In these troubled times when some of the more worrying possibilities from science fiction seem close to reality – personally I was hoping for jet-packs and utopian cities on Mars but hey – there are those who wish to continue reading about fictional apocalypse, plagues and viruses, and others who definitely do not!
Well Rosewater, Tade Thompson’s debut from 2018, would make a good half-way house. It contains enough fast-paced, cyber-tech, thriller action to stop you focussing too much on uncomfortably-familiar plotlines such as the rapid spread of alien fungal spores or the disease killing off a team of secret government telepaths.
Still with me? Cool. Rosewater won the Arthur C. Clarke award in 2019, the most prestigious science fiction award in the UK, so it’s far from just me recommending this one. Thompson was born in London, and grew up in Nigeria, returning to study medicine and social anthropology at Brunel University, which is local to us here in Hillingdon.
A vision of Nigeria in 2066 forms the setting for Rosewater, in which London has been engulfed and the US rendered out-of-communication by a global alien appearance. These mysterious extraterrestrials have built a dome around a city in rural Nigeria, which causes people in its vicinity to be miraculously healed and even the dead to reawaken into a kind of zombie-state. Our protagonist Kaaro is a “sensitive”, one of those government telepaths I mentioned, who is out to interrogate terrorist suspects using his special skills and find out why his colleagues are dying off. Along the way he gets tangled up in some strange virtual worlds, a plot to colonise humankind, and some kidnapping, for good measure.
If this all sounds complex… well, it is. But Thompson’s writing is gritty and fluid, and his characters are convincing and complex, so I was definitely hooked from the outset and more than willing to piece it all together. I found myself waiting for some key revelations about the nature of the aliens which didn’t arrive in this novel – so I immediately bought the sequel, Rosewater: Insurrection. If you love your cyberpunk, then Thompson’s book will certainly appeal to fans of William Gibson and Altered Carbon, while there’s plenty here for lovers of hard science fiction, space opera, and weird science fiction. Kaaro’s role is part-spy, part-hitman, and there’s plenty of tropes from the crime thriller, so I’d say that Thompson’s success can be partly attributed to his ability to effortlessly combine many genres and styles into an enticing story.
The acclaimed director Quentin Tarantino recently released his ninth film, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, in the UK. With a typically star-studded cast that includes Leonardo DeCaprio, Brad Pitt, Al Pacino and Margo Robbie, Tarantino’s film explores the Golden Age of Hollywood during the late 1960s, where a struggling former star and his stunt double strive for fame but are interrupted by the gruesome murders instigated by cult-leader Charles Manson. Despite controversy relating to accusations of providing minimal spoken parts for women actors, of sensationalism regarding treatment of living victims, and casual rewriting of history, amongst others – it just wouldn’t be a Tarantino film without controversy would it? – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will no doubt go on to vast success.
Regardless of your opinion of the film, this is a good time to look at some other stories – mostly prose fiction in this case – that deal with the myths and magic of Hollywood during its struggling years as well as in its heyday. There are many examples out there, so I’ve chosen a few that I think are interesting, though not necessarily the obvious ones, presented in chronological rather than qualitative order. Oh, and a couple of books about the Manson murders as well, which are tangentially about Hollywood too, if you like that sort of thing.
The Day of the Locust, Nathanael West (1939)
By all accounts Once Upon a Time in Hollywood maintains the director’s reputation for a pretty bonkers approach to filmmaking. There’s something about Hollywood itself that lends itself to this approach more generally, and Nathanael West’s classic novel is no exception. Painter protagonist Tod Hackett becomes inspired whilst working on the stage design for a film The Battle of Waterloo, falls in love with an aspiring actress, and becomes increasingly disconnected from reality – as have most of the novel’s larger-than-life cast of characters. In Hollywood, reality and fiction blur with disastrous results. The climactic riot at the film’s premiere is so strange and unforgettable that it secured the book’s legacy in popular culture for many years to come, inspiring musicians (such as Bob Dylan), TV shows, films, theatre, and most famously the name of one of America’s most lovable cartoon dads – Homer Simpson – named after one of Tod’s friends.
Helter Skelter, Vincent Bugliosi (1974)
I’d also highly recommend this true crime classic Helter Skelter, an account of the trial of Charles Manson and his ‘family’ written by the prosecutor Bugliosi. As such, it’s a decidedly more sober account than Tarantino, with Bugliosi coming across as a stalwart, level-headed professional. What I like about this book is that Bugliosi tells a really gripping story without being sensational: the real account of the murders, and especially the trial itself, is so bizarre and unprecedented that it doesn’t need any exaggeration to be interesting. Bugliosi manages to combine a degree of sympathy and respect for Manson and his followers – many of whom experienced pretty terrible upbringings – with a steely determination to see that they receive justice for their heinous crimes; in fact Manson seems to have respected Bugliosi in return, even though the prosecution pushed for the death penalty. Given that the most famous of Manson’s victims, Sharon Tate, was a rising Hollywood star married to famous director Roman Polanski, you’ll find out a fair bit about Hollywood towards the end of its Golden Age here, too.
