The Stars Now Unclaimed – Drew Williams

Our narrator is travelling the galaxy, trying to atone for her responsibility for the Pulse, a devastating galaxy-wide event. Her view however is very narrowly focused, as a strong believer in the Justified sect. This is a much more battle-based book than I expected, with our narrator pinging from one battle to another leaving a trail of devastation.

Although this book is a powerful page-turner, I found myself finding the key message, that Esa should help the Justified, who essentially kidnapped or conscripted her, more and more problematic. Although one character was inserted to question the Justified’s approaches, she is brought into the fold by the end of the book. This contrasts with an enemy who are presented as irredeemably evil, with gradual depths being added, but never any positive elements.

But the battles are fun, won with cunning and nimbleness in the face of being outgunned. However a bit more damage taken would have been more realistic: far too few characters died to win significant battles.

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The Order of Time – Carlo Rovelli

I was expecting The Order of Time to be mostly about physics, and how general relativity and spacetime work. It is that, but it is also a book about philosophy, our sense of self and briefly, LSD.

It is a short book, well-written and fascinating to read. Different ideas swim to the surface, such as a mention of the development of time zones around the world, which had also been discussed in Blood, Iron & Gold, which I had finished the same day as I read this. And although most historic physicists remain flat and characterless, anyone who Rovelli knew, or knew by reputation, is written with character, and personal anecdote, a much warmer text than many scientific books.

Of course the main theme is scientific. It is a discussion on how time is essential for how we witness the monotonic increase in entropy, and the impact of relativistic changes on the passing of time meaning that the idea of a universal “now” is a mythical construct, possible only across Earth because of our inability to perceive sufficiently small changes in time.

But then we are off again, discussing what exists. A cat? A law? A cartoon character? Ourselves? Rovelli ties all of these pieces back together to give a message on the fragility and beauty of life.

Blood, Iron & Gold – Christian Wolmar

Blood, Iron & Gold is an international history of how the railways shaped society, economies, and even our sense of time. Starting with the earliest simple services, Wolmar weaves a story around how the railway collapsed distances and created nations.

The first three quarters of the book are on the first century of the railway, when much of the international network was built and almost all changes were progress. There is an accounting of the deaths involved in building our railways, and how they were used to control empires, as well as unite countries on a fair footing.

But the story after the start of World War One is more complex. For the first time, the railways are essential in how a war was fought, with rail-based troop transport and supply being vital to the continuation of trench warfare, with all the pointless death involved.

Then afterwards, the decline in patronage, continuing to late in the twentieth century. Wolmar is more sympathetic to the cause of the reduction in lines than might be expected though. He accepts that some of the railway mania had led to excessive construction, and that a sustainable network required some reduction.

It helps that he manges to end on the high note of the twenty-first century rain renaissance, with congestion making the train yet again an attractive mode.

Proofiness – Charles Seife

Proofiness is a look at how numbers are falsely used to manipulate public opinion and sway judicial decisions. He looks at accuracy, rules of statistical error, cherry picking and misleading calculations.

Throughout examples are used, often from headline stories, showing how misleading statistics have changed decisions. Many of the stories are (unsurprisingly for a New York academic) American, but the case we studied in statistics at university of Sally Clarke was included as a classic miscarriage of justice due to bad statistics.

A call for numerical literacy in media, this reads well.

Kinky Boots – Adelphi London

Kinky Boots is an amzingly sparkily musical, flicking between a shoe factory (with behaviour around “workshop equipment” that made me wince during the dance scenes, and Lola’s world. Then gradually the two mix, and Lola is brought in to save a gradually closing factory from disaster.

I saw this the day after For the Love of the Game, on our annual trip to London. Despite both outwardly having very different themes, they are both about boys trying to live up to what their families’ and communities want without losing their own dreams.

For the Love of the Game – Chorley Little Theatre

As we hurtle towards Christmas, the final non-panto play of the 2018 season at Chorley Little Theatre was For the Love of the Game. Normally I wouldn’t go to a play about rugby, but of course I go to all the season ticket productions.

This was a very thoughtful and funny production, and even more impressively, had half the cast singing hymns in half the church scenes. It was fast-paced, flicking between church hall and rugby changing room until we headed off to Westminster.

Good word by CADOS!

Everything Under – Daisy Johnson

Everything Under is slightly surreal, set mainly in the world of canal boaters. Gretel is trying to understand her childhood, and how her mother became who she is as she fades into dementia.

Exploring family ties and the impact of poverty, Gretel works writing dictionary entries into she finally find her mother and brings her to her own home. The narrative swirls as her mother moves through time, and pieces gradually fall together to create a whole story. It took me a long time to place Gretel correctly in this web.

I look forward to rereading this and seeing how the hints build up now I know what the correct perspective is

Washington Black – Esi Edugyan

Washington Black is definitely an imagination-capturing book, with George Washington Black, or Wash, finding his path away from slavery. Starting as a field-slave in a plantation on Barbados, he catches the eye of the owner’s brother, Titch. From there he develops as an artist and scientist.

“I myself will will always go by carriage, even when it ceases to be fashionable and other men accept strangr means of conveyance – steam engines and such. Unholy aerial contraptions.”

The Cloud-cutter, which Wash and Titch use to escape Barbados, is very steam-punk, We’re in 1830 and trialling a hydrogen barrage-balloon. Wash’s role is to sketch the balloon and landscapes through which they will travel. But ultimately Titch’s tendency to walk away from everything results in him leaving Wash without a support network in the Arctic.

“Oh, child, it like nothing in this world. When you free, you can do anything.”

An inspiring story about choosing your own consequences and dreams. About chasing stability, family and memories across the world and through the years.

Of the four I’ve read so far, my favourite of the Man Booker shortlist.

The Long Take – Robin Robertson

One of two books in this year’s Man Booker list that touch on Novia Scotia, but in here is is a pristine place that Walker does not feel able to return to, rather than a place of healing.

As someone who wants to read literary fiction, I approached The Long Take with a degree of trepidation. But although this is classed as a poetic narrative, it generally reads more as a slightly choppy novel: reminisent of short scenes in films.

This is not an easy read, with Walker acknowledging his suffering from PTSD whilst he works his way through life, and poor communities are built with painstaking sacrifice, and destroyed at the whim of a bureaucrat’s pen.

Robertson brings emotions and relationships to life as Walker tumbles through his life, trying to find a way past World War Two, but ultimately turning to embrace friendships with fellow veterans rather than seeking to escape.

Milkman – Anna Burns

Its Man Booker season and I again have my hands on the shortlist.

First out of the pile was Milkman, a novel about an unnamed character in an unnamed city. However I read it as Belfast, as I felt it was meant to be read. Our heroine, middle sister, is navigating a complex social structure where failure doesn’t just impact friendships, but is a matter of life and death.

But as she wanders through her life, trying to remain detached, the milkman takes an interest in her. From that moment onwards she discovers that the safety of her detached life is a facade, and begins to learn who within the community can and can’t be relied upon. The threat of violence is ever-present, and divisions between areas are strongly felt.

But just as the tension ramps up, the mother becomes a figure of light relief, as she courts the real milkman whom she has loved for years.

Not one I would have picked up, but definitely worth reading, especially against the current political backdrop with changes to the Irish border being considered.