Attack on Titan – What on Earth Did I Just Watch?

I recently decided to watch more anime, and inspired by an Idea Channel episode, I chose Attack on Titan. It’s a show that probably deserves two reviews, so here we go…

It’s All About Style

Attack on Titan is the weirdest and most fascinating thing I’ve watched in years. Set in a fantasy landscape based on a Japanese perspective of 19th century Europe, it’s a story of survival. For a hundred years humanity has been contained within a vast walled city, threatened from the outside by the Titans, monstrous giants who eat people for fun. When the first of the city’s three rings of walls is breached, a group of young people are propelled into the armed forces fighting for humanity, and a slowly unravelling plot to find out what’s behind the Titans.

I love the imagination of this setting. The towering walls and lumbering giants give it a sense of the epic and the unreal. The soldiers use gas-fired grappling wires to hurtle through the air and attack the vulnerable necks of the Titans. The fundamentals of how this war is fought are like nothing else I’ve seen. Like most fantasy, they look nonsensical if you take a step back, but they’ve been thought through in detail and are so different that I was fascinated. They also allow for some immensely cool and unusual action sequences.

This bonkers style is what I love about Attack on Titan.

No, Wait, It’s All About Substance

Attack on Titan is the deepest, darkest exploration of the horrors of war I’ve ever seen in fantasy. Set in a civilisation on the brink of extinction, it sees a group of young people propelled into the armed forces, struggling to cope with the traumas of that life. They see friends eaten by monsters, civilians crushed beneath falling buildings, superiors turning to cowards or running out of control. They face their own rage, depression and even cowardice in the face of war. Their lives have no neat answers – sometimes friends die in battle without them ever learning why or how. In Attack on Titan, war really is hell.

What’s extraordinary is how compelling this is. The absurdity of the war they’re fighting – swinging on wires as they try to fight monsters – only makes the trauma more stunning and realistic by contrast. It makes the reactions and transformations of the characters into something that left me too stunned.

Dammit, Now I Have to Wait

I watched the whole of the first season of Attack on Titan on Netflix, then discovered that the next series won’t even be on TV until 2016. It’s going to be a long, impatient wait, because bizarre as this is, bewildering as some people will find it, I thought it was an extraordinary show, both in its style and its substance.

Love Daredevil? Try Sleeper

Daredevil has shown that the combination of superheroes and gritty noire drama can work on TV as well as in comics. If that’s a new idea to you, or one you want to explore further, then I recommend one of the all time great overlooked comics – Sleeper by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips.

Sleeper is the story of Holden Carver, a secret agent under cover in an organisation of supercriminals. Except that he’s been cut adrift, without a handler or support, and being undercover means acting like the people he’s pretending to be. As loyalties tangle and motives blur, Holden is faced with the terrible question of whether he’s really a hero or just another villain. And worse yet, which does he want to be?

I’m not going to provide a detailed review. There’s so much to love about this comic that I could spend weeks picking over the details. Sean Phillips’s art is the perfect choice for a noire story, full of shadows and worn down looking characters. The supercriminal underworld is well thought out. The characters have both novel hooks and hidden depths. The plot is twisted but always coherent. The page layouts play with the comic book medium in ways that will delight long time comic fans without getting in the way of casual readers.

This book only ran for twenty-four issues, collected in four volumes. That means you can enjoy the whole story without getting lost in the endless web of superhero connectivity or decades long arcs. If you don’t have a comic shop nearby you can download the free Comixology app and buy the e-reader version through there. And you should. Because Sleeper is amazing.

Content warning though – Sleeper is full of violence, sex, bad language and unpleasant characters, sometimes all at once. It takes a dark palette to enjoy it.

Travelling With Monsters: The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty

Some of my favourite authors are favourites not because of their books but because of other things they do. I’ve only read books by half the folks on Writing Excuses, but I think they’re all brilliant people because of the advice they give. Similarly, I’m a huge fan of Mur Lafferty because of her podcasts, which have given me great writing advice, encouragement, and perspective on balancing writing with depression. It seemed only right, sooner or later, to start reading her books, and I started with The Shambling Guide to New York City.

Books Within Books

Like The Hitchhikers Guide to the GalaxyThe Shambling Guide to New York City takes its name from a book within the book. Zoë, the story’s protagonist, is a travel writer who’s recently moved to New York. There she finds work in a hidden subculture of zombies, vampires and other supernatural beings, editing a travel guide for the undead.

