chaos walkingIt’s been a while since I’ve found a fictional series that’s grabbed me so well I’ve sped through the entirety of it in a short time, but Chaos Walking reawakened that desire in me. I’ve got that feeling where I want to find everyone I know who’s already read it so I can demand to know why they didn’t urge me to read it earlier, while also thrusting copies of it on everyone who hasn’t. I read each of the three books (The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, and Monsters of Men) in a day each over the last week, which is a testament to the strength of both the story and Ness’s writing.

It all starts quite small, in a little place called Prentisstown, which seems to be the last remaining settlement on a world where a war with the natives has led to the deaths of all the women and the infection of the remaining men and animals with Noise, which causes them to psychically broadcast all their thoughts to everyone around them. We see all this through the eyes (and Noise) of Todd Hewitt, the last boy in Prentisstown, still a month away from officially becoming a man. When his adoptive fathers send him away from there, he discovers that the world has a lot more in it than he was told and as he discovers more of the world, it becomes more and more dangerous as the history he knows isn’t as simple, or as dead, as he thought.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about the plot because these are books that thrive on the power of revelation as Todd (and the reader) gets to see a bigger and bigger picture. The revelations aren’t plot twists, more plot straightenings, unlocking a clearer picture of what went before which then drives forward the next part of the story. These aren’t shocks and sudden twists just to create temporary suspense, but part of the way the story unfolds and reveals itself.

Noise is a great concept, and one that’s woven into the story not just a gimmick on top of it. Ness has clearly thought about what it would mean to live in a world where your thoughts and secrets are potentially on show to everyone, and how there’d be a range of different ways to approach it. That’s especially true in the way someone like Todd (who’s never lived in a world without Noise) differs from his elders, who had it thrust upon them. Like the daemons of His Dark Materials, it makes the reader wonder what their Noise would be like and how we’d react to losing that privacy: do you change yourself to accept it, or try and change society to avoid it?

One question that does occur to me after reading it is wondering whether Patrick Ness had read Raccoona Sheldon’s “The Screwfly Solution” before writing it as there’s a definite thematic similarity between the two of them even if the way the story uses those themes is different. A quick Googling suggests Ness hasn’t discussed this in any interview or articles, so I’ll throw it out there for any enterprising writer who does speak to him to ask.

Anyway, I heartily recommend the series, especially worth reading before the inevitable film adaptation messes it all up.

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Get real, tomorrow is not going to happen. By Dan Hodges – “Because this is the Real World. Where Real Things Happen. In barely formulated tabloid-ish sentences that have somehow made their way into a broadsheet where they masquerade as incisive realism. With their no-nonsense tone. And their full-stops.”
The Okinawa missiles of October – Did the US nearly launch nuclear cruise missiles at the Soviet Union and other countries during the Cuban Missile Crisis?
An interactive guide to ambiguous grammar – Make sure you read it right to the end.
After the Paris Attacks: Live News Should Challenge Narratives, Not Desperately Try to Create Them – Too much media coverage is desperate speculation to fill air time, rather than reporting what’s happened.
The Rennard debacle: better to rock the boat than have the tail wag the dog – James Graham saves me from having to write another post on the conclusion of this.

And as a fictional bonus, try Andrew Hickey’s Ten Things You’ll Only Get If You Were A 50s Kid.

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With the dissertation over, I can get back to blogging some more. So here, have some links:

Not such a good idea: Why you should think twice about online voting – a good article setting out the flaws with online voting.
I work in PR – and we’re all terrible people – Also, water is wet. But this is an interesting insight.
Hard to be a god – An interesting essay from Ken Macleod on the intersections of SF and politics.
If the Hinkley C nuclear deal looks astonishing, that’s because it is – The strange economics of nuclear power are getting stranger.
My current reckons on Tim Farron and the Lib Dems – A good summing up of the current state of the party by James Graham.

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Worth Reading 154: Out of sonnets

Atomic – Flying Rodent proposes a new direction for the military. “I put it to you that the track record of unusable weapons has proven beyond doubt to be vastly superior to the performance of the ones that we actually can deploy.”
18 Scientists On What They Actually Think About Climate Change – Yes, it’s Buzzfeed, but it’s interesting.
Why we don’t have electronic voting – A simple explainer of the myriad problems that need to be solved before it could happen.
9 questions about Saudi Arabia you were too embarrassed to ask – Sure there’s something we can all learn from this.
How To Tell If You Are In A Soft Science Fiction Novel – “There are Core people and there are Rim people. Core people wear silver, gender-neutral clothing and love fascism and artificial light. Rim people wear floor-length WWII-era trench coats and love modified libertarianism. These are the only two kinds of people. Plus there’s one ocean planet full of mermaids.”

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Worth Reading 62: Calling Indonesia

A few more of these, from a wide period of time:

British SF and the Class System: Science Fiction Is Here, It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed – Very interesting post on SF as an expression of middle-class dreams of the future.
Oh my god. I just witnessed the single greatest moment in human history – The effortless cool we all wish we could display in certain situations.
I hate to disagree with Bradley Wiggins, but mandatory cycle helmets would be a terrible idea – Tom Chivers succinctly sums up the arguments and evidence for and against mandatory cycle helmets.
Thanks (but no thanks) – A couple of weeks old, but a great post from British Olympic weightlifter Zoe Smith about some of the unwanted attention and comment she receives.
It’s a rich man’s world – American democracy, bought and paid for.

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Worth Reading 56: Where did you go, Joe DiMaggio?

Or, how liquid democracy gets you the sack in the end.

How The German Pirate Party’s Liquid Democracy Works – Sounds like an interesting way for members of an organisation to discuss things. And no need to get pre-approved for discussions by the police.
SF, big ideas, ideology: What is to be done? – Charles Stross on whether SF is a genre of ‘big ideas’.
The Fandom Issue: Marvelous – “At what point is the triumph of comic-book culture sufficient?” Some interesting parallels between geek culture and the Tea Party.
How a stranger carrying a rucksack got within 10 feet of Nick Clegg – Why, it’s almost like security theatre isn’t necessary!
Sacking people is easy to do – Not that I recommend you should, but John Band points out that people complaining about red tape preventing them doing it don’t have much of a leg to stand on.

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And a majority that aren’t election-related.

Electoral Services: I know they’re only doing their job, but… – Jennie Rigg on the last-minute rush to get nomination papers in, which many people who’ve been candidate and/or agents will read with a few knowing nods.
How to write a generic SF novel – Paul McAuley provides some useful advice: “No matter how technologically advanced your future society might be, its sociology and economics are basically those of the seventeenth century. Also its battle tactics.”
BNP Candidates 2011 – Lancaster Unity has discovered there’s a dramatic fall in the number of candidates the BNP are standing in local elections this year, though there is a rise in former BNP candidates standing for other nationalist parties.
Russian bloggers accuse authorities of cyberwar – Twenty years ago, which of these things would have seemed the most weird: the existence of sites like LiveJournal, Russian democracy or DDOS attacks?
72 mandatory pitstops per race – Duncan Stephen has a sneak preview of the latest plans to improve Formula 1

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