Postcards From the Edge, Carrie Fisher (1987)
Carrie Fisher will always be best known as Princess Leia in the Star Wars franchise, but she also appeared in many other classic films including The Blues Brothers and When Harry Met Sally, worked significantly on the scripts of other big films (like The Wedding Singer and Sister Act) and published several semi-autobiographical novels, of which Postcards From The Edge is the best known. So who better to reveal some of the truth behind the glamour of Hollywood to us ordinary folk? Well I’ll admit that I haven’t read it yet. But Fisher’s storied career, political/environmental activism, and eccentric, witty personality, combined with the slightly unusual way in which she’s said to blend fact and fiction in a very wry manner, mean that I really want to. If anyone out there has read it, why not comment and tell us your verdict?
Blonde, Joyce Carol Oats (2000)
Joyce Carol Oats is something of a literary heavy-weight, winning several awards for her prolific output of over 58 novels alone, let alone her publications in poetry, short stories and plays. Well Blonde is very literally a heavy weight, totalling 738 pages. The title refers to the most famous blonde of all time: Norma Jean aka Marilyn Monroe, providing a haunting and evocative portrait that aims to capture the elusive Norma behind the Marilyn facade. Oats uses a fictionalised account of Monroe’s life, with key figures cryptically anonymized – ‘C’ is probably actor Tony Curtis, for example, and ‘the Playwright’ is pretty clearly Arthur Miller, Monroe’s husband for five years – to tackle the various impressions and stereotypes of Monroe’s mercurial personality held in the popular consciousness at different times (lost and naive, vivacious and sexually-liberated, the quintessential ‘dumb blonde’, the self-destructive and tortured artist, etc.). Dark, decadent, seedy and sad, Blonde is a beautifully arranged experimental tome that exposes the grime beneath the glamour of Hollywood and is well worth the commitment.
Tell-All, Chuck Palahniuk (2010)
Writers don’t get much more disturbing, controversial or unique than Chuck Palahnuik, famous as the author of the book on which the film Fight Club was based. While Fight Club is a fine book, Tell All demonstrates that there’s much more to Palahniuk than dystopia and ‘bloke lit’. In his trademark minimalist and irreverent style, Tell All is another homage to Hollywood’s Golden Age told from the perspective of Hazel “Hazie” Coogan, a long-term friend and maid to aging actress Katherine “Miss Kathie” Kenton. Their life together has been unconventional but steady until a suspicious suitor, Webster Carlton Westward III, turns his affections on Katherine. The revelation that he has started to write a celebrity ‘tell all’ memoir about her life allows Palahniuk to play around with expectations of narrative, fame and biography – almost all in bold font, none-the-less. There are name-drops to decades of Hollywood actors on almost every page as well as a myriad of amusing anecdotes, true or otherwise. If I’m honest, it’s far from his best book (I’d go for Rant, Choke or Fight Club), but, as with all Palahniuk books, its disturbing, shocking, bleakly hilarious, bitterly satirical and compellingly absurd.
Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties, Tom O’Neill (2019)
This exposé which supposedly reveals links between the CIA and FBI and the Manson case is next on my reading list. With a title like that, it had to be. O’Neill is a journalist whose research into the case became obsessive, taking over his life. Apparently he accuses Bugliosi – prosecutor on the Manson trial – of tampering with witnesses, and in turn Bugliosi tried to smear O’Neil’s name with all sorts of horrendous allegations. There’s further accounts of bungled investigation, bribery and corruption – not to mention supposed links to that gold-mine of conspiracy-theory gibberish, the assasination of JFK. As if the story of a hippie cult murdering film-stars in random ritualistic killings in the Hollywood Hills, led by a failed folk musician who continued to manipulate his followers from a prison cell during their own trial, is not strange enough already. And given what we already know about the case, you feel that O’Neil’s account must have at least an element of truth about it. I’m looking forward to finding out…
A post by Joe Norman, Library Assistant at Manor Farm Library, Visiting Lecturer at Brunel University London, professional nerd and hairless headbanger.
On a lovely Spring afternoon in March, the Hayes End Library reading group, TGIF (Thank Goodness It’s Friday) met to discuss ‘Don’t Turn Around’ by Amanda Brooke.
She died.You’re next.
Now he’s coming for you
Ten years ago, Jen’s cousin Meg killed herself after failing to escape an abusive relationship.
Now, Meg’s ex is back and Jen’s domestic abuse helpline has started getting frightening calls from a girl who knows things about Meg – details that only the dead girl or the man who hurt her could have known…
As Jen starts to uncover the past, someone is determined to stop her. Can she save this young woman from Meg’s fate? Or is history about to repeat itself?
