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remotevoices last won the day on December 26 2018

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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...
  5. Just read three novel/las with distinct parallels in tone/theme, haunted works, in their own way. White Tears - Hari Kunzru - I've read work by Hari before and caught him on a panel at EIBF a few years ago and been meaning to read this for a while. The first part of the book is wonderfully written, lots of stuff about field recording, environmental sound and the role of music in transporting the listener. But as it goes on it becomes increasingly unsettling. Seth is nobody particularly, but becomes best friends with Carter, who is one of the most popular guys in university, tattooed, dreadlocked, son of wealth. It is sound that brings them together. Carter keeps pushing further back in time, driven, only listening to black music, searching for an overwhelming authenticity. Seth captures something on his soundwalks of New York, through obsession and careful tracking through recordings they find a ghost record. But of course, they don't understand that, until it is too late. A book about music, about authenticity and appropriation, about wealth and who it was built on. As narratives layer is becomes harder to follow, and at times I wasn't always sure I was keeping track. I think a lot of that is deliberate, to unsettle the reader and build on the novel's core haunting. The Sea Dreams It Is The Sky - John Hornor Jacobs - I guess after the success of tor's novella line, and various other small publishers wading into the field, it isn't surprised to see someone like Voyager give it a go. I stumbled on this over the weekend and pretty much read it cover to cover in last day or so. Isabel is living in Malaga, a black clad, lesbian, professor and exile from a South American coup. When she stumbles on The Eye, as the one eyed old man is known locally, she recognises in an almost uncanny way, that they have fled from the same country. After they become friends she learns his true identity as an infamous, lecherous poet. He gets a mysterious letter and decides he must go home, he leaves her money and asks her to take care of his flat, and to "feed the cat, for your protection". There she finds two works, one a translation in progress of a book she realises to be "forbidden knowledge" and the other the account of how this material came into his possession and how he was tortured as a result. The more sucked in she becomes the more uncertain she finds reality, presences in the dark and strange experiences. A good quick read, too much of it perhaps revolves around The Eye's journals, but with that you get the haunted sense of exile and uncertainty. We Get The Monsters We Deserve - Marcus Sedgwick - this was one of my fairly spontaneous purchases at the EIBF 2018, I think it was in the kids shop, a YA novel perhaps. Though, I think in this case that is fairly irrelevant. Regardless the book is illustrated, interspersed with shots of trees, and books, and odd little things, so that the ~260 pages probably becomes more of a novella length when you take that into account. Marcus has decided to move to the abyss, or at least half way up a mountain, into a decrepit little chalet somewhere between Geneva and Evian, just before winter comes in. Marcus, a writer, is seeking monsters, seeking to write his next book, but he is haunted. He hates Mary's book, and yet it haunts him. As the narrative progresses we learn Mary's book is Frankenstein, and that Marcus has triangulated locations in the book to find himself where he is. Told as a letter to his publisher he goes through the process of asking why he is even there, to an increased sense of isolation as he hears noises in the night, escalating as he increasingly feels trapped. So White Tears is haunted by music, Sea/Sky by exile, and Monsters by a book. But at least of the three of them, this one doesn't include any torture! Unless you are a writer, I suppose, in which case it explores ideas of ownership and creativity, where do we lose ownership, do we create the monsters, or do they create us? I managed to be unsettled by all three, especially reading them all in such close proximity. I suspect White Tears is the most important of the three, but probably also the most difficult.
  6. Season 3 was on last year. Finished about April? Ending was ambiguous, wasn't sure if we were expecting another series from there. Though, I have seen reference to Season 4, but same site also just posted "Season 5: Coming Soon", so who knows?
