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remotevoices last won the day on September 12

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  1. there is that. but also the indulgent repetition was... reduced, if not absent. Meantime. Magic For Liars - Sarah Gailey - this is Gailey's debut novel, after a couple of Hippo Western novellas, and various short stories. It is a bit of a mixed bag, genre wise (but then, it isn't like one could describe Hippo Western as an obvious genre choice...). Magic is real, and Ivy isn't magic, but her twin sister is. Add to that the death of their mum through cancer, and the last 17 years have been a fucking mess. Still, she just about manages to make a living as a PI, with the same old same of cheating spouses and minor fraud. Until the headmistress from the local school of magic turns up - there has been a murder! Of course, the school is also where her sister teaches. So on the one hand this is a detective novel; there is a body, suspects, interviews, clues, and all that. But also a magic school novel, for all that Ivy tries to remain blase, to assume a role, the bratty kids are committing magic all around her, wasting it on the most mundane shit, then there are the talking books, and a Chosen One. Though, at the heart, despite the wonder, it is about a fucked up woman, in a fucked up situation, who is forced to face the extent of the fucked uppery. Very much an easy read, I think it was in some ways deceptively easy reading, given how much it is pulling off and just how audacious that process is in the end.
  2. Huh, looks as though I didn't post about The Poppy War here, though I did on the other forum I post reading comments on. OK. The Poppy War by R.F. (Rebecca) Kuang. It got something of a buzz, but I was put off by a few comments. I caught her speaking at the Edinburgh SF/F/H book festival Cymera, and she came across pretty well. So I gave it a go. It is a mixed bag, the first half I enjoyed, the second less so. The first is her in school - having worked out she can avoid being married off by her adoptive parents by passing the tests that get her into military academy. Second half is war breaking out and things getting nasty. There is magic, though honestly not enough for my liking. The war stuff is problematic, many of her choices are problematic, some of it is hard reading. But I caught her again after I finished reading, promoting the second book, and it was interesting to hear her talking in a way that validated my impressions. The war stuff isn't supposed to be easy, she isn't supposed to be a hero who knows what she is doing, so the horror and bad choices are very deliberate. Also interesting how she talks about it being her study of trying to understand how China became the country it is now, through writing fantasy novels exploring history/politics clearly influenced by Chinese history. The Rise and Fall of DODO - Neal Stephenson & Nicole Galland - Bought this a while ago, on kindle, because Neal's books are just too damn big for paper. Heard some good stuff about it, got some good recommendations, bumped it up my reading list. Had intended it to be holiday reading in August, but Poppy War took longer than I expected. So it was late on in the holiday by time I started, but even though it is about 800 pages I pretty much ripped through it. A language expert is recruited from a failing university position by a secret government agency, as she translates the documents in obscure languages she realises they are all about witches and witchcraft. From which they piece together that magic stopped working in 1851 due to a number of scientific developments. With a Schrodinger like experiment they discover they can recreate magic, though only in the box. Which leads to a witch turning up to help them out, and to a series of complicated (Stephensonesque) time travel adventures. Things expand and get out of hand, allies are made, secret plots are plotted, and things get complicated. The narrative is largely from the academics journal, but as it progresses there are letters, intranet posts, and the like, introducing different POVs and time views. I found it to be well done and a lot of fun, presuming Galland's influence managed to temper some of Stephenson's historic excess. The Murders of Molly Southbourne - Tade Thompson - I had kinda been avoiding this, generally avoiding violence/war at the moment, life is hard enough! But having enjoyed the two Rosewater books I decided to take a punt on this novella, and there is more to it than the cover/first few pages suggest. Fortunately. Molly wakes up in chains, beaten and bloody and confused. Molly comes in to see how Molly is doing, bearing her own wounds and injuries, but not in chains. Eventually Molly sits down and tells Molly the story of Molly and her many deaths. Every time Molly bleeds a new Molly will form, each will be fine to start with, but without fail will become murderous. To a degree this was fine when Molly was young, home schooled on her parent's farm. But as she got older it is was more of a rollercoaster and she had to make a life for herself, and perhaps find out who she is. It is decent little page turner, a novella so quick, but also feels like an incomplete set up in someway. Which of course is partly accounted for by The Survival of Molly Southbourne, a second novella, which has recently been published - I've got it on my kindle already, so I'll likely get to it soon. Permafrost - Alastair Reynolds - another novella. The world is catastrophically fucked. An old woman, working as a teacher in one of the dead end of dead end towns finds herself recruited by the agency who are currently