GOOD READS 2013 – When I was the TV reviewer for BBC Wildlife magazine, the editor would not let me write a review about a bad programme. It was less than honest and made for duller copy. However, I am taking a leaf out of her book as I’d love you to spend the Christmas period being transported by wonderful books and giving them as gifts to others. Here is my selection of the books I’ve liked best this year.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey has to be the perfect winter present with its hauntingly beautiful descriptions – ‘She could not fathom the hexagonal miracle of snowflakes formed from clouds, crystallized fern and feather that tumble down to light on a coat sleeve, white stars melting…’ – and its poignant relationship between Jack, Mabel and the child they believe they have created out of grief and longing and snow.
It’s not done well. In fact, it’s done infrequently and frequently badly. Science in fiction. I’m not talking about non-fiction books dealing with science or science fiction, which has to have, at least, a modicum of science as a given, but science in your common or garden novel.
Science has a lot to offer: we are talking subjects as diverse as environmental destruction,
quantum physics, particle physics, nanotechnology, neurosurgery, psychopathy and molecular gastronomy – all at your disposal as a writer. We are talking of characters who
could be Brian Cox, Robert Winston, Craig Venter or Bill Gates. Maybe even, dare I say it, a female scientist. So you could have scientists as characters, science as a theme, science as the subject of the novel – and this is at a time when science in movies is big business (Another Earth, After Earth, Gravity, Contagion).
THE FRIGHTENING BEAUTY OF BEING HUMAN – The Humans by Matt Haig
Professor Andrew Martin, Cambridge mathematician, is dead. An alien, in his body, returns in his place. That would normally be enough to make me switch off, turn away, put the book down – but bear with me – The Humans is utterly brilliant. Everyone should have a copy.
The alien-Andrew Martin lands, not in his office as anticipated, but on a motorway. Naked. Passersby hurl abuse and spit, leading to an unfortunate, albeit temporary idea, that this is the standard greeting on earth.