Recent Reading – catch-up reviews

Hello! I have been absent for quite some time now… Enjoy this catch-up post of my recent reading! Complete with illustrations! (that last bit is a lie)

The Machine Stops

E.M. Forster

The Machine Stops


What a scrumptiously terrifying tale this is. I read it for work, and enjoyed it immensely. Prescient science-fiction written circa 1911, this short story describes a world in which everyone lives underground. Isolated from each other, people are surrounded by the Machine which tends their every need. There is a button for food, a button for drink, a button to fill a bath, a button to move around the room, a button for literature, a button to talk to any one of thousands of friends that the person has never met in the flesh… It is seriously mind-blowing that, in 1911, this writer imagined not only the ability to speak instantaneously to people who were so far away, but that this would result in endlessly available and distorted information.

As you may have guessed from the title, the plot of the piece is about the Machine’s demise. There are two main characters; a woman and her son. They are separated by half the world and vastly different ideologies. Vashti, the mother, truly believes in the Machine. Her son, Kuno, has been threatened with homelessness for questioning it and for attempting to regain the meanings of certain words – for example, he regains the meaning of the words ‘far’ and ‘near’ by walking. In this world, the very act of walking is revolutionary. The consequences of his actions are far-reaching.

The language is dated (I read it using my Granddad’s dictionary), however it is worth a read simply because it’s amazing that a piece written so long ago has such particular relevance to many of the things that we are debating now. Also, I now know exactly what a bunch of awesome teenagers come up with when devising based on this story (the answer to this is ‘one hell of a kick-arse show’)

Be prepared to stop using the internet for a while after reading.



Terry Pratchett

I pictured Kin as black…?


I am a Terry Pratchett fan. I own all the Discworld novels as well as Good Omens, The Carpet People, Strata and a 1st edition copy of Only You Can Save Mankind. So yeah, a fan. What I realised when I read this was how much I’ve missed early Pratchett. I love his newer stuff, I just love his older stuff more. Strata was published when he was about six books into the Discworld series, and it’s lovely.

Full of the sharp twists and spiky humour particular to Mr. Pratchett, this book features some fantastic alternative history, world-builders and a flat earth. The main character is 21 centuries old, a renowned world-builder and the author of a best-selling book. She’s fantastic. There are also spaceships, aliens of many kinds, morris-dancing robots (are there any Terry Pratchett books that don’t mention morris dancing?) and other brilliant weirdness. A great ride, with a twist that is pure Pratchett at his most fun. I laughed a lot.



Cherie Priest


This is the sequel to Boneshaker. It’s a fantastic adventure across a fictional America involving an awesome female lead, a lot of trains and eventually zombies. I loved it. Cherie Priest had me on the edge of my seat by the end – I finished it in a café, and only realised afterward that people had been watching me read, because apparently I make interesting faces… Her characters are down-to-earth, and she really made me believe that there were steam-powered automatons used in the American Civil War. Her writing style is not sparse exactly, but almost dry. It is very emotive, but the emotive nature is under a topsoil of functionality.

Like Boneshaker, the plot on this novel rests on familial relations. Vinita ‘Mercy’ Lynch receives a message saying that her father is unwell and asking for her, which starts an epic quest to reach him in time when they are separated by thousands of miles. She has to get over to the other side of the war, evade the fighting and contend with rather a lot of unpleasant conspiracy.This series so far is pure steampunk brilliance.


Once Upon a Time: A short history of fairytale

Marina Warner

Once Upon a Time

This is exactly what it says in the title – a short history of fairytales. Honestly, I really enjoyed all of this. My copy is now covered in little pencil scribbles as I agree, muse and argue with what is being said. It was very dry to start with, and only really loosened up when Ms. Warner got onto feminist interpretations of fairytales; suddenly there was passion, the language became easier and I forgot to write in the margins. It is a good book all the way through, however, and I learnt a lot of things that were new to me. Fascinating stuff.



Noelle Stevenson


This is a graphic novel that was, I think, originally a webcomic. Nimona is a fantastically witty story about a shape-shifting girl (Nimona) who decides to be Ballister Blackheart’s side-kick. In case you didn’t guess, Ballister Blackheart is the villain.

