Thursday, December 17, 2009

Olaf Stapledon: The Star Maker

Philosophy is supposed to be a series of footnotes to Plato. In the same way, the science fiction I have read might be said to be footnotes to Stapledon.

This is one of the most remarkable books I have ever read. Arthur C Clarke called it 'the most powerful work of imagination ever written.' Doris Lessing, nobel laureate, and Virginia Woolf heaped praise on it.

It isn't really a novel. It's essentially an overview of a person's experience becoming more and more aware of all the life in the universe, and of the Star Maker himself. As such, it works like Russian dolls in reverse: each succeeding vision is larger than the rest. You wonder where the inventiveness comes from. You wonder if he's ever going to stop. You wonder what he was on when he wrote this.

Finally there is an encounter with the Star Maker himself, which, amazingly, doesn't disappoint.
Truly a classic.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Persepolis: Marjane Satrapi

What a gem of a book.
'Guns and knives may break our calves, but we won't wear your silly scarves!'

Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis is a insider story of:
  • the Iranian revolution,
  • the Gulf (Iran-Iraq) War (about which we in the West were so cruelly complacent),
  • how fugitives to the West are mostly welcomed by the alternative cultures, not the mainstream ones
  • Teenagerhood
  • Freedom and its contradictions
and with a walk on part by
  • God.
It's all told in cartoon form. It's the best thing I've ever read on Iran and one of the best books I've read about living under an Islamist regime.

I found it the sort of book you have to put down while you walk around and try to think about it. Things like:

  • Why don't we understand Iranians as victims of totalitarianism, quite as much as people in Mao's China or Stalin's Russia? Surely they are.
  • How much teenagers need surrogate parents and grandparents;
  • How people can end up on the streets; and get off them again.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Neal Stephenson's baroque 'trilogy'

The mix of science, history, speculation and story-telling makes the 2000 plus pages of these four books as entertaining as the best things I have ever read. Cryptonomicon was the first, set in the Second World War and the 1990s; the three others followed afterwards, set in the Scientific Revolution. Hugely, utterly satisfying. I cannot remember enjoying a book more. My only real disappointment with these books was that they came to an end.