21. The Sleeper Awakes 

The man who woke to find he owned the Earth.

Hello! It’s been fast week and as usual I have been quite busy, but here we are at novel 21 of the year The Sleeper Awakes by H.G. Wells. As you can see from the photo my copy of the novel is another Collins Clear Type Press. It included a few painted pages and generally like most of my collection has a wonderful old book smell. Unfortunately I can’t tell you when it was printed but going on that The Sleeper Awakes was first published in 1910, its probably not far behind that.

The novels I’d previously read are The Invisible Man and The First Men in the Moon but to consider that his body of work is massive, I have read relatively little. But from what I’ve read I really enjoy his work, so Wells is one of those authors I really enjoy looking out for when I’m searching specifically for Collins to add to my collection. But this is the first time Wells has really surprised me! This was a surprisingly apt novel considering the changing political landscape and the EU referendum last week.

The Sleeper Awakes by H.G. Wells

I was expecting a science fiction novel, perhaps consisting of a mythical character who has slept long and arises to cause havoc. But in actuality The Sleeper Awakes is a dystopian science fiction novel that follows a man who falls asleep in Victorian England and awakes 200 years later. Not only does he wake 200 years later, but he wakes to find that he, by sheer coincidence, that he is now Owner and Master of the Earth. His financial estate has grown and the White Council who oversee his affairs whilst he is asleep have ultimately come into control of the Earth’s greatest financial asset.

The White Council have used some of Graham’s vast wealth to establish a vast political and economic world order. At the point Graham wakes, the Council place Graham under house arrest, unsure what to do with him. Meanwhile the people of the city are in excited revolution, as the Sleeper has finally awoken! There is great lore and myth around the fabled Sleeper, although Graham doesn’t know it, the world has changed beyond his Victorian Sensibilities. His questions go unanswered until a group of rebels from the outside rescue him, claiming the White Council are plotting to kill him.

Unconvinced but unwilling to remain a prisoner, Graham leaves and arrives in the confusion of rebellion. Separated from his rescuers he questions an old man who explains the story of the Sleeper. The White Council invested his wealth to buy industries and political entities of half the world. Ultimately establishing a Plutocracy and sweeping away parliament and monarchy. The Sleeper himself is just a figurehead and quite innocent in the implementation of any sort of power that has been gathered to his name.

Graham finally meets Ostrog the leader of the rebels, who has unseated the White Council. Ostrog retains power whilst Graham explores a brief carefree existence and knowledge that is abundant and strange to him. This carefree interlude ends when Graham is told that the lower classes still suffer regardless of the revolution. Graham investigates this new social order himself and finds Slavery is the backbone of the city, the family unit is broken, religion is akin to advertising, euthanasia is particularly common and the elderly few, and pleasure cities of unspecified joys are readily available.

As surprising as it was, I enjoyed this novel, it is not my favourite dystopian novel, but it certainly gives food for thought on some of the more recent novels I’ve read lately. The Factions in Divergent for example, are similar to the social divisions within The Sleeper Awakes. Two other comparisons on the general feel of the novel are 1984 (Orwell) and Brave New World (Huxley).

More than anything reading this novel has really reinforced to me just how much I would like to read more of this body of work. This is certainly a novel that provided a bizarre handshake to current affairs and it’s very likely I’ll return to it.

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20. Pollen 

Or, Plants vs. Zombies vs. Dreams.

Let’s see, where do I begin? Hello! Wow, novel no.20 this year and we’re six months in, let’s just reflect on that for a moment, what a wonderful year it’s been so far. It has been a little while, I have been trying to read at a gentler pace lately which was wonderful as it made Pollen last just that tiny bit longer. I really enjoyed this one so very much. I have read Vurt and it was a wonderful introduction to Noon’s writing and his world. Which is a little complicated, a little psychedelic, and a melting pot of cyberpunk rampage.