We all agreed that the book was a real page turner and no one could put it down. However, saying that the book could have been much shorter and one definitely felt very bored in the middle especially as there was so much repetition and description that was unnecessary.The story was believable and engrossing and although the subject matter was so taboo, the author treated it with respect. No one guessed the twist at the end and it didn’t disappoint. No one felt any sympathy for the characters and they were not likeable or relatable at all. However, we all agreed that having such strong feelings for the characters makes it more of a good read and of course it makes for better conversation at the meetings. We found that our sympathies kept changing with the twists in the story so that the characters we were sympathetic towards at the start became less so as we learnt more about them. We discussed how the story veering from the past to the present made it harder for some of the members to keep up with what was going on in the plot and how this has a very popular style of writing nowadays which doesn’t suit everyone.
The cover of the book and the blurb did not reflect the storyline at all, however it would have been attractive enough for most of us to pick it up from the shelf.
All-in-all everyone agreed that it was a real page turner and really enjoyed the story. Only one member did not finish the book and had given up reading about half way.
The group gave the book a 4 out of 5 stars rating.
Comment 1: “Is the author going to tie it up at the end or will it end up in the air?”
Comment 2: “Redeeming feature was wanting to know what happened at the end”
Comment 3: “Very clever. It was all about control.”
The bank holiday weekend started at 2pm on Friday at Botwell Green Library when we came together to discuss The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows, the popular post-world war two novel set in London and Guernsey.
Synopsis: A war-ravaged Britain is emerging from the Second World War. It’s a new start too for writer Juliet Ashton, keenly seeking out material for a new novel. Fate, however, finds its way, as the chance find by a Guernsey native of a book belonging to Juliet opens a surprising door. Soon, what began as a writerly search for inspiration will result in changes she could never anticipate.Mary Ann Shaffer, who was born in West Virginia and lived for most of her life in California, tragically passed away during the manuscript’s editing: the final drafts were completed by her niece Annie Barrows.
Told completely through letters, this is at turns humorous and at turns tragic yet easy to read and would make a great holiday read.
Individually we each enjoyed this book from cover to cover and rate the story as good or excellent.
The majority of the group would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good read and would read the author again.
Individual comments include:
“It was a nice book, letting us into life as an author during the war and life on Guernsey Island. It was heart-warming to know the warmth and caring among the community with adopting and caring for Kit” – MI
“Pleasantly surprised, loved the main character Juliet, and would have loved to have met Elizabeth. Easy to engage with the characters, they could have easily become stereotypes, but somehow they didn’t – the authors leave you enough space to think about the characters and round them out” – Tattyhead
“what a storytelling; letters flying all over the place, characters so sweet and varied, magical and easy to read. A very happy ending although so predictable” – MM
This month we are reading non-fiction nursing memoir The Language of Kindness by Christie Watson to be discussed at 2pm Friday 7 June 2019.
So far, feedback is that reading this book is tough going
Den Patrick,Kristina Perez and Samantha Shannon are three of the finest fantasy writers in the UK, having published books through major publishers, for both adult and young adult markets. Hillingdon Libraries is delighted to bring them together in the Great Barn, Ruislip, on St George’s Day, April 23rd, 2019 to speak about their rich new versions of mythical tales. I’m very pleased to be chairing the event (Here Be Dragons…) so I thought I’d take this opportunity to tell you a bit more about these writers, as well as about St George himself. We’ll get onto what links these writers to the legendary and historical figure of St George in just a second.
“My nightly craft is winged in white, a dragon of night dark sea. Swift born, dream bound and rudderless, her captain and crew are me. We’ve sailed a hundred sleeping tides where no seaman’s ever been And only my white-winged craft and I know the wonders we have seen.”
― Anne McCaffrey, Dragonsong
As I’m sure you know, St George is the patron saint of England and you will see St George’s cross on the flag of this country as well as forming part of the Union Jack. It’s also found on the flag of Barcelona and other places who acknowledge St George. It’s likely that St George was a soldier from the Roman Province of Syria Palaestina or a region of Turkey, of Greek origins and a member of the Praetorian Guard for Roman emperor Diocletian. The story goes that St George was sentenced to death for refusing to recant his Christian faith.
“He was no dragon, Dany thought, curiously calm. Fire cannot kill a dragon” ― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones
There is little doubt that he existed, but beyond this, his life passed into legend. In his recent book St George and the Dragons Michael Collins explains that there are nineteen “separate and distinctly different legends of St George in England.” The English literary tradition of St George begins in 1483 with The Golden Legend, a collection of saint’s biographies (a “ hagiography”), published by William Caxton. But there are two much earlier versions of the story, in Greek and Latin, which can be traced to the 5th or 6th centuries. The saint’s veneration dates to the 5th century with some certainty, and possibly back to the 4th. So, it’s a global story with many nations and institutions around the world acknowledging him as a patron.
