The Invisible Man by HG Wells – 5/5 Stars

The Invisible Man by HG Wells

My third HG Well’s novel read and I’ve started to notice that he often has a main character on the run from something: mustering violence to protect against innumerable or unfathomable enemies, facing starvation through the quaint English countryside, and then having to make use of reason to make sense of the extremely improbable. Humorously, most of the sub-characters aren’t on the run as such, but are so highly panicked and foolish that it makes the heroic main characters look calm and collected by comparison. The sub-characters engage in gossip, wild speculation, and this drives their collective fury to such a level as to make all hell break loose on the roads. It doesn’t require a close examination to deduce that when reading HG Well’s novels, we are reading about a fragile society that is faced with what to them is an impossible occurrence: an invisible man!

Did this make me sympathise with the glut of people? Not really, for their (at first) baseless rumours convinced me that they did not need an invisible man to “appear” to startle them and provoke them into collective insanity. When the invisible man is “revealed” to them, the level of panic and outrage is turned up a notch, perhaps understandably, but it was difficult for most to see reason or think how there could be an invisible man; most were not enquiring minds. Kemp, introduced quite late in the novel, has an enquiring mind and scientific background. An educated man, if you will. Kemp sees those running away from an “invisible man” down the hill outside his window as classic fools, in the absence of evidence.

As for the invisible man himself, during the early few chapters I sympathised with him greatly, wrapped up as he was in bandages to conceal his affliction. He only wanted privacy from questions, but his odd garments and need to seclude himself naturally led to idle gossip and then break in’s and direct questions. It was easy to forgive the invisible man’s cruelty at this stage. The reader soon sees how infuriating it really is to be invisible in the 19th century: good for the element of surprise and disappearing but not ideal for survival in human towns and villages.

The Invisible Man is an intriguing tale, wound well with originality stemming from its main concept. Everywhere he went, he caused trouble and alarm. Though there was a touch too much background into how the invisible man arrived where he did, we got to learn how he made himself invisible and of his tribulations before the commencement of the novel. It was as much about how flawed Griffin (the invisible man) was; how his strengths made him a terror and how his weaknesses escalated the hunt against him; as about the novelty of being invisible. This is a stunning novel, with writing that flows so well it seems to swim pleasantly in the mind. Highly recommended!

The Unlucky Man by HTG Hedges – 4/5 Stars

The Unlucky Man by HTG Hedges

I don’t know what my expectations were for The Unlucky Man – I was looking for something dystopian, dark, and that I hadn’t read before – and believe it or not that’s what I got! I’d classify it as an urban dystopian fantasy with supernatural and thriller elements. Ultimately, it’s about ordinary man John Hesker who is talking with best friend Corg when a body smashes on top of their car. They’re questioned by an investigator called Whimsy, who is a man only half-interested in what they are saying and seems to ask his questions ‘on a whim’, so he was well-named. However, it’s not long before the dark elusive organisation called Control will send its most accomplished assassin Wychelo (like a witch with dark unnerving pools for eyes) to kill Jon and therefore hide its secrets. When a disturbing supernatural force is injected into Jon, he goes on the run, over Old Links bridge where there is no law and only savagery awaits.

Well, HTG Hedges has an eye for atmosphere and setting, which places the reader into a three-dimensional world that brought clarity and richness to every description of setting, and was applied consistently throughout. I’d say this was the best feature of his writing, and made me feel as if I was reading something new or rare. The writing from 76% captured me fully, immersing me into complete disorientation, which was the intention, into a graphic hell that was also somewhat pleasant on the senses to witness.

Criticism: it took me a while to remember who the villains were, especially their names and what distinguished them, because they had small parts and mainly from the point-of-view of Jon. Closer to the end there was a touch too much background information on the villains, which though missing before to add mystery, was inserted a little late in this relatively short novel. Third-person omniscient was used to re-shine a light on the villains at 67%, which though I worried the plot was crumbling at this point it did actually put things back into perspective where they had been missing in the car-chases and well-directed action scenes. Third-person and first-person point-of-view was mingled, which lent the story inconsistency and did become more noticeable as it progressed. On that same note, the author was adept at using first-person to add depth, colour, and contrast that I haven’t seen before when reading from first-person POV, but his use of third-person omniscient from 76% was a display of incredible writing. It seems the author needs to decide on where his strengths lie and how to use point-of-view with consistency to deliver maximum impact. I would have enjoyed this more if it was better balanced as well: two-thirds action and one-third background/conclusion didn’t move events forward in a way that I had hoped.

