just for the record, don't think i've posted notes since april, so here is everything from mid-april till now....
Wild Girls - Ursula le Guin - part of book bundle, mainly novellas really, with extras like interviews. This was OK, important city culture thrives on stealing country folks as slaves - two girls taken and the story of the jealouses between their captors.
Gardens of the Sun - Paul McAuley - Gardens of the Sun - 2nd of the Quiet War quartet. Lots of green themes vs anti-science. Earth vs colonies. Occupied territory and brutality vs resistance, science and art. Dense, but building to an emotional climax
Curse of the Wolf Girl - Martin Millar Been slow on the Kalix books for some reason, probably because they are such slabs compared to typical Martin Millar novels. But read Curse of the Wolf Girl and loved, always such a distinct voice. Shame about being dated thanks to Brexit, no more Polish Werewolf Hunters! Kalix is a 17 year old depressive, Scottish werewolf, living in London with two students. Drama from inter-family werewolf politics, the increasing risk of the hunters, and Kalix's overwhelming depression/rage.
The Unlikeable Demon Hunter (Nava Katz 1) - Deborah Wilde - I got a 6 book omnibus on kindle, but only read book 1. Our titular Demon Hunter has been raised with the expectation that her brother would grow up to take on the role of demon hunter in a world wide secret organisation. But hey sexism, the assumption that only men can be demon hunters, so her brother is obviously the chosen one. Though the revelation that she is in fact that she is the chosen one, with no training, and a reputation for drinking and fucking, kind of makes things...interesting. Demons, handsome men, discrimination, sassy determination, and probably one of the steamiest books in the genre that I've read.
Roadside Picnic - Strugatsky Bros - Picked up Roadside Picnic cheap on kindle recently, been meaning to do a reread, see how new translation compares. Feels more contemporary/conversational than I remember. Funny to reread against new TV series Debris and Chinese satellite coming down, look out for weird artefacts
Chaos on CatNet - Naomi Kritzer - book 2 in the CatNet series, following on from the short story about the AI who tries to help people in exchange for cat content. I loved the short and Catfishing, and I love Chaos. Stef returns, starting yet another new school, where she meets Nell also on her 1st day. They both have troubled backgrounds, Stef's history of fleeing her violent father and Nell's involvement with an apocalyptic cult, and they both like girls which has different problems according to background. Stef's friends are all on CatNet, where she is friends with the AI CheshireCat. But with the new school she is persuaded to join a new app and Nell has access to an app through her cult introduces the question - what if there is another AI & its less well meaning? Warm, charming novels, written for teens, which shows at times, but lovely books, a joy. For all the warm and fuzzy, there is still threat: guns, kidnapping, riots, chaos. But friends & cat pictures.
Firebreak - Nicole Kornher-Stace - I admit I bought this book with only a notional sense of the plot, based on pretty cover and having read and enjoyed Latchkey in the last few months. With that, Firebreak is a stand alone novel, while also being an unexpected prequel to Latchkey. Archivist Wasp/Latchkey are set in a haunted post-collapse world, while Firebreak flashes back to collapse in progress to encounter the ghosts as living people. Mal & Jessa are refugees from a corporate city war, living in a hotel with a load of other people per room, with water/power rationing. Doing all the odd jobs and trying to establish themselves as streamers on the corporate game. A game haunted by the ghosts of the corporate super soldiers created to fight the corporate war. When the pair stumble on these characters in game, then IRL, their lives are turned to shit. A story of personal trauma, environmental trauma, war trauma, corporate manipulation & how people buy in to the toxicity of celebrity, pop culture and the power of media manipulation.
All Systems Red - Martha Wells
Artificial Condition - Martha Wells
Rogue Protocol - Martha Wells
Exit Strategy - Martha Wells
Been catching up on the Murderbot Diaries. Had to start again with All Systems Red, having skipped one and becoming confused. Really works as an arc, one of those tor series of novellas that probably could be a novel. I think the next book was a novel, then another novella. An aware security cyborg ends up trying to understand itself, work out who tried to kill it's clients, and unearth the truth, while watching all the shows and minimising emotions and stuff.
