Jarv’s Holiday Reading Part 1

Hola. As some of you poor work-bound schmucks may appreciate, I’ve spent the better part of the last 3 weeks sitting on my ass in the sun, drinking quite unreasonable amounts of beer and not doing much in particular other than that. So, what I’ve decided to do, in want of any better idea, is to mini-review the various books that I’ve read during this time. Some of these I’ve read before and left in Spain, some of them I read for the first time. There’s no real pattern to this, I just read what I fancied, and there’s no real order to these books.

So, with no further ado:

Neuromancer

I see the word “seminal” bandied about a lot talking about this book, and I suppose to be fair, it is hugely influential- with films like The Matrix owing a hell of a lot to Gibson’s 1984 dystopian novel. However, having said that, it isn’t actually very good. It’s OK, sure, but for the life of me I cannot see how it managed to capture the zeitgeist in the way that it did. Maybe I’m being dense, but I don’t think so because Mrs. Jarv abandoned it half way through muttering about “complete shit” and “life’s too short for this”. Anyhoo, Neuromancer is about a hacker (jockey) called Case who is hired to crack an Artificial intelligence by the enigmatic Armitage. It also features Razorgirl Molly and sociopath Riviera. In reality, however, the novel is frequently uninteresting and confusing, with the eventual Straylight heist in particular being almost unreadable garbage. Not the worst book that I’ve ever read, but not one that I’m going to come back to and certainly not one as good or as important as it is made out to be. Brave New World this is not.

Natali is filming this next, and this has the enormous potential to be absolutely awful on the screen. The entire Matrix sequences (of which there are a lot) read like the bastard lovechild of Tron, and anyway have already been done, and I dread to think what Natali will do with the eventual confrontation between Case and Neuromancer itself.

Jarv’s Rating: 1 Chang- Best avoided really, and completely and utterly overrated.

Virtual Light

However, compared to this utter crap, Neuromancer does in fact look as good as the aforementioned Brave New World. This is not the worst book I read on holiday, but it’s damned close. Nevertheless, it is the novel that guarantees that I’m never going to read another book by Gibson.

Virtual Light follows the story of Chev, a bike courier, who steals a pair of sunglasses that contain the plans for a new San Fransisco. She’s chased by Rydell, an ex-police officer, and they predictably join forces to blow the lid of the whole conspiracy. Except, the thing is, I can’t understand why these sunglasses are such a big deal- they don’t seem to be illegal, being as it looks like legitimate plans to redevelop San Fransisco. Really, this is Neuromancer-lite without the groundbreaking aspects of Neuromancer.

Furthermore, the book is punctuated with interminable interruptions from some old fuck called Skinner talking about life living on the bridges over the bay. Which is understandable, seeing as it was originally a short story called Skinner’s Room, but that doesn’t make it any more interesting.

Jarv’s Rating: Half a Chang– It was probably quite a good short story, and should have stayed as one.

Neverwhere

I like Neil Gaiman novels, loved American Gods in fact, but Neverwhere didn’t really work for me.

It’s about this hopeless douchebag who gets sucked into a parallel London (London Beneath) to aid Door, Hunter, the Maquis and a few other memorable characters in a quest and avoid the attentions of the magnificently drawn Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar.

There are some fantastic touches of imagination, such as the Black Friars and the Ordeal, and there are some very funny jokes but as a whole I have to say that it just didn’t really work for me. I’d be giving it 2 changs ordinarily, but as a completely futile complaint, It’s getting the Orangutan of Doom for the following reason:

This is the second time I’ve taken one of these “Author’s preferred editions” to Spain on holiday, and this is the second fucking time that the physical book has not been up to the job- the fucking glue has melted. This is staggeringly annoying, and it completely kills my enjoyment of the book to be reading individual pages and then attempting to reassemble them. Furthermore, I can’t read it at the fucking beach, as the slightest gust of wind takes the pages and scatters them all over the fucking place. This is simply unacceptable, and annoys me so intensely that for this book Jarv’s Rating is a petulant and stroppy double eye-poke fuck you Orangutan of Doom.

0 Changs: The Orangutan of Doom

Pandaemonium

This is more like it. I’ve always, for the most part, enjoyed Brookmyre’s novels, being as they are frequently funny, spiky, imaginative Crime fiction.

Pandaemonium is Brookmyre’s first real attempt at Sci-Fi and I suppose it’s quite good if you’ve never read another Brookmyre novel. The story follows the disastrous school trip of a group of Glaswegien neds as they come into contact with the forces of hell.