  7. The first series of the TV adaptation is interesting. I came across it first, so I had that as my initial exposure, going into the books as a follow up. The series mixes up various elements from the three books into one series, probably tightens up some of the ideas. There are definitely some changes from the books to the TV series, like changing the skin colour of key characters, which I think is actually effective. Certainly with the start of the 2nd series I was more conscious of how... smoothed out the TV characters are, but it is a passing niggle. Not sure how the 2nd series is going to play out, I think for the most part we've diverted from the books, and as a result it feels a bit patchier. It may pull itself together, with the plot art that is building. my last reads of 2018, happy new book reading year! Rosewater - Tade Thompson - the buzz around this one was curious, there was a lot of chatter about this awhile ago, and a renewed buzz in last few months. Reasons for this are mixed - as far as I understand, the US edition was released in 2016, and UK edition only just in the last few months of 2018. As with Vita Nostra, some of the people talking it up on twitter and given name checks as part of the writing process. Initially I thought this was a fantasy novel, not sure why, but with the UK release I was more conscious of it being set in 2066 and as I say having a 2nd buzz period on UK release. I'm not entirely sure what to make of this, for a few reasons, one is pacing (due to the way it flashes back to key events and pings back to current events) the other is that at times it feels like too much is going on (the pacing coupled with that perhaps feels like information is revealed later than it maybe should be). The town of Rosewater has built up from a shanty town over the years, surrounding an alien dome that has emerged close to Lagos in Nigeria. This is not the first incursion by alien material, the first happened in Nigeria in the 1950s, but the first to survive and become something happened in London. Like the British colonialists before it, the incursion has spread and emerged into Nigeria in the form of Rosewater. Along the way America has shut itself down, entirely isolated and cut off from the rest of the world, and strange effects have occurred in the form of psychics and a post-alien-spore-internet-thingy. Kaaro is one of these psychics, works in a bank protecting customers from psychic phishing attacks, but is also a government agent using his abilities in phishing interrogations. The novel mixes science fiction and more mystical elements, weird mental powers are the result of alien invasion, the dead come back to life due to overly enthusiastic healing powers, bank scams, politics, espionage, and colonialism. A lot of interesting stuff, and I think for the most part I enjoyed, but also suspect I've not quite decided to what degree I enjoyed. Kingdom Cons - Yuri Herrera - strangely, while Kingdom Cons is Yuri's 3rd novel(la) to appear in English, it was actually his debut novel in Mexico. His breakthrough novel was Signs Preceding The End of The World, which was part of a curious feature at the Edinburgh Book Festival - where a team from local theatre had got together to brainstorm how they would make a stage adaptation - so writer, director, stage designer, two actors and in the end Yuri himself sat on stage. At the end of which Yuri did a signing, and as the only one of his books I hadn't read, I got him to sign Kingdom Cons, his writing in my book described the book as a song - which is a good starting point for how this book feels. I enjoyed the other two novel(las) (each book is only about 100 pages) a lot, but this is definitely his most lyrical, even in translation one is conscious of the language being used, the clear rhythm and pattern of the words. Like his other books, this is set in the border land, a kind of fantasy/magical realist world of crime and smuggling. In this book our lead is The Artist, a down on his luck, who only has his accordion and his skill at producing songs for punters who cross his palm with silver. When he encounters The King, the local top dog dealer god father, his life is changed, and he manages to transform his life by becoming part of The King's court, his entourage. All the characters have titles - The Journalist, Jeweler, Heir, Witch, Girl, and The Commoner. We follow the ups and downs, The Artist as Witness, his fortunes excel, but there are betrayals and tragedy, and the good times can't last. A good quick read, a nice way to finish the year. Not sure I found it as satisfying as the other two books, but the writing is definitely a pleasure. Now, where do I start in 2019?