While it’s not as comedic in its focus as The Hitchhikers GuideThe Shambling Guide does share some of that book’s whimsy and humour, and its central perspective of a character adrift in a world that is both strange and frustratingly familiar. Zoë has to deal with sexual harassment from an incubus, the bloody menu at a vampire restaurant, the problem of someone stealing the zombies’ brains from the office fridge, and much more. It’s a book of culture clash, diversity and discovery in what might well be the world’s most cosmopolitan city.

Zoë’s a likeable character, flawed but good-natured and determined. The world building is also top notch, cramming in all sorts of details. This book does a great job of what the in character book is meant to do – introducing you to New York’s monstrous side.

Events Get in the Way

Of course there’s more to the plot than just Zoë writing. She gets tangled up in battling a conspiracy by dark forces, and for me that was the weakest part of the book. It’s not that the plot doesn’t make sense. It’s not that it isn’t earned – it neatly ties together Zoë’s personal life and the world that’s laid out in the story. We’re even prepared for it from early on with the introduction of Granny Good Mae, a mentor who trains Zoë to fight monsters.

The problem is that it’s just not what I most wanted. From a book with such a whimsical concept, I  didn’t want an epic, city-shattering plot. I wanted it to stick with the little challenges of writing a travel book about the undead, and that got sidelined by the bigger story. I realise that most people will probably prefer it that way, but I was a little disappointed.

It’s still an enjoyable book. There are oddball characters and situations, a great setting, and even if the plot wasn’t what I expected it was still a cool idea. I like both Zoë and her creator enough that I’ll be checking out the sequel. And with my expectations recalibrated, I expect to enjoy that one even more.

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On a thematically very different note, my collection of short historical and alternate history stories From a Foreign Shore is free on the Kindle today and tomorrow. It’s no shambling guide, but it features some odd culture clashes, including a Viking re-evaluating Ragnarok and an unexpected visitor at King Arthur’s court. If that appeals, please go download a copy.

The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay – Lets Get Mythical

Guy Gavriel Kay is, for me, one of the truly great and unusual voices in fantasy. His work has an incredible richness of character and description that keeps me exhilarated through slow paced stories. His use of fantasy to provide slight twists on historical settings, shining light on the roots of our world, is endlessly fascinating.

So it was with a certain trepidation that I started reading The Summer Tree, the first book in Kay’s The Fionavar Tapestry. On the one hand, at only 400 pages this would be a relatively quick Kay read, allowing me to enjoy his writing without investing as much time. On the other hand, from what I’d heard this early work did not live up to the standards of his current writing. I settled in with uncertain expectations.

Rich in Myth

The Summer Tree tells the story of five Canadians snatched away from our world and transported to the magical world of Fionavar. There they become involved in a struggle for the future. There is political turmoil in the court of Brennin, a bastion of light and civilisation. Meanwhile, dark forces are returning in the north.

Morally, it’s a less sophisticated narrative than Kay’s later works. There are clear forces of good and evil. We empathise with the good and not the bad. It’s very much a world of myth and legend.

In this regard, it shows the heavy influence of J R R Tolkien, whose Silmarillion Kay had recently helped to edit. Like The Lord of the Rings, there are hints at deeper legends, a large cast of characters both on and off the page, and divine forces lurking in the background.

Characters of Power

Like Tolkien, Kay in the The Summer Tree is concerned with people who have great destinies, however high or low their roots. From before the characters arrive in Fionavar it is clear that they are people of significance there. I’m not a fan of the use of destinies and chosen ones in fantasy, but it is in keeping with the mythical tone of the book.

In terms of empowering people, this book therefore featured two of my least favourite fantasy tropes – destiny and interventionist gods. Yet despite this, I found it engrossing.

A large part of the pleasure comes from the characters. They aren’t all as interesting as each other, and the women in particular feel less well developed, a sin I fall guilty of in some of my own writing. But characters such as Paul Schafer and Prince Diarmuid are rich and fascinating, their existence defined in relation to other people and their pasts, as our own lives are. I really enjoyed spending time with them.

Good by Any Standard

The Summer Tree is a good fantasy novel. The world is well developed, the characters interesting, and the mythical content, while not quite to my tastes, is well executed. Given developments in both fantasy and Kay’s writing since, I’d have trouble calling this great, but compared to the genre in general it is very good, and I look forward to seeing where the story goes.

