Friday Five: 5 Books That Can't Make The Kitschies' Shortlists
Friday, February 20, 2015
This week's guest, Kitschies' director Glen Mehn...
The Kitschies have been announced, so it's the start of awards season again, and you know what that means... speculation about the shortlists, what went on it, what didn't, and why.
Jared and Anne have kindly asked me to talk about five books that couldn't be on the shortlist – five books we loved reading but couldn't consider, for various reasons. That is: one of the books is by an author on the Kitschies board and the other four are by Kitschies judges.
Glaze by Kim Curran
What happens when the social network goes – literally – inside your brain? Facebook is even deader to young people in Glaze than it is in real life. And why wouldn't it be? They have Glaze, a network so pervasive that there are things you simply can't do without it.
Progressive? Curran's young people resonate: they have problems, feelings, moral ambiguity, and they even are on the cusp of recognising that the stupid adults in their lives have complex motivations as well.
Intelligent? The book is mainly about a technology going pervasive – what if you could, today, vote on Facebook? What are the feelings of the haves and have-nots? The ramifications – while sometimes hyped up – are logical and often terrifying.
Entertaining? Explosions. A race against time. Power-mad corporations. All the fun of a cyberpunk romp without tedium. Curran is a master of sticking her characters in a crucible and boiling them while they try to get out of it.
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
One that's not flown under any radars is North's First Fifteen Lives of Harry August – enjoyed by the BBC2 book club, Waterstone's book club, and Richard and Judy, is the endlessly reincarnating Harry August. He lives his life over and over again, and this book is nothing if not an intrerogation of the meaning of existence.
Progressive: The book poses questions about life, the nature of existence, love, and very much makes note of the classic – but still Worthy - lesson "with great power comes great responsibility".
Intelligent: Possibly the most interesting aspect of the book is its perspective on most of the 20th century – and perspective is what it is. If someone lives the years from around 1920 through the 1990s over and over again, one would have a changing perspective on the events – big and small – so, yes.
Entertaining: It's a grabber from the first lines: "The second cataclysm began in my eleventh life, in 1996. I was dying my usual death, slipping away in a warm morphine haze, which she interrupted like an ice cube down my spine."
Bête by Adam Roberts
Animal rights activists make animals talk by giving them AI chips. Are they alive? Aren't they? How does it affect the world, and one man? Can a man whose temper has been queued up and shot learn to love and find redemption? This book, she is brilliant.
Progressive? "I remember when the NHS was free."
"No you don't. You're not old enough."
"Well, I remember when people remembered when the NHS was free."
Intelligent? This Roberts person has a Gibsonian way of taking a current tech and following it out to its conclusion, but injecting the absolutely believable absurd along the way. Have you read his reviews over on Sibilant Fricative? Do so. You'll see.
Entertaining? It starts off with a cow arguing with his butcher over whether or not he should be killed. The cow has been made intelligent by eco-activists so that they can insist that killing it is murder. If that isn't funny, hit the red cross in the corner of your browser and leave the Internet, now.
Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge
Hardinge is rapidly becoming one of my favourite writers, constantly creating worlds that any author with a gram of commercial sense would milk down over 3-13 books. Not Frances, though. Under that hat is a clockwork brain tended by faeries who spin webs from the finest – and strongest – spider silk. This is a story of the beginning of film, the jazz age in Britain – and what it means to really make a jazz record worth listening to – and the clash of modernity. It could go so wrong, but it is so very right.
Progressive: Brickwork and tea shops, the way that children sometimes know more, jazz and modernity, and films that come alive. Oh my yes.
Intelligent: There are no winners and losers – progress is a fact of the modern world, but what there is how that affects family and relationships in a subtle way.
Entertaining: Car chases and hidden villages, idiosyncratic people living through their anachronisms, living, breathing jazz drinkser all stuck together with a tale of love lost. Hell yes.
Retribution by Mark Charan Newton
Newton brings sensitivity to epic fantasy, a combination that shouldn't work half as well as it does. Drakenfeld was a combination of locked-room puzzle and high fantasy revolutionary epic. Retribution again fuses the two genres: a Golden Age murder mystery and secondary world fantasy. Again featuring Lucan Drakenfeld (the hero who hates violence) and Leana (the sidekick who is running the show).
Progressive: Pacifist heroes, frank discussions of imperialism, colonialism and dictatorship, female characters that are strong (literally), aggressive, dictatorial, fascinating, conflicted and, crikey - well-written.
Intelligent: Despite the presence of the supernatural, this is a mystery that plays fair with the reader, a twisty-turny investigation into murders (and more).
Entertaining: Two young investigators enter a forbidden land? With a ruthless monarch? On the brink of war? Plagued by a serial killer? Riddled by conspiracies? Tormented by supernatural forces? That's a yes.
Glen Mehn is director of The Kitschies and also served as one of this year's judges. You can thank him (or heckle him) at @gmehn and, of course, @thekitschies.