re-Binti, I had some issues with it, the latter volumes not really being stand alone, the 2nd particular being an issue, but as a whole I generally enjoyed, something pretty atypical and engaging, if flawed.
The Vorrh - Brian Catling - First of a trilogy, by apparently multi media artist dabbling in novels. The 1st volume has Alan Moore quote on cover, which is what caught my attention. The work has been compared to Moorcock, Mieville and the like, and has had various weird mixed reviews. It is about 500 pages and not sure it is something that can be readily summarised or entirely what I made of it. I started reading this on my kindle at same time as I started reading Vellum, and with all the weird myth and angelic stuff found distinct parallels. The Vorrh is a vast and mysterious forest in Africa, where it is suggested the Garden of Eden lies at the heart, where Adam has returned the land that surrounds the garden, lost angels haunting the surrounds. British colonialists arrived, convincing the local tribe of the glories of empire, and a European city was rebuilt brick by brick on the outskirts to enable logging. A British soldier gets lost to the woods, disciple of the tribes priestess, one of the men he converted to be a policeman, only to lead a rebellion, is sent to kill the soldier. A Frenchman, novelist and "pervert", is broken when he makes the mistake of taking his adventuring from the page and into the great forest. A woman finds a mysterious cyclops in the house she thought abandoned. There are some overlaps, strange encounters and mysteries, but also other threads that seem to be less relevant. Some of the sections are good, and probably on the whole I enjoyed, but it is rambling, perhaps directionless, not sure it entirely coheres into something that works as a piece. Though perhaps one needs to take on the whole trilogy to do so? Who knows. Book 2 has recently been published.
Small Change - Roan Parrish - one of those random purchases that comes from following too many authors on twitter, who RT other authors on twitter. I gather Roan's goal is to write romance novels in every genre. Not sure what genre this counts as and in the end appears to be a spin off from a series of other books. But yeah, a romance novel, which in principle I'm not adverse to, though only read a handful that would likely be classified as such. Those usually being ones with artists, musicians and the like as main characters. Like this one, I find that novels like these tend to be particularly interesting as character studies - so much of what drives the story is character, perhaps more so than any other kind of story? Small Change is the "most queer friendly tattoo shop in Philly" and owned by workaholic artist Ginger. Down the street there is a new coffee shop, where she meets the too good to be true proprietor Christopher. Will they won't they, you bet they do. Looking at Roan's other novels related to this one I seem to have happened on the mainly straight one, others being mainly male/male relations, though the cast is pretty (consciously) diverse. It is an easy read, largely sweet, perhaps too much at times - tension not quite there, too good to be true, some of the emotional tweaks have some power but aren't perhaps earned enough? On the whole I enjoyed.
Borne - Jeff VanderMeer - so I've had this sitting on my to read pile for a while - the pitch of giant flying murder bear doesn't actually do it for me - and once I started reading it, it took me a while to work through it. I had fairly mixed feelings. The whole post-apocalyptic city, with giant murder bear and murder bear proxies, the cast of barely surviving people is all just too bleak. For me there is very little to alleviate the relentlessness of that. Sure the Borne stuff with Rachel has a charm, much of the writing is really good, the little foxes that follow Borne, the weird stuff inside the company building is cool/interesting, but I'm just not sure I can say that I enjoyed it. actually, let me rephrase that: I didn't enjoy this.
Nefarious Doings - Ilsa Evans - not sure where this came from, been on my kindle for ages, and deciding to read it was something of a spontaneous act and need for a change of speed. An Australian murder mystery series, this being book 1 - a failed novelist and small town newspaper columnist decides to investigate the murder of a man found dead in her mother's burnt out home. With cast including her 70 something mother, her sister, and five daughters, there are a lot of strong women characters to enjoy. Easy read, page turner, and some pleasing humour amidst the family banter.
The Only Harmless Great Thing - Bo Bolander - one of the latest tor novellas, just under 100 pages. Seen some hype for this - her friends talking it up a lot on twitter, but also a fairly rave review in last week's Warren Ellis' newsletter. It is a curious mashup - origin myth of elephant matriarchy establishing stories, of alternate history where the radium girls extended to radium elephants, and the future where the question of how to mark a warning for the future where our current understanding of hazard may not carry through. Interesting ideas, well enough written, but it felt under realised, a little too reliant on the "ta da!" of the idea and not enough in bringing it to life. It was fine, decent read, but I was underwhelmed.
Howl's Moving Castle - Diane Wynne Jones - had this sitting in my reading pile for a while. It was niece's birthday this week - so I bought her "The Girl Who Drank The Moon", which I've already noted I loved, but also spotted Waterstones had this in the same section, so bought this is as a complimentary companion piece. Then figured I might as well use that as an excuse to getting round to reading my own copy as anything else. I've seen the film and enjoyed it as I do most Ghibli films, and hadn't heard of DWJ prior to that and this is the first of her work I've read. I enjoyed it a lot, even knowing the general outline of the story from the film - not exactly the same, much more in the book, but same idea. For those who don't know: Sophie is a teenage girl cursed by the Witch of The Waste to become an old woman and not be able to tell anyone she has been cursed, stumbling into Howl's moving castle she hopes the Wizard Howl can help her, while getting sucked into his hectic lifestyle, hilarity ensues. Warm, fun, enjoyable.