If that’s got you intrigued, I’ll be discussing this book further later in the week.

The Weird Meets the Mundane: Authority by Jeff VanderMeer

Jeff VanderMeer is an author whose work is weird, in the best sense of the word. He uses elements of fantasy and horror to create a strange atmosphere of creeping unease. And in Authority, the second volume of his Southern Reach trilogy, he transfers that atmosphere from the wilderness setting of Annihilation into the mundane world of office politics.

The results are even more weird.

Uncanny Meets Mundane

Authority follows on from the expedition depicted in Annihilation, in which a group of experts are sent to explore the warped territory of Area X. A new character, who refers to himself as Control, is taking over the Southern Reach, the facility tasked with investigating and explaining Area X. In doing so he investigates what happened on the previous mission, . But his task is hindered as much by office politics and the schemes of his superiors as by the weirdness that has seeped into the minds of anyone dealing with Area X. As these elements become entangled, Control struggles with a situation slipping out of his control.

This makes for a read that is unsettling without being horrifying in the traditional sense. As with Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, the tension lies as much in the struggle for sanity as the struggle against arcane forces. But with the stakes of success or failure much less clear, the sense of bewilderment is at times extraordinary.

Definitely Art

This book is like nothing else I’ve ever read. The tone, style and content build a fog of confusion around the reader as well as Control. I experienced his struggle to get a grip on anything around him. Transferring that from the strange territory of Area X to the familiar surroundings of an office made it feel even more like something wrong was invading the real world, like ordinary things were being turned subtly on their heads.

It makes for a fascinating read, though one that lacks the satisfaction of pay-offs. This seems like a deliberate strategy on VanderMeer’s part. The plot turn most authors would have used as a midway point or early call to adventure arrives near the end. Some things are explained or resolved, both in the world building and in the plot, but more are left open, contributing to the sense of unease.

This book is incredibly successful at evoking an atmosphere, and if you like to sink into the strange or see a writer try something novel then it’s well worth a read. On the other hand, if you don’t like to be confused, if you want plenty of plot, if you want a story to be clear and accessible, you should avoid this one like the plague.

Personally, I enjoyed it immensely, and I look forward to reading the final volume. After these first two, I have no idea whether VanderMeer will provide explanation and resolution. As long as he continues to execute the books with such skill, I won’t mind either way.

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If after all that you’re looking for more fantasy reading, my own collection of short stories By Sword, Stave or Stylus is free on Amazon until the end of tomorrow. From the melancholy gutterscum living in a rooftop world to a gladiator painting with manticore blood, it has plenty of variety, if not the sheer unsettling nature of Authority.

A Great Finale? The Great Game by Lavie Tidhar

Steampunk is a curious and often inconsistent thing, particularly when it’s the steampunk of Lavie Tidhar. I worked my way with interest through the oddity that was The Bookman. I read its sequel Camera Obscura with great excitement. And so at last I came to the final volume, The Great Game, eager to find out whether it would live up to its title.

First Class Characters

The Great Game is a story of spycraft and intrigue set in Tidhar’s Bookman world, a 19th century alternate history with lizard monarchs, alien devices and literary characters roaming the streets. That name – the Bookman – draws attention to the sort of characters we’re dealing with here – literary borrowings such as Mycroft Holmes and Victor Frankenstein, as well as archetypes such as The Bookman‘s Orphan and this volume’s retired secret agent Smith.

Despite their well worn familiarity, those characters are one of the absolute highlights of this book. In particular, the reluctantly re-activated Smith and current agent Lucy are vivid, well depicted characters who I found good company and excellent drivers for their strands of the story. They’re clever and determined, pressing on through the confusion and overwhelming odds of their circumstances. Though Camera Obscura‘s Milady remains my favourite protagonist from this series, these are good, and certainly better than Orphan, who as Dial H for Houston pointed out, suffered from passivity and dullness.

A Very Tidhar Plot

Smith and Lucy’s paths, and those of the other characters, take them through a journey that’s one part John le Carré tension, one part Bond-style action, and one part batshit crazy. That weird and wonderful world is a big part of the appeal of this series, and it plays off here in spectacular style. The spies are doubly spy-like, the crazy ten times what it was, creating a sense that both the characters and the story could be overwhelmed at any moment.

