Hi! I'm Nick Murdoch. Most people come here for the tiffin recipe. I can't blame them.
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I challenged myself to write four short stories (1,500 words or more) in four weeks during April, and managed it pretty well. I also managed an edit on all of them, and I'm going to be putting them online shotly; I've already put the first one up on FictionPress (here!) and I've also created flexography as the main place to post them in as I'm not sure about FictionPress yet.
Reading Books in my Thirties
As a child I used to read a lot: The Famous Five; Narnia; The Animals of Farthing Wood; most of Roald Dahl. I had a frequently-used library card and a badge picturing a tabby cat with the caption “curl up with a book”.
At some point during my teens I discovered the world of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and while there were some sections of that I didn’t dip into, I have read, I think, at least fifty EU novels, even the utterly terrible entries. Even during my twenties I found myself dipping back in when a new EU series had finished.
During my twenties it was Iain M Banks’ Culture novels, even though I increasingly stopped enjoying the series; Peter F Hamilton’s works, even though they were a heck of a struggle at times; Richard K Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs trilogy, even though in hindsight I wasn’t even particularly enjoying them (unlikable main character, dystopian future)
So this is my pattern: I find something I like, and then I cling to it. When I ran out of familiar material during my twenties, I pretty much stopped reading.
I’ve had a couple of false restarts but I feel like I’m getting back into the habit of reading, particularly since picking up Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. I’m extremely excited for her third book later this year and in the meantime I’ve been trying to find more material so I at least have something I want to read on my Kindle or in Audible at any given time.
A couple of things I’ve noticed is that I don’t care for gloomy or “gritty” worlds: I like some optimism. I also prefer likeable protagonists. I’m okay with new worlds/series as long as the world building is done organically; ie not just pages of lore (Peter F Hamilton’s Pandora’s Star springs to mind, though at least it was used well in Judas Unchained). I also don’t like the “fantasy English” used in some novels of that genre (I’m looking at you, Tolkien).
To that end, I’m looking for recommendations! I thought I’d put a summary of what I’ve read since hitting my thirties, with ratings from 1- to 3-stars, to try to triangulate what sort of thing I like.
The Hunger Games trilogy — Suzanne Collins (started reading Feb 2016) ★★★
I loved The Hunger Games; I think I’d watched just the first film before reading the trilogy and the writing style really worked for me. Katniss was a flawed character but still identifiable, and the actual prose wasn’t too heavy for me.
The Gate to Women’s Country — Sheri S. Tepper (Jul 2016) ★★★
I struggled to get into this book, being put off by the stage play dialogue in the beginning, but once the plot started developing I was hooked. The ending still gets me thinking even all this time later.
Stories of Your Life and Others — Ted Chiang (Dec 2016) ★☆☆
I read this before seeing Arrival, which is based on the main short story in this collection. Story of Your Life is about mid-way through, and by that time it was fairly clear what Chiang’s writing style was like: big what if ideas applied to a single person but, in my opinion, failing to have any emotional impact.
Mogworld — Yahtzee Croshaw (Jun 2017) ★★☆
I got the audio book of this, read by the author (though not at his characteristic breakneck speed). It’s got a lot of dry wit in it, and a good plotline that quickly opens up beyond the initial premise. I didn’t find myself caring about the main characters; I continued for the writing style and to see where the plot ended up. A little bit gross-out at times but mostly a good read.
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry — Neil deGrasse Tyson (Aug 2017) ★☆☆
Non-fiction. Another audio book, again read by the author. It didn’t work for me; Tyson is clearly pushing a pro-science agenda here that doesn’t need to be there — I’ve already picked it up as a science book. It was, apart from that, well written, and he has a pleasant voice to listen to.
How Not To Be a Boy — Robert Webb (audio book; read by the author) (Sep 2017) ★★★
Non-fiction. Audio book, read by the author. I’d recommend the audio book specifically over the text version here; it’s Robert Webb after all: he knows how to deliver it. The book itself is funny, heartbreaking, informative, and wonderfully feminist: a break down of his life and how the patriarchy affected it, written in a very candid and relatable way.
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet — Becky Chambers (Oct 2018) ★★★
A wonderful book. The main criticisms of it I’ve heard is that the plot doesn’t get going for quite a while, but the people and world the book introduces is done in such an enjoyable way; I don’t think the plot is the main part of the novel. It has more of a Firefly sense of many episodes of travelling around with lots of lovely characters.
A Closed and Common Orbit — Becky Chambers (Feb 2018) ★★★
Very different in style to Small Angry Planet; this one took two minor characters from the first book and dived into their history and current lives. The plot, despite jumping between two time periods, feels quite linear and even slow-paced, but once again, it’s a book you can just curl up with and absorb.
Leviathan Wakes — James S. A. Corey (Feb 2018) ★☆☆
Having raced through A Closed and Common Orbit I realised I was going to be without reading material on holiday, and I googled around for books similar to Small Angry Planet. One forum post suggested Leviathan Wakes so I picked it up. I have to say, I have no idea what the person in that forum was thinking. While they’re both set in space and feature a captain with a small crew, the tone and characters are miles apart. I couldn’t identify with either of the POV characters; there was gross-out body horror for no good reason; and the only two women, secondary characters, were victims and/or love interests. I finished it just to see where the authors were going with it, and was disappointed.
Children of Blood and Bone — Tomi Adeyemi (Mar 2018) ★★★
I’m currently reading this, and really enjoying it. The map at the start is off-putting (any time I see a book with one, I just think great, this book needs a reference guide) but actually the world building is done very naturally and the narrative is interesting from the first page. The main character is headstrong without being idiotic, and the plot so far is keeping me interested, though as of Chapter 26 it is stretching my suspension of disbelief a little.
So there we go. Have you read any of the above; what books would you recommend me? How do you find new books to read and stay in the habit of reading?
After the first batch of snow had melted, the weather decided to have an encore. This time it snowed slightly more, though the temperature was closer to zero. We measured the build-up on the table outside and the snow was 24cm deep.