Overall, I don’t think HTG Hedges’ readers will be disappointed by his writing. The atmospheric descriptions, combined with metaphor, worked consistently well throughout. I was often curious where the plot was going, and when things turned chaotic I was utterly absorbed, with mouth agape. Piecing together the sub-elements of the plot didn’t come immediately to me, but when parts did they made sense and piqued my interest. There’s some terrific writing in this.

HTG Hedges’ Website

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – 3/5 Stars

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games is a controversial young adult dystopian novel that is a highly competitive death-dealing game, and a fight for survival. I couldn’t watch the film – there wasn’t enough to grab my attention – but the book was bought as a gift and was the only dystopian one on my shelf. As a result, I didn’t begin reading with much expectation that I would take to the novel: I’m not a fan of the young adult genre in general, with some exceptions.

The novel had quite a potent political message, especially early on. It illustrates simply and yet strongly how inequality can lead to resentment between the starving and the better-off, even if both groups know better on a full stomach. It’s a clever ploy of the Capitol’s system to divide the people so that their hold on power is relatively undisrupted. The Capitol uses official excuses for those who have starved to death, burying their guilt and complicity at ridding many of the districts of their inhabitants. The population are not fooled, but what can they do to act against the Capitol when the Treaty of Treason is an intimidating warning to those who would oppose them, in the form of a reminder that past uprisings have bitterly failed. It’s at this point the reader must wonder how accurate this history is, and if it is, why do the Capitol need to remind the districts not to rebel if there weren’t weaknesses?

Let’s start with the positive. There were more than a few lengthy passages that sustained my interest, mostly between Katniss and Peeta’s struggle to understand and trust each other before they entered the Hunger Games as the two Tributes representing District 12. The battle for survival in the arena started off very well, capturing my interest and impressing upon me the severity of Katniss’ predicament. The conclusion as well, was well written, emotionally tense, and with enough peril to make it impressive. First-person point-of-view worked well at intervals, bringing Katniss’ personality, likes, and dislikes to the fore and engaging the reader.

Katniss’ voice did bother me, rendering her emotionally numb to any related or past events. This is where first-person point-of-view didn’t work well, and the switches were occasionally noticeable. Katniss and Peeta’s mostly passive and tolerant attitude to following rules irritated me. I know why they did it – to protect their families – but it almost seemed to justify the need for a sycophantic totalitarian regime, bloated by wealth and superficiality. It made the characters sick, and it made me feel sick, but the characters still went along with it more often that I would have liked. I’m obviously only commenting as a reader/observer here and not a participant in the Hunger Games; maybe that would make a difference to my opinions.

Katniss’s boundaries were pushed once or twice, causing her to act in rebellion, but her actions only really made a difference where it concerned the Capitol’s perception of her and to me reinforced the idea that if you have enough talent you can become popular enough that it doesn’t matter that most districts are starved and oppressed. The bottom line is that Katniss and Peeta were absolutely helpless, and had to do as they were told. I didn’t think this philosophy did much to encourage young adults in life, even if the suspense and gory deaths were appealing to some.

Suzanne Collins’ Website

Welcome to Alex James’ Blog

Alex JamesHere on my blog you will find advice on best practice for editors and writers, as I share my growing wisdom to help literary professionals tackle those pesky problems that crop up time and again. Why? Because as a reader, I have seen novels after they have been published; and have come across many areas of improvement for writers, publishers, and perhaps editors too. If there is one thing that writers hate, it’s going back to previously published works and thinking ‘I could have done better’. And poor reviews can hit a publisher’s reputation as hard as a writer’s.

Most of my posts will have a focus on my speciality – sci-fi/fantasy writing and editing – but I will occasionally dip into the realm of being an editor/proofreader. You will often see my reviews posted on this blog, of sci-fi and fantasy stories written by independent authors or published by independent/traditional publishers. I’m passionate about my reviews, and I learn something new about the genre after every successive book read, and I thought it’d be nice to share books, authors, and admittedly my own analysis.

I soon hope to share more details about how I got started in editing and proofreading, as a way of introducing myself to the world.