effectively running the world. Partly because her mother was a famous mathematician who did work on what might prove to provide a form of time travel. The possibilities are limited, they can only travel to a period where certain devices existed and only while they were running, and more that they can pilot a person who is there than go themselves. But if they can do that, then maybe they can change the barest thing that won't change the world, but might just provide enough hope that the entire population won't just die out. An odd little piece, feels quite atypical as far as time travel pieces go, from the technology, the AI presence, the Russian background of the characters/story. Amnesiascope - Steve Erickson - as opposed to Steven Erikson, which isn't confusing at all. I've read one of Steve's books before, though can't remember which. Think it was here that someone recommended him way back? He writes odd works, kind of contemporary, not hard genre, but slipping into genre peripherals. This piece is kind of a hysterical dialogue of the end of the world - I use hysterical, as that is the word the narrator uses to describe a type of cinema her reviews for the newspaper. After an earthquake LA is permanently on fire, has broken into sub-time-zones, and has a similar weird detached end times feel to the likes of Dhalgren or Black Wave. Which is something I appreciate, but to a degree becomes hard to pin down plot, and you just have to ride it out. The narrator is a novelist, makes a living from writing film reviews, his girlfriend is an artist, he writes the script for her erotic film, they kidnap strippers, a film he made up in a review starts to stalk him. Odd stuff happens and it all flows in an uncertain way. Not for everyone...
  3. oh, no worries. i'd have been surprised if there had been any ill intent, though conscious on some level he is the "name" author that people will know. and it would have been remiss of me not to point amal's role out, not least as i expect to be sitting in the pub with her at some point in the next month.
  4. To be fair, it is joint written with Amal El-Mohtar. Amal lives in Canada, but spent a number of years in Glasgow, where she was a member of the Glasgow SF Writers Circle (which I am also a member of). My understanding is that they each wrote one side of the correspondence. The pair of them did a number of promotional dates round America, and Amal is back here next month to promote it (no doubt coinciding with a trip to the Worldcon in Dublin, where a load of the GSFWC will be) I just finished the third Expanse book. Always interesting to see how it balances off the TV series. I've watched half way through series 3, ducking out to catch up on the book before the TV got too far ahead. Remains enjoyable, and the book obviously has more depth and texture to the story, even if they don't quite 100% match up
  5. Will Do Magic for Small Change by Andrea Hairston. I always assume people know about Humble Bundle and Story Bundle? Humble is more mainstream, Story more indie, both are hit and miss, but periodically both do really nice ebook packages, where you can get a dozen novels or so for like £15. (sometimes you get crazy comics humble bundles where you get dozens of books cheap). Anyway, that is how I came across this book at random - I think it was back in February, Story Bundle did an AfroFuturism bundle, and Will Do Magic For Small Change was part of that. Hairston is entirely new to me, but certainly tempted to seek out her other couple of novels after reading this. Though, I suspect there will be a certain niche appeal to this one, not everyone is going to get it - there are certain books that click on a more individual level, and I recognise this is one of them. Cinnamon has been made guardian of a weird book by her brother just before he died of an overdose. The pages of the book swirl and resolve, the story of The Wanderer gradually making itself known. So the story alternates between Cinnamon (her brother dead of an OD, her dad in a coma, the uptight Christian African Americans of her mother's family, the hoodoo theatre people of Native American/Irish theatre people) and The Wanderer (an alien, from the spaces between rather than outer, a spirit creature appearing in Africa in midst of tribal battles, allying his/herself with a warrior woman). Both stories cover a 3 year period, 1984 - 1987 and 1894-1897. We follow Cinnamon from 12 to 15 year old, making her attempts to become a theatre person, gathering her first meaningful friends to her. The Wanderer travels with their warrior woman, as they become recruited for a freak show, traveling by ship to Paris then America, making new allies along the way. In someways it could be considered as an African American Princess Bride - the modern material a bridge for an epic historic fantasy. But for all the mundanity of the modern material, it is charged and emotive, and as the story unfolds the book changes the lives of the reader. In that way it perhaps more reminds of The Invisibles, a book as a conjuration, a spell to change the world. There is a chunk in the middle of the book, which in some ways shouldn't work, but does: Cinnamon has been at an audition, is being snarky about the Japanese girl and German boy she is competing against, when her mum collapses and is rushed to hospital, with these rivals become new friends she has to find someone to drive her to the hospital, through the worst snow storm in years, and in the car they sing along with the radio at the top of their voices, taking turns reading from the book, in a way mirroring The Wanderers trials on a ship to Paris in a way that felt electric to me.
