted when a 870 page chunkster dropped through my letter box, but I was still keen to find out why people were raving about this book.

Perdido Street Station began really well, with vivid descriptions of a strange world.

Sil lived and worked and slept in the tub, hauling himself from one end to the other with his huge, webbed hands and frog’s legs, his body wobbling like a bloated testicle, seemingly boneless. He was ancient and fat and grumpy, even for a vodyanoi. He was a bag of old blood with limbs, without a separate head, his big curmudgeonly face poking out from the fat at the front of his body.  

Isaac, the central character, is employed to study winged animals by a secrective creature who has lost his wings. I loved the character development and the imaginative plot – I was hooked for the first half of the book.

Everything started to go wrong at about the 500 page mark. The plot deteriorated into one long chase scene; I became bored by the continual fighting and longed for the thoughtfulness of the beginning to return. The ending was also a disappointment. It was such a shame, as I was really enjoying it.

I can see why this book won so many fantasy awards, but now I know why it didn’t win the Booker, or any other literary fiction prize. This book is beautifully written, but it doesn’t have the depth required for literary fiction. It is an incredible work of imagination, but in the end it lacked enough emotion or depth for me.

Recommended to people who are very passionate about their science fiction, but not to lovers of literary fiction.


Have you read anything written by China Miéville?

I was very intrigued to read that he is planning to write a book in every genre. He is clearly a talented author and so I will read more of his books in the future. I am especially tempted by his latest book  The City & The City,which is described as detective noir novel. Has anyone read it?

2008 Science Fiction YA

The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness

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I picked up this book after reading a powerful endorsement at Jenny’s Books. I have since seen many more rave reviews, so was expecting good things. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t for me.

< ?php echo amazon('1406320757','The Knife of Never Letting Go’); ?>  has one of the most original premises I’ve seen for a long time. The basic idea is that all the residents of Prentisstown have been affected by a virus which killed all the women and enabled the men to hear each other’s thoughts and those of the animals around them. The problem is that being able to hear every-one’s thoughts leads to a constant background noise which drove me mad – I guess this is the idea, but I found it very frustrating to read. 

The pace of the book is incredibly fast, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever read a book which encourages speed reading so much! The problem with this was that there was never any break from the action – you were swept along so quickly that was hard to build a picture of the characters or their surroundings.

I also found it quite confusing at times. It took a while for me to work out exactly what was happening – again I think this was due to the speed of the narrative. Nothing is really explained properly and so you have to grab snatches of information whenever it is dropped in the book.

The dialect in the book is annoying, but on top of that, I don’t understand why words like selecshun, expanshun and recognishun were mis-spelled – it just drove me mad!

Overall, I didn’t find anything good in this book, apart from the premise and I won’t be reading the rest of the trilogy.

Most other people seem to love it though, so don’t take my word for it!



Is Patrick Ness one of your favourite authors?

Can you explain why this is so good?

1990s Other Prizes Science Fiction

To Say Nothing of the Dog – Connie Willis

Winner of the Hugo Award 1999

To Say Nothing of the Dog was the first book I bought as the direct result of a recommendation from a book blogger. Last year I was new to blogging and was overwhelmed by the number of blogs I discovered. I jumped from one to the next, leaving random comments, but never remembering where I’d been or how to get back there.

Beth’s blog was one of the first that I subscribed to and she was the first person I felt I developed a relationship with. When I saw Beth recommend this book in her Best of 2008 post, I bought a copy. I then decided that I’d better read Three Men in Boat first, and so bought that too. Buying two books in quick succession, as a result of a blogger recommendation, quickly became a worryingly common occurrence, but back then it felt very new and strange. Could I really trust the judgement of someone I didn’t really know? It turns out I can!

I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to get round to reading this, but I am really glad that I have. To Say Nothing of the Dog is a lovely, heart warming book which begins with a frantic search for the bishop’s bird stump in the ruins of Coventry cathedral. The bird stump is crucial to the reconstruction of the cathedral in 2057 and is believed to have been lost during bombing raids in WWII. Historian, Ned Henry, is sent back in time to try to recover it before it is lost forever. His hunt is unsuccessful, so he is sent back to the Victorian era to track it down. Unfortunately for Ned, the frequency of his time travel leads him to suffer from time-lag – a condition similar to jet-lag, that leaves him disorientated and confused.  Ned ends up in a boat on the River Thames and begins a mad-cap adventure involving everything from cats to complex time travel phenomenon.

It is based around Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat and shares it’s classic Victorian wit. To understand this book it isn’t necessary to have read Three Men in a Boat beforehand, but if you aren’t familiar with the text then you will miss out on some of the subtle parodies.

The book lost a lot of momentum in the middle section, but picked up again towards the end. Some aspects of the book didn’t work very well – the romance didn’t feel very natural and the characters didn’t behave very realistically in some situations, but as this book is a spoof rather than a serious piece of literature I will forgive it!

Overall, if you pick this book up expecting a light, humorous read then you are sure to enjoy it, just don’t analyse it too much!

Recommended to Jasper Fforde fans.


Did you enjoy To Say Nothing of the Dog?

Do you recommend any of her other books?

Other Science Fiction

Science Fiction Challenge


Mish from Stage and Canvas is hosting the Sci-fi challenge, which encourages participants to read “3.14 or 8 sci-fi books from August 28 2009 to August 8 2010″.

