I had Rhesus Chart (Laundry 5) sitting at top of a pile, so figured it was last one I read. So I contrived to get book 6, 7 and 8 for Christmas. In January I read The Annihilation Score, or, as it turned out, re-read. Searching through archives here I confirmed I had already read it, so I was a little frustrated. But at least one of the advantages of reading so much is that you don't remember the fine details... Though when I got to the incident that pissed me off 1st time round I did remember. But yeah, I imagine reading book 9 if you've not read previous could be tricky - book 6 certainly had plenty of references to previous books including how some of them ended!
Hidden Hope - Laura Amrbose - I previously read the prequel short that she gave away to her mailing list, but this is the first for sale self-published romance novella by Laura Lam under the name Laura Ambrose. Not necessarily my normal cup of tea, though I do have wide tastes and am willing to explore. In the prequel two online writing buddies meet IRL, this is set a few years later when what looked like it could be a wonderful relationship self-destructed horribly. One of the women is a SFF writer, has had a book deal, but sales aren't necessarily going well. She has saved up her money to go to London for the big con (worldcon by a different name? perhaps). There she is meeting online friends for the first time and looks like things could be great. But there is a stir surrounding the big new name, the author who sold their debut novel at auction, the mysterious person everyone is talking about... Of course when it turns out to be her ex-friend, who hated fantasy, who she introduced to fantasy, who she hasn't talked to in years it looks like things are going to get messy! Decent fun read, familiar environments of SFF writing, cons, writing, etc.
The Lost Witch - Melvin Burgess - Like "We Get The Monsters We Deserve" this was a fairly spontaneous buy at the EIBF. Another YAish book. I had quite mixed feelings about this book, much of which came down to pacing. The book is in three parts, and the weighting felt problematic. The book starts with Bea, a teenage girl, during the summer holidays. The family have been away on a rain soaked British holiday, but on their way back something really weird happens. As she discovers skateboarding she forgets all about it, and concentrates on learning new skills and not being interested in the older boy who triggers the interest, honest. But the weird doesn't forget her, and gradually it is revealed she is a witch, and there is a war on between The Hunt and The Witches. Part 1 feels all idyllic, long summer days, odd things happening, with an increasing quandary to solve. Then it all kicks off and part 2 is ugly, it also is spread across a couple of years - I'm not sure to what extent the reader is supposed to buy into this part, it felt off to me the entire time, so the reveal wasn't a reveal. From there, there is the reveal, things are all thrown off again, and part 3 is all resolved in a couple of days, and I sort of thought too easily, after part 2 became a trudge. Decent and interesting in ways, but it lost me at times, and I definitely took a break to read the Stross before coming back to finish it.
The Ruin of Angels - Max Gladstone - I feel there is an essay/paper to be written about Gladstone's paradigm shift in fantasy vs the gentrification of the new weird. I have a 1000 words written exploring some of my thoughts, but not sure anyone actually wants to read that. Anyway, after the completion of his numerically titled but published out of sequence, 5 book craft series, he returns to the world with this novel, set after those books. In someways I might suggest this was an epilogue - finally we visit the squid city referenced throughout the other books. The world is mostly run by crafts people, those who have harnessed the magic of gods and transformed the world, with the odd hold out where a god or two still holds on. In this city the god wars started, and the ghost of that city remains, the instigators taking eternity to die. But it is held in place City & the City'd into place by the servants of the squid god, all elder god disciple tentacle shit. Kai from Full Fathom Five arrives in the city to catch up with her sister. Things don't go to plan and Izza from the same book, originally from this city follows her. In meantime Kai meets Tara, the lead from Three Parts Dead and Four Cross Roads. The book combines the idea of ghost cities, and diving into the unseen city to retrieve artifacts, with the environmental themes of the previous books and how magic might crack the world open, devour all resources and kill everyone. Maybe. To that end there is an Elon Muskesque character building a space ship to launch and see what alternatives they have. Like all of the craft novels there is a lot of weird, interesting, magic stuff here. He mixes in contemporary stuff that makes it atypical and odder, like students playing pool, dungeons and dragons, reading comics, going to drum and bass nights. On other hand, when he essentially describes an industrial estate and uses the words "car park" I was thrown out, same as when two characters went for frozen yoghurt and had graham crackers (a pure Americanism as far as I am concerned). I don't know whether it was my reading that changed as the series went on, but I suspect it was Gladstone's world building - for all the rebels and artists, occupy movements and free runners, his main characters are essentially bankers and lawyers. Sure trading in god worship and into necromantic god accounts, but bankers and lawyers all the same. There is literally a scene in this novel where the banker sits through a power point presentation - yawn! There is also too much back fill/this is what I didn't get to in the last 5 books - culminating in a scene where two groups are chasing across a dead world, explaining the fucking plot to each other. A trudge! I took a break. I think essentially I like these books, they are bold, they change the benchmark for a genre, but damn, they could have been tighter, better, gone more for the weird and less for the suit and tie.
Angelmaker/Edie Investigates - Nick Harkaway - the break I took was to re-read this. Still good fun. but darker than I remembered, more torture and serial killers, and feeling kinda bleak against current UK world.
