Tuesday, June 07, 2011

35. Dirty Tricks by Michael Dibdin

Well I tore through this book! A very clever and enjoyable black murder comedy that puts Dibdin back up to the top of my charts again (after the less enjoyable Thanksgiving). The book is written in the form of a confession by a British expat living in some unnamed banana republic pleading for his innocence to avoid extradition back to Britain for murder. His argument, convincingly told, is that while he is guilty of many crimes and ethical lapses, murder is not one of them.

His story is an enjoyable one, told by him with a joie-de-vivre and certain objectivity (that becomes more damning as the book goes one). He is a member of the educated, upper classes who spent too long not making practical decisions and ended up still living in a shared, rented flat ("digs") and teaching english as a second language part time. He ends up meeting a bourgeois couple with terrible taste and social ambitions and almost accidentally begins to have an affair with the wife. Things get more complicated, leading to the protagonist being the center of at least two murder scandals and having to find various convoluted ways to get out of the hot seat. In doing so, his true moral core slowly reveals itself to the reader. He starts out as a slacker, quickly shows himself to be a cad, then a bounder, eventually a sociopath and finally to really just be straight out evil at the very end. It is all quite subtly done and the reader is carried along, sympathizing with the protagonist quite far into his bad behaviour so that you catch yourself realizing, holy shit this guy is truly awful!

The major theme of the book and the justification for his behaviour is the massive cultural shift in England during the Thatcher regime. The protagonist spent a lot of his younger life in the 80s living and working abroad and when he came back, he found the traditions of English class hierarchy cast aside for a new, aggressive, capitalist society. Worse, he was now in last place in this society. The narrative arc is as much about the protagonist adapting to the new society and finding a shortcut to finding his proper place, first financially and the socially: "I wanted the lifestyle which other people of my age and education enjoyed but which I had forfeited because of the wayward direction given my life by the humanistic propaganda I was exposed to in my youth." That gives a pretty good sense of the tone.

This was a highly enjoyable read. Dibdin really was a skilled writer as well as having a great perspective on the world. Faced with the bleakness that is post-Thatcher England, he responded with humour. Great stuff.

Monday, June 06, 2011

34. Gridlinked by Neal Asher

I borrowed this from my brother-in-law, for whom reading science fiction is one of the few little pleasures my sister allows him. He tends towards the higher end of the spectrum, but every now and then will delve into the more populist fare, such as Gridlinked. I was looking for an easy and entertaining read and so I grabbed it. I was highly skeptical of the "Asher has lit up the sky of science fiction like a new sun" blurb on the front cover, but felt that I would get a fairly good cyberpunk bang for my buck here.

I'm being lazy, plus quite busy, so I'll quote the wikipedia page for the plot summary:

The novel follows the exploits of Earth Central Security agent Ian Cormac, as he attempts to discover who or what is behind the destruction of the Runcible on a remote colony. Cormac drops an investigation into Polity separatists on Cheyne III, and takes the starship Hubris to the ruined world of Samarkand to directly oversee the investigation there. Having been directly "gridlinked" to the Polity A.I. network for too long, Cormac has been slowly losing his humanity, and takes the opportunity of this particular mission to disconnect and solve the mystery the old-fashioned way.

My reading has finally slowed down, so it took me a week or two to get through this. I do blame the book a bit for this, as the plot tends to drag on a bit in the second half. The overall plot is not all that innovative either, being basically a military adventure. However, the trappings of the future galaxy and all its tech are really quite cool. I'm not even sure I would really call this cyberpunk, though it definitely has such elements. I particularly liked the portrayal of the AIs (that are basically the human government at this point) as well as the existence of miniminds in things like weapons.

It was an enjoyable read, but I felt could have used some tightening up. If you are hungry for this kind of super hi-tech sci-fi, Neal Asher is not a bad way to go at all. I suspect the series will get better and more interesting as it moves forward as well, so I would probably pick up the next book if I find it for cheap.