The art is warm, rough around the edges and generally joyful. I was completely absorbed – this is another one that I stole from my partner-in-crime. Literally, it arrived in the post, she opened it, I picked it up out of curiosity and gave it back a few hours later once I finished it. I think some people tried to talk to me while I was reading it, but I ignored them. I do have my own copy now.

The story has a wonderful balance of lightheartedness, warmth and tense emotion. None of the relations are as clear-cut as they first seem, and even though the characters are villains and knights with names like Goldenloin (Goldenloin. Not Goldenlion. I thought I misread it at first. I hadn’t. It just made me love it more) they are all believably human, with flaws and nuances and faulty memories. Also, there is a character called Meredith! She’s a mad scientist – I was very pleased.

Nimona. Go read it. Take biscuits with you (you’ll need them). Cry at the bittersweetness of it all and enjoy this monumentally unconventional protagonist.


Sex and Punishment: 4000 years of judging desire

Eric Berkowitz

sex and punishment

Recently, I attempted to educate myself about history. You can read the resulting rant here. One of my deliciously delightful friends then bought me loads of history books for my birthday, of which this was one (the others were The Making of the English Working Class1066 and All That and The True History of Chocolate). What a read!

Covering (briefly) 4,000 years of western history, this was an absolutely fascinating study of sexuality and sex law. It was presented with a good sense of humour, which was vital because some of the things that we did to each other were horrific. Don’t get me wrong, some of it was surprising in a good way, and a lot of it was just so bizarre that it was just amusing (sex with a goat is sacred, but sex with a donkey results in horrible deaths all round? Why? What is the distinction there?), but some of it was just very upsetting. Notably, the entire section on slavery and laws about sex with people of different races was incredibly hard to read.

However, reading Sex and Punishment did put modern attitudes toward sex and sexuality into a context. I was particularly interested in charting the evolution of laws about lesbianism and people living a gender that did not line up to their sex. It’s an interesting book in it’s own merits, but I do especially recommend it if you are interested in knowing where our modern attitudes may have come from. Also now when I get pissed off about legislation I think things like ‘ok, this is bad and needs to change, but at least shoving a radish up someone’s bottom is not a court endorsed punishment anymore’.


Unspeakable Things: sex, lies and revolution

Laurie Penny

unspeakable things

Also not a novel, this is a book about women, young people and feminism. I cried. I actually cried because Laurie Penny has managed to put into words things that I have been trying to make sense of for years. Because she pulls no punches as she rips through social mores. Because she is unafraid to mix personal experience with structural observation, and to make the argument that of course our personal lives are affected by the society around us, the balance of politics and media. It felt as though she recognised all the broken bits in me and was able to gently acknowledge them while arguing coherently for a rip-up of the entire system. Go read this. Then let’s mutiny. Seriously, I don’t know how we mutiny, but we can figure that out. It’s going to be a while before I can read this again (because of all the crying and ‘Oh fuck, it’s not just me who thinks everything’s broken, what the fucking fuck do we do?’), but I’m going to.



Rat Queens Volume Two: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N’Rygoth

Kurtis J. Wiebe, Roc Upchurch and Stjepan Sejic


This is a graphic novel/comic thing. Seriously, when is it a comic and when is it a graphic novel? Is it just the length that makes the difference? Someone help me here.

Speaking of mutiny, the main characters of this would be the perfect people to start one with. I have already reviewed Rat Queens Volume One: Sass And Sorcery very briefly. This one is just as awesome. Some of the things in it are: Fights! Flashbacks! Revelations! Revenge! Cocktails! Ill-advised sex! Interdimensional flying squid gods! Women of all shapes and sizes! Really epic Dwarf mums! I mean, why aren’t you already reading this? Seriously, if you like fantasy, women who take no shit and laughing, this is for you. It is brilliance in book form. Read volume one first though, otherwise you will not have a clue what’s going on.


And thusly concludes my recent reading catch-up reviews. I hope you enjoyed them, and I’ll try to actually get on here more than once every three months…


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Book Review: Ganymede by Cherie Priest | Meredith Debonnaire

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