Tue, 15 Dec 2020
Farewell to a Master

Very sad to hear of the death of John le Carré; I had just bought three of his novels at a charity shop. If I ever see any books of his going cheaply and I have not read them, I always buy.

I was late to come to him as an author, only picking up and reading The Spy Who Came in from the Cold a few years ago. Since then, I've read quite a few but am lucky to still have many left to read for the first time. Le Carré is one of those authors that makes you realise the difference in quality between the merely pedestrian and the masterful.

I read his memoir recently, The Pigeon Tunnel, and what an amazing selection of stories from his interesting life. This includes some amusing anecdotes about Liz Taylor and Richard Burton during the making of the film. Le Carré's set pieces were always absolutely beautifully put together and could be mesmerising. Wonderful dialog, believeable characters.

Thank goodness he left us so many books to read! Goodbye David Cornwell.


Sun, 13 Dec 2020
Seveneves

Seveneves
By Neal Stephenson

Score: 4/5

I've had Neal Stephenson's door-stop sized novel on my shelf for a few years now but never managed to get around to reading it. It's a big book and that meant weighing up the big investment of time. This is a hangover if being disappointed in the past with some of his work (e.g. the "Baroque Cycle" trilogy); but I loved his older stuff and the novel Anathem from 2008.

Seveneves is about the end of the world. An "agent" of unknown type causes the Moon to explode into large fragments that hang around in orbit initially. However, they start banging into each other and people realise that these pieces will soon start falling onto earth and rain down destruction as they fragment: an exponential process. A two year grace period before the "hard rain" falls lets the world plan and execute a massive effort to get enough people and materiel into orbit to save human civilisation.

Stephenson uses this catastrophe to create a big story about the politics and science behind such a huge undertaking as this. He always loves the science aspect and Sevensves is a hard science-fiction novel. As such, he mainly concentrates on the physics and engineering parts but, since we need to ensure the survival of the species, also touches on the genetic. So, orbital mechanics, propulsion systems, robotics plus DNA and medical science. Big rocks and asteroid mining. The book is very good on just how dangerous space is to humans. Some people are slightly upset that the book splits towards the end and transports us into the far future (5000 years) to see the end of the planetary destruction and what comes after. I liked this (long) finale and the fact he didn't split the story into two books.

Although a lot of bad things happen here, the message is still one of ingenuity and hope. When he can reign himself in, Stephenson is an excellent writer.