Therein lies both the beauty and the problem of this book. I know others have found this plot chaotic, though I thought it cleverly intertwined rather than rambling like the first book. But it definitely lacks coherence in places, most critically the ending. Without giving the great game away, I felt that the ending lacked the sort of closure a thousand page series left me wanting, while not giving me enough to instead ponder the possibilities of what would come next.

Good But Disappointing

Look at the book’s cover, the version I’ve used in this post. Isn’t it bold? Isn’t it dynamic? Doesn’t it fill you with a desire for retro, pulpy, genre-mashing action? That’s what I wanted, even expected at first, from these books, and it’s an expectation they didn’t deliver on. They’re fascinating but flawed, far stronger in their ideas than their narrative cohesion, the bit players often more intriguing than the protagonists.

I’m glad I read this series, and that I saw it through to the end. These are good books. I’d even go so far as to call Camera Obscura great. But they don’t deliver on what they seem to promise, and that, for me, was their downfall.

For me as a writer, it’s also a very important lesson. Make sure your book does what it promises to, or you’ll have some disappointed readers.

Fun Pulp Action: Fool Moon by Jim Butcher

I like a deep, solid book. The twisted literary architecture of Gormenghast. The brief, stunning beauty of The Great Gatsby. But sometimes I want something pacey and enjoyable, something that provides the sort of accessible action long associated with pulp fiction. And that’s what drew me into the second of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files books, Fool Moon.

Urban Fantasy Chicago Style

Fool Moon is a product of a very modern genre – urban fantasy. The protagonist, Harry Dresden, is a wizard for hire in modern Chicago, balancing his struggling finances with his noble instincts through work for the police force. When a series of brutal murders show every sign of being committed by werewolves, Dresden becomes part of the investigation. Soon there are monsters, gangsters and even the police on his tale, and all he has to save him is a gun, a magic amulet and his trusty posing coat.

OK, he doesn’t call it a posing coat, but we all know that’s what long coats are for. Sherlock doesn’t have his because it’s practical, he has it because it looks damn cool.

I haven’t read much urban fantasy, but to me Butcher seems to do a good job of combining the elements of modern life and fantasy adventure. The workings of the police, criminals and local politics aren’t just background, they’re integral to the plot. The monsters and magic aren’t just added colour for a detective story, they’re also central. Together, these make a fascinating mix.

The Unchanging Adventurer

Fool Moon also dips into an older literary tradition – that of the pulp serials, escapist fiction in which action is prioritised over character progress.

I wrote a while back about how you might structure such a serial, and it’s reassuring to find that Butcher, one of the most successful writers in this style, uses many of those tricks. The illusion of progress is created by setting Harry Dresden back at the start of the story, so that when things come good at the end it seems like a step forward, even though he’s essentially where he was at the start of the last book. There’s a romance that similarly jumps through positive and negative hoops before ending up back where it was. There’s an ongoing villain in the form of gangster Johnny Marconi, as well as immediate menaces who appear and are dealt with within this one book.

Harry Dresden’s life doesn’t need to change for his adventures to be entertaining. Which is a good thing, because Dresden as a character seems as resistant to change as his world. Butcher has done a great job of creating a character whose looping life makes sense.

All the Clichés!

Lets be clear – none of the elements in this book are terribly original in and of themselves. From the noire-style succession of hot ladies in Harry’s life, to the gangster the law can’t touch, to the eventual solution hung in pride of place like Chekhov’s Gun at the start of the story.

To me, this isn’t a story with a deep message or something new to say. But it’s a lot of fun, and worth it for that.

Bonus points go to the audiobook of it I listened to, which had James Marsters doing the reading. He suits the story very well, and mercifully doesn’t have to revive his British accent from his days on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison – atmosphere and intrigue

A lot of fantasy set in secondary worlds, ones entirely detached from our own, tends to be action packed. Think of the grand quest of Lord of the Rings or the battles, chases and duels of Games of Thrones. I like that action, but it’s nice occasionally to find a book the breaks the pattern and takes a more contemplative approach to such a setting. The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison is such a book.

Relying on Sympathy, Not Strength

The Goblin Emperor is the story of Maia, a young half-goblin son of an elf emperor. Maia has grown up in exile, ignored by his father and the court. But when the Emperor and his other sons die in what at first seems to be an accident, Maia is propelled to the throne. The story revolves around how Maia struggles with his new position, both politically and emotionally. His life is suddenly better, but a lot harder and full of risks.