  8. I've been doing some intensive holiday reading, may yet manage to squeeze another book in before the end of the year, but this is what i've finished in the last week: The Corporation Wars: Insurgence - Ken MacLeod - just in time for the omnibus of the trilogy to be printed in paperback, I am catching up on the nice little hardbacks of the original books. This is book 2, which pretty much picks up from book 1, with a little recapping. Set way in the future in a galaxy far away...robots are mining planets and establishing the first foothold for colonization. Which is fine until the robots become self-aware, something which the corporate AIs that operate for the various corporations that have various claims on the planetary objects in the system are quick to crush. Or at least try. To do this they reactivate the uploaded personalities of fighters from a political war, running them in a sim for training/down time, and letting them operate combat machines when in duty. Which to a degree sums up book 1, and book 2 is very much an extension of that, and has a middle book feel, developing the plot, expanding the characters, but not resolving anything. It is interesting that none of the characters are actually flesh and blood, despite the debate about being alive/intelligent being a struggle between smart robots and machines running software people. There is a fair amount of MacLeod's political debate, who is right, all together or every man for himself, while also the question of whether anything has really changed over the centuries. I enjoyed, but definitely to be read as part of the series. Relics - Tim Lebbon - This is one of those where I read about the original idea and thought it sounded interesting, then read the first few pages and was less convinced. Angela is an American woman in her 30s doing her thesis in aspects of crime, studying in London, when her boyfriend Vince disappears. Applying some of the things she has learned she soon discovers that Vince was leading a double life, even worse he was working for one of the violent gangsters she has been studying. So on some level this is a missing persons/crime novel, but expanded with the fact that Vince was trading in relics - the remains of "supernatural" creatures - part of a profitable underground. My initial problem was when Angela is described as earning £12,000/year, but having a mortgage in London - in a book with faeries and satyrs and nymphs, this just seemed like ludicrous fantasy to me (maybe it is reasonable, I don't know, but certainly given London's financial reputation...). Anyway, the relics idea stuck with me, and I ended up picking it up, and it is a decent enough page turner - London Urban Fantasy meets Gangster Crime novel. Though, apparently the first in a trilogy, not sure I need another two books, this one was fine on it's own. Vita Nostra - Sergey Dyachenko & Marina Dyachenko translated by Julia Meitov Hersey. A huge influence on Lev Grossman's Magicians series, as per the cover quote, and the acknowledgements indicate that Grossman pushed for the translation of this novel into English. I'd seen some references to this novel over the last year or so, but wasn't finding much about its availability - turns out that some of that was people like Aliette de Bodard and Grossman, and some others, being involved with the translator's drafting process and talking about it on social media pre-translated publication. Magicians follows Quentin as he finds himself sitting an entrance exam to a weird college, and in the process discovering magic and that the Narnia-esque land of his favourite childhood novels is real. There are clear parallels between that and Sasha's journey through the Institute of Special Technologies, but Vita Nostra is a much more Russian novel. Always hard to say how much of that is translation and how much of that is because it is written in a form different from what we are used to in so much US/UK fiction, certainly there is tone familiar from other Russian works I have read. Anyway... Sasha is on holiday with her mum when she is approached by a sinister stranger, who intimidates her into going for a nude swim at 4am every morning for the remainder of her holiday. After each of these and subsequent rituals she vomits up strange golden coins. Through the remainder of her school years she "earns" enough to go to the Institute, in a small town no one has heard of, to study the Special Technology no one ever explains. Once in the Institute she has to study ferociously hard, driven by fear and the knowledge her failure will result in repercussions and punishments. Here there is no Narniaesque other world, no clear explanation that she is studying magic, instead it balances the intensity of studying and stress and the idea that the student might breakdown, despite the fear of failure. There may be an element of reading this over the holiday period, late nights, weird hours, but this felt particularly intense. There are weird books, strange transformations, and definitely a sense of walking the line between something magical and having your mind broken by the uncanny. I am confident this is not for everyone, it is a book about students, with no big adventures, it is a weird translated book that is clearly from a place many of us are less familiar with. But I loved it, the intensity of the unspoken horror, the lurking sense of magic, exchanged glances and uncertainty, I immersed myself in this over the last few days.
  9. Thanks for the heads up. picked up the 2 YHL and 2 FE books I was missing. Suspect there will be a load of these kind of deals over the next few days. Probably end up costing me a stealth fortune! Since my last post I've mainly been reading short stories and graphic novels. Though hoping I can still finish a novel or two before I head back to work.
