Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Recently read

At the weekend I finished reading:

Fever of the Bone, by Val McDermid. Val is a friend of mine. I've enjoyed many of her books. I enjoyed this one. It's the latest Tony Hill/Carol Jordan novel, with the usual mix of hard truth and easy reading, and a surprisingly affecting ending. I was mildly surprised that it won the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Mystery, though, because while it does have some lesbian characters, they play secondary roles. I can definitely recommend this as a summer read.

Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next, by John Kasarda and Greg Lindsay. This is a strange book. The authorial tone is unlike anything I've encountered before: written by Greg Lindsay but conveying the ideas of John Kasarda. It felt a little like watching a puppet show--where the puppet is a little willful and occasionally snide. (I liked those parts.) It was also longer than it needed to be--but perhaps it wasn't designed for the kind of reading I do. I read it as narrative non-fiction: beginning to end. Perhaps it's meant to be a dip-in-and-out read for people pondering whether (and where) to relocate their business in Indonesia or the Emirates. Lindsay can write pretty well, and the snippy tone livens things up as he explains Kasarda's Very Serious (and often apparently world-weary) thinking about air transport and how we do and don't adapt to it. (Here's a schematic of an aerotropolis. It will save me explaining the concept.) I came away convinced of three things. One, air travel (of people and goods) is essential to our current civilization and will only become more so. Two, any polity that doesn't commit to aerotropoli will be left in the dust (like towns decaying along the old Route 66 once the interstates were built). Three, that a) we have to find alternatives to oil-based energy for all tethered power use, b) the remaining old reserves need to be funneled to air travel...and if that doesn't happen, if we can no longer sustain our growing globalisation, we are fucked. Read it and learn.

The Carhullan Army, (known in this country as Daughters of the North) by Sarah Hall. It won the 2007 Tiptree Award, but I suspect I'll have to read it twice before I make up my mind about its approach to the body. It's beautifully written but oddly old-fashioned, employing feminist and dystopian tropes common in the seventies and early eighties, and sfnal narrative techniques from even earlier decades. And it's short. (I read the Kindle edition, with no page numbers, but I'd guess it to be 60,000 words or so.) In this regard, it punches above its weight. Hall's descriptions and integration of the natural world (atmospheric Cumbria) into her characters' change is wonderful. As I say, I'll be rereading this one. Expect a fuller review sometime this summer. Meanwhile, though, definitely worth your time.

Next up: the The Origins of Political Order, by Francis Fukuyama, and Sarah Hall's first novel, Haweswater. Maybe also Framing the Early Middle Ages, by Chris Wickam, depending on my patience with non-fiction.

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