Maia is a great character to centre a book around. He’s only eighteen years old and a fish out of water, not particularly strong physically and only just starting to find any strength of character. The situations he’s put in would be difficult for almost anyone, and that makes his struggles with them very human, drawing the reader in through sympathy. The fact that he doesn’t understand how the court works also creates excuses to explain things to readers.

An Archaic Atmosphere

The most obvious books to compare this to are Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy, starting with Titus Groan. With their intense atmosphere of intrigue and incomprehensible ritual, the Gormenghast books evoke that sense of a court as a bewildering place held back by centuries of tradition. I loved those books when I first encountered them, and my mum still has a photo of seventeen-year-old me sat up an apple tree in my grandma’s back garden, completely indifferent to the real world, lost in Peake’s imagination.

But what Gormenghast isn’t is accessible. The language is rich but challengingly dense, the pace slow, the characters mostly unsympathetic. The Goblin Emperor achieves a similar, though slightly less intense atmosphere, while being far more accessible. We’re thrown into an intriguingly complex and inaccessible world, but Addison’s writing and Maia’s company carry the reader through with ease.

Inevitable Intrigue

This being a book about a court, the plot revolves around intrigue, and that’s probably its weakest point. The plot is good, but it doesn’t twist and turn in the way I’d hoped it might. Characters and their motives usually remain what they first appear to be.

That said, this allows a greater degree of optimism than in a book such as Titus Groan or Guy Gavriel Kay’s Lord of Emperors. From early on, Maia makes small positive changes to the lives of those around him, and aspires to larger changes in a way that’s hopeful but not unconvincing for the setting. A tension remains over whether he’ll maintain this trickle of positive change in a tradition-bound court, or drown in a reactionary tide.

Allowing the Heart to Sing

I really enjoyed this book. Though the plot achieved neither sudden turn-arounds nor the sense of crushing inevitably present in Peake and Kay’s courtly works, it had another sort of emotional engagement. It presented Maia in an incredibly personal, accessible way despite the impersonal nature of the setting. It balanced optimism and sympathy with darkness and doubt. It’s the most accessible book in this style that I’ve read, and a very enjoyable one.

Bringing the Weird West to Life with Doomtown’s Short Stories

‘Dammit, I’m the sheriff! Bring me my coffee and donuts or more bodies are gonna drop!’

The high noon standoffs.The crazy magic carnival. The steampunk capitalists with their mechanical horses. As I’ve mentioned both here and elsewhere, I love the weird western card game Doomtown, and one of the things that makes me love it more is the fiction.

Combining Game and Story

AEG, the company who publish Doomtown, regularly post short fiction based on the game on their website. As a way of keeping players’ attention and building excitement around a game, I think it’s rather nifty. It builds up the plot, gives context to some of the cards, and makes me a little more interested in the characters of the game.

As integration of game and story goes, it’s no Device 6. But it’s really cool to see a company playing with what they can do in already playful mediums – short stories and games.

Moments Not Stories

These Doomtown pieces aren’t always what I’d describe as stories in their own right. They’re there to show a character, action or item in context. Something usually changes over the course of the story, but it often feels insubstantial.

For what it is, that works. It strings together the existing material of the game into a more coherent narrative full of character and tension, not just coloured pieces of card. I’d be surprised if the writers thought this was going to draw in new fans. It’s about maintaining existing interest, not bringing in more.

That said, I think weird west fans might enjoy the little snippets even without the bigger context of the game and the scenes written for the card sets. This is a world full of atmosphere and dark ideas, perfect for those who like to see spells and six-shooters in the same place.

Art as Marketing

This fits with a wider trend at the moment, where marketing cultural products has become less about badgering an audience into buying and more about giving something away to grab their interest. It’s common for serial fiction to include a cheap or free first e-book. Instead of badgering people into reading, the creators give them something and hope they like it to pay for more.

Speaking of which, my own collection of science fiction short stories, Lies We Will Tell Ourselves, is free on Amazon until Friday. So if Doomtown’s fiction doesn’t grab your interest, or you’ve read it all already, why not give that a go?

Fond Memories and Forgotten Ideals – Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett

With the sad passing last week of Terry Pratchett, I felt an overpowering urge to re-read one of his books, both for comfort and as an act of remembrance. I chose a book that is not among his most celebrated works, but is one of my personal favourites. And in it, I found a reminder of what made Pratchett so great.

