Tag Archives: Ernest Cline

The Raw Shark Texts – Steven Hall

When I first got a review copy of Steven Hall’s debut novel The Raw Shark Texts back in 2007 there was one thing that put me off, I heard it had a conceptual shark in it and at that time in my life I just thought ‘nah!’ Well more fool me because after having read it as one of Rob’s choices on Hear Read This! I have to admit is one of the most entertaining and thought provoking books I have read in some time, one that also takes you on an adventure and feels like a ripping good yarn too. If you are still worried/put off by the conceptual shark leave thoughts of it to one side (those who have read the book will see what I did there) and let me expand on it…

Canongate Books, paperback, 2007, fiction, 448 pages, bought especially for Hear Read This!

As The Raw Shark Texts opens we join a man who has no memories of where he is or why he came to be there. We soon learn, as he does, that he is Eric Sanderson and that the Eric Sanderson he was before (bear with me) has left him some hints and clues as to figure out what has happened, the first being to see Dr Randle both Eric’s therapist. As we may have guessed it appears that Eric has been through a terrible trauma of the death of his girlfriend Clio on a holiday, is this what has caused Eric’s memory loss? It turns out no, it is part of it, but actually what has taken Eric’s memory is something much, much worse.

Slowly, slowly-slowly, the world began to reappear in sickly greens and thumping purples and after maybe a minute, it steadied itself into a shaky-solid kind of balance. I wiped my eyes on my jeans and gave into a last scratchy cough before rubbing out the rest of the tears. Okay. Just breathe, we’re okay. I had no idea who or where I was.

Now if you are thinking that the ‘old amnesiac at the start of a book routine’ has become a little tired or obvious then you might be right, many authors do it. However this amnesia, in the hands of Hall, is a way of creating the start of a much deeper, more intricate and clever mystery which lies at the depths of the book, oh along with a monstrous shark which lives in the ether and is made out of words but if catches you steals all your memories before killing you. Nothing to fear then Eric… From here we follow Eric, and his cat Ian (more of him later because he is brilliant) and through a random meeting the beautiful Scout, as they go in search of the Un-Space Exploration Committee and Dr Trey Fidorous who Eric Sanderson 1.0 thinks will be able to help Eric Sanderson 2.0. Seriously bear with this guys, it feels like you are on a real adventure whilst also making your mind do a work out with the puzzles Eric must solve and the themes the book brings up.

The animal hunting you is a Ludovician. It is an example of one of the many species of purely conceptual fish which swim in the flows of human interaction and the tides of cause and effect. This may sound like madness, but it isn’t. Life is tenacious and determined. The streams, currents and rivers of human knowledge, experience and communication which have grown throughout our short history are now a vast, rich and bountiful environment. Why should we expect these flows to be sterile?

I have to admit initially I struggled with this concept, so I completely understand if you are thinking all this is barking mad. However I was already intrigued enough (and so smitten with Ian the cat) that I couldn’t resist carrying on and then I saw the genius behind this monster that Hall has created. Ludovician’s are one of many such sharks which are created by the throwaway comments, thoughts, texts etc that we humans have on a daily basis. To confuse it you must surround yourself with words be they written or spoken and in a brilliant moment we also learn that the worst ones died out when Latin stopped being spoken. There is also the nod it gives, and ‘back story if you will, to dementia and Alzheimer’s. So clever, such a geek out on the power of words. Yes, this is a book about books and languages at its heart as well as being one about love and loss – the Ludovician also seemed to me a metaphor for grief a feeling that chases you and gets you when you least expect it.

It is also a huge homage to some of the pop culture of the 80’s and 90’s. We have the obvious link to Jaws and I have seen someone somewhere describe it as The Matrix with books. It was this and the adventure element that reminded me very much of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, another book I wasn’t expecting to be completely engrossed in and compelled by, but I was. Shows I should leave my pre-‘conceptual’-conceptions at the door doesn’t it?

