Book review: An Iliad – A Story of War by Alessandro Baricco

I seem to be reading a lot of this fella’s stuff at the moment. His writing really appeals to me. It’s thought-provoking and beautifully crafted without going overboard on metaphors.
I had high hopes for An Iliad because I’m a bit of a greek mythology buff which is why I dived straight in right after reading Silk.
And that might not have been the best idea.


An Illiad is the story of the Trojan War told from a range of perspectives:
heroes (alive, dead or about to be killed); kings, prophets; slaves … at one point, even the river outside Troy has its say.  It’s more approachable (and shorter) than Homer’s original work, but I think the style of it wasn’t particularly to my liking. I don’t mind working a bit harder for a good read, but I’m a bit of a stickler for consistency, and the prose tended to meander between the comic-book and the poetic. The battle scenes were bloody and magnificent, but weren’t overcooked. Baricco deliberately kept the gods out of it which allows the reader to focus on the men: their fear, their loneliness; their petty jealousies; but mainly their egos. Let’s face it, the whole ten years was about one man’s ego so it’s no surprise there was plenty of it to go around.
I did enjoy the book as a whole, I think. It was originally written in Italian, so I wonder if perhaps some of the original feel of the book was lost in translation. I should probably learn Italian and find out.
Although I didn’t like it as much as Silk, I haven’t lost faith in Mr Barricco. I’m going to read Without Blood next, and in the meantime give An Iliad six out of ten.

Book Review: The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks

This is the latest instalment in Iain Banks’s Culture series, and let me say, right off the bat, it doesn’t disappoint. The story is huge – epic, in fact – spanning stars, civilisations, and a cast of extraordinary proportions, each of whom is given enough attention to make them as large as life. As you might expect, the plot matches the setting perfectly; it is sprawling, complex and, like much of Banks’s work, is not so much about space battles fought between advanced cultures (though there is some of that), but a study of perhaps one basic question. In this case, the question is this: Just because your race can evolve, en masse, to a higher state of being – should it?


Yes, there’s a lot of techy stuff that sci-fi buffs (like me) will love, but if that’s not your bag then the story can carry itself without having to understand how AIs view virtual realities, and why a ship large enough to carry billions of people has to start slowing down days before it reaches orbit. In my mind, focussing on the story rather than the tech is the essence of good sic-fi.

Some of the body-modifications are a bit gruesome , but given the light humour that pervades the whole book, I don’t think it’s anything that’ll leave the reader scarred for life.

So for me, this is the best of the Culture novels I’ve read so far; perhaps it’s because there was less focus on the benevolent (interfering?) super civilisation after which the series is named. Or perhaps it was because it was a genuinely funny book that raised questions the human race may have to ask itself – a hundred thousand years from now.

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