Pollen – Jeff Noon

When I say it’s a little complicated, I mean it’s actually rather simple but there is a lot going on in Pollen, there are layers of motion and layers upon layers in this novel, think the film InceptionPollen follows Vurt’s initial steps. This is set in a Manchester that has experienced dream innovation and infertility. With the fertility scare, drugs appeared to blend the species, so this is a world in which dogs, humans, zombies, pures, shadows and robots, mix and blend seamlessly. The city is a melting pot of species, frictions, and a thriving pirate broadcaster Gumbo YaYa who knows more than the police. But that’s not all.

This is a world which has become closely in touch with the Vurt, the discovery of which has drawn this dream world into a close parallel existence with reality. So much so that it has become so closely intertwined with every day life that it has replaced the majority of television, phone calls are unnecessary, has innovated transport and the A to Z is unnecessary, spectating football, prisons, and near enough every other conceivable area of society is easier and more of an experience with the aid of the Vurt.

Think dreamscape, think a dreamscape that doesn’t shut down when the dreamer stops dreaming. Think dreamscape full of creatures that exist outside of reality because of the dreamers but then have their own wants and ambitions and stories outside of the dreamers. Either way, the Vurt is almost entirely integrated with reality, and the dreamless, who cannot dream are a tiny but significant minority.

The narrative begins with Shadowcop Sibyl Jones investigating the murder of the rogue taxi driver Coyote and leads her down a path that takes her to her estranged daughter. While this investigation is going on, the pollen count rises to dangerous levels, hay fever takes hold of the city and flora unlike anything seen before begins to strangle the city. The flora and the pollen count seem to point back to Coyote’s last fare, the strange beautiful flower girl, Persephone and the Vurt itself.

I can’t tell you just how much I enjoyed this novel. The characterization in this novel is masterful, deft, and effortless. These are dynamic interesting creatures who are as vivid, bright, and as interesting as the world they belong to. Noon’s writing style is unexpected, it whets the appetite, it delights, it excites, it intrigues. The description of plant life is so vivid and wet with sex, you will expect the novel to start dripping with plant sap at any moment.

Pollen delivers a story with such effortless and organic precision and it is engrossingly likeable. It is fun, it’s tentative, it’s clever, it’s a real escape. It is bold and shouts itself with abandon and confidence. It juggles so many different elements and doesn’t drop them once! There is so much to fit in one blog post and really I am not doing it justice in the slightest. This has got to be one of my favourite reads this year. Don’t consider it. Just buy it. Read it. Devour it. Dream it.

19. The Kite Runner

Ahoy! Well it feels like weeks since I last posted and even longer since I last finished a book. Perhaps I over did myself last month in reading 6 books in 30 days. But here’s something to rejoice in, I have finally finished The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini after a very lazy Sunday. This is a novel that I saw everywhere for a time shoulder to shoulder with the Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. It has been one of those on my ‘to read’ list for a very long time.

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

I finally bit the bullet a while ago and read A Thousand Splendid Suns by Hosseini and thoroughly enjoyed it and have become very interested in the history of Afghanistan. Both of these novels paint Afghanistan in the way you would expect given the political turmoils that have ripped the country to shreds over the last fifty years. But Hosseini does something brilliant with his novels, war is the backdrop woven into a rich tapestry, foregrounded are of the treatment of minorities, women, and arbitrary nature of persistent violence. I have vivid recollections of Splendid Suns and I dare say I won’t forget Kite Runner in a hurry either.

The Kite Runner is Amir’s story, his childhood in an Afghanistan that sees the Soviet occupation and then his escape to America and eventual, brief, return to the Middle East. This is much more than straightforward narrative. Amir is a complex character, he is a bit of a coward in childhood and finds his Hazara best friend, Hassan, pulling him out of trouble most of the time. Amir also struggles with insecurities and is a bookish character who discovers the love of writing.

Hassan, although lower in social standing than Amir and technically a servant to the house, is a sweet and humble character. Amir and Hassan are thick as thieves though the majority of their childhood. Until, the biggest event of their young lives alters their relationship.