  10. our reading...hope you're finding something worthwhile among the random! The Twilight Pariah - Jeffrey Ford - a tor novella, so quick easy read. I kind of expected more from it to be honest, it was fine, but I'm not sure there was anything here that we haven't seen in a number of horror films/stories. Three friends come together during the holidays, likely one of the last times they will see each other as they go to different universities and drift apart. Our narrator is an aspiring writer and he tells the story, one of the friends has decided that she wants to be an archaeologist, so she drags him and scholarship football player they are friends with along to a remote country house. Here she plans to hold an illegal excavation for fun and practice, but, of course, they unearth something - a skeleton of something that is humanoid, but not human. And the haunting starts. A Frozen Night - Laura Ambrose - a romance serial by Laura Lam writing under an alternative name - instead of her recent science fiction novels, she is trying her hand at something different. Two young women meet online, one writes fantasy the other literary fiction, but they become friends. This story tells their first meeting, where they wonder if the online flirting will become more. Short and explicit. An introduction at least initially available for free for signing up to her mailing list, and prologue to the novella which has come out recently. A Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy - Douglas Adams - while I have seen at least one film, a TV series, listened to the radio play, I have never read the book. A friend bought me the omnibus edition and insisted I read. So i've read book 1 so far. It is super familiar with all that previous encounter. I was unsure it would work, given its reputation and coming to it at this point. But it did, the familiar was nice and enjoyable and the unfamiliar added to the whole. Lonely Werewolf Girl - Martin Millar - after recent read of Supercute Futures, I felt I should really catch up with the Kalix the series. Kalix is 17, after a fight with her father that got out of control she has run away from their home in Scotland and is now living homeless in London, with a drug problem, an eating disorder and a certain level of anxiety/depression. The fact that she is a werewolf complicates matters, and the fact that her dying father is the head of the werewolf clan makes things worse. She is wanted by the clan and is being tracked by werewolf hunters. Probably Millar's most complex and dense work, though his stuff is always pretty easy reading, with a certain punk undertone. Kalix is given protection by her fashion designer sister, shacks up with two random students, bumps into her punk rock cousins, and gets into all kinds of fights as her death becomes the decider in a battle for succession. Mad cap page turner, I'm half way through, but loving it so far. On A Sunbeam - Tillie Walden - this is the 2nd graphic novel by Tillie Walden I've read after her autobiographical Spinning (about her time as a competitive skater, moved from one city to another, and discovering her sexuality). Sunbeam was serialised online, and I read bits of it then, but this is a big thick collected hardback of the science fiction epic. Mia has taken up a job in reconstruction with the crew of a spaceship - humans scattered across the galaxy too fast, leaving abandoned properties behind, as they catch back up with themselves they need crews to refurbish the asteroid properties, from religious outposts to office blocks. Along the way Mia slowly bonds with the other women on the crew, but also remembers her years in a boarding school, where despite being smart she became board and restless and troubled. Until she meets Grace, a mysterious new girl to the school, whom she decides to befriend and then falls in love with. The story works between the two timelines, building a strong cast of mostly women characters, each with their own journey and emotional depth. The strength of the characters combined with the sweep of the worlds that are built around them makes this a real delight. Still online http://www.onasunbeam.com/ as well as being available in complete book form.
