My favourite books are always those that take me away and make me think. They make it that little bit more difficult to fall asleep when I finally put them down at night. Or halfway through a page, my gaze wonders out of the window while my mind takes a detour into unexpected territory.
This is a genre-neutral experience. History, biography, literature, sport - it really doesn't matter. Great writing and great story-telling are mind-altering substances.
What made the mind-alteration experience a little different while reading Sylvain Neuvel's debut novel Sleeping Giants was the tension. Not in the narrative - although there is plenty - but between the desire to think about the novel and the urgent need to finish it.
Sleeping Giants is packed full of big, keep-you-awake ideas. They touch ethics, politics, science, philosophy, psychology and much in between. The story starts with the accidental discovery in South Dakota of a giant buried metallic hand by a young girl. Years later the young girl, Rose Franklin, now an accomplished physicist is working on a very secret not-quite-government project to help attach the giant hand to other giant body parts being recovered from all over the world.
What Dr Franklin, - assisted by military pilots, a linguist and a geneticist - discovers is that as well as being giant the hand is impossible: impossibly old, with a seemingly impossible composition and displaying impossible characteristics.
As the sleeping giant begins to take form, the narrative naturally moves on to its origins, its purpose and its future usage. And then the story, and the ideas, really take wing.
And when it does it moves rapidly and thrillingly. The story is told principally through the medium of interviews between project protagonists and observers - including White House officials - and an unidentified individual from an organization so shady it doesn't even have its own three letter acronym. This individual, apparently wielding almost unlimited power and influence, is dispassionate and cold and manipulates and controls anyone and everyone from the sidelines, driving the program to an unforeseeable end. These interviews, inter-mingled with diary entries, media reports and other material - drive the story forward quickly, dispensing with too much detail. The fluency of Neuvel's dialogue imbues the story with its inner power source which is the development of and interaction between the major characters, each grappling with complex and challenging issues in their own way.
The result is a brilliantly conceived and executed novel that is part political conspiracy thriller, part action movie (it will make an outstanding film) and part science-fiction drama with a foreboding of dystopian nightmare. And it is greater than the sum of those parts. I raced through this novel - thinking time and all - and was gripped from first to last. Sleeping Giants forms the first part of a promised 'Themis' trilogy. Hopefully Mr Neuvel is busy with part two. I don't want to wait too long.