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Claire DeWitt & The Bohemian Highway/Claire DeWitt & The Infinite Blacktop - Sara Gran - The 2nd and 3rd of these mystery novels. I read the 1st last year after recommendation from Maria Dahvana Headley. After reading the first I bought the other two right away, but have been saving them. Read book 2 on train down south, cover to cover and book 3 almost cover to cover on the train back home. Across the three books we learn about Claire and her car crash life, from being a teen detective, to losing one of her friends, and how the particular school of detection is a blessing of geniuses and a curse because it changes how you see the world. And in each book there is a separate mystery - an ex is murdered and someone tries to kill her. I have to believe there is a fourth still to come, because there are some dangling threads, but how these three work together is mind blowing. Not for everyone, but the particular combination of all the elements really worked for me, big serious emotional roller coaster, incandescent and devastating.

 

A Song For A New Day - Sarah Pinsker - oh, man! This fits nicely into a run of physical books, discounting the ebooks read at same time: Gamechanger, CatNet, Agency and this. This is much quieter and small scale, but much more personal and packing a punch with that. Told in two times lines, before and after The Crash. Before: Luce is on the cusp of being huge, touring hard, doing all the interviews, and the night everything goes wrong she is supposed to play an actual big theatre, with her name on the front. There are a series of terrorist attacks and most of the country shuts down, years later looking back, it turns out she was the last artist of any size to play a live gig. After: the attacks were followed by a pandemic, massive casualties, public distancing, systemic collapse. Rosemary is about the age Luce was when the shit went down, she homeschooled via internet, like everyone else, her job if telepresence/VR customer service from her bedroom, like everyone else. Gigs and entertainment are VR subscription/immersive experiences, which she can't afford. Until she gives good service to StageHolo, who invite her to a gig - her first gig, she plugs in, her avatar loads, and it is an incredible, mind blowing experience. One thing leads to another, and she is recruited, go on the road, in the post-Crash world, and find new artists to perform on StageHolo! But how do you do that? And whatever happened to Luce? Quiet, powerful, really engaging if you are into music/gigs. And very weird to have read this month as the visa systems for musicians are announced, followed by talk of restricting public events in light of Corona...

 

False Values - Ben Aaronvitch - The latest in the "Rivers of London" series of novels. The last one was the big culmination of most of what has gone before, with a little aftermath and mainly tangent from the previous. With that, I did feel at times I was missing something - probably could do with a re-read sometime to keep everything straight. But all the favourite characters are here, and as usual successfully builds up a new plot. Peter has been suspended and let go, so has taken on a job as security for a tech firm with a serious Hitch Hikers Guide theme going on - on his first day he is issued with a towel which has to wear round his head so people know he is new. But of course, there is something going on, big technology, software billionaires, and things that go bump in the night. Other parties trying to get in there first, shit hitting fan, and general page turning delightful romp that fans will expect. Always buy and read as soon as I can, not disappointed.

 

Zolitude - Paige Cooper - collection of short stories, working my way through, about half way, but always that thing of how do you cover a collection generally. I picked this up after Jeff VanderMeer raved about it on twitter, and funnily the story I'm reading just now has cameo by character called Van der Meer. This is an interesting collection, not a writer I knew before, so no expectation. I'm really enjoying the way each story creates the impression of place, many of the stories are places that are "foreign", like maybe Eastern Europe, nearly familiar, and detailed, but not quite. There is one in particular, which has a war veteran back in the country where he fought, with the sense that it might be Vietnam, but then just casually and totally obvious to the characters, there are dinosaurs, no big deal, just a thing. And there are various things like that, characters have crises, just regular people in relations, with little throw away wait a minutes, and that occasional sense of something not being what you thought it would be. Some of the stories are really good, the rest are good, assuming second half of the collection will continue to reward.

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I know my own bias, like, whatever I am currently reading is my favorite book, but as I am winding up Jeff Vandermeer's "Southern Reach" trilogy, I am fucking floored. This guy is amazing. I'll have to wait a bit to gain some perspective, but I feel like these books are perfect. The mystery, the creepiness quotient, the science, the magic... this guy seriously has my attention.

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I'm having a hell of a time working my way through Robert Silverberg's First-Person Singularities. It's a short story collection, and there's actually a lot of good stories in it (although some quite old-fashioned feeling). Just been super sleepy every night and yet to really drag myself all the way through.