  11. I do sometimes think we should more often share good deals. But then I get frustrated by bargains posted on twitter that only apply to the US. on that note, a friend has an odd novella going free for ebook readers for next month: https://archive.org/details/cafenonstop it was originally daily updates as a blog post, which I read and enjoyed. my reading: Day Shift/Night Shift - Charlaine Harris - I picked up the first volume in the trilogy after watching the TV series of Midnight Texas. Picked these two up just before series 2 started. I had read one True Blood novel years ago, before the TV series, and it hadn't clicked with me. These do. Easy reading, urban fantasy, in small town Texas - populated by vampires, shape changers, psychics and witches. But for all that they are just people, dealing with the day to day business of the world not ending. Supercute Futures - Martin Millar - I read Millar's 1st half dozen novels a long time ago, skinny little odd books set in Brixton with weird characters and encounters and just lots of fun. One of those "The Good Fairies of New York" caught Neil Gaiman's attention and can probably be counted as a break through. He did some more, disappeared, to write more obviously fantasy novels under a different name (Martin Scott), before returning with his Lonely Werewolf Girl series. I've been meaning to catch up on those werewolf books, but not quite got to it, despite having 2 of them in my To Be Read Mountain Ranges. Anyway, stumbled on this recently, as a new release. Mox and Mitsu met at the age of three, advanced geniuses building their own laptops in nursery. At 17, in love with Japanese culture, they started Supercute, a webshow, shot on their iphones. Years later, Supercute is one of the 19 biggest companies in a ravaged world, where while they continue their daily Supercute shows, they are also now heavily invested in water and security firms. Competing "supercute" competitors join with other security companies and stage a financial coup, forcing the two girls to go underground - post human, forever beautiful, immaculately supercute and determined to take back what they built. Mad fun. Lies Sleeping - Ben Aaronovitch - The 7th of his Rivers of London/Peter Grant novels. While each has, to some extent had it's own story, there has been a through story, building from the catastrophic encounter with the spirit of Mr. Punch in book 1. Magic, that looked to have been fading, has been increasingly visible - the Folly which had only one Police Wizard has been home to apprentice and police academy graduate Peter Grant. Here they are finally making progress in the case of The Faceless Man. In many ways a culmination of much that has gone before, with all the important characters making an appearance, and advance, and all coming together in what I found a solid and satisfactory manner. Enough left hanging to allow for future books, for new characters and stories, but essentially this is what we have been waiting for. The Ninth Rain - Jen Williams - Another of a new generation of British authors who I am aware of particularly from social media. She is very much a fantasy writer, and that doesn't tend to be my thing. So so far I've not read. Though aware enough of her reputation, I have managed to pick up a couple of her novels with the intention of at least being able to say I read something. The Ninth Rain is the 1st in her current trilogy, book 3 coming out next year, so I decided to start with this. I admit the giant griffon on the cover is off putting and sets a certain expectation, which is a shame, because the book is much more surprising than that would suggest. The Eighth Rain left the continent ravaged by the aftermath of war - the Eboran tree god Ygresil is dead, the god that fed and sustained the Eboran is dead. The elf like tree people, with their intense red eyes, decide that drinking human blood is the solution, until it turns out to be toxic given sustained abuse. Tor, one of the few healthy surviving Eborans, decides to go out into the world, to travel, to drink, to fuck, to drink blood. Which is how he meets Vintage, an adventurer, exploring and investigating the haunted artifacts left by the weird nightmare insect aliens who last came down in huge vessels to devour everything at the time of the Eighth Rain. On one of their adventures they meet an escaped Fell-Witch, Noon - escaped from The Winnowry, which notionally imprisons dangerous witches, but is actually a drug-factory, using the witch-fire to produce the most popular drug on the market. So, yeah, I found myself enjoying this much more than I expected: vampire tree people, haunted aliens and hostage drug witches are more my cup of tea than griffons and dragons. Those do crop up eventually, and there is more of an epic fantasy arc to the whole, but by then I was sold.
  12. couple of folk i spoke to had said they'd struggled with it, didn't engage initially, which is why i was so conscious as i was going in what was going on and how well it was being done. and i knew banks was an influence on the work, but it was fascinating to see which boxes were ticked.