What makes it different from other intelligent literary thrillers (sounds like I am creating a new genre but you know what I mean) I hear you ask, and you would be right to because there are some of them about. In part it is the themes I mentioned which add layers to the book and also it is Hall’s sense of humour and fun which, whilst some of the characters occasionally feel slightly two dimensional, transpires at its best with Ian the cat. I haven’t read such a realistic and scene stealing (yet – thankfully – never talking) creature for quite some time. For me it was Ian the themes of loss, the thoughts on the power of words, and, once I got my head around it, the idea of a conceptual thought shark that makes this a thriller with heart and multi-layered concepts.

I knew at some point I’d have to make it up to the cat after our incident earlier in the day. I also knew that when Ian saw we had a new travelling companion he was unlikely to be in a happy or forgiving mood. I could already picture the thundery disgust and disappointment all over his big flat ginger face.

Thinking about it The Raw Shark Texts is also a book about making every word you use matter, and the Steven Hall does just that. He also makes one of those tricky books which once you have read it you find really difficult to explain. If you love books and words and are prepared to let an author take you completely outside your comfort zone (so basically a ‘reader’) then I highly recommend you give this a try. It is an intelligent ‘conceptual’ thriller if ever there was one, and brilliantly written, crafted and plotted at that. Who knew that a 50-page flipbook section of an approaching shark could genuinely scare me?

If you would like to hear more thoughts on The Raw Shark Texts then do head to this episode of Hear Read This! where Rob, Kate, Gavin and I discuss it. Also, as always, if you have read it then let me know your thoughts on how you found it, if you loved it, what you made of the concept and how on earth they are going to make a movie of it?

1 Comment

Filed under Books of 2014, Canongate Publishing, Review, Steven Hall

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

Sometimes I think that we all need to read books that take us out of our comfort zone don’t we. In fact that can be a main factor of why people join book groups be they in the flesh, like the Manchester Book Club which I have just started reading ‘The Master and Margarita’ for,  or online, as I am with the Readers Summer Book Club. One title that I was insistent should be on the Summer Book Club list, because I wanted to read it and test myself, was Ernest Cline’s novel ‘Ready Player One’ which with its mixture of science fiction and dystopian themes I thought would be rather a test and a change from my usual reads.

Arrow Books, paperback, 2012, fiction, 384 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

The earth we meet in ‘Ready Player One’ is not a pleasant one. It is 2044 and humans have consumed the entire world’s oil, famine and poverty are widespread and the climate is pretty much ruined. The world is such a dreadful place that most people find themselves escaping it by plugging into the OASIS, a virtual utopia where you can become anyone you want in one of the ten thousand planets available online.

Yes, humans are escaping their lives by living virtual ones. However when the founder of OASIS, James Halliday, dies he makes the OASIS an even more exciting and dangerous place by leaving all his money (billions) and control of the OASIS to whomever can find a hidden set of keys within the OASIS on the biggest, and most riddle filled, quest that the virtual world has ever seen. Our narrator, Wade Watts, a young guy living in the poverty ridden stacks (trailers piled high shared by multiple families) with his unloving aunty is one such man, and he has not long found the first of the keys.

Phew! That looks like quite a synopsis but actually there are no spoilers in that and really I have only given you the very beginnings of the story as you join it, though I won’t give much else away because part of the fun of ‘Ready Player One’ is following Wade and his competitors, some good some very bad, as they try to solve the riddles Halliday has left them in a virtual world of endless possibilities.

‘A small mirror was mounted inside my locker door, and I caught a glimpse of my virtual self as I closed it. I’d designed my avatar’s face and body to look, more or less, like my own. My avatar had a slightly smaller nose than me, and he was taller, and thinner. And more muscular. And he didn’t have any teenage acne. But aside from all these minor details, we looked more or less identical. The school’s strictly enforced dress code required that all students avatars be human, and of the same gender and age as the student. No giant two-headed hermaphrodite demon unicorn avatars were allowed. Not on school grounds, anyway.’