We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker - a pilot is a device to help people concentrate, to be their best selves. Starts with the rich, then subsidised so those cool branded blue lights are on every skull. Or not quite. Pinsker's 2nd novel follows the 4 members of one family. Val the teacher, who doesn't get a pilot due to her unease and the fact her daughter can't have one. Sophie her adopted daughter, prone to epileptic seizures, left behind. Julie, Val's wife, gets a pilot to remain on top of her game in a politicians office. And David, their son, 1st in family to get one. We follow David's getting one in school, joining the army and what happens from there. Sophie's increasing activism in the anti-pilot movement and the sense of unease, perhaps cover up around the technology. Song For A New Day was more rock and roll, being about music and all. So We Are Satellites feels like a quieter novel, though having read Sooner Or Later it feels like Pinsker. Quiet is a good thing and a right thing for a novel like this, making it more intimate and personal than a more explosive work would be. Also given the themes of noise and quiet, that feels like an appropriate approach. For all that it isn't explosive, it still had me lying awake thinking.
When The Tiger Came Down The Mountain - Nghi Vo - 2nd Singing Hills Cleric novella. Again story within a story, this time the cleric has to tell a story to tigers about famous tiger spirit or be eaten. When a tiger tells you the story is wrong you listen.
The Brother's Jetstream: Leviathan - Zig Zag Claybourne - self described as goofy, a big saturated pulp adventure of Hollywood vampires, conspiracy cults, false prophets, and a war for the multiverse. A bit Jerry Cornelius, a bit DNA Cowboys, a bit... Comic book fun, full of colourful and engaging characters, perhaps like The Invisibles if they had been written & illustrated by Kyle Baker.
The Angel of Crows - Katherine Addison - apparently there's a genre of fanfic where you take a character and add wings: wingfic. This is Sherlock Holmes fanfic, but add wings. Dr. Doyle is injured by a Fallen Angel in Afghanistan and sent back to London, struggling to make ends meet he ends up in Baker St, sharing a flat with an unconventional angel called Crow. Together they solve crime; many of the cases being particularly familiar. While in the background Jack The Ripper works away, seemingly uncatchable. An entertaining enough read, a novel twist on familiar material.
Hummingbird & Salamander - Jeff VanderMeer - a mystery novel, a woman falling into obsession after she is handed a message that leads to a taxidermied extinct animal. Trying to make sense of the woman behind the message and the trade in rare animals our narrator self-destructs on the page. With the novel following that collapse. For me there is something missing here, the living characters are sidelined, the key characters are already dead. Even the trade in animals and the collapse of civilization are mainly asides. Resulting in a readable enough novel, that seems largely distanced from the stuff that would make a difference.
The Album of Dr Moreau - Daryl Gregory - mixed genre novella, where the beast men are a boy band on brink of break up and Moreau the pop impresario who has been ripping them off all this time and has now been murdered. Science fiction, murder mystery, comedy. Great fun.
Victories Greater Than Death - Charlie Jane Anders - pretty much read this cover to cover on my day off yesterday. A delight to read. Tina is the chosen one, or at least a clone of a hero, except the result is she is just a teenager with lots of data but no experience. Meanwhile she and her Earth friends are out in space, caught in the middle of an ongoing war, in a race against time to stop the other side from getting their hands on some kind of super weapon. YA target audience, but readable for all ages. The Compassion perhaps recalling Iain M. Banks, with something like The Affront. Big space opera, roller-coaster adventure and the friendship that sees you through, hopefully.
Ink & Sigil - Kevin Herne -this was something of a random buy, not having read Hearne's work before, partly driven by the fact that it was set in Glasgow. Trying to capture a Scottish accent is tricky, given the variables, and with that the results here are mixed. Though I'm happy to go with it, not least because of the sense of place - it can be such a rare pleasure to read somewhere set where you live and pretty much comfortably recognise locations as places you've been. (conscious of recent novel that had scene set in Glasgow that made me go: naw mate, that's Edinburgh!) But then, when I saw who his Glasgow guides were, knowing I've been some of those places, with those people, made sense. This is 1st book in a new series, a spin off from his Iron Druid novels. Aloysius MacBharrais is a Sigil Agent for the fae, who has lost his latest apprentice to a suspicious scone related incident, which in turn uncovers a dodgy fae trafficking circle. Drama and humour ensue and the result is a thoroughly good read.