  13. as usual, i've fallen behind in posting here. so, as usual, apologies for what will likely end up being a bigger post than intended. To revisit my previous post, particularly in light of having seen Maria Dahavana Headley on her Mere Wife tour. It has kind of been bugging me that I think I played it down more than I intended. Reading it after Malka Older, who is so entirely my cup of tea, probably detracted because my enthusiasm wasn't as high for Mere Wife as State Tectonics. But Mere Wife is really good, and was a real delight to see her read from it and talk about the book. Enclave - Anne Charnock - picked this up after Neil Williamson flagged a few Newcon bargains. It is set in an uncertain near future, follow a young boy who was an economic/climate refugee, but ended up recruited(/enslaved) by a family in The Enclave, a kind of housing scheme. I really liked the world building and the characterisation, but was really frustrated by the fact it felt like a 1st chapter, like total set up, for something bigger. Instead it is a short novella with a lot of build up. Wylding Hall - Elizabeth Hand - I heard Hand being interviewed on the Coode St podcast about this novella, and it had been one I'd been meaning to read. In novella terms it was priced higher than most other comparable works, but in the end I decided to just splash out, which for all my "I bought this cheap" I do do. A band on the drift between folk and rock, between obscurity and mega stardom, go into a remote country mansion to get away from the publicity and scandal surrounding them, to focus on the music, man. There they work together, smoke, fuck, compose some incredible and transcendent music. The story is told in the form of an autobiography, interviews with the main players carried out decades after the fact, so they are given the full weight of hindsight, of being a story about people that were super young and filled with such potential from the point of view of their older wiser selves, who survived what their was to survive. I already knew the "twist" of the story (not sure it counts as a twist), so on one hand I spent half the read waiting for it to happen. So to a degree it felt slow, but as it builds one gets a feel for the subtlety: the slow weird build as the characters talk about rooms they only ever found once, the disturbing things they found in there, the obscure warnings and looks of suspicion from the locals, culminating in the punchline. I really enjoyed this. Cottingley - Alison Littlewood. Another of the Newcon novellas that were on special offer. Written as a series of collected letters, an old man has his own encounters with the Cottingley fairies around the same time as the famous photos. Building through a sense of wonder, and an attempt to engage with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to provide him with more evidence of the existence of fairies, to a growing horror and tragedy. Around the middle I did find that it dragged, partly down to that letter format thing, but on the whole I enjoyed. I bought most of the Newcon items that were on special, but I'm pacing myself through those. But I did use it as an excuse to re-read Neil Williamson's Memoirist, which I still feel is one of the finest pieces of contemporary/near future science fiction, though of course all the tech and music stuff are key triggers for me anyway. I'll Go On - Hwang Jungeun - the 2nd novel by this Korean writer to be translated to English by the Sheffield based Tilted Axis, who specialise in translated fiction (Korean, Thai, Indian and Uzbek so far). I really enjoyed her first novel, so picked this up as soon as it came out and read it quick. It is perhaps a degree less weird than One Hundred Shadows, but there are odd elements and dream influenced elements, which are part of Korean culture while feeling kinda magic realist to us (in same way as the like of some Haruki Murakami). Apparently this novel was originally serialised in Korea, so it is told in three parts, each from the POV of one of the main characters. Two sisters find their lives shattered when their father dies and his family essentially steals all the money from them, their despondent mother moves them into the cheapest and nastiest basement flat which is barely partitioned from the next door family. Fortunately, while their mother neglects them, the woman and her son in the other half of the flat take them under their wing. Now grown up, the three children are adults and still entangled in each other's daily lives. The main narrative is triggered over speculation as to whether the younger sister is pregnant, the confirmation, and the struggle not to repeat the mistakes that lead to their own situations. Which sounds mundane for this audience, but it was a delight, lots of stuff about food, about dreams and instinct, and I guess not a lot happened, but I just enjoyed. Embers of War - Gareth L Powell - Was a little tentative about this, I don't really want to read war novels at the best of times, and these are not the best of times. But Gareth has a certain buzz, and I know a lot of people who have encountered him at cons/on social media, and I know a few them have read(are reading) this one. Set post war, but still informed by the violence of the war (which leads to some gorier scenes I am less keen on). Appalled by the final massacre of the war, a medic and a soldier from one side and an intelligent combat ship from the other side quit, and join the House of Reclamation - a universeish wide Thunderbirds/Interplanatary Rescue service. The story follows this team as they rush to the rescue of a downed cruise liner. Switching between the views of the captain, the mechanic, the ship and then also to one of the passengers from the crashed ship and an intelligence agent who has been sent on a mysterious mission to the crashed ship. A lot of it feels like an Iain M Banks template, the building blocks are very much an unwritten Culture novel. Put aside the best of Iain's work it perhaps doesn't hold up, but that isn't necessarily fair, certainly Iain had his patchier, more over written Culture novels (which may be heresy to some, but it is my opinion). I found this solid, well paced, well written, thoroughly professional and enjoyable, and if many of us could crack a template and execute it as admirably I think we'd be pretty happy with that. Again reading graphic novels, this time more SF/weird than superhero (which are fun cartoons compared to more thinky pieces): Punks Not Dead, Death or Glory, Isola, Paper Girls 4, Gideon Falls, Infidel, Royal Boiler and Girl Town. Also picked up Tillie Walden's SF slab On A Sunbeam, which I'm going to have to dedicate some time to fully appreciating.
