Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Philip K. Dick

The title of this is a classic. But I had always interpreted it as the sort of dream that happens when asleep, so the reality of this was a surprise to me. I didn’t expect an actual electric sheep, more an abstract concept.

As I went through though, the gradual reveal of the reality of android, or “andy” life on earth actually led me to sympathise with them a great deal, although the ending was what it had to be.

This is not only a key work in science fiction, but also well-written and executed. It is of course of its time, but that is manageable. The only thing to be worked past is that it is set in 1992. And of course, we have all sorts of high tech, but no mobile phones.

I struggle to say more about this than has already been said, but it is a good read.

The Testament of Mary – Colm Tóibín

Tóibín has approached the life of Jesus from a new angle, that of his mother Mary. As his mother she is far more interested in her son’s safety than in him being the saviour, and in how his friends lead him astray than what he is responsible for.

I’m never quite sure about men writing novels aiming to capture such a female experience as motherhood, but Tóibín does well. His Mary is emotional without being overly sentimental, and strong in her own way. But she still frames herself against the (absent) men in her story. Women are not a frame, and he doesn’t quite get that concept. Of course the point is the gospel, in which the character herself is not the point, but she does not focus purely on her child.

There is little new here. Of course the story is known, and the concept of it as a tragedy is also unexpected. So there ends up being little new here except a minor reframing. It doesn’t explain why this was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize.

Pals – Chorley Little Theatre

Pals was written by artistic director Mark Jones, specifically for Chorley Little Theatre. It is very much feels set in the textile industrial background of Chorley, although no place names (or even pub names!) were mentioned explicitly.

It is a look on the front of the Great War, of course, and the stories that came out of that. But more than that, it is a story about life, and men’s friendships. How shared work and a quick drink after developed bonds, where gradually the truths about family and love become clear. But then also friendship between a history student and an elderly man. A friendship with a rocky start, but finally a chance for Bill to tell the tale of his life.

I love that we don’t just see Bill in those key minutes where everything changes, but we also see the human side before and after. What was there, what was lost, and what little was saved. There were few dry eyes in the house by the end, which speaks volumes for the strength of both the writing and the acting.

Mr Darwin’s Gardener – Kristina Carlson

Mr Darwin’s Gardener is not, as one might imagine, written somewhere safely in a rural English county. It is instead a translation from Finnish. A good translation as it happens, but not what I expected from the title.

Also I didn’t really think the link to Darwin was needed at all. We never see him, he is just a device to explain Thomas’s atheism, which seemed unnecessary. In fact, given that this novel is trying to explore the beginnings of the decline of Christianity in rural England, it almost weakened the premise.

As a small exploration of human nature, it works perfectly. Firstly we see the ability of community and gossips to image the worst, and to react in a mob-like manner. But then people work out their own way to succeed despite this backdrop, and in some ways the community ties provide strength to those within it, and consider Darwin’s household part of their own.

Have you recently read something that didn’t turn out to be what you expected?

Uprooted – Naomi Novik

I’ve previously read Novik’s Temeraire series, although apparently none since I began this blog. Unsurprising as although I enjoyed the concept, it got a little tedious towards the end. I was therefore glad to see her approaching new ideas, and new worldbuilding, so picked this up as soon as I saw it.

It has an intriguing start, with details gradually added to the world as it becomes clear how it diverges from our own. As we learn about Agnieszka she begins as a normal young woman, and gradually more is learned about the ever-present threat she, her valley and realm face. She of course is the key to tackle this, reluctantly at first, and then embracing it and all it means in true YA troupe style.

I do object to the romantic development in this – it felt unnecessary, forced and unethical. Why not just develop a good strong friendship bond instead? See the Pierce books for how this can work really well.

ETA: This is post 200! Given all the changes since I began this blog, its something I have maintained steadily for what feels like a long time. I’m glad to have my readers, and enjoy being part of the book-blogging community.

