Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I just finished 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith.

Originally a daily serial in The Scotsman, this collects them all into a single novel with short chapters. The chapters hold together well enough that I don't think most people would even realize it was a serial if they weren't told beforehand.

I've read the first books in two of his other series, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and The Sunday Philosopher's Club, but this is my favourite of his works so far. Like the Ladies Detective Agency books, it is a slice of life novel, but without mysteries attached. It follows an interlocking group of characters in Edinburgh through a couple of weeks/months of their lives. It's well written and interesting, in a low key kind of way, similar to the books of Maeve Binchy.

The only thing that was a little off putting is that it has the wandering point of view problem that I noticed in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, where the text will be following one character, inside their head, and then abruptly switch to another character's thoughts/feelings to get their reaction. But this is a minor quibble in an otherwise very enjoyable book.

This was an excellent recommendation from a friend.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Last night I finished Foreigner by C.J. Cherryh.

I don't know if this is set in the same universe as the other two books (Rimrunners and Heavy Time), since it starts with a starship going off course, getting lost and having to settle on an already occupied planet.

The feel of this book is completely different from the other two. It still uses a very limited first person perspective, but it isn't as frantic or claustrophobic feeling as the other two. After a few introductory settings, the main character acts as an interface between the humans and the aliens. The humans are isolated on an island to keep them from interacting with the aliens, a state of affairs that came about after misunderstandings between the two races led to a war.

In some ways, the aliens are very human-like, humanoid but larger. I think this is done to add emphasis to the narrators thoughts on how fundamentally different they are beneath the surface. The aliens do not have the same kind of emotions as humans, resulting in a very different political setup.

The book is a little frustrating to read, because during a lot of it the narrator is ignorant of what is really going on around him, and is very passive as well. He is spirited from place to place, and only has his speculations about why things are happening. Towards the end, as the part of the story about the human/alien differences develops, it gets more interesting. And by the end, we know the reasons for the other characters actions.

It looks like a long series, and I'm mixed about getting in to it, but I will probably try at least one more.