  14. State Tectonics - Malka Older - the third volume in her series that started with Infomocracy. Five years have passed since book 1 and it is election time again, but after the problems with the election in Infomocracy and the scandals and betrayals of Null State the idealised system of democracy has perhaps been fatally undermined? Most of the world is made up of centennials, individual constituents of 100,000 people, some have one centennial, others have many, some are corporate and some are political. The government who has the most takes on the super majority, a kind of world government. With Information being the all seeing facilitators, where you can find any information you might want, and be assured that it is true and not fake news. But are the government with the super majority in charge or in the end is it the unelected and unsupervised Information? Then there are the "null states", Russia, China, parts of Africa, parts of Switzerland, mostly countries are gone, but these odd places resist becoming part of the whole, and some of them are more manipulative of the whole than others. I really enjoyed all three of these books, and I think they are some of the most important/relevant/engaging/exciting/essential science fiction works I have read in recent years. Sure, there is a factor of them pushing my buttons - techno thrillers, globally diverse, smart near future SF, with a particular relevance and response to current events - and other folk's buttons are different from mine. Regardless, I can't recommend this series enough, and am thoroughly disappointed they don't seem to be getting a higher profile than they are. The Mere Wife - Maria Dahvana Headley - Pitched as a modern, feminist retelling of Beowulf. I'm not super familiar with Beowulf, but I have at least a general culturally osmotic awareness. Dana Mills is a soldier, the only survivor of her unit, captured, then executed on video. So as she stumbles out of the desert 6 months later, pregnant and with lost memory, people are confused. Damaged and regarded as a potential traitor, she does a runner, heading back home. But home is gone, the town she grew up in as been erased, replaced with a swanky gated community for the especially affluent. So she takes up residence in the mountain, where the ancient waters of the mere, and the secret history of her family keep her safe enough to birth her son Gren and raise him. But Gren becomes curious about the children he can see in the glass house at the bottom of mountain. So the story switches between two women for the most part, the betrayed and cast of Dana, and the trophy wife Willa. Willa forced to maintain: maintain her son, maintain the house for her husband (dinner on the table, cocktail prepared), maintain her perfect body. As the boundaries cross tragedy is set up and inevitable. On some levels, this is a fairly straight forward, contemporary fable of the different roles of women, and those themes heavily inform the story. There are other elements, the chorus of old women who nudge and manipulate Willa, the suggestion of an ancient presence that is the mere, that is the mountain. Then there are the questions, is Gren a monster, is the police man Ben Woolf the hero? Not sure it is the best thing I have read by Maria, some of her short stories have particularly excited me, but there is certainly a lot going on at the writing level as well as the plot level, and it was an easy and pleasing read.