Only You Can Save Mankind

Only You Can Save Mankind is the first of Pratchett’s novels about Johnny Maxwell, a relatively ordinary twelve-year-old living in a rather ordinary English town. Johnny’s life is a mundane one of hanging out with his friends and playing computer games, given a deep vein of sadness by the ongoing collapse of his parents’ marriage.

Things change one day when the ScreeWee, the alien enemies in his computer game, ask to surrender to him. They want to go home in peace, and only Johnny will listen to them. With other players still frantically trying to kill the ScreeWee, it’s up to Johnny to save the aliens. Or, as the ship’s translator would have it, to save mankind.

A Subtle Sadness

Despite its silly central concept, the pervading tone of Only You Can Save Mankind is one of sadness. Johnny’s home life is falling apart, leaving him neglected. The ScreeWee, forced into endless warfare, just want to return home in peace. Johnny and his small group of friends are socially ostracised, brought together in part by the loneliness each feels within their own family setting. Bigmac in particular is shown to be a product of Britain’s neglected urban estates and a family that doesn’t know how to care.

All of this is depicted with deftness and subtlety. Though it’s clear from early in the book that Johnny’s parents’ marriage is falling apart, and that this is taking a huge emotional toll on Johnny, we aren’t told this directly. In as far as he understands his circumstances he is also trying to not address them directly, to avoid that disruption and sorrow. But the things we are shown about his life make all this clear without Johnny having to understand it. It is simply and beautiful written.

Humanism and Pacifism

This sadness, like so much else in the book, is a demonstration of Pratchett’s humanism and his incredible ability to explore the human experience. In Only You Can Save Mankind, that humanist eye is turned upon the experience of war and the ‘them and us’ mentality that allows it to take place.

Johnny’s own experience with the ScreeWee war is paralleled by the First Gulf War, portrayed in the news in the background of the story. It leads Johnny to raise such innocent yet insightful questions as ‘how can we be the good guys if we’re dropping smart bombs down people’s chimneys?’ Like much of Pratchett’s work, the book doesn’t say that there are easy answers, and by the end of the book Johnny’s non-violent ideals are tested to the limit. But it’s a book that challenges the value and righteousness of military action, that suggests that violence might not really be the solution to any problem.

What This Book Means to Me

One of the reasons I chose to re-read this book is that it’s one of my very few books signed by an author. The copy sat in my lap as I type this is a copy once handled by the great Pratchett himself, given to me by my aunt and uncle for Christmas 1992, the year the book was released. In the front, beneath the title Only You Can Save Mankind, is written in the author’s own hand: ‘To Andrew, If not you, who else? T Pratchett’.

That signed page is not only my strongest physical connection to one of my favourite authors. It is also an intellectual and emotional connection, a reminder of why Pratchett has long been such an inspiring figure to me. Even in a book filled with sadness, the fundamental message is an optimistic one. We can make our own fates. Humanity can save itself, and it is worth saving. We have responsibility for our own lives, and the opportunity to use them well. All of this, themes Pratchett raised again and again in his fiction, is expressed in that pairing of the book’s title and a quote from within it.

Only you can save mankind. If not you, who else?

This book also hit me in a very personal way. Like Johnny, I was twelve years old at the time of the First Gulf War, and saw it play out on the news. I faced the same challenges as him in making sense of what was going on, feeling that these distant, terrible events and the attitude many people took to them weren’t right. People were dying in an inglorious war over oil and ego, while news media turned it into a computer game-style pageant.

In retrospect, I had more in common with Johnny than I realised. It would be ten more years before my parents separated, but by the time I read this book their marriage had fallen into silence and the slow death of love. It’s no wonder that Johnny’s ‘trying times’ hit me so hard, even if I couldn’t recognise their relevance.

Over time, I lost the idealism that the book displayed, the belief that I could and should take control of my own destiny. Though I’ve found that again, it’s been a rough ride, and re-reading this book was a reminder of that.

Even without that personal relationship, this would be a book worth reading. It’s simply and beautifully told, with a message of hope in humanity despite its cynicism about our baser instincts. If you haven’t already, I recommend reading it.

So thank you, Sir Terry, for this and many other inspiring books. Your body may have stopped, but the wonder and inspiration of your stories live on.