 

Meanwhile, I did manage to finish these books…

 

The Starless Sea by Erin Morganstern — Very surreal but quite cool! A man finds an ancient book in the library that has a one page short story containing a real event from his childhood and becomes obsessed with finding out how the hell it got there and what the book is about. There's like 6 or 7 different tales being woven together into an extremely complex tapestry in this book and she does a remarkable job of making it all make sense and be enjoyable, so I'm giving the author huge props.

 

Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse — A YA novel about a young girl who's heritage turns out to be that she's destined to be a monster hunter who has to try and save the world. As per the author's SOP, this involves a lot of southwestern Native American myths that must be enacted in a more modern setting. I will say I liked this better than her non-YA Trail of Lightning series for some reason. I guess largely because the character she's writing for this book isn't trying to come across as super world-weary and tough—which IMHO she does unconvincingly in ToL.

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The God Game by Danny Tobey — A bunch of high school kids get involved in a LARP game run by an insane AI that gradually works to pit the friends against each other and test their morality and convictions. Some interesting ideas and some really boring ones too, unfortunately. Also felt like he duct-taped on the obligatory text to set it up for a possible sequel at the behest of his editor or something rather than the much more organic and satisfying ending he had a few pages before he actually ended the story.

 

Medusa In The Graveyard by Emily Davenport — Second in the series. The first was a little more interesting than this one, simply because it was all fresh and new. This one has or character from book 1 being somewhat more akin to a super hero. Still, I'd probably recommend it compared to a lot of the other stuff I've read recently.

 

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine — This was actually quite a lot of fun. Young ambassador from a backwater asteroid mining wheel goes to the center of the empire to replace the last ambassador who was probably assassinated. She has a backup copy of the last ambassador's personality running on an implant in her head, but it's 15 years out of date so not much help in figuring out the current political climate. Basically almost as soon as she touches down, hijinks ensue and she's got to stay alive and keep her community safe from overrun by the Empire simultaneously. I'd recommend this one pretty strongly.

 

The Sea Without a Shore by David Drake — More of his usual military sci-fi, somewhat stilted and ill-formed compared to a few things he's written in the past, but not utterly terrible if you like that sort of thing.

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For an Immigration Policy class I'm taking:

 

America for Americans: A History of Xenophobia in the United States by Erika Lee

 

Border Wars: Inside Trump's Assault on Immigration by Julie Hirschfeld Davis

 

Pretty depressing shit, as you might surmise.

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Also, I am 20 pages from finishing my last remaining library book.

 

The Coronapocalypse just got real folks!!! 🙀🙀🙀

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Reading has been funny at the moment. Graphic novels are generally easier to work with on low brain processing. So I read a pile of Black Panther and Scarlet Witch. Both with their merits and atypical approach to super heroes.

Goodnight Punpun - Inio Asano - I'm a big fan of Asano's manga, his art and the slacker ennui heavy Japanese narratives, that remind of American bio comix or Wong Kar Wai type drama. Everything is wonderfully drawn except Punpun, who is a weird bird man type character. The 7 books follow him from childhood to being in his 20s. Drama of unrequited/lost love, parental relationships, loneliness, weird cults, conversations with god. Generally it has Asano's charm, but i read the last 4 books over a couple of days and it starts to get really dark, and I admit, upsetting. Hell of a journey. His other stuff I've read I remember being easier. Got another 4 books of his sitting to be read, at least his alien invasion series has been lighter!

Vinyl Detective - Andrew Cartmel - for some reason each book seems to be pitched with same title, with individual titles almost as a subtitle. This is book 4 of Vinyl Detective, Flip Back. The record specialist is again hired to track down super rare piece of vinyl. So lots of music geekery, made up band history and eventually there is a secret related to the mystery and someone will try and kill him. Always good fun, reliable page turners. I find these easy and pleasing.

 

Moxie - Jennifer Mathieu - Had this sat on my kindle for a while, 2017 award something or other according to that weird and annoying thing amazon do to mess with titles (just checking now and the title has been updated to "Moxie soon to be a Netflix move directed by Amy Poehler"). A YA novel, about a 16 year old girl, Vivian, in small town Texas(ish?), where she is a good girl, keeps her head down, studies hard, and gets annoyed by the way the football team dominate and abuse the girls of the school. While she may be a good girl, she is the daughter of a Riot Grrl, they have a cat called Joan Jett (which was the stuff that got me to pick it up in the first place). Pissed off at the football assholes, she is suddenly inspired by her mom's box of grrl memorabilia to put together her own zine - Moxie. She distributes it in secret and watches the response. As the novel progresses the assholes escalate with their entitlement and Moxie escalates in response. I can very much imagine it as a teen movie, it has all the boxes to tick - the good girl rebelling, the best friend who doesn't understand, the new girl who becomes a new friend, the new boy as love interest, the cliques and all that. In some ways fairly predictable, but pleasing with that, and with more Bikini Kill, Sonic Youth, Runaways and Black Flag mentions than your average YA novel.
 