The neighbourhood’s Kite Fighting tournament, is Amir’s certain way to win the affections of his aloof father. With Hassan helping him and as his Kite Runner (retrieving fallen kites once they have fallen from the sky), the pair achieve victory. But during the abandon of victory whilst Hassan is on his way collecting the final fallen kite (the most coveted of prizes) something terrible happens to him at the hands of the local thugs, and Amir is unfortunate enough to witness it. Amir spends months unable to meet Hassan’s eye and then the majority of his life grief and guilt stricken over not stepping into defend his friend.

This is one of those narratives that winds and rolls and reflects life in it’s unfortunate circumstances. It’s messy, people are complicated, Amir has a really difficult journey and in places this is a very sad novel. It’s a novel of conflict and struggle and not just in the sense that the back drop is a country at war with itself and everyone else. It was so dismal in places it took me quite a while to get through I think. However the last third of it was a breeze, and I was quite determined and hopeful for Amir.

I have failed to mention that Hosseini’s writing is again, wonderful. It’s flawlessly engaging and vivid. This novel fails to completely tie everything up neatly, but it does thankfully end on a hopeful note after dealing with some very harsh realities. Overall I did enjoy this novel, but not as much as A Thousand Splendid Suns. 

18. Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates

This is a very guilty secret of mine. Miss. Phryne Fisher and I are not strangers. I am well acquainted with two seasons of the Australian TV Show, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, set in the 30s, featuring the honourable Phryne Fisher, Lady Detective. I love that this is my guilty secret, as Miss. Phryne Fisher (played by Essie Davis) is a magnificent character. I have also introduced my Mum to Phryne, and subsequently bought this novel for her. I was a little worried I wouldn’t enjoy it and that I would thoroughly unimpressed.

I really enjoy the period of time. I enjoy the music, the gin, the suits, the flapper girls, the wonderful lifestyle of this intelligent Lady Detective who is full of sass. I love the character tensions and the fun and just how light and endearing it is. This is no Miss. Marple, no quiet village, no stuffy story, Phryne Fisher is a completely different creature. I think that on the quiet, I may have a crush on Miss. Fisher and as characters go there are worse fictional socialites to adore.

Miss. Phryne Fisher Investigates – Kerry Greenwood

The novel begins at a dinner party. Phryne Fisher is bored, frustrated by her life in London and ready for some excitement. After uncovering a poorly planned theft at the dinner party, Phryne is engaged to investigate the welfare of a respectable couple’s daughter. It just so happens that Lydia is in Australia and Phryne Fisher sees it as a perfect excuse for a little excitement and to turn her hand at being a Lady Detective. Phryne and her old friend Dr. Elizabeth MacMillan, journey to Australia together and arrive in a far more elaborate plot than they were expecting. Russian dancers, sex, cocaine, and illegal abortionists corner every street.

The cast of characters are wonderful, there is much to love in Miss. Fisher. Unafraid and bold, she moves through social circles in an array of beautiful costumes but is also not afraid to get her hands dirty. She has her little gun and her other charms and she knows how to use them. She has no intention to marry or have children and is adamant in her own opinions and in her loyalty to her friends. Miss. Fisher is a ‘good’ character, but she has her streaks of scandal and ‘bad’ but they are simply playful and perhaps only ‘bad’ within the context of the time. Her promiscuity and some of the company she keeps are two examples, that add to her reputation and cause rumours.

This is such an enjoyable read and is surprising in its richness. The writing is as bold as the characters and sometimes a little comic. But any comedy doesn’t detract from the story it simply makes it more enjoyable. There is a very strong sense of voice attributed to Miss. Fisher which to my delighted surprise is almost identical to the characterisation within the TV show. I would read this again in a heartbeat, if anyone would like to send me the rest of the set I will gladly read all of them back to back!

This isn’t a profound novel, but it’s fun and light and a good escape from the day to day and certainly a good introduction to interesting storytelling and scandal and fierce wonderful women.