"Ada King" by E.M. Faulds and "Tropic of Kansas" by Christopher Brown. Both, in ways, have parallels, and are interesting companion pieces. Both near future, collapsed societies (though actually not sure either expressly state when they are set, but it is an impression that I had as a reader), fragmented states, environmental impact and forms of resistance.
Ada King is a child prodigy of a overbearing controlled state. The story follows her and two men affected by that state and others that are like it. By the climate change that has created a need for a raft city, where the three characters end up. Drone strikes, hidden cities, AI submarines, new forms of AR/VR/web. I'd suggest it was somewhere between Snow Crash/Diamond Age and Infomocracy. A fun read, good page turner.
Tropic of Kansas could actually be set now. It is an alternate history, in that there are little details that clearly deviate from our timeline - the successful assassination of Reagan, the failure to resolve a hostage crisis with Iran. But the details of President seizing power and extending his terms, failed attempts to stop him leading to near civil war. Robots devouring agriculture, the power are the underground, the enemy, government workers are subject to loyalty tests and punishment. The story follows Sig, child of protestors, who has a penchant for getting in and out of trouble. And Tania, a government employee blackmailed into finding Sig, her foster brother. At times this is really dark, perhaps gets a little flukey in how situations are resolve, maybe goes on a little, but is a good/important read. I'd put this somewhere between The Water Knife and Infomocracy.
Been thinking, and I'm conscious while I didn't enjoy Borne - I didn't hate it or strongly not enjoy - but didn't find it uplifting in its grimness, one could put both these books, and books like The Water Knife in the grim category. The cli-fi, the climate collapse, the grim meat hook future scenarios. But Borne was hard to relate to and stripped it down to really scraping through rubble to barely survive on a day to day basis, I mean it is fucking grim, regardless of comic relief and at times light tone. But I find these other books I can relate to more, take more from, they have different scales. Maybe because I can get more out of failed states and fighting tyranny than the flying murder bear scenario? Anyway...as you were.
All Systems Red - Martha Wells - Friend insisted I read this. I'd been conscious of some hype around it, some gushing reviews. But wasn't sure it was for me. But it wasn't what I expected. A lot of talk is about a robot that sits around and watches TV programs all the time, other wise it would go on a killing rampage. And yeah... I guess that is in there, but it is an aside, not the plot. Set in a future where a range of new planets have been found, a couple of groups are surveying a particular planet to determine whether they are going to put in a bid for territory. As part of the rules of the company they are dealing with they have to have certain level of security, bought from that company, and including the self-styled murderbot. Though, the murderbot's role here is to protect a particular group of scientists. Quickly things start to go wrong and in a way that rules out coincidence - someone is trying to kill them! One of tor's novellas, so a quick read, though i think it is also the first hit to get you in with something like 3-4 full length volumes apparently imminent, following the further adventures of murderbot. I enjoyed, it was a good page turner, and not what I expected.
Forest of Memory - Mary Robinette Kowal - another novella from tor that got a similar response. I've bits and bobs by Kowal, but nothing of novella/longer length. I know a lot of what she does has more historical setting, so wasn't sure this would be for me. However, it is, very much so - near future tech thriller on a human level, very much my thing. When everything can be fabricated and reproduced, authenticity becomes a fetish, which is where Katya comes in - sourcing actual historic artifacts, with history/story, and capturing in the moment moments on live logging systems. Returning from a buying trip she comes across something she shouldn't and as a result is abducted, taken offline, which freaks her out and is missing for days. Ironically this creates enough of a unique experience that someone has paid her to recount her undocumented experience for money.
Under The Pendulum Sun - Jeannette Ng - picked this up in the recent 99p kindle offer, conscious some of folk i know know her from cons/twitter, and book has had decent reception. While it wasn't bad, in the end it wasn't for me. The pacing was too slow, not enough seemed to happen, I became increasingly frustrated and put off by the lead characters. A woman heads to the land of the fae in pursuit of her missionary brother who has gone out of touch. So I'm expecting something about the fae and missionaries forcing their way into places they aren't welcome. Rather it becomes too focused on English quaintness, tea and knitting, and the manners in the relationship between brother and sister. There are weird elements here, odd encounters, but they came across as lacking something. There is interesting material, the nature of the fae, whether they have souls or are children of god, the nature of their apocrypha. But in a period where I've read Vellum and The Vorrh, those had parallels along those lines, and were ultimately much weirder and darker and engaging. Which probably isn't fair to Pendulum, but certainly if you put it beside those it is politely mundane weird.