  6. I do like everything by Sloan I've read. As well as his two novels there are two novellas, a weird detective story Annabel Share, and a Penumbra prequel, though I think those are both electronic only. Sourdough is obviously his most recent, so more learned as an author, he said himself in this week's newsletter that his first novel was clumsy in ways (though charming with it). Rosewater: Insurrection - Tade Thompson - Bought this and read this as a result of catching Tade at the Cymera festival in Edinburgh. Book 1 followed Kaaro's history in relation to the slow invasion in the form of the alien incursion Rosewater in Nigeria. Book 2 follows a number of the supporting cast from book 1. So we have the mayor of Rosewater, the "alien ambassador", Kaaro's girlfriend, etc, and some presence of Kaaro himself. The alien plan has gone off the rails, various protocols seeming to act against the overall aim, something which we get more of an idea of with this book. At the same time, we learn more about the organisations working in Nigeria, who probably should be working together, but as the Nigerian leader and Rosewater clash a civil war comes to Rosewater. So the alien plan has gone to shit, human plans have gone to shit, and everyone else is caught in the shit. I enjoyed this one more than the first, there was less of the jumping about in time, so it felt more consistent, it was also interesting to see all the POVs, and how they came together. The Goblin Emperor - Katherine Addison - There was a lot of buzz about this when it was originally published in the US, a good strong word of mouth that it was something special. It has only recently been published in the UK, and a friend gifted me a copy because she wanted me to read it. Problem some time with word of mouth/hype is that it can create excess expectations, so sometimes I'm not sure how it is going to work out, but this paid off. There is an Elvish Kingdom and a Goblin Kingdom, the Elvish Emperor regretted making his 4th wife a goblin, and the resulting child was an embarrassment to him. Maia, that elvish/goblin child, was raised in exile, supervised by an exiled cousin, given a poor education and generally abused. But when an airship crash kills the emperor and all his heirs, Maia suddenly finds himself an ill-prepared emperor. Baffled by the court interactions, the back stabbing, the betrayal, the expectations for him to be married, to do all the right things - he manages to put his foot in it repeatedly, but also refuses to be used as a pawn for someone else's power grab. Slowly but surely he finds his own way, at each step maintaining dignity and kindness that is seldom returned. Deeply charming, moving and warm. I enjoyed it a lot. Castle in the Air - Diana Wynne Jones - The second in the Howl's Moving Castle trilogy. This is much more of an Arabian Nights style adventure: Abdullah the disappointing son of the second wife of a carpet salesman in Zanzib was set up with a small carpet stall on the outskirts of the market, while the family of the first wife have the prestige store. There is a prophecy about Abdullah, which is what lead to his father's disappointment, and was never passed on. But when a stranger sells him a flying carpet and he wakes up in garden belonging to the Sultan's beautiful daughter he starts to get an inkling. Of course, she is promised to the prince of Ingary, but then is abducted by a djinn anyway. Abdullah goes on an adventure, meets criminals, genie, soldiers, monsters, and eventually comes to Ingary, the home of Howl. There are a couple of bits I suspect haven't aged well, and probably would be problematic now. But on the whole it is decent fun, easy reading, not quite as good as Howl, but good to see more of the world. Three Mages and a Margarita - Annette Marie - this was a very random buy, as about half of what I pick up is. I am still partial to a certain level of Urban Fantasy, which this is and is why I picked it up. It has a certain light heartedness to it, so not grim, suggestion of romance without getting full on Paranormal Romance. Tori has moved to Vancouver, where her brother is working, and thanks to her read-headed-temper she has lost as many jobs in as many months, and is sleeping on his sofa. When it gets to point the cafes have been warned about her she thinks she is trouble, but coincidence... provides her with an advert for a barmaid job. There is something odd about the bar, or as it turns out private club/guild, but she muddles through and seems to be in there. Only for it turn out that all the guild members possess magic of some sort and as someone without magic she shouldn't even have been able to get through the front door. Add three handsome mages (see title), Tori's temper, rival guilds, bad guys, and of course she gets dragged into the world. Light and enjoyable, good chance I'll pick up the next volume. Summerland - Hannu Rajaniemi - finished the above as started train journey Thursday night, and moved on to this, so read at least half of it on train, a wee bit more over my holiday weekend, then finished on journey back up today. I think it is reasonable to describe this as Weird, though perhaps not as firmly in the bounds of what we probably tend to think of as the strictures of that genre. The British Empire has conquered