  15. Been a funny wee while. Had a lot of personal stuff going on, which made reading trickier. And a couple things I read went in funny ways, one of which I intend to go back to so I'll leave for now, the other I may go back to, but not sure it'll make much difference. Also been reading a load of stray shorts, as usual, and graphic novels, cause they are easy and keep me happy. A Discovery of Witches - Deborah Harkness - As I say, there was something I was reading, it had a difficult subject (abuse), and I had to step away, but will return to. Which brought me to this instead. A few years ago, when this was 1st out and a decent sized hit, I was having tea and scones with a friend in London, and she recommended this, though said the sequels were gubbins. We have some overlap in taste, so I took note. I spotted that Sky have made a TV series based on the book, and that lead to noting that the ebook was going for 99p. So, remembering the recommendation, I thought well, why not. And I'm here today to tell you why not... As I bought it, I did note one review comparing this to Twilight, and I'm not sure if that is a fair comparison, but somewhere between there and Dan Brown I suspect might be the level we are looking at. Diana is a witch, but thanks to the death of her parents she has resisted the path of witchcraft. Instead she has become a historian, of science, or at least the point where magic became science. Which puts her in Oxford where she stumbles on a hugely significant and hidden text. This attracts the attention of all the other witches, vampires and demons (the three types of creatures (creatures as a notion being one I hate...)). So suddenly she is center of attention, and being stalked by a particular vampire. Oooh, aahh, how exciting? 500 pages later and I can tell you about the impeccable dress sense of vampires, and while they may think food tastes horrible they sure do know how to pick out a good wine, oh and witches are bitches. I got about 3/4 through, it is easy read, well written in the way it just slips by, and I was kind of fascinated by it. But I also got so far with no real sense of anything especially happening, other than the romantic relationship between the lead characters and barely any actual tension or drama. A Record Of A Space Born Through - Becky Chambers - the third of Becky's "wayfarer" series, set in the human exodus fleet from earth, following on from events in the 1st book. The book follows multiple characters and their lives aboard one particular ship. As with her other books it is well written, there is a depth and texture to the world, and an emotive core that is often lacking in a lot of big space opera/hard SF novels. The friend who recommended the above suggested she thought this was the best book by Becky yet! Sadly, I disagree. It feels too dispersed across the characters, while some of the strands overlap, there isn't a big binding together where it becomes a coherent and overarching plot. Instead it kind of just bumbles about, says ooh, look at all this curious stuff, throws in a little drama on personal level, then ties the individual stories off. The writing was good, I read it quick, it just never clicked for me, I waited the entire novel for something to click, to come together, and it didn't. The Million - Karl Schroeder - I bought this just before heavyboots posted his review. a tor novella, which I gather is actually a spin off from his novel Lockstep, though I don't know whether that has any significance. I got an impression of what this was going to be from the description I read - earth has been abandoned, the human race live out in space, only one million people are left to curate the planet, except for every 30 years billions of people return for a short period and a big party. Ooh, I thought, that sounds like an interesting set up. Instead that is what it feels like, a set up. The Million are the super rich, decadent and self-indulgent/important who get to live in paradise with anything they could want. There are political shennanigans and back stabbing and they find the time to have a kind of police force who are in place to stop people who aren't members of the million coming to earth and enjoying themselves (out with the periodic party). I fully suspect that there will be a 2nd novel, and it will be the story I actually wanted to read. Except that I had to read this average novella first, and while it was fine, it was the adventures of rich people yawn, and I'm not sure I have any interest in reading a follow up. Available Dark - Elizabeth Hand - the 2nd Cass Neary novel, and I talked about the 1st, Generation Loss, before. Generation Loss I picked up as part of a Small Beer Humble Bundle. But the novel seems to have gone on to a wider publication and repackaging as a more clearly crime novel, as has the 2nd and I believe also 3rd. The one down side of book 1 was the scene setting, background of the character over so many years, before getting to the story. Being book 2 this pretty much gets straight in there. Cass got away with book 1, but it looks like some of the aftermath may come back to bite her and she is still a drug and alcohol fueled punk wreck, but only more visible now. Out of the blue she is invited to go to Helsinki to visit a once famous fashion photographer and verify some outsider art/transgressive photos. From there she decides to head to Iceland and track down an old friend. But there is been a murder, and Cass as ever manages to be in the wrong fucking place at the wrong fucking time. Trying to be careful and not give anything away. I really enjoyed both of these, Cass is such a satisfyingly fucked burnt out punk wreck of a character, and Hand manages again to walk that fine line between being a crime novel and the suggestion of something other, magical, mythical lurking in the background. Partly she achieves that in the way she writes about the landscape, both novels set in punishing borderlands, where the weather and terrain is harsh. And also the art, the edge culture, the transgression of artists at their limits of what is acceptable. I'll need to look into whether book 3 is readily available, half suspect it may only be available as import.
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