Art & Lies - Jeanette Winterson - I picked this up at the Edinburgh Book Festival last year, ended up catching her talk about her new book with lassie from writing group, wasn't until she said was going that occurred to me even try getting tickets, knowing certain authors just sell out that fast. I think this is the 7th or 8th of her books I've read, one of those writers I enjoy without entirely realising quite how much. This is described as being in the near future, though not sure there is particularly anything that expressly makes that so - there are some colourful descriptions of the city and society's discrepancies, but you could almost apply those to any period. The story alternates between three view points - Handel, Picasso and Sappho - three people who have ended up on the same train. Handel trained to be a priest, but became a doctor. Picasso dreams of being an artist despite her family's resistance. Sappho is the poet, wondering about how she has been treated by history. The language is ephemeral, I tend to find Winterson's narratives sliding and layered and identities shift and change. There are times I'm not sure I'm entirely following what was happening, pretty words, big imagery, but less focused on a plot as such. Though, as the piece moves on the lives tangle and so do the narratives, so by the end I went "ah, aha."
 
Datura - Leena Krohn - Part of a "weird" bundle I picked up from Story Bundle (if I recall), one of a couple curated by Jeff Vandermeer. This one is part of the Finnish weird published in English by his Cheeky Frawg imprint. Weirdly between the bundles I think there were stand alone editions and a huge omnibus, so I've read a few of her novel(la)s, and had an idea what to expect. With current events I need to read, but certain stories just feel out at the moment, and I thought something like this and the Winterson would hit the spot - odd, magical, curious, engaging. Our lead character is the sub-editor of a Finnish Fortean like magazine, though she ends up doing pretty much everything for the magazine at the behest of the editor/owners latest requests - travelling 250 miles to look at Christ's face in a piece of cheese, managing the weird bumf shop (which despite her protests includes singing fish). Along the way she is self medicating with the Datura plant, leading to encounters and experiences which may or may not be real. Like her Tainaron and Doña Quixote each chapter is almost a stand alone vignette, an odd occurrence, building an overall world in the process. Not for everyone, but definitely for me.
 
Finna - Nino Cipri - One of the latest tor novellas. I've read shorts by Nino, so have some experience with their work, and was interested from that. The plot for this also sounded interesting. Ava and Jules have broken up, it was messy. So Ava changed all her shifts so she wouldn't need to see her ex/co-worker in an Ikea-lite store. Unfortunately a colleague has called in sick and Ava has to cover, so of course Jules is the first person she bumps into, and things don't go well with them. However, when a wormhole opens leading to a parallel store, and a customer gets lost, the two find themselves nominate to go into the multiverse of big box stores and rescue the woman who is lost. Julius is trans/non-binary, as I understand Nino is, so full of they/them, and complaints about being misgendered and not fitting in, and just how much they are enjoying this weird journey they are on, while Ava is stressed AF. A little understated, side effect of being a novella rather than a novel, but manages to get in multiple worlds, big threat, big adventure, and I easily read in a day.
 
I finished Zolitude short story collection I was working through in previous post, it was good overall, some lesser pieces, but mostly really solid.
With ref to Arkady Martine's book, just picked it up for 99p on kindle, so that is future reading. I see it got a Hugo nomination, along with Alix Harrow and Tamsyn Muir's debut that were very good.
 
 

 

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Myth of the Maker by Bruce Cordell — Very strange book about some guys who make a quantum computing breakthrough and discover that they've essentially connected to some quantum network by plugging the computer directly into the wall with no anti-virus protection. Except the computer is Earth and the viruses want to eat it. Five of them are connected by VR and one guy manages to jump back to Earth, kill everyone so their brains won't be infected with viruses and then jump back in and instantiate some beta of a game he was writing onto the network node Earth is connected to. So now there's a Skyrim knock-off running that provides a rule-set to keep viruses out at least. Also, he and his friends are now all super powerful in the game which helps defeat any viruses that manage to penetrate game space. But one of his friends double-crosses them all and hijinks ensue…

 

Not a terrible book, but not a great one either. I think that I wouldn't recommend it based on it being obviously the sort written by someone who has lots of sequels in mind.