the lands of the dead. This means that death is not the end, and Britain has set up a nation over the border, playing on fairy mythology they call the city Summerland and the intelligence community is called the Summer Court. With this the living intelligence agency becomes the Winter Court. The British won the first world war with these intelligence agencies and the use of technologies making use of aetheric weapons, ectoplasmic tanks and fighter planes. As a result by 1938 Britain is involved in a Cold War with Russia, Lenin has become an aetheric hive mind intelligence (bolstered by the minds of the Russian dead), and Franco and Stalin are competing for control of Spain. Rachel White is an agent of the Winter Court, babysitting a troublesome defector, the operation goes badly, but not before he reveals the existence of a mole in the Summer Court. Peter Bloom is the mole in the Summer Court, a ghost agent, working against Britain for the opportunity to join the hive mind. So yeah, on one hand it is a very cold war noir drama, dead drops, encrypted messages, covert stuff. On other as we alternate between a living agent and a dead agent we get a very odd world. It is all very stiff upper lip and the tone is period, so it is understated, but definitely weird. The flashbacks of Bloom are perhaps a little distracting, given that White's story is more integrated. But definitely something different and engaging. Miranda in Milan - Katharine Duckett - finished Summerland with a couple hours still left on train, so finished journey with a Tor novella. A sequel to The Tempest, though with less of the Shakespearean language. Prospero deposes his brother than sent him to the island, and returns to rule Milan. Miranda, his daughter, really only knows life from the island, with Caliban and Aerial. The winter climate and the fact that she seems to be regarded as a monster by the court of Milan, make her life miserable. Until she encounters the servant girl Dorothea, who is not afraid of Miranda, because Dorothea is a witch. An affection grows between the two, and along the way the origin of why Prospero was banished, why people treat Miranda is treated the way she is, and why Prospero is still not a great guy are all revealed. Quick read, ghosts, and magic.
  7. I've had that sitting (in English) for a while. Really do need to get to it. But so many other things in the waiting list! The Cybernetic Tea Shop - Meredith Katz - this is a short work, I guess a novella, it may have been picked up, and enjoyed largely based on the title... Clara is an AI technician, she is largely nomadic, her particular skills giving her that freedom. Sal is an AI, the old kind, not the little animal familiars that everyone has now, the kind that is humanoid and still scares people. When Clara arrives in Seattle a work colleague suggests she'll be interested in The Cybernetic Tea Shop, and she is bemused by the quaint place that is clearly 100s of years out of date - other than interesting tea blends the place feels archaic. Then she meets Sal, the proprietor of the tea shop, and a great friendship starts. This is a really lovely little book, there is tension/drama, but essentially it is about two people and their relationship. Redemption in Indigo - Karen Lord - as I said last time, I picked up a couple of Karen's books when I caught her talking in Helsinki. I read The Best of All Possible Worlds already, which was her science fiction novel, and I picked up the sequel to that when she was in Edinburgh last year. Following on twitter, I see that her next book is a follow up to her first book: Redemption in Indigo. Which I've had sitting unread since Helsinki. So I was spending train time for Edinburgh's new genre book festival last week, and pretty much tore through Redemption in a day. Paama is a cook, her husband a glutton, perfect! Except his avarice is grotesque and all consuming. So she has fled, returning to her family. He wants her back. All fine and straight forward, except the djombi are watching and have their own agenda for stirring shit up. A retelling of a Senegalese folk tale, by the Barbadian writer, the djombi are kind of parallel to what Christians would think of as angels and devils, though comes more in the form of beneficial meddling and mischievous tricksters. One djombi has decided that a colleague has fallen from his path, and the way for her to punish him to take his power over chaos and hand it to Paama. Of course, the indigo skinned djombi sees it as an insult and wants his chaos back, but it isn't as easy as that. As with Possible Worlds, I am struck by how warm a writer Karen is, here particularly she has a big story telling voice, and even where we have villains she manages to talk us through them, not forgive, or negate, but to understand what drives them, upsets them, turns them. Really enjoyable. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Book Store - Robin Sloan - a re-read. Unemployed after the tech collapse in San Francisco our narrator finds himself working the night shift of a weird bookshop. Mixes weird book shops, fantasy novels, Google technology, Industrial Light Magic model makers, and so much more. A contemporary novel, but very much about science and technology, and that kind of post-Gibson-Pattern-Recognition thing.
