Concrete Island, J G Ballard, #15 2020

Ballard is one of the writers I keep – no matter how hard I cull my book collection, he stays.

I hadn’t read this one before, and it felt like an amazing treat when it landed in my mailbox.

It seems like an unlikely premise – a driver crashes into a strip of waste land bounded by motorways, and finds himself marooned there. But Ballard makes it work with clear description, obstacles, and deep, well-drawn characters, making the microcosm come alive.

Great speculative fiction.

Lost over Laos, Richard Pyle and Horst Fass; #14 2020

I bought this in Vietnam and it’s been sitting on my shelves for a couple of years. I thought it was older, but copy is just well used.

I learned a lot about the Vietnam war from this. Maybe because it was written by journalists who were there. The events of the story were given solid foundations with the history and strategy of the war. The mini-bios of those involved were well-crafted and thoughtful. The atmosphere of the time, and the details of the work of the journalists gave a rich depth.

I’m glad I persevered. I found the preface slow going, perhaps also repeating what was in the foreword, and I almost abandoned it.

Between The World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates: #12 2020

Another difficult book. Not the beautiful, poetic writing, but the subject matter. What it is like to live your life black in the US.

A country and a world where privilege and discrimination is part of the DNA of history: (p83) – “They sent the killer…back to his work, because he was not a killer at all. He was a force of nature, the helpless agent of our worlds physical laws.”

A world where just surviving the day takes its toll: (p90) “This need to be always on guard was an unmeasured expenditure of energy, the slow siphoning of essence.”

The inter-generational effect of one generation over the next: (p92) “And now I measure this fear against the boldness that the masters of the galaxy imparted to their own children…”

The double-think that allows the world to continue despite the injustice that jars against the dream of the country: “p 98) “This is the practised habit of jabbing out one’s eyes and forgetting the work of one’s hands.”

There’s something about this book that spoke to me that I hesitate to write about.

Perihelion Summer, Greg Egan: #11 2020

Earth’s ecosystems and civilisations brought to collapse by an event in the solar system. A group of friends/colleagues are halfway prepared, and the story charts their adaptation to the disaster.
It seemed a bit YA to begin with.
A few scenes that seemed a bit like they were plugged in to to create tension or action chasing a particular goal.
Some good atmospheric scenes, especially toward the end.
The doomsday scenarios were very well thought through.
I liked the length of the book – I struggle with sci-fi that seems to feel (or publishers feel) it needs to be 400 hundred pages. This was long enough to build the scene, build the characters, leave you thinking.
Also liked how it kept exposition to a minimum, with respect to the reader, just using hints about what is going to happen next.
Would like to read more of this author.

Chasing Asylum, Eva Orner: #10 2020

Printed page doco on how a film doco is made, also part memoir.
The author is clearly passionate about the topics she chooses for her documentaries, and must be extraordinarily brave to chase these stories down in difficult situations and dangerous parts of the world.
Candid view of how this topic – Australia’s treatment of Asylum seekers – had an emotional impact on her and the rest of the film-making crew.
In some instances, such as handling of passports and visa, Australia seems to be operating in the same way as those countries the asylum seekers have been trying to escape.
Great book, but I will be letting it back into the wild in the hope that others read this copy.