The pupils are the undoubted stars of the novel, an accurate drawn and frequently hilarious mob of little scrotes. However, as is the case with Brookmyre, the plot is really an excuse for him to have satirical digs at his pet targets (usually organised religion) and this is no exception. It’s a disjointed book, but the more violent demon fighting aspects (and the science in particular that opened the portal) don’t really work.

The real flaw of the novel, though, is that it reads like a “best of” Brookmyre. The flame thrower improvised from a pesticide dispenser is straight from Be My Enemy, for example, and the narrative device of a HUD from a first person shooter was already done much better in A Big Boy Did It and Ran Away. This is annoying and suggests that Brookmyre needs to take a wee break for a while, as he’s rehashing his own material here.

Nevertheless, Pandaemonium is more than worth a read for the antics of the pupils- who are very, very funny and completely plausible. It’s  big, bold, violent and laugh-out-loud funny on occasion.

Jarv’s Rating: 2 Changs– If you’ve never read another Brookmyre, then it’s a good place to start, but if you’ve read all of them, like me, then it’s very missable.

Transition

Iain Banks is another author that I’ve followed for decades. I did, however, eventually completely run out of patience with him after the woefully shit and pretentious Song of Stone.

However, I’m ecstatic to announce that Transition represents a real return to form for him. This is a big fucking book, full of complex ideas and genuine comic touches. The characters are well drawn and the story is never less than completely engrossing.

I’m not going to attempt to distill the plot, as it’s massively complicated, instead, I’m going to talk about the writing. Transition is narrated by several different distinct voices telling seemingly unrelated stories that link together in the gripping climax of the novel. There’s the Transitionary, unstoppable killing machine Temudjin Oh, the Patient, the Philosopher, Adrian and other voices. The individual narrators are deftly done, and although all seem to be telling unrelated stories I didn’t once feel a need to scan over the sections to get back to the main narrative. This really is accomplished stuff.

Transition is a very, very good book and while not up there with his masterpieces such as The Wasp Factory, it can hold its head up high as being the first of his books that I’ve read in a long time that hasn’t aggravated me, and the first one since Whit that I’d actually recommend.

Jarv’s Rating: 3 Changs– A good fucking book, a good book indeed. It’s good to see Iain Banks return to form, and maybe, just maybe, there’ll be no more bollocks like Dead Air.

Righto, that’s part one done with. I shall return tomorrow with some lewdness from Tom Sharpe, and probably my favourite book ever.

Hasta luego,

Jarv

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

24 responses to “Jarv’s Holiday Reading Part 1”

  1. xiphos0311 says :

    Welcome back good holiday I suppose?

    Good there are others that think Gibson’s books are just about worthless outside of igniting a certain “look and style” in art, literature and movies. Necromancer is one of the few books I almost couldn’t get through because it was such a chore, it took weeks for me to read.

    Virtual Light was awful I agree with you there. I guess I am not a cyberpunk sort of person.

    Neil Gaiman has never really worked for me. I’m not into the “New Urban Fable Movement” of Gaiman and Charles De Lint and the like. I do enjoy some of their short stories and art though.

    As for the rest I have not read any of the other authors but I have noted their names and will be searching them out. Thank you for the heads up Jarv.

    • Jarv says :

      Cheers Xi,

      I honestly could not work out what the big deal about Neuromancer was, it really is not that good. I like Gaiman, particularly American Gods, but am not buying another one until they realise that flogging books in Airports suggests that someone may be taking them on holiday, which means they may be exposed to the sun, so glue them together properly. Drove me nuts.

      Of the others, Brookmyre is Crime fiction/ Satire. Very British stuff, but touches greatness on occasion. Iain Banks also writes Sci-Fi under the name Iain M. Banks, but his “straight” novels often tend to have sci-fi elements to them.

      For Brookmyre, I’d go with Not the End of the World (least scottish of them) or A Big Boy Did it and Ran Away, just for the opening.

      For Bainks, I’d go (depending on how strong your stomach is) with The Wasp Factory, then The Crow Road.

      Good authors the pair of them, although I do seriously think Brookmyre needs some time off.

      The rest of the books that I read are kind of eclectic- this one was at least Sci-Fi themed: Clockwork Orange (for about the millionth time), Riotus Assembly, Wilt, The Resurrectionist, Weathercock, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, A Spot of Bother, Miss Wyoming, All Family’s are Psychotic (I don’t get the fuss over Coupland either), and a few others.

      • xiphos0311 says :

        Let’s see:

        Midnight and Clockwork are absolute classics. Riotous Assembly and Wilt are Tom Sharpe right? I think I read Rioutous but not Wilt but it could be the other way around. Is The Resurrectionist about a dad with a kid in a coma and something to do with bikers maybe? didn’t it also have an interesting description of the kids twilight sleep world that is if I remember correctly. The rest I don’t know anything about looking forward to hearing about them.