  8. another funny month of reading, got a handful of books started and in progress, and a couple that I suspect are drifting from in progress to whatever. Jade City - Fonda Lee - I believe this was World Fantasy Best Novel a few years ago? I read the first chapter online and enjoyed. It is a fantasy novel, but feels much more like a Hong Kong film set at the turn of last century: the martial art schools mixed in politics, the introduction of cars and TV being new things. But it is a different world, the island of Kekon has been occupied after a world war, but thanks to guerilla war lead by the Green Bone Warriors it has become free and is redefining itself. Green Bone is a reference to Jade, which to trained and disciplined Kekonese can provide special abilities of strength, speed, perception, and the like. Which is why the city is known as Jade City, and the Jade is coveted by the world powers. Things change, the unified warriors are now split into competing families, their ex-occupiers have developed drugs that enable them to use Jade without the side effects. And tensions mount. I was reminded of Ian McDonald's Luna, which unfortunately for this I have read pretty recently - the Kaul family are one of the biggest Jade families on the island, but their ex-allies the Ayt family have been expanding in secret and are ready to take control. Cue family drama, generations, power struggles, betrayals and losses. All of which should make for an exciting and engaging fantasy novel markedly different from what we expect from much of the fantasy genre. However, I've not been able to finish it yet, I keep taking brakes because I'm finding it hard work. The prose disconnects me, and I recognise part of that is that persistently things happen off page - like one character arrives home, sits in their kitchen, and reflects on what they have been doing or one character is having a quiet night when someone rushes in to tell him there has been an attempt on his brothers life. The result is we're distanced, and I struggled to engage, and increasingly even like any of the characters. It is interesting premise, set up, engaging world building, but... Eh, I might finish it, in a quiet moment. Malamander - Thomas Taylor - I suspect this is younger than YA, listed as 9-12, ended up in the kids/YA floor of Waterstones and picked up this (book of the month) and another as part of a deal. Set in a beach side resort during winter, full of mystery, legend, ghosts and monsters. Cheerie-On-Sea is transformed every year, the wind builds and rips off the first two letters, welcome to Eerie-On-Sea. Herbert Lemon is essentially a kid, but washed up on the beach as an orphan, in a crate of lemons, he finds himself working in The Hotel Nautilus's Lost & Found thanks to Lady Kraken and despite hotel manager Mr. Mollusc's best attempts to get rid of him. When a young girl, about same age as him, arrives begging to be hidden, he finds himself sucked into finding out who Violet Parma really is, what happened to her parents, and what it has to do with the hideous perhaps mythical monster, The MALAMANDER! Obviously all the names are very deliberate, and work into the tone of a book for that age group, as do all the plot developments and adventures. A good fun, easy going page turner. Apparently Taylor has had a career as an illustrator, so is famous for having done the original cover of the first Harry Potter novel, so there you go. The Wee Free Men - Terry Pratchett - so, apparently the pound shop in Sauchiehall St have added second hand books to their "re-play" line, which is to say that essentially they are selling second hand books for a pound. Not a huge/great selection, but they did have this, and I've never read. So I read. And enjoyed. And imagine that there are a load of folk who read it long before me. Summer In Orcus - T. Kingfisher - aka Ursula Vernon. As Kingfisher, Vernon writes younger fiction, as Vernon she has done the wombat comic and a number of stories/books. Friend told me about this, as we were struggling through a different book together and being dissatisfied. The book was published online as a serial, and can still be read online: http://www.redwombatstudio.com/portfolio/summer-in-orcus/ Summer is 11 and lives with her super over protective mum. One day Baba Yaga turns up and essentially gives her a choice, wish for her heart's desire or be eaten as a light snack. Wishing for her heart's desire Summer finds herself stumbling out into the land of Orcus, with only a talking weasel as her companion. Quickly she has adventures, encounters, and makes enemies (thanks to the fact she reeks of crone magic, if you can smell that kind of thing). The author includes notes to explain the idea, deciding to do an online serial under suspicion that no one would publish the work (while making enough money from wombat comics to keep her going). It is a collection of stray ideas, which at times shows in the patchier parts of the work, but ultimately they all come together. And a reaction against Narnia - would a child really be a big hero, would they really not be traumitised by events? Reminds me of a few other works, that big mish-mash of ideas and a strange land, some puns and silliness, and increasingly engaging and charming as an adventure. I enjoyed.
