The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

The Dreamers is surreal novel about how little we understand of our minds, especially our dreaming selves. What is the difference between what is real and what is dreamt when we can feel and experience things so clearly in dreams?

It all begins when one college girl, in a small town in California, falls into a sleep from which no one can wake her. Slowly, over time, more and more people fall sick, drifting into sleep at times and places that leave them undiscovered, in danger, or eventually found and hooked up to drips and feeding tubes while people wait and hope for them to wake up. Continue reading

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Korede’s younger sister is very beautiful. Her charms enslave people, even Korede. Such a sweet innocent face could surely never wield her father’s antique knife? One might believe it of ungainly, sensible Korede, but Ayoola? Surely not. She is too small, too delicate, too sweet.

As Korede marks off man number three in her notebook, she recognises that her sister, by definition, is now a serial killer. But what do we do to keep those we love from harm? What are we prepared to sacrifice to keep them from a life of imprisonment? Continue reading

The Thing Itself by Adam Roberts

The story begins when Charles travels to Antarctica with Roy Curtius in 1986 to search for signs of alien life. Roy is obsessed with Kant and his certainty that humans define the universe by what they can perceive through the limits of their senses and imaginations, rather than the thing-in-itself, the ding an sich, which exists outside of our ability to perceive it. He doesn’t have friends and therefore receives no letters.

Charles sells him one of his letters for £10 and Roy has an idea. Continue reading

Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

I loved this book. Friday Black is a brilliantly provocative collection of stories that weave the worst of our present into a terrifyingly real near future, filled with characters we fear and worry over. The writing is sharp, precise but unfussy. There is definitely a George Saunders influence (I’m thinking some of my favourite stories like ‘The Semplica Girl Diaries’), but Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah is very much himself. A Nigerian history of story runs within the tales twisting the visions of the future in new ways. Continue reading

99 Nights in Logar by by Jamil Jan Kochai

Set in 2005 on a family holiday home to Afghanistan, Marwand has come all the way from America to visit his family in Logar. Staying predominantly with his mother’s family because his father’s home and family were devastated during previous wars, Marwand is most looking forward to seeing the family dog. Since arriving in America, he has been taught that dogs should be trained with rewards and love and he carries with him guilt over torturing the dog when it was still a puppy.

The first thing he does is rush to the dog to make a amends, but Budabash is a fierce guard dog kept on a chain. Budabash eats off the tip of Marwand’s finger. Continue reading

Hazards of Time Travel by Joyce Carol Oates

Adriane Strohl, a seventeen-year-old high school student living in the near future in the North American States, a reconstituted United States including Canada and Mexico, expresses her curiosity about the world at the rehearsal of her graduation speech and is arrested for treason against the state and questioning authority.

Her punishment is to be exiled to a university in Zone 9. This turns out to be Wainscotia University in Wisconsin USA in 1959 where she is forbidden to offer any knowledge of the future or to enter into intimate relationships.

The idea of this transportation, of what it might be to exile someone to the past in the hope that their transgressive personalities might be changed through the loss of their family, friends and technology, makes Hazards of Time Travel a compelling idea. In reality, the book has a tendency to meander. It’s hard to grasp how the novel hangs together as its main character has a shifting awareness of her state. There is an experimental feel to the way the novel unfolds, at one point moving from the first person to an alternative group perspective. And whilst this experimental feel is true to the manipulative possibilities of science and governmental control, there is a part of me that longs for the novel to step outside of the confines of romantic obsession, or to form a greater cohesive narrative. In the end, I’m as unsure of what to feel or believe as Adriane and though this may be the point, it leaves a rather empty feeling on the palate of the mind. Continue reading

The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

Three sisters, Grace, Lia and Sky live in a large house that used to be a retreat for suffering women seeking to heal themselves from the wrongs of men. The sisters live there with their father and mother. They undergo treatments and cures, they prepare themselves for the fight against the contaminated world outside the parameters of the house. They survive on goods their father brings from the mainland. He sails away for three days, trading talismans that the women sew, wearing a white suit to deflect contamination.

The rituals and treatments, the cures, are cruel, designed to test obedience and strength, to keep their womanly and dangerous feelings in check.

Then their father is gone with one of the boats. A blood stained shoe washes up on the shore. What will they do now he is gone? Continue reading

Circe by Madeline Miller

I enjoyed reading The Song of Achilles and was excited about turning the pages of Circe. I was not disappointed.

The more I read, the more I thought about the nature of storytelling, the enjoyment it takes in reflecting upon narrative tropes, upon stories of the past, about how it turns life and truth into narrative by retelling those old tropes and stories in new guises. In a way, Circe is the Odyssey newly told, or perhaps the battle between gods and their relationship to mortals newly told. The female perspective is the most delicious of changes and the choice of Circe, banished to her island, her voice weak as a mortals, her beauty dim for a goddess, makes the story more interesting. We see old tales from a perspective that is both divine and at the outskirts of that divinity, able to see it from the outside and judge its flaws. Continue reading

Kudos by Rachel Cusk

I’d been looking forward to reading this novel for such a number of weeks that perhaps my longing to read led to an unnecessary level of anticipation which was undoubtedly going to cause disappointment. It isn’t that I didn’t like this novel, or enjoy the writing in the same way that I enjoyed the writing of the other two novels in the trilogy, I think it’s that I expected more, I wanted it to go further than it did. Continue reading

I Still Dream by James Smythe

Based around the race to create artificial intelligence, mostly begun as computers built to win games, I Still Dream is a fascinating exploration of what it means to be conscious and of the importance of teaching morality.

Laura Bow uses a slow dial up internet connection to create a computer programme in her spare time. Having lost her father at a young age, she creates a programme that will listen, store information, learn how to ask and look after her well-being.

Her father was also a programmer, creating something that learnt how to manage accounting systems and filter knowledge. Laura goes on to work at the company he helped to start and her programme ends up going head to head with her father’s in more ways than one.

To say more about the plot would undoubtedly spoil the novel, but there are some fun 80s music references – her programme is called Organon from the Kate Bush Cloudbusting song – and the story is sufficiently driven by Laura’s life to allow the debate about what AI is and what it could or should be, a thematically relevant, but not always dominant, subject. Continue reading