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle - Stuart Turton - a 500 page slab of a debut novel, sent to me by a friend in hardback, again insisting I read. And yeah, this is good, I thoroughly recommend. The time period is never entirely clear, though assumption we're looking notionally at post WWI. A crumbling mansion, the good and great having fallen on hard times - 19 years ago a child was murdered - now all those that were there that weekend are back, for the return of the dead child's sister from exile in Paris, the titular Evelyn Hardcastle. At 11pm Evelyn will die. Again. Again. Again. Our narrator wakes up, confused and with little understanding of what is going on. As things are pieced together we understand he isn't in his own body, and is one of those trapped in this house till someone solves the murder. Classic period piece who dunnit, with marital scandals, upstairs/downstairs strife, nasty "habits", and too many people who aren't how they first appear, leading to blackmail and revelation. But as the murder is investigated there is something much more science fictional going on, and I was really impressed by how well the author holds it all together, builds it up, and manages to get away with twists. Not entirely perfect, a glitch here or there - apparently some have found it hard to follow - it entirely made sense to me and I was here for this.
Escapology - Ren Warrom - OK, I'm going to admit to myself, I will probably not finish this. It is sitting on my kindle at 60% and has been for a while. And every page of it was a slog to even get that far. Escapology is a post climate collapse cyberpunk adventure, which ticks so many of my boxes and should totally be up my street. But I was hesitant. I read a story Ren set in same world and enjoyed it a lot. So was like OK, lets give it a go, and I got both the novels in the series. Filled with psychotic gangsters, the best hit woman ever, the best hacker ever, and big family owned AR/VR systems, it is all classic stuff. And all cranked up to 11. But sadly that isn't a compliment. The writing just felt hyperbolic to the point of incoherence, like being slapped about, and not in a good way. Then there were aspects that made me uncomfortable, the way it is revealed that one of the characters is a trans man, and how that character is then treated. And OK... there is an aspect of well that just proves that the bad guy is a bad guy, doesn't it? Fuck that shit. So yeah, didn't enjoy, difficult read, gave up.
Autonomous - Annalee Newitz - the partner of Charlie Jane Anders, both becoming authors having established IO9 together. Never a fan of IO9, never clicked with me, so that isn't a factor for me, but just making observation in case others want to make the connection. This has been getting interesting press, wasn't sure from some of the descriptions whether it would be my cup of tea. But should be something worth giving a go, so I did. Think I bought this at same time as Escapology - using gift vouchers. In ways there are similarities, post-cyberpunk kinda deal. Judith "Jack" Chen is a drug pirate, extrapolating today's environment of patent extortion when it comes pharmaceuticals, Jack liberates drugs and makes them available to regular/poor people instead of only being available to the rich. Unfortunately, a beta-drug that she has reversed engineered turns out to have brutal side-effects and she has to find someway to resolve the situation. More unfortunately, the other half of the narrative is from the POV of an indentured military grade robot, who is the robot partner of an agent tasked with capturing Pirate Jack. The plot/themes throughout of patents and robot autonomy are interesting and engaging - the extension of well if robots can be indentured and earn their autonomy, then why can't humans provides an extension into human slavery. To start with I found the tone a little funny, something felt off from a writing point of view, not sure what, couldn't pin it down, but once I had some momentum I was less aware of it. I did have mixed feelings in the end, though having finished at the weekend I find I am still thinking about it. The mixed feelings mainly stem from the way that violence is handled - in someways I can see it as a demonstration of police brutality and casual authoritarian approach to "the enemy", but I'm not entirely convinced that is the intent or that it is pulled off.
The Lamb Shall Slaughter The Lion/The Barrow Will Send What It May - Margaret Killjoy - another of those novella sets from Tor, part 2 Barrow having just been released this week, I decided to spring for both at once. They have an Alan Moore quote, among others, that talks about how punk these are, and while I do take Moore quotes with a pinch of salt it was perhaps enough for me to read more into what these actually were. The two follow Danielle Cane, an anarchist, hitch hiking punk. At the start she arrives in a ghost town, deserted by collapsing industry, converted into a squatters paradise - home to punks, hippies, and anarchists, covering a range of gender, orientation and relationship spectrums. Of course, it has the typical problems this type of community faces - half of them want to worship the blood soaked stag demon spirit, the other feel that maybe they should do something to banish it before it kills them all...The second starts straight off the events of the first, a road trip where the friends from book 1 arrive at another decrepit town, that just happens to have a resurrection problem. I liked these, more understate than they might be - they could be big Urban Fantasy/Romance books, the elements are there, but for me the characters feel more human, from the arguments to the panic attacks and doubts. But there is also something that felt more genuinely unsettling and wrong than many of those kind of books achieve, particularly in the first part, with the whole spirit/demon presence. Both books in the 130-150 pages range, which I'll say again is a deeply satisfying length - something that you can read quickly (pretty much a day each) and be fully engaged and appreciative of.
and yeah, i got behind on my posting again, though was making notes as usual as i was going along, but no doubt this ends up as a monster post. well, shit.