  9. Ragged Alice - Gareth Powell - a new tor novella from Gareth, pitched as a crime novel, but it is from tor, so we know there is something else to it. DCI Holly Craig returns to the Welsh town of Pontyrhudd where she was born, after a traumatic experience in London. Barely arrived and it looks like a hit and run was actually a murder, but things become complicated when the obvious suspect is brutally murdered. And then there are more murders. Holly has odd experiences, part of what drove her away, something changed in her head, meaning she can see into other people, part of which has made her a good police inspector and alcoholic. It is a decent read, but I think it maybe lacked something somewhere. Infinite Detail - Tim Maughan - another Bristol writer, like Gareth; Tim was born in Glasgow, raised in Bristol, spent sometime in Amsterdam, moved to New York and is now in Canada. Infinite Detail is Tim's first novel, though he has written a number of short stories over the last few years. The novel builds on work like Paintwork (AR grafitti hacks in Bristol), Limited Edition (app organized smash and grab) and Flight Path Estate (up and coming Bristol musician getting involved in protest against gentrification). Characters from those stories cropping up in the novel, along with references to his own experiences in New York and as part of a contingent of artists/thinkers on cargo ship exploring the shipping lanes to China. The novel is set "before" and "after", following Rush and Annika who are part of a collective that create an interzone in Bristol, disconnected from the main net. The themes relate to surveillance and data collection, things Tim touches on regularly in his work, and along the way Rush starts to notice the imminent collapse. After Annika has been in Wales fighting against martial law put into place after the collapse, returning to Bristol for the first time since the night everything went wrong. With that we have Mary and Tyrone, two young, post-collapse teens - Mary who can see things that no one else can, particularly related to the horrors of the collapse, and Tyrone who is her bodyguard by day and the music programmer for the estate's pirate radio station by night. I liked the writing, I liked the characters, I found it interesting to see how he built on the existing stories, without necessarily being too referential to the past works. But something niggled, part of me says for a novel called "infinite detail" it is missing too much detail, the characters seem to exist within the spaces of the story, but aren't the whole of the story, and I think I wanted to see more of the story, more of the understanding and detail. In someways that could be said to be a good thing - I want more. But also a failure, because it doesn't deliver as strongly as I want it to. I liked it, I'm glad to have read it, I have a lot of time for Tim's work, but I can't pretend it wasn't missing something overall.
  10. I thought I was reasonably clear that I had enjoyed Embers of War. Any doubts had been in advance of reading, because of the war theme. Funny, I have that Psychogeography book sat on my kindle, well seen it is going cheap... As for Rotherweird, it kept appearing in my kindle recommendations for cheap, but I couldn't make it through the preview...
  11. I have a handful of Ursula's works sitting, really do need to give myself time and read them. I am WOEFULLY ignorant, excepting a handful of shorts and a novel or two. The Haunting of Tram Car 015 - P Djeli Clark - the second of Clark's novellas for Tor, which follows I believe a short , all set in the same alternate history. The pitch for The Black God's Drum didn't quite have me bite, but a haunted tram car nudged me into picking this up. Cairo, 1912, and researchers have opened a new field of "alchemy, enchantment and supernatural entities", which has transformed history. All sorts of new technologies have become possible due to magic, and political/cultural upheaval has resulted - from the repulsion of colonial powers, to the increasing call for equality for women. Two agents from the Ministry of AE&SE are called in to investigate when an entity that is haunting a tram attacks a passenger. The novella progresses through the investigation and confusion as they try to work out what is haunting the tram and how to stop it, all the while protests and demonstrations are building in advance of the vote to decide whether women should be given the vote. A nice little slice of world building, combining the contrasting elements of supernatural and political in a very deliberate and engaging manner. Feels maybe a little light weight, which probably suggests a novel set in same world would be appreciated. Touch - Claire North - Claire North, as likely some of you know, is Catherine Webb, who wrote a handful of novels in her teens, a handful more as Kate Griffin, and now has at least a half dozen as Claire North. With each identity she establishes a different field/style, and with North she seems to really be breaking through. I've been blown away by her work since Madness of Angels, but have been a little slow at catching up on her work as North, for various reasons. With that, I have many of them waiting to read. I previously wrote about The Sudden Appearance of Hope, which I think was her third novel, I made a false start on her first novel The