But there’s an important part of this story that I haven’t mentioned yet: dragons! Den Patrick, Kristina Perez and Samantha Shannon are all writers who tell tales of our favourite, winged beasts and of romance, chivalry and magic. For example, Samantha’s latest book The Priory of the Orange Tree retells the story of St George and the Dragon for a modern, feminist audience. (It’s a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller that’s been compared to George R.R. Martin, and Samantha’s work is tipped to be the next big thing in fantasy!) The addition of the dragon legend to St George’s story dates to the 11th century, but “It was The Golden Legend that popularized the legend in the West”. The legend of Saint George and the Dragon describes the saint taming and slaying a dragon that demanded human sacrifices. The saint thereby rescues the princess chosen as the next offering.
Dragons are among humanity’s oldest myths. A similar kind of creature appears in Mesopotamian artwork from the Akkadian Period over 4,000 years ago. But they’re now more familiar from major modern works of fantasy fiction such as JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth (Smaug the Despoiler!), J.K. Rowling (the Norweigan Ridgeback or the Chinese Fireball) and George RR Martin’s Westeros stories (Viserion, Drogon, Balerion, etc.).
Often dragons are believed to have died out or banished. In Den Patrick’s latest novel Witchsign, Kimi, a dragon-speaker and princess, must seek her father’s court and win the support of his armies before news of her escape dooms her people. And the long-banished dragons are free! In Ursula le Guin’s classic stories set in Earthsea the dragons haven’t died out, but merely keep to themselves far away. In A Wizard of Earthsea, the young wizard Ged learns the true name of a dragon and stops it attacking people.
“People who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by dragons. From within.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader and the Imagination
Sometimes they sit upon piles of gold and treasure, as in Tolkein’s The Hobbit or in the Viking myths that inspired him. Or, as with the St George legend, they tend to get slain by heroic knights, like Lancelot of Camelot. Lancelot was a precursor to the Cornish knight Tristan whose love for Isolde famously turns to tragedy. Kristina Perez’s first novel Sweet Black Waves is a contemporary take on Tristan and Isolde, one of our oldest and most popular romances. As a medieval scholar Kristina’s book combines plenty of loving period detail with a storyteller’s art for drama and characterization, redrawing the developing Isolde – daughter of King Anguish of Ireland and Queen Iseult the Elder – as a fierce, defiant young woman who wishes to respect her culture traditions whilst righting its wrongs.
“My armor is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords, my claws spears, the shock of my tail a thunderbolt, my wings a hurricane, and my breath death!”
― The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
So Here Be Dragons… (Though as it turns out, there may well not have actually been any ancient maps marking the presence of our scaled friends in this manner, as this article in The Atlanticpoints out. But the Hunt-Lennox globe from 1510, owned by the New York Public Library, does indeed warn travelers to the South Coast of Asia that Here be dragons… Just in case you wanted to know.)
I hope this has rekindled the fire of your love of dragons. If you’re interested in hearing more from our three draconis quaesitor on April 23rd, don’t forget to register a free place at: firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope to see you there!
A post by Joe Norman, Library Assistant at Manor Farm Library, Visiting Lecturer at Brunel University London, professional nerd and hairless headbanger.
All quotes from Michael Collins, St George and the Dragons (England: Fonthill Media Limited, 2018) unless otherwise stated.
Avengers: Endgame is set to hit cinemas on Wednesday 24th April. Get ready to fight Thanos by reading these Avenger comics on your mobile, tablet or other electronic device for free. Perfect Easter holiday reading.
The first of a groundbreaking trilogy surrounding the infinity gems (or stones). Thanos has collected the six infinity gems and attached them to his gauntlet. This time Thanos’ goal of destroying half the universe is a mission of love for Mistress Death who is a hard person to please. All of your favourite heroes from the Marvel cinematic universe are here, in some form anyway, and Nebula has a starring role which might give a hint to what happens in Avengers: Endgame. Follow this up with The Infinity War and The Infinity Crusade.
It’s some time before Thanos returns but return he does, this time to wage a galactic war. But with The Avengers also having to battle the Builders can they defeat the Mad Titan again?
All-New, All Different Avengers
Comic events don’t get much bigger than Secret Wars when whole universes were destroyed and a new one combining previous universes was created. This is the story of what happens after as an all new, all different Avengers is formed. This one features heroes like Iron Man and Vision alongside characters you might think you know like Thor (Jane Foster), Spider-Man (Miles Morales) and Captain America (Sam Wilson) as well as Nova and Ms. Marvel. Could we be looking at an All-New, All Different Avengers after Avengers: Endgame?