      • Jarv says :

        Both Riotus and Wilt are Sharpe. Riotus is the better book of the two, and I nearly puked laughing at it. Wilt has one of the finest comic characters in English novels in the later part of the 20th Century.

        Weathercock is absolute shit. I only reread it, because I was thinking about doing a full length review of it (it is the book that Duncan was meant to be writing when he wrote I lucifer).

        A spot of bother is Mark Haddon and mildly entertaining. Wyoming and Families are both Coupland.

        The Resurrectionist was even better when I read it this time. A very fine book, and one that’s inspired me to go and find the dude’s other stuff.

  2. Tom_Bando says :

    Never got the whole Neuromancer hoo-rah back in the day either. I basically stay w/ non-fiction now for the most part. Henry Clay is turning out to be a real interesting piece of work, one of the primo beaters of the drum to go to war w/ England in 1812, which turned out to be a (near) disaster-New Orleans notwithstanding-and of course, when he had his shot at going to the front w/ the Kentucky Militia as some sorta glorified ‘officer’-well, he naturally declined. Hmmmm. Does this sound familiar-?

    Anyways. Good to see Jarv has been able to hit the readin’ in between the boozin’ and beachin’.

  3. M. Blitz says :

    I like Neuromancer, though, yeah, it’s got a reputation it doesn’t fully deserve. It’s still fine, in my opinion. I can see where it could be construed as boring; the prose is kind of cold, kind of opaque. More abstract than it is gripping, though I think that might be part of the point(?) Blah blah blah. I was pretty heavily medicated when I read it, so my opinion might be a bit too overtly subjective anyway.

    Personally, I couldn’t get through American Gods. I liked some of the weird folklore parts, but the main story just rubbed me the wrong way, and I was bored with Shadow(?) or whatever his name was.

    Love A Clockwork Orange.

    That is really your balcony?? Ugh, I hate you. Oh, and welcome back!

  4. Jarv says :

    One of them.

    Not to rub it in or anything.

  5. ThereWolf says :

    Welcome back, Jarv.

    I might read one or two of these. A mate of mine warned me off Neuromancer years ago so, never had any intention there.

    I’ve read a couple of Gaiman books, one of which was American Gods – hated it, the other I can’t remember the title of at all. Unlikely I’ll return to any of his.

    Banks – he’s on my list. Must read some Iain Banks…

    • Jarv says :

      As I said to Xi, Wolf, if you’re going to read Banks then The Wasp Factory is gleefully twisted, but The Crow Road is very accomplished as is Whit.

      The Bridge is a fucking strange book, Espedair Street is so-so, Complicity is quite good.

      Avoid Walking on Glass, Song of Stone, The Business and Dead Air.

  6. Tom_Bando says :

    This isn’t that far from where I live or work, the mtn isn’t that tough to hike (at least up from the West Side)….and the views are pretty cool, too.

    http://www.summitpost.org/view_object.php?object_id=151544

  7. Jarv says :

    Actually, to be honest, I cheated with that picture. Almeria is home to one of the few man made things you can see from space- the fucking vast invenedero fields (big ugly ass white plastic greenhouses), and it’s quite hard to find a view that doesn’t have the fucking horrible things in.

    So that picture is taken from low down. If I’m standing up then I can see the damned things.

  8. Tom_Bando says :

    Harold’s ‘review’ of Inception was poo poo, and incoherent, as always. Apparently they didn’t give the man enough pwesents??

    Did see Despicable Me finally-good flick, fun, smart, cutesie, but in a good way. They should def. make a couple more.

  9. Joachim Boaz says :

    Wow — such strong dismissal of Neuromancer — I quite enjoyed it — perhaps because I was pretty young when I read it and was blown away by the world. Perhaps if I reread it my opinion would change…

  10. Jarv says :

    I think my problem with Neuromancer is that it is insanely overhyped. I’ve now read it twice and my big problem with it is the hugely anticlimactic straylight run. The sequence with Neuromancer itself on the beach was atrocious.

    Up to Riviera’s dinner theatre I was quite enjoying it, but it completely lost me after that. I don’t regret reading it, but I am still bemused at the impact it had- it really is Tron on meths.

    That was actually mild- wait for the Weathercock review, and I was also much ruder about Virtual Light

  11. Joachim Boaz says :

    Oh don’t worry — I’m pretty rude about most of Gibson’s works after Neuromancer — Virtual Light light included.

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