Fifteen Lives Of Harry August, and had intended to go back and read that properly. But, accidentally picked up Touch, her second novel, and near overdosed on the thing. I think on her more recent works her approach has changed some, but with her first three novels it feels like she has taken a base idea and then turned it into a thriller, challenging the idea and the character in an intensive and thorough fashion. Hope was about a woman who was forgotten as soon as she left your company, August a man who was continually reborn with memories from his previous life, and Touch is about someone who can change body at the slightest touch. The book starts in Turkey, and someone has just shot the narrator's host body, through a series of other bodies they track the killer and through the killer the organisation that is trying to kill them, travelling across Europe in the process. A thriller of identities and subterfuge and secret organisations, with that extra body hopping, potentially immortal aspect. With this we have the history of the character, encounters with similar entities, the ups and downs - are these people monsters or blessed? As a reader you can see the balance, you can see the author challenging the idea, kicking the tyres at every opportunity, but in being able to see that I fully appreciated and admired that. Towards the end of reading this I had to put it down, I understood I'd rush through to the end, give myself a tension headache of OMG, and not actually appreciate the pay off. There are few writers impress me as much as this. Slow Motion Ghosts - Jeff Noon - the latest novel by Jeff, and his first... non-Noon novel, or something. As well as the odd novelist we know and love, he is apparently the crime fiction reviewer for The Spectator. Which may explain why his Angry Robot trilogy follows a detective. Slow Motion Ghosts is a more straight-forward crime novel, none of the familiar oddities, though, honestly it is totally a Noon novel when it comes to the themes. 1981, Detective Inspector Hobbes is traumatised and perhaps tainted by events during the Brixton riots. He has been moved to a new station, where everyone hates him, but probably won't actually attack him, and hopefully he can keep a low profile. So of course, barely in the door and he is called to investigate a murder. And this is where we get into Noon territory, a musician who has dedicated his career to imitating/honouring a dead musician, has been murdered after a gig where the band did a direct tribute of the dead musician's last gig, culminating in the summoning of the dead on stage. Fame, music, and the weird manias and obsessions that come with that, steady themes through much of his work. So we balance a period of Thatcher, race riots, police corruption, against weird music and elaborate fantasies, and references to occult/magic. While it is a more straight forward, much more typical crime novel, hitting many of beats of crime fiction, I do think that folk who enjoy Jeff's work should enjoy this.
  12. Paris Adrift - EJ Swift - To a degree it is Joey Hi-Fi's James Jean-esque cover to this book which initially catches my attention. Though, I'm sure there was a bit of a buzz about it? Came up as a constant in my recommendations for a while anyway. Plot balance and getting the reader in is always a tricky thing, and this nearly threw me out right at the start. Right up front we meet a group of characters who on the whole aren't relevant - it is the end of the world, last survivors, each with a special ability to use specific personalised nodal points to jump through time. Fall out, grimness, what is even? But from there Leon gets sent back in time with the specific task of triggering a previously untriggered resource to change time and prevent shit from happening... And from there we get into the good stuff: Hallie arrives in Paris, having abandoned university and telling no one what she has done, looking for work this totally random bloke, called something like Leon, he says uh there is this bar you could get a job there. So she does. And a lot of the book is about Hallie, a young English woman working in a bar in the Clichy area of Paris, properly raucous environment, crazy all night shifts, hanging out with the too cool Colombian woman, the hyper-intense Russian, and all the other bar staff who've drifted to Paris at the same time. I enjoyed a lot of that stuff, could have read just that stuff happily. But, there is that weird nodal time travel thing in the basement of the bar Hallie has been encouraged to work in, which is tuned specifically to her and sends her through time. So adventures in 1875, in 1942, in 2070, and glimpses of other things sneak in. There is a certain arbitrariness to this part of the plot, which maybe you don't want poke at too hard, but is interesting in its own right and watching how it impacts on events has an interesting result. A quietly odd novel over all, which I enjoyed. City of the Dead - Sara Gran - the first Claire DeWitt novel. Currently 99p on UK kindle. I recently came across a note I'd made to follow this up from a recommendation by writer Kio Stark. I read about it and while it may not be top of my genre selection choices, I do read widely and am always open to interesting recommendations, so I bought it. Last week (or so), writer Maria Dahvana Headley tweeted that she had just read the whole series back to back with enthusiasm. So I looked at again and looking for something new to read bumped it up my reading list. Glad I did. This is a crime novel, but an odd one, at times it feels like Claire as a detective has an approach somewhere between Dirk Gently's holistic method and Cass Neary (from the series by Elizabeth Hand) getting fucked up and stumbling on shit. Anyway, Claire returns to New Orleans for the first time since her mentor was murdered. 