Monday 28 January 2013


Ahmed Khaled Towfik, 2009 [Chip Rossetti, 2011]
(January 2013)

You may have noticed that I’ve been making more frequent book posts of late. There are a few reasons for this.
Firstly, the holidays have given me a bit more time to indulge (in everything) and I’m still working through the posting backlog. As I write this it’s January 5th and I reckon this’ll actually get posted sometime in late January. Hello there, The Future!

I’m also taking part in the 2013 Science Fiction Experience over at Stainless Steel Droppings, which is quite an unpleasant name for quite a good site, and that’s given me something of an excuse to just lay into a lot of the SF on my shelves without feeling too guilty for ignoring the stuff I’d normally have to make a bit more of an effort to read (it’s also the reason for the little badges that have recently been appearing at the end of these posts, but I’m sure you worked that out by yourself).

More specifically though, most books I’ve read recently have been short. I’ve got stuff by Haruki Murakami, Neal Stephenson, Peter F. Hamilton, and George R. R. Martin doing nothing more than causing subsidence below the end of the house with the bookshelves, but recently I just don’t seem to have the patience or inclination to immerse myself in a 1000 page doorstopper. Maybe it’s because, paradoxically, while I’ve had more time to read over the holidays, I’ve had less uninterrupted time. On the train I know I’ll have a good half-hour to myself, but at home there’s no telling when my eldest will decide that now’s the perfect time to be using me as a human jungle-gym. That’s not really conducive to losing yourself in an intricately constructed fantasy world; I find it hard to care too much about the fates of the myriad denizens of Westeros when in constant danger of being whacked in the gonads with a Lego elephant.

But anyway, Utopia.

Another short one, as you’d no doubt guessed. And very, very angry. Distasteful. Bleak. Nihilistic. Odious. When all’s said and done, not very nice at all. And quite exhilarating, in its own fucked-up kind of way.

Near-future Egypt and the discovery of a viable alternative to fossil fuels has utterly screwed the economies of the Arab world. The 1% have sheltered themselves away in fortified enclaves on the coast (one such being the ‘Utopia’ of the title) while the 99% live outside the walls in Boschian squalor. The idle youth of the rich occasionally hunt the poor for bragging rights and get their parents to buy them out of trouble. Our initial narrator is one such, with a level of teenage ennui and entitlement so thuggishly repellent as to make Holden Caulfield seem like Anne Shirley.

“At my relatively young age, I am pretty much satisfied that there is nothing new under the sun, and that not a single thing exists that you can learn any more.”

You’re familiar with hate-fucking? If not through personal experience then at least the concept is familiar, I'm sure. Well, this is hate-reading. You plough onwards in the constant hope that the little cunt will get his teeth knocked through the back of his head and that silver spoon driven through his windpipe. I’ve rarely encountered such an unrepentantly hateful protagonist. No character arc to speak of and just totally, utterly without redemption.

He is consistently saved from my preferred fate by the other narrator who is, appropriately enough, one of the Others, the 99%. This second narrator is also very clearly the author’s mouthpiece, because it’s political, do you see? Hence the anger. This came out in Egypt just prior to the Arab Spring, and it’s very hard not to make connections in that respect. As the language I’ve been using here should suggest though, it’s also very easy to read this as a commentary on the conditions in the West underlying the Occupy movement. A binary division between a tiny rich minority and a massive poor majority and nothing in between; lest we assume the hatred and violence and inequality is safely far away and over there.

It doesn’t end well.

Utopia is difficult, problematic (rape again, always with the rape), sanctimonious, crude, objectionable, and highly, highly recommended.


  1. I bought Peter F. Hamilton's latest -- Great North Road -- on Kindle in order to save carrying around a brick of a book. It was also cheaper.

    1. Same here, actually. The subsidence line was more of a metaphor :) I've got 1Q84 in hardback, but if it came up on kindle for a decent price I'd have it in an instant.

  2. My ADHD caused me to get stuck on the site name and imagined myself hacking the many shit expat blogs in the J-web and renaming them "Japonophile droppings #1" and so on....

    I have a LOIC...but it won't do that :(

    1. In this instance the name's 'charmingly self-effacing', but yeah, I know a few site you could apply it to in all sincerity.

  3. Your description of reading strangely mirrors by own. Something about crotch level Legos seems to be the great equalizer.

    I'm uncertain if I could get through Utopia, though I am intrigued.

    1. Worth seeking out, definitely. Difficult though, and constant assaults with brightly coloured plastic don't improve the experience any :(

  4. "You plough onwards in the constant hope that the little cunt will get his teeth knocked through the back of his head and that silver spoon driven through his windpipe." Love that line and love a character that evokes that kind of emotion. Well worth creating! The Ice Cube (ni##a you love to hate)of literature lol

    1. 'Love' would be exactly the wrong word, but I know what you mean ;) well worth creating is right. Anything that provokes an emotional reaction that strong has to be well done.

      Talking of which, how's the difficult second album coming along?