I am finding recently that I am reading more books; I tend to pick up anything that gets a vague recommendation from a friend or any of the websites I visit. So it was with Roadside Picnic by the Strugatski brothers. I won’t go into the plot or anything too detailed here as there are plenty of sites with a decent descriptions of what it’s all about. Simply put, it’s a book about aliens without any aliens in it.
Let’s be straight here – there are not enough superlatives to describe how epic the concept of this book is. It’s science fiction at it’s dirtiest and most grubby. There are no heroes here, only a cast of chain smoking unbalanced degenerates trying to get by in a completely random and incomprehensibly lethal environment; part of a universe where alien civilizations actually either do not notice or want nothing to do with humankind.
After reading the first three novels in the Horus Heresy series I was feeling a bit unexcited with the prospect of reading the forth installment. Was this simply to be more bogwash lack of anything but cardboard characters speaking terse pompous lines against a backdrop of lots of shooty pew-pew; except this time it was to be in space? Was this to be basically a Battlefleet Gothic novel riding the vehicle of Horus’s lame conversion to the dark gods?
The book was already sat on my desk so I set about the seemingly unenviable task of getting on with reading it. This was the first James Swallow novel I’ve ever read, and being a big Abnett fan I found the writing style a little foreign to begin with; but soon I was getting the hang of it. This is writing with big words from someone who obviously owns a thesaurus. The book concerns the adventures of Battle-Captain Nathaniel Garro from before the Isstvaan campaign. The story initially is the same from the other books, but you see things from Garro’s perspective which makes for interesting reading. It adds meat to the bones of the books you have already read.
The book is actually extremely well written and a really good read. The writing style adds much to heighten the tension. This time the characters are actually exciting and believable and the story itself is a real page turner at times. It’s a stellar achievement following the mediocrity of False Gods and the somewhat forgettable Galaxy In Flames. I’m off to get the next installment!
TL;DR The best of the series so far by quite a margin!
This novel was first published in 1993, but I’m a slow reader. Really though my elderly neighbour loaned me her copy last Thursday and I couldn’t put it down.
The book, without going into too much boring detail is a fiction about the life and times of a soldier, Stephen, who fought in the first world war. It tells of times before, during and after and sometimes concentrates on other minor characters who are important in Stephen’s life. This book is excellent, it’s a real page turner. I have never before found the fear and emotion expressed by soldiers as they are about to go ‘over the top’ communicated so effectively as I have in this book. The chapter where Stephen is involved in the the first day of the battle of the Somme is especially memorable as one reads and can see the disaster unfolding even before anyone has jumped over the parapet.
Not all of the book is set in the war, and there are several chapters based in the 1910s and the 1970s, but these help to flesh everything out and make the characters even more believeable which draws the reader in deeper when they face certain annihilation in the horrors of the war.
The only downside I could see with this book comes right near the very end: it really could have done with being a little bit longer. The entire book builds up these fascinating characters, with their hopes and dreams, but their entire lives after 1918 are summed up by an old lady in a cafe literally in about 3 lines set in 1979. ‘Oh yes, he died here, she died there, he married her.’ I found this a real disappointment after seeing what everyone had gone through and I was hoping for something more. Maybe the characters in 1979 could have found out more details as part of their ongoing investigation into their ancestors (which is what these characters were doing anyway), or even there to have been some kind of epilogue chapter to tie things up smartly.
Overall, an excellent read despite the minor disapointment at the very end. Very emotional and very moving. Birdsong gets 4 chirps out of 5.