Reviews: E-books and audiobooks - Louise Welsh, Stephen King, Neal Stephenson
Death is a Welcome Guest is the second part of Louise Welsh's fabulous Plague Times trilogy. Part one, A Lovely Way to Burn, was phenomenally entertaining and stomach-churning all at the same time. Part two is set concurrently with the events of its predecessor. A mysterious plague, The Sweats, has befallen mankind, including in London where the action is set. In this episode, we follow an unlikely double act between a stand-up comedian, Magnus McFall, and Jeb, whom Magnus meets in prison. Welsh has a rare talent for convincing you about even the strangest plotlines, including Magnus' incarceration and his subsequent escape. Having fled into a lawless, terrifying capital city, Magnus and Jeb land in a gothic, religious cult - which is attempting to create a morality fit for the new world order - in the English countryside. Welsh combines story and character with ease thanks to her elegant but clear prose which can scare, unsettle and move. I can't wait to find out how it all ends.
Death is a Welcome Guest by Louise Welsh (Hodder & Stoughton) e-book
Reading Stephen King out loud is no easy matter. You have to keep your own terror under control, especially when narrating the books of his golden era: Carrie, The Shining, Pet Sematary. The real challenge is King's distinctive voice, which mixes pop culture references, strange folk-phrasing and of course horror. In Finders Keepers, folk tales and terror intersect: "The wolf's upper lip rises, exposing those yellow teeth. Those fangs." The wolf is Morris Bellamy, a villain obsessed with a dead writer (whom he killed, it should be noted). Having stolen a haul of unpublished works by John Rothstein, he is jailed and the notebooks pass to young Pete Saubers. His attempt to sell them lands him in trouble with the law, represented by Bill Hodges, hero of Mr Mercedes. Will Patton's reedy tones fit King like a glove. They sound vintage enough to pull off that old school wisdom and the aged Bellamy. He is especially good at portraying Hodges, a sensitive tough guy out of step with modernity. At the same time, Patton is sprightly enough for the drama of the final section. King near his best.
Finders Keepers by Stephen King (read by Will Patton) Hodder & Stoughton (audiobook)
Neal Stephenson towers over modern fantasy and science fiction writing much as Stephen King looms over horror. A decade in the writing, Seveneves was inspired, Stephenson says, by the real problem of space debris and the less convincing notion of aliens. His response is to destroy the moon and follow the consequences as gigantic fragments collide. Scientists suddenly realise the earth will become a giant microwave oven whose cooking time is 5,000 years. Humanity flees into space and hopes that DNA can be replicated and stored on the internet (where else) until the world cools down. The wealth of scientific context ensures that the 30 hours of Peter Brooke's narration occasionally feels like the 5,000 years humanity spends bickering in the outer galaxy. His declarative, almost hectoring style doesn't help, neither soothing the ear drum nor softening the suspicion that Stephenson is delivering an epic, if entertaining lecture of speculative physics. An ambitious book read with the volume turned to 11.
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (read by Peter Brooke) Harper Audio (audiobook)