Black Water Sister - Zen Cho - I think it was Spirits Abroad that I first read Zen's work, having bought the short story collection at 2014 London Worldcon just prior to attending a panel she was on, where I spoke to her briefly and got the book signed. The contemporary Chinese Malaysian informed stories were the ones I enjoyed the most, so there is an element where BWS is the novel I've been waiting for. Jess returns to Malaysia with her parents after growing up in the USA. Worried about not coming out to her parents while deciding how to achieve her planned future with her long distance girlfriend, she instead finds her life disrupted by her estranged dead grandmother who demands she helps to protect the temple of the Black Water Sister against gangsters. This felt less light in tone from my memory of the early stories, in fact the big encounter with the Black Water Sister is positively chilling. Very much a contemporary novel, informed by a culture, rather than an obvious fantasy novel, verging into horror at times with the elements of violence against women and the haunting results.
Gilded Latten Bones - Glen Cook
Wicked Bronze Ambition - Glen Cook
Having not read any of the Garrett novels in about a decade, I have read what appears to be the last three this year. I typically don't binge read, but with only two left and sense of culmination I read these back to back. Ex-marine turned private detective, becoming more respectable (for certain values...) over 14 novels. These last books throw the ensemble cast together, with all the characters added over the series for big battles with magic and murder and mayhem. Probably dated in ways, but light page turners, genre mash ups.
Chilling Effect - Valerie Valdes - I bought this a while ago, but bumped up my reading list after seeing it was nominated for Clarke Award and I'm glad I did. A big fun space romp, following Eva and her crew. Eva quit the dubious crew she was a member of after she did something too problematic to keep going and put together her own crew. Just coming off a failed attempt to deliver a score of psychic cats she is contacted by The Fridge, a notorious and anonymous interstellar criminal organisation, who have put Eva's sister on ice, where she'll stay unless Eva does some jobs. (Boy that is a run on sentence!) From there she pisses off a space emperor who wants to make her a fuck toy, and things just continue to deteriorate from there, until Eva has just had enough! Aliens, cats, artefacts, escalating peril. Good fun, bought sequel, hope it delivers more on the cats!
Alice Isn't Dead - Joseph Fink - I guess it was Christmas 2018 that I got the hardback of Joseph Finks adaptation of his podcast Alice Isn't Dead? So why did take so long to read? Might as well ask why the chicken crossed the road! But the weird dreams I had the night I read the first 100 pages before bed are definitely a contributing factor. Though, giving some space between podcast and book helps as well. I enjoyed the podcast and for all the "reimagining" of the story, this is the same plot in broad stroke terms. Alice disappeared, assumed dead, until her wife Keisha spots her in a crowd in a news item, repeatedly. Keisha takes to the road, a truck driver, trying to find clues, but stumbling across the Thistle man. A misshapen horror, haunting Keisha's trail, providing little doubt it is only a matter of time before he corners her in some lonely spot and eats her alive. But it isn't just that, it expands and builds, conspiracy, opposing conspiracy, escalation, deception and Alice isn't dead. Thoroughly enjoyed as a companion/expansion, I've downloaded the first series of the podcast to my device to listen to again from the start
The Left-Handed Booksellers of London - Garth Nix - A young woman travels to London, preparing to study art and hoping to find her father. Instead she stumbles on the world of the booksellers of London, an organisation who engage in the paranormal, enforcing accords with the fae and the like. But perhaps this stumbling is not a coincidence? As disturbances escalate and tensions rise. A breathless page turner, I tore through it and was done before I knew it.
City of Brass - S.A. Charkaborty
Master of Djinn - P Djeli Clark
Pretty much read these two back to back, both alternate takes on djinn, both part set in Egypt, both with references to The City of Brass. I have the whole trilogy by Chakraborty, this is the 1st. A 500 odd page slab of epic fantasy, which probably could have been shorter. Djinn politics and finances are surprisingly dull - much of the material with Ali didn’t engage me as much as Nahri. Nahri the street kid with glimpses of abilities that end up being more, sending her on a race for her life from Cairo to the Brass city, which is where the joy of the story is.