I have to admit that when I knew this virtual world held around ten thousand planets within it I almost let out an inward grown. I pictured in my head a book that would never end because it has these endless places that could be explored; this isn’t the case at all. Ernest Cline clearly had a framework set in mind, the plotting of this novel and its riddles must have been incredibly hard work and meticulously done, and so you go on an exciting journey where the possibilities are endless but because there is a goal the characters remain quite focused yet there are of course thrills and twists along the way too, all as Halliday had planned you imagine. There is also much humour thrown in along the way which really adds to the enjoyment and you almost feel like you are playing a game as you read. It reminded me of the ‘fighting fantasy’ game books I played as a teenager by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone where you had to chose which page you would turn to next and a scenario where you were the hero played out… I always died, I risked too much (I bet none of you would even have thought I would have played these games, ha). In ‘Ready Player One’ we the reader can’t decide or die but the characters can, the homage seemed to be there though.

I think actually this feeling of those game books is a purposeful one by Cline as this book is also really a huge nostalgia fest and homage to the 1980’s, as much as it is a geek fest to comics, video games etc. This could have been alienating, I was after all only born in 1982, yet I got a lot of the references (the fact She-Ra was mentioned in this book won it brownie points, I loved that fact Halliday’s funeral was superimposed over a funeral scene in ‘Heathers’ too) and even when I didn’t get all the jokes it didn’t matter. I was really impressed by the way Cline managed this and liked the additional twist this gave to the book, I think Cline’s passion came through and I found myself reminiscing and embracing my not so long forgotten inner geek.

If I had to draw out any quibbles I had with the book the first would be that just on occasion I sometimes couldn’t work out if we were in the OASIS or back on earth in 2044, and occasionally I did get a little lost in the OASIS but I was expecting this, in fact I was expecting to do it a hell of a lot more than I did. The other slight issue was that because the book is such an epic adventure and because so much of it is set in the virtual world I didn’t really feel like I got to know any of the characters, apart from Wade, as much as I would have liked to. You do get snippets of their back stories but I liked them and wanted more, which is a compliment, and as most of the time we know them as their avatars it is expected they might be a little one dimensional as they project who they want to be known as. That said there is a love story and a real tale of friendship in this novel.

I really, really enjoyed ‘Ready Player One’. I wasn’t sure it would be my kind of book at all but the adventure and story really took hold of me, along with the humour, and I was gripped. Ignore the fact that it’s got quite a sci-fi twist, or the fact it may be deemed as a tale for those who want the 80’s nostalgia because it is more than that. It’s a funny, rollicking and escapist read that I thoroughly recommend.

Who else has read this and what did you think? Had you initially been put off a little by the premise at all? If you are a diehard sci-fi fan what were your thoughts?

This was a book  I read for The Readers Summer Book Club, alas due to some complications we have had to postpone the show with Ernest, hopefully we will be able to record one soon.

22 Comments

Filed under Books of 2012, Ernest Cline, Review, The Readers Podcast, The Readers Summer Book Club

(Some of My) Summer Reading…

As it is just two weeks away, I thought I would give you a reminder that The Readers Summer Book Club is just around the corner. I am not suggesting that you read every single one of the eight books on the list, though if you wanted to that would be lovely (and they are available in libraries here there and everywhere from what we gather, so we aren’t trying to flog books) as we would love to get as many of you, wherever in the world you are, taking part in what we hope is going to be a worldwide book club.

Here is a picture of all the books in the order we are reading them (I have read three now and liked every single one and I am not just saying that) with the dates below…

28th May – The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
4th June – Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
11th June – Packing for Mars by Mary Roach
18th June – Bleakley Hall by Elaine di Rollo
25th June – Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
2nd July – Now You See Me by S.J Bolton
9th July – Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord
16th July – Pure by Andrew Miller

We are still looking for victims volunteers to join us on ‘the discussion panel’ part of the show, so if you have read any of these already, or you want to (and there is a free copy of the book if you do) and would like to speak to us on Skype with some other readers about them, love them or loathe them, then we would love to hear from you via bookbasedbanter@gmail.com you can find more out about the summer shows here too.

What has been lovely to learn is that people are meeting up to discuss the books in the flesh too, and there is proof if you look at one of our goodreads forum threads. I will be talking about how books bring people together tomorrow. Interestingly, and on a similar theme, Gavin and I (with our OH’s) will be meeting in Cardiff next week and actually spending time with him face to face rather than on Skype. I am so excited about it I could burst, and meeting Gavin too. Ha! And seriously, please do let us know if you would like to join in and your thoughts on the books.