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Killing Commendatore - Haruki Murakami - I was trying to work out when I first read Murakami, as I was reading this, and my conclusion was 2002. I reckon South Of The Border must have just come out in hardback, and Waterstones had paperbacks on the display tables. Dance, Dance, Dance caught my eye, the version then having dancing skeletons and a Bruce Sterling quote. Somewhere along the line he became one of those authors I buy in hardback, though between 1Q84 and this I have been reconsidering that. This hardback was just short of 700 pages, which makes it thick and unwieldy. And I don't know if it was the translation or Murakami's writing, but the reading felt thick and unwieldy too. It felt slow, and repetitive, and hard to get into. Got a bit easier after about 130 pages, the elements of the plot starting to make themselves known. There were various aspects of the plot/themes which are pretty familiar - weird teenage girl, dark hole in the ground, aimless narrator, travelling into other realms. The narrator has made a reasonable living as a portrait painter, not the career he intended, but it pays the bills. Suddenly his wife decides she wants a divorce, and after a road trip, he ends up taking care of the house of a famous painter, who is the father of an art school friend. There he uncovers a hidden painting, which triggers a series of events: the bell in the night, the intense neighbour, and visitations from an Idea in a spirit form. The book was mixed, the spookier scenes were reasonably effective, a couple of scenes gave me mild chills. The sexual content was more problematic and felt clunky - ironically an interview between a Japanese feminist author and Murakami was doing the rounds as I was reading this, where she called him out on some of these aspects (not read, but will now that I have finished). In the end, it paid off to some degree, ticked the boxes I expect from him as an author, but it was much more of a struggle than I was looking for.

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Reread Walkaway by Corey Doctorow. I can see a lot of the early parts of the book actually happening. Still feel like the introduction of sub-themes of digital consciousness uploads and possible Singularity are a bit much for a book already neck-deep in economic overthrow and human social behaviors, but none-the-less it's a powerful book and well worth a second read.

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Follow Me To The Ground - Sue Rainsford - this was one of the last books I bought before lockdown (which is not an indication that I'm about to run out of books by any means!). It was impulse buy for shiny hardback novella;ironically the paperback had appeared when I went in a week later. Ada and her father are... not human. They are from The Ground. They live alone, outside town, ageing at a different speed from the townspeople. The people only ever come out to the house when they need a cure. So there are two types of people, those from The Ground and the Cures. The story is narrated by Ada, for lifetimes she has been a child, now she is... someone not quite adult, someone with an appetite. The book is interspersed with commentary from towns folk varying from hailing the miracle cures to the gossip about just how strange they are. This is a debut novel, though at under 200 pages maybe closer to novella, I read it in a day. I tend to agree with the cover quotes, weird and tender, quietly haunting. I really enjoyed this, it walked such a fine line in so many ways, and for me just nailed it.

 

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge - Paul Krueger - I remember seeing this in the shops when it first came out, fairly eye catching cover. Seen the other named a few times on twitter recently, then this cropped up cheap so decided to give it a go. Bailey Chen has just graduated, is super smart, but doesn't seem to be getting anywhere. So ends up as a bar back in the Nightshade Lounge, run by her old school friend Zane. One night, left to lock up she stumbles on a secret stash, shrugs and makes herself the perfect screwdriver. Which is just as well, as she is attacked by a demon on the walk home, and the screwdriver gives her super strength. Thus a world of tremens (magic/alcohol seeking demons) and bar staff granted power by the perfect cocktails is revealed. Set in Chicago, with no doubt lots of local details. A war of magic and evil, interspersed by cocktail recipes, the narrative history of the cocktails, and the powers the cocktails provide. And it is fine. Yup, fine. Honestly, while the alcohol as magic system is interesting, the series by Annette Marie set in a bar full of magic users is just a lot more fun.

 

The Word For World is Forest - Ursula Le Guin - I've not read nearly enough Le Guin, though I have a number of works in my to be read collection. Unfortunately chapter 1 is tricky, it introduces us to the bad guy, who is so bad and mean that by today's standards he feels like a caricature, and I wasn't entirely able to take him seriously. When we get into the lead alien character and the other human character, completing the three voices that tell the story, then it becomes much more enjoyable. Humans aren't alone in the universe, though they aren't keen on the idea they are derived from a parent species as are most of the other aliens that are encountered. The planet this takes place on is heavy forest, to the point that to the locals the word for world and forest is the same word. Humans arrive and start cutting down trees, and the sedate and passive locals are regarