August 2nd, 2008


August Books 3) The Possibility of an Island

3) The Possibility of an Island, by Michel Houllebecq

I was rather bracing myself for this one, given Houellebecq's reputation for misanthropy and, well, nastiness. But it wasn't anything like as bad as I had feared it might be.

True, the protagonist is very unpleasant; a contemporary French comedian who employs a certain ambiguity in whether he is mocking or practising misogyny, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. But the plot turns out to be about his unintended involvement in the setting up of a new religion, and its reverberations centuries later when humanity has been largely replaced by enhanced clones. (Or has it? - seems to me one of the implicit questions, especially given the epilogue exploring the future world in a little more detail.)

I still didn't especially like this book, but I thought it tapped into a lot of interesting ideas and literary precedents, and there were sufficient hints that the author and narrator are different people with different views that I was not utterly appalled.

August Books 4) The Seeds of Time

4) The Seeds of Time, by John Wyndham

I got this Wyndham collection a couple of years ago, not sure if I had already read it. Well, I had read the best known stories from it - "Survival", "Pawley's Peepholes" and "Dumb Martian" - but not the other seven as far as I can remember. Wyndham claims in his introduction to have been trying to avoid the clichéd formula of the "adventure-narrative form of story", and on the whole he does so, though the stories are replete with other clichés - in particular, Wyndham's approach to time-travel is essentially as a chance to have a retake of some moral test, a theme he hits on several times here. These stories are all decent enough, but I think other Wyndham collections are stronger. Still, if you like his other work, you'll like these.