I’m not normally a fan of science fiction, but recently a few titles have grabbed my attention, so I’m going to take the plunge and give it a go.

I think 3.14 books is a very appropriate number for me and I think I may find the 0.14 part of a book quite easy to achieve!!

The books I plan to read are:

Perdido Street Station– China Mieville

Ender’s Game– Orson Scott Card

Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick

Can anyone recommend any other good books for a non-science fiction lover like me?

Do you enjoy science fiction?

1960s Classics Science Fiction

Foundation – Isaac Asimov


The Try Something New Mini-Challenge is hosted by Nymeth from Things Mean a Lot. It is part of the Dewey’s Books Challenge, hosted by Chris and Robin in Dewey’s memory,

The idea was to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. I teamed up with Rebecca from Rebecca Reads. As we both have an aversion to science fiction, we decided to read Foundation by Isaac Asimov. Her mini-challenge post is here.


Unfortuantely, neither of us liked the book at all! We somehow managed to get through to the end, and answered a few questions about it:

What were your initial impressions of the book?
Rebecca: I do not normally choose science fiction to read, but after some good experiences last year when my husband and I read Dune and Space Odyssey 2001 together, I came to appreciate it. I have of course heard of Isaac Asimov, so I was expecting Foundation to be a great example of the master of science fiction. From the beginning of my reading, however, I was disappointed by just about everything — the writing, the development, and the general plot.
Jackie: Initial impressions were quite good. After the first few pages I was wondering what I had against science fiction. The character of Gaal was great. I loved his reactions on arriving at the planet of Trantor, everything was so new and exciting to him. I was willing to forgive all the irritating references to three-dimensional newscasts and plasto-textiles, as his awe and emotions shined through.

What did you like the most about Foundation?
Rebecca: I really liked the premise of Foundation. It is that in a far future era, psychohistorians are able to mathematically predict the future. When they predict the downfall of the empire, they determine to shorten the length of barbarian ignorance by preparing the scenario to their advantage. This concept had potential, and as I read, I sought for themes, as I did when I read Dune and subsequently reviewed it. Foundation encourages us to avoid being too comfortable with the status quo, to be careful to always be learning, to use your strengths to your advantage. These are universal themes to some extent.
Jackie: The picture on the cover of my book was beautiful!

Was there anything that particularly irritated you in the book?
Rebecca: It seemed to me that Asimov’s brilliant ideas fell far short of their potential. Asmiov wrote Foundation at age 21, apparently, and it feels amateur. The novel was divided into five sections of between 45 and 120 pages, and each section covered a separate setting in the midst of a 300-year history. Thus, just as I finally was understanding each personality and setting, it would shift to an entire new setting. I never felt completely comfortable with the characters and setting because I never had time to.
But even if Asmiov had developed each setting further, I doubt they would have felt familiar by the end because Asmiov’s writing was superficial: there was absolutely no development of anyone or thing. Things happened. People spoke. That was it. In the court room scene in section 1, the inquisition is told in a Q and A format. This was horrible to read in that it was boring and weak. While the rest of the book never resorted to that format, it felt the same.
Jackie: Half of Part II, and Parts III, IV and V!! (for those of you who don’t know Foundation is divided into five separate short stories – parts I – V). I loved the first story (Part I) but after that the book went downhill very quickly for me. I’m not very interested in the politics of my own country, so the arguing of Galactic Councils, which don’t even exist, seemed really pointless to me. I was interested in the book, while it concentrated on individuals, but once it started waffling about alternative power sources, regulations and trade agreements l lost interest.

Who was your favourite character and why?
Rebecca: I don’t have a favourite character because I felt Asimov never developed any character to any extent. They were all superficial and boring. If there is any section I wanted to know more about, it was the first one. The concept of psychohistorians (mathematicians predicting the future based on human character) was intriguing.
Jackie: Gaal was my favourite character by a long way, as he is the only one we really saw a human side too.

Will you be reading the rest of the trilogy?
Rebecca: No. I can’t imagine it being prolonged into two more books!
Jackie: No, I won’t be reading the rest of the trilogy, or any more books written by Asimov. There are so many amazing books out there, that I don’t see the point of reading ones which I probably won’t like.

The Dewey Mini-Challenge was to “try something new,” and science fiction was out of your comfort zone. What is your “after” impression of the genre? Will you be reading more in the future?
Rebecca: In addition to Dune and Space Odyssey 2001 as I mentioned above, I’ve also read Ender’s Game. Of those four science fiction books, Foundation was my least favourite. I liked the others much better, so I can’t swear off science fiction forever. That said, I may try Asimov again in the future to give him the benefit of the doubt, but not any time soon!
Jackie: I had a strong suspicion that I wouldn’t enjoy Asimov, and this was proved to be correct. In the past I have read a few science fiction/fantasy books, for example some by David Gemmel and The Fellowship of the Ring, but I haven’t enjoyed them. It obviously depends on your definition of science fiction, as it could be argued that The Time Traveller’s Wife also falls into this category, and I loved that. I much prefer books which are based in fact – only a really talented writer can make me enjoy books which are pure fantasy – Murakami is a good example of this. I need to be able to empathize with the characters, and this is much harder for me to do if they are living in a world in which all our laws of physics and society are different to theirs.

I’d like to thank Rebecca for participating in the challenge with me. I hope we can read a more enjoyable book together one day!