To be honest, I’m a slow reader. It usually takes me a month or two to get through a book. Also, unlike other media consumers, I don’t really binge watch TV series. For me, reading and watching are a lot like eating. I need to do it to survive, but after about twenty minutes, I’m full. The result of this slow diet approach to media means that I’m super-picky about what I take in. Here’s a quick round-up of what was on the content menu for me in October.
Yes, I know that steampunk is no longer the hot stuff it once was. But a good book is a good book. The Court of the Air (2007) is probably a good book. I haven’t quite decided yet, as I haven’t quite finished it yet. This is the first of a six-part series of thick, enticingly presented books that are a cornerstone of the steampunk genre.
Hunt’s writing is evocative and crisp, and there’s no shortage of ideas on display here. It’s over the top and a little bit fey, but it’s very obvious that Hunt is aware of this and is leaning into it.
Orphans on the run. Secret societies. Assassins. Steam robots. Zeppelins. Underground cities. Check check check check check check. This book has all of this and more. The express rate at which Hunt introduces and incorporates new elements into the novel reminds me of the wonderful Perdido Street Station by China Mieville. I’m hoping that The Court of the Air is at least half as good as that classic.
Not sure if you are aware, but there’s a pretty good show on Netflix at the moment called Squid Game. I watched it in October over about five nights. This is as close to binge watching a TV series as I’ve ever come. Each night I had difficulty sleeping, due to the adrenaline surge that the show sent through my body. Much has been written and said about why Squid Game is such a massive hit, so I won’t bang on about it. But from a writer’s perspective, the show is fantastic to take inspiration from.
The way that creator Hwang Dong-hyuk introduced sympathetic characters into the story then placed them in high-stakes situations was a masterclass. The patient exposition of the characters and the game they find themselves playing is also noteworthy. The worldbuilding is crisp and stylised, and the exploration of the consequences of that world is unflinching.
But for me what marks Squid Game as a brilliant work of fiction is the nesting of each frame, each moment, each scene, each episode, and the series as a whole. Nothing is wasted or filler. Every word, movement, object is charged with significance and resonance. And the way the episodes steadily ratchet up the tension and conflict is brilliant. There’s nothing better than enjoying a story that has been constructed masterfully.
On a cool and wet early-spring day in October I treated myself to a listen of one of my favourite records: The story of Beren and Luthien from the Silmarillion as read by Christopher Tolkien.
Regulars of my blog will understand that I think of the writing of Tolkien as ‘The Well’, and that I like to return there regularly to take a good long drink. Something about the water is so nourishing and life-affirming. Also, with the many volumes the Tolkien father-and-son combination produced, The Well is very deep.
The moment the record needle hits the groove and Christopher Tolkien’s wonderful English accent begins its evocation of the Silmarillion, you are transported. The story of Beren and Luthien follows the classic (literally) format of the suitor of the princess being sent on a suicidal fetch-quest by the king. In this case Beren is sent to retrieve a Silmaril from the grip of the original dark lord Morgoth. It’s a cracking adventure, and listening to the recorded version of this is a great way to while away a rainy afternoon.