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  • Writer's pictureKenneth

Semiosis and Frankenstein in Baghdad

Updated: Nov 15, 2020

Hello everybody and welcome to a new post in my new and exciting life as an attempted book blogger (a bit sarcastic, I know but that’s who I am)

Today I am going to continue on the Clarke award nominees and todays two books are “Semiosis” by Sue Burke and “Frankenstein in Baghdad” by Ahmed Saadawi, two very different books!

One thing people should know about me is that I do love Science fiction and I had “Semiosis” in my sights to read, long before the nominees were announced. Same with “Frankenstein in Baghdad”, but that’s because I am a big horror fan.

So, let’s start with “Semiosis”, book one in the semiosis duology, book two is slated for an October release and is named Interference.

The story takes place on a planet named Pax where colonist that have escaped the problems of earth (the usual, climate change, poverty, food shortages, war) and are trying to survive, the planet is rich with plant and animal life, both the flora and the fauna is truly alien and realistically written. The story is tale of survival and cooperation.

The colonist arrives Pax by mistake, they find the planet (as said before) full of life, but the vegetation and animals are in most cases hostile, and more intelligent than you would expect them to be, and also the colonist might not be the first alien visitors to the planet.

The book takes place over 107 years and with each chapter focusing on a new character from a different generation, this is probably the biggest issue I have with the book, the simple fact that all the characters are so different, believable and well developed, and it is a joy to read them, but you just get a small glimpse into their life on Pax before the chapter and their story ends, and in most cases I wanted their story to continue(that is quite typical me to wish a book to be longer, especially when the writing is so good!). But the story is not about the people themselves, it’s about the people learning to live on an alien planet and to live with the alien planet!

I can`t stop to compare this book a bit to Adrian Tchaikovsky`s “Children of time”, one of my all-time Sci-fi favourites. Then in the sense of having parts from It of the point of view of a non-human character(s), In Children of time we have the spiders and in Semiosis we have the plants, namely the plant that later is named Stevland, a character that for me had the best character development, what can I say, he grew on me(sorry, I shall avoid plant based puns from now on)

I really enjoyed the book and can’t wait to read the sequel in October! And I would love if the flippokats where real animals!

If you enjoyed this book and is looking for something similar then check out “Children of time” by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Notes on book:

Format: Paperback

Page number:326

Publisher: HarperVoyager

The second book for today is “Frankenstein in Baghdad” by Ahmed Saadawi, this book won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2014 and was a Man Booker International Prize finalist 2018. So, this has a more literary pedigree. Well deserved win and nominee, but the question is, will it win the Clarke award?

It would not surprise anybody that “Frankenstein in Baghdad” is set in, well, Baghdad. And it is set during the war, more closely 2005. Hadid the junk dealer (local drunk and teller of tall tales) goes around and collects body parts from various victims of suicide bombers and sectarian violence, this under the pretence that it’s a sin to bury corpses that are incomplete. When he gets a hold of the final piece to complete the rotting cadaver in his shed and assembles it, the monster(or the brilliant named “whatsitname”) starts taking vengeance on the people that are responsible for hurting or done some injustice to the various victims that the whatsitname is made of, but as soon vengeance/justice has been served the parts of the offended rots away, then there is a need for fresh body parts. And the lines between innocent and victim becomes blurred.

The story shows the horror of war and at the same time is quite funny and satirical. It is told by several characters point of view, among them the junk dealer that made the whatsitname, the journalist that is trying to unravel the truth of the killings, a widow that believes the whatsitname is her long-lost son, a shady landowner that wants more profit by strong-arming the owners of buildings to his side, and giving him the ownership to the buildings and the head of a secret government department that utilises divination and magicians to predict where terror attacks will happen.

The story is quite nonlinear with jumps in time and it jumps from different characters view quite often, sometimes it got a bit confusing, but all in all it was a good read. I was glad for the character list in the beginning of the book, reading a book with a long list of characters its good to double check who’s who now and again.

I really enjoyed the book, it was different and it is the first time I read an Arabic book, I love being challenged and to try out new things, being exposed to this kind of satirical and fantastical storytelling set-in real-world events was an experience.

For something similar check out “The monster we deserve” by Marcus Sedgwick

Notes on book:

Format: Paperback

Page number: 288

Publisher: Oneworld

Translator: Jonathan Wright

So, two different books that I can wholeheartedly recommend, and you can buy them in any good self-respecting bookshop!

This is what my sleep addled mind manages to write, next post will probably be better!


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