The City In The Middle Of The Night - Charlie Jane Anders - When we talked with Charlie in Helsinki she talked about her 2nd novel was going to be quite different from her 1st, and she wasn't joking. This is a weird science fiction novel, and I'll say up front: I loved it. The narrative follows two voices, initially we have Sophie, a student from the poor part of town, who has realised if she studies hard she'll not have to marry and have children. She doesn't fit in, but she steps up to protect a friend, with disastrous consequences. The city is rigid, everyone works at same time, sleeps at same time, and outside the city is death. With the set up I was initially reminded of Karin Tidbeck's Amatka, both have that uncomfortable character, in a rigid colony, where if they don't conform and fit in things will go wrong. They both have an unsettling uncertainty, that only becomes clear as you read on. We then switch to the 2nd character, Mouth, a nomad, who travels between the cities, and here we get another view of this strange city, but also that there are other cities. The narrative switches back and forth between the two characters, the catastrophe that faces this fading colony world reflected in the personal and the cruel world around them. To add to the strangeness, and that Amatka feeling, we have things that are crocodiles and buffalo, but are actually local alien and monstrous. Not easy to explain without perhaps giving away too much, but as I say, I enjoyed this a lot, really a lot.
The Clown Service - Guy Adams - this was a pretty easy read, not mind blowing, but reasonably enjoyable, would read more. Toby has fucked up his career in the UK secret service, PTSD from the middle east and a fucked up mission. So he is re-assigned, as his ex-boss jokes "if we are the circus, you're being moved to the clown service." The Clown Service is a hold over, a relic, down to one active agent, and now Toby. Coming up during WWII an occult service to rival that of Germany and Russia, but not entirely believed in or relevant. Until now, of course, an enemy agent releases something uncanny, things turn to shit quickly, and only Toby can save the world! Less Rivers of London, and perhaps more Caballistics Inc or Absalom.
Tentacle - Rita Indiana - This is a short book from And Other Stories, small UK publisher, tends to a lot of translated novellas, though not exclusively, a lot of their work is interesting. This certainly has an eye catching cover, and the descriptions sounded particularly promising. To a degree, I was reminded of Black Wave by Michelle Tea, also from And Other Stories, with the sense of (post-)apocalypse/die-out and gender politics. Acilde lives in post-apocalyptic Santo Domingo - earthquake, Venezuelan chemical release, oceanic catastrophe - they work as a maid to a shaman/priestess, having been promoted from sucking cock in the street. Acilde has a woman's body, but thanks to new technology it looks like they can easily get the male body they have dreamed of. Things then get weird, becoming a man, Acilde is transformed, is hailed as the shaman's chosen one, and travels in time. Or... something. We then have mix narrative, a failed art student pre-collapse is given an opportunity to make something of himself, but something weird happens, and pirates, and fuck up. And switch back and forth, and slowly a picture forms. Unfortunately I think this novella is too short, if it had been longer the idea might have been explored better, and wouldn't have relied as much on an unearned twist. It started off well, had a lot of promise, wasn't sure about the character shifts, and was disappointed by the end.
Her Body & Other Parties - Carmen Maria Machado - I'd been meaning to pick this up for ages, had heard good stuff about this short story collection. She was at the Edinburgh Book Festival in August last year, couldn't make that, but thinking that there might be signed copies at least floating about afterwards I picked it up (unsigned as it turned out) at the festival. Finally got round to reading it, and these stories are really good. Maybe a couple a wee bit fuzzy, but that can also be an affect of reading too many stories by one writer so close together. Hard to explain what she is doing, on some level the stories could be straightforward - women (as lead in every case) meet men, and women, have sex, go through traumas, etc, but then other elements sneak in, like the role of women in urban legend and all the things that can go wrong, ghost stories, ends of the world. In a way I wasn't surprised to find a thanks to Kelly Link, and some other familiar names, in the acknowledgements, because while it is getting mainstream acclaim and shelved in mainstream shelves, there is something of Link's chemistry in the writing. The story Especially Heinous in particular made me think a lot about narrative and challenging the regular story form, told as it is as an episodic summary of a long time TV police procedural. The way it builds and gets really weird and dark and just brings you into the story arc is really fascinating - I loved that one, and a good number of the others.
Luna - New Moon - Ian McDonald - first of a trilogy by Ian McDonald, with the third just published this week. Had this on my kindle for a while and been meaning to catch up, but with him at Glasgow's AyeWrite festival on Sunday I thought it was a good opportunity to give myself some context for that talk. Was pleased to also get chance to have dinner with Ian and Richard Morgan after the talk, thanks to mutual friends. The moon has been colonized in a way where everything is corporate, particularly run by five families, and every breath, sip, and element of data is paid for, or you die. For the most part this is the story of the Cortas, the last of the five "dragons", the upstart, self-made Brazilians and their feud with the Australian ground breaking McKenzie's the oldest of the dragons. Like most of Ian's work there are multiple characters, and through them all we see various layers of the society, the sex, the mysticism, the history, the ambition, the risk. I enjoyed this, and while I normally leave gaps between volumes of a series, it is tempting to jump onto book 2 asap.