The Novel Habits of Happiness – Alexander McCall Smith

There is not much to say about this – it’s a Sunday Morning Philosopher’s Club novel, where Isabel Dalhousie is compelled to help someone with a problem in their life, and moves on slightly in her personal life. Nevertheless, I still love it.

It’s a nice cozy read, about a world where Isabel’s life is blessed, and she is grateful for this. And there are the cultural references, as she navigates a world of literature, art and music.

 

The Earthsea Quartet – Ursula Le Guin

The Earthsea Quartet is four semi-stand alone novels set in Le Guin’s fantasy archipelago Earthsea. It follows the thread of Ged’s life as he rises from goatherd of Gont, but for three of the novels we see him from the perspective of a different central character as they come of age and work out who they are in the world.

The world is well-developed, with institutions and power structures that can shift. I also like the limitation on magic – that you have to know the name of that specific thing to control it, as well as have the power to use that name. Everything then grows from that.

Of course the age of the novel is the era when power is shifting, and we are given a central position to see it happen and watch as it is adjusted to suit Ged.

I first read this in the school library aged 12, and at the time it put me off Le Guin’s work. This time around I’ve borrowed it from the children’s – not even teenage – library because I wondered why everyone else loved it. As an adult reread, I have greatly enjoyed it. There’s good character development, a common thread, worldbuilding and development. But each book stands alone to a great extent, the characters are mostly quite distant, there are plenty of references of adult relationships and quite sophisticated language is used. Then the final novel is not a coming of age but a retirement and moving on theme. Really I’d not leave it in the library intended for under 12s!

Have you revisited a childhood read recently?

I Love You Because – Chorley Little Theatre

I’ve kept meaning to go to a performance at Chorley Little Theatre for a while, so this week picked up a ticket for I love you because.

I didn’t know anything about this musical before I walked into the auditorium, the cost of tickets being such that I was happy to buy one whatever the show was. It was a wonderfully lighthearted love story, with the traditional star-crossed lovers working out who they are and what love means. I came out humming the very catchy theme, and bought the soundtrack that evening.

As for Chorley Little Theatre, again it is very impressive. The actors and acting were great, the set was tidy and the musicians were fabulous! Plus I had a hot chocolate for £1 in the interval (getting up for work early the next morning). I’m now considering buying a season ticket for 2016/17 and will be back.

Honourable Friends? Caroline Lucas

Lucas has used her rare perspective as both a member of parliament, and being outside the main political parties, to offer an insight into where there are weaknesses in our system, and who is exploiting this. Of course she does have a vested interest, she would like to see the Green party do better, and can’t do so under the current system, but her views are valuable. Crucially she sees both the strengths as well as the weaknesses, where she was made to feel welcome, and the system worked for her.

Of course this book is also a platform for her views, which are further on the green spectrum than my own, but in about the same place in classic socialism/liberalism. So to me this was an unchallenging read, and certainly did the Green cause no harm.

This is a valuable look at the Con-Lib coalition and why certain decisions were made from someone with a small amount of sway and a very close view of how they happened.

Avenue Q – 2016 tour – Manchester

The sun is shining its a lovely day
The perfect morning for a kid to play
But you have lots of bills to pay
What can you do?

Finding ourselves entirely free on a Saturday evening, we browsed the local theatre listings, and realised that it was the last night of the Avenue Q run in Manchester. That was enough to have us at the box office, picking up a couple of the last tickets available.

We’d previously seen the first run of Avenue Q in London in around 2008, from West End “cheap” seats. But on tour, we were comfortably in the middle of the stalls, with leg room and a great view. I don’t know how much this contributed to it being much better than either of us remembered, making us both laugh at the puppets mocking their own fates. The characters are surprising convincing and empathetic, and I have several of the songs still in my head.

For a silly light-hearted musical, it is surprisingly deep in places. The more “adult” content did have me cringing in places though!