Master of Djinn is Clark's first novel, after handful of novellas and acclaimed shorts. A number of which set in an alternate history Egypt, where steampunk is replaced by djinnpunk (no idea if anyone actually using that term, but allow me a passing amusement...). Particularly this follows on from the short A Dead Djinn in Cairo. Fatma is an agent of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantment and Supernatural Entities, called to investigate the murder of a number of rich white men, who have been dabbling in the occult. Set against a background of Egypt as a world power, Europe on the brink of World War I, angels and djinn, murder and mystery. This feels much fresher and engaging than City of Brass, though that is absolutely a reflection of my tastes.
The Quantum Thief - Hannu Rajaniemi
The Fractal Prince - Hannu Rajaniemi
The Causal Angel - Hannu Rajaniemi
Finnish authors trilogy written during his Edinburgh years, some of those influences showing throughout, partly as most obvious ballpark is with Stross and MacCleod. I read the 1st years ago and meant to get to the rest, but didn't get to it till now, deciding it made sense to reread the 1st to provide context and just as well. A thief broken out of prison, journey to Mars to retrieve a memory state, to Earth to put the next step in the heist, and an escape route to Saturn? Privacy standards, processor gods operating on dead souls and planetary fabric, and gaming systems. Worked well binged all together, keeping a steady flow. Doesn't feel like a lot of people writing this particular strain of science fiction, which is disappointing, even if some of the aspects feel dated (when was the last time you saw a reference to spimes?)
The Quantum Magician - Derek Künsken - Our man, see, he's gone straight, set up an art gallery in puppet town. Legit. Except, this dame, uptight, military type, she needs a magician and that he knows some tricks. They've got a new weapon, they're going to overthrow the government who has been suppressing the Sub Saharan Union for years. Problem is getting through the puppet's wormhole, it would take a miracle! Our man, thinks it is all going to go tits up! But for that kind of dosh, he's putting a crew of specialists together... for one last job.
Probably risky to follow Quantum Thief with Quantum Magician, given how acclaimed Thief is, but it made a certain sense. But they are different beasts in many ways, Magician much more a proper heist, putting a team together, establishing the connections, the risks that undermine the team, and the run itself. Lots of big post-human engineering, wormholes, banks and nations oppressing client states. Thoroughly enjoyed, thoroughly recommended.
Redder Days - Sue Rainsford -Second novel by the Irish author. Follow Me To Ground was an impulse buy, lovely little hardback and a seductive opening few pages. Disappointingly Redder Days is one of those ugly oversized paperbacks, which I particularly dislike, which is particularly frustrating as clearly given cover design the publisher has tried to capture something of the same feel. Having enjoyed Follow a lot I had been watching for this to appear, but it as yet isn't something I've found on any of my rare bookshop trips this year - so I ended up ordering. Like Follow, Redder is very much earthed in place, about land and a dank feral magical nature. The red is described as not really being a plague, but seems possibly infectious? A story of a cult forming around a conviction that only with their charismatic leader, and protection rituals informed by lies and salted with self-harm can protect them against the red. All the shades of something that isn't a plague, that transforms a person, and can infect those around, colour coded degrees, chanted in song to ward off the red. The details of that and much of what happens here are unclear. With some works a lack of clarity can be frustrating, but in other, like Rainsford's work, the uncertain is part of the appeal. Writing that draws you in, seduces you, leaves you a little disoriented.
Star Eater - Kerstin Hall - debut novel by the South African writer. I was keen to pick this up after her novella The Border Keeper, which was a lovely piece of new weird fantasy. Star Eater follows a sister in the governing body/church, where the women gain powers by eating the flesh of their mothers. One side effect is that men who get too close to a sister are transformed into hideous immortal monsters. Faced with a drought, likely rationing and inevitable unrest things are getting difficult. With factions back stabbing to force through their own solutions, inevitably our heroine becoming central to the plot. I had a few niggles about plot/world building, but I am also going through particular phase of inhaling books and perhaps not taking as much time as I should. Enjoyable overall and I'll be interested to see what Hall does next.
Rabbits - Terry Miles - if you are familiar with Miles' podcasts then you'll have an idea what to expect from the novel adaptation from the Rabbits podcast. It isn't strictly an adaption of the first series, though id has been a while since I listened, but it is full of elements from there. Rabbits is the name given to a game, following clues and conspiracy theories, with an increasing sense of mania and possibly altering reality. I rushed through this over the weekend and was very much satisfied. It gets pretty far out there at times, but ticks a lot of my boxes, and curiosities.
There is no Antimemetics Division - qntm - Had this recommended by word of mouth and I'm sharing with you word of mouth. A meme is an idea that spreads, an antimeme is an idea that hides itself, some times erasing memories, sometimes devouring all who learn of the idea. Reminiscent of Stross' Laundry Service novels, where demons and elder gods are mathematical functions. Here they are memes, but ones people can't remember, dealt with by a division people can't remember. An odd book, at times feels episodic, but that form makes sense given the fact characters keep needing to remember what is going on. qntm throws everything at the reader, the full range of anti memes leading to ultimate disaster. I enjoyed this, something different, a bit indie, a bit raw.
After I posted this on instagram, someone said they were interested, but thought it sounded like an SCP. Which I had never heard of. SCP appears to be an online shared fictional world, and qntm is a participant in that, and this is an SCP.
Sisters of The Vast Black - Lina Rather - A tor novella. Nuns on a living space ship just want to help people. But central earth church and state are looking to regain a foothold in the distant colonies. Meanwhile all the nuns have secrets and agendas, as does the space ship itself. For a novella the pacing feels off, too much going on. So it is at least half way through before we can get a grasp of all the parts and appreciate where it is going. Decent enough in the end, but not really as engaging as I want a novella to be.
Upright Women Wanted - Sarah Gailey - a tor novella,which I've had my eye on for a while. Came across on last week's trip to Edinburgh, stocked by same specialist store as I previously bought hardback of Magic For Liars. An alt-Western, where America is consumed by war, all machines and fuel going to the war effort. Leaving a wild west world in its wake - small towns adhering to approved rules, enforced by sheriffs. A woman runs away after her girlfriend is hung for owning unapproved material, stowing away in a librarian wagon. But her perception of the librarians as upright women distributing approved material turns out to be more complicated in reality - rebels, posses, life on the road is dangerous, but she is enthusiastic and determined. A good solid short book, the romance element maybe comes in too quick given circumstances, but likely has to given a book this length. Good fun read.
Contraband - George Foy - Science fiction is about the time it was written. Science fiction dates quickly. It is increasingly difficult to write science fiction. All things people say and that I was conscious of reading Contraband. My understanding is that this is a 2019 edition of a 1997 novel. But reading it felt really temporally weird - world war 2 references, lots of 1960s references, a stray Alanis Morrisette reference. Clearly there are a couple of decades between my reading and original publication, but it just felt older. And I can't tell if that was me or the book.
As the title suggests this is a book about contraband. The lead character is referred to primarily as the pilot and he is a smuggler. But the new BON agency is cracking down on smuggling and their algorithms have become spookily effective. To a degree retro, a straight forward smuggling novel, it mixes in VR with VCR, and TV addicts with algorithms, which makes this cyberpunk novel.
A lot of the themes are about borders and free trade. Which recall Hutchinson's Fractured Europe novels and I wonder how those will read in 20 years. On other hand flu like viruses at 38°C and references to Afghanistan are timeless in some ways...?
I definitely enjoyed bits of it, took it as is. But there are parts that are dated on so many levels, which creates such a strange experience. Definitely the nature of the beast when it comes to reading unknown old novels, but an experience one is more used to from perhaps reading a Philip K. Dick novel rather than a 1997 novel.
Within Without - Jeff Noon - The 4th of Noon's Nyquist novels. Each set in a different location/country, where the private investigator has to deal with the unique rules that the place lives by before he can solve his latest case. From each zone having a different time zone, a country of words and fiction, a small town folk horror, to Within Without which is about borders - inside and outside. If you are familiar with Noon then there are a lot of his familiar themes at play here, sifting of his twitter spores into a novel shape. In Delirium celebrities bond with "images", an alien life form, which enhances who they are building up their fame. But when a famous actor is separated from Oberon, his image, then Nyquist is hired to retrieve it. Fame and fog, magic and mystery, encounters with fictional characters that come with real threat. I probably need to go back and re-read the 1st two novels in this series, I enjoyed them, but Creeping Jenny and Within Without are just so good I suspect there was an element of my brain catching up.