2007 and the city is still in recovery after Katrina, and she has been hired to find a lawyer who went missing in the aftermath. Chances are he is dead, but maybe? With this the city unfolds in catastrophic form - collapsed houses where people still live, corrupt police/legal system, drive by shootings as a standard - the titular City of the Dead. With that the mystery unfolds, along with Claire's mysteries - how she became a detective, her own missing people, and her burnout. As a child she and her friends stumbled across an obscure Manual of Detection by a celebrated French detective - which is enigmatic and difficult, and many detectives hate it, it has destroyed lives, but it is the holy grail of detective, if like Claire you embrace it. And this informs her approach to collecting clues and uncovering the secrets of all things. Not sure how this works as a series, given how intense book 1 is - but like Elizabeth Hand's books, each volume is set in a different location, which i suspect will help a lot. Anyway, I bought book 2 and 3 before I had finished book 1. This pushed so many of my particular buttons and I recommend.
  13. Hard Spell - Justin Gustainis - First of a series of urban fantasy novels. I've read this one before. Buy picked up the whole series as part of an Angry Robot HumbleBundle, so refreshing my memory. One of those worlds where the paranormal is out. The narrator is a police officer in the specialist division that deals with crimes by and against the paranormal. When a serial killer starts targeting vampires he has to put aside his prejudices, especially when it looks like the murders may be part of something bigger. Decent, straightforward, possibly enjoyed more second time. There are much better examples of the genre, but certainly needing a little escapism this did the job. Europe at Midnight - Dave Hutchinson - the 2nd of his Europe series. I was a little thrown at first by the Campus, but once I got up to speed it was cool. Like the first book he messes with the reader, so that it feels like a collection of short stories, until you realise it comes together and the characters are using different names, or encountering other characters from different directions. Expands on the Fractured Europe idea, loads of new states, with their own rules and own borders, and the revelation of a secret hidden state. This book expands on those ideas, but also feels like a middle book, not sure it advances the big picture. But, oddly, my memory of first book is it had a similar feel. It is an odd book, a thriller, but years pass strangely, so it should lose momentum. Despite that, I enjoyed this a lot. Normal - Warren Ellis - novella about a futurist who has a breakdown and ends up in Normal Head, a specialised medical community for those who have looked into the futurist abyss and been horrified by what looked back. This is a quick read, which is why it is the third time I have read it. Edgy, now, weird in that Ellis way. I've said before, reminds me of Memoirist in some way. The Nightmare Stack - Charles Stross - book 7 of the Laundry series. Sigh. One some level it is hard to argue against Charlie being capable. But he keeps getting away with these readable messes. And this is a mess. For the most part each book in the series has been Bob's report on events, which notionally is a classified document. The previous book changed that up by being Bob's wife's report, and this book follows Alex, one of the vampires recruited in book 5. At times it is clear this is "Alex's diary", but then we get turgid interludes in leaden lovecraftian elf dimension, and sections of "what Alex doesn't know". And the "what Alex doesn't know" bits are perhaps most jarring - who is telling us then? Especially when it seems to be suggested it is Alex telling us everything in backfill, so why the diary sections? What is he doing in terms of voice???? And the time line feels all over the place, and he is increasingly prone to repeating himself, so the same recap or novel idea appears 3 times in half a dozen pages. Which is tiring. Anyway, plot, Leeds is a nodal point for leylines, precogs predict shit will hit fan, elves invade from a dead dimension, shit does indeed hit fan. When it is on track it is a page turner, but otherwise hard work.
  14. 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! Otherwise... 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.
  15. I'll say it time and time and time again, the best and most important SF I have read in recent years and that I think everyone here should read is Malka Older's Centenial Trilogy (Infomocracy, Null States and State Tectonics). I know some others here have read and enjoyed and others have had mixed feelings across the trilogy. But I stand by this, personally, as must read work. No to overhype it or anything...
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