P.S if you are a Readers listener the podcast will be up later today, there was a technical fault, oops (just as there was with a post saying The Green Carnation Prize would be relaunching today when it is in fact next Monday the 21st, dear oh dear).

9 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts, The Readers Podcast

The Readers Summer Book Club 2012

One of the projects I have been working on while away from the blogosphere for some time is The Readers Summer Book Club. I am really rather excited about this particular book based project because it is one that myself and the lovely Gavin have designed to be able to include all of you, no matter where in the world you are.

I try not to mention The Readers too much on here. I worry you will either think it’s using the blog for self promotion or come across as being a bit smug. My intention is never to be either of those things, if I bang on and on about something it is no doubt simply because I am bloody excited about it… so there! Anyway, as I say only too often on the show, ‘moving swiftly on…’

Recording the readers over the last six months has become one of my favourite parts of every week. Whilst I have only met Gavin in the flesh once, briefly, through endless hours of recording he has become a true friend. Recording a show takes roughly 2 – 3 hours and lots of editing afterwards (though if you are a subscriber and got an early version of Mondays episode you will notice there was an editing slip up and me saying ‘I couldn’t be a****d to say goodbye’ – how rude, many apologies). I can guarantee in that two hours of recording I will laugh the most I do at any point during the week, with the exception of Sarah Millican’s TV show maybe, for as well as the bookish banter that makes the show there is at least one hour of gossip and general madness that we cut but which adds to my week. So a little bit of thanks and a shout out to Gavin there, he’s ace, erm shall I get back on track and stop with the schmaltz?

Back to The Readers Summer Book Club 2012 though. A few episodes ago we were waffling on about Richard and Judy’s Book Club and the TV Book Club. We like both, don’t get us wrong, but when we were talking about it I was thinking ‘why don’t we do a book club?’ After all we have listeners all over the world, thanks to the joy of the internet, and what an interesting way of bringing a real mix of people together as we could have some of them on Skype with us to discuss the books and send in mp3 reviews etc. So the idea was born, the publishers contacted for submissions, and blow me down we got 146 suggested titles! Now, a good few weeks later, we have the final eight…

I am a little in love with this selection of books, if I say so myself. I think they show exactly where myself and Gavin’s taste for books merge and also reflects the fact that not everyone wants a throwaway read on their holiday. Reactions have been interesting both on GoodReads and on blogs like Curiosity Killed The Bookworm, Dog Ear Discs and Alex in Leeds, and part of what we wanted was to get people talking about the list, we are all about book based banter after all, but we didn’t make them calculatedly or to particularly surprise anyone (apparently I said this, but don’t remember doing so) because we haven’t read any of them. In fact scrap that, we have now both read ‘Pure’ as we are interviewing Andrew Miller tonight as he is a very busy man, but we hadn’t read any books on the list before we announced it, we may have dipped in but it was all done on what we fancied reading and might test us both a little (the fact I chose Ernest Cline, for example), I would say, and not as a plug, that if you want to hear why we chose them have a listen to the latest episode and you will see.

So how can you get involved (and I really would love you all to)? Well, the way the show will work is that Gavin and I will interview the author for the first part of the show, asking any questions you have sent in (thanks for those of you who have sent in some for Andrew Miller later, keep them coming) the second part requires three guests who will join Gavin and I on Skype to talk about the book like a real book group, only recorded for 30 minutes. We need volunteers for this bit!!! We would also love mp3 reviews, or written ones we can pop on The Readers website which you can email to me savidgereads@gmail.com or bookbasedbanter@gmail.com  and discussion points too. So get involved!!!

For more info you can visit The Readers website, where you can listen to the special Readers Summer Book Club show (dates for each shows ‘airing’ will be up next week, we may swap some around due to international release dates). But while you are here, before you whizz over there, what do you think of the list? Have you read any? Keen to? Oh, and please spread the word, lets get lots of people joining in!!

36 Comments

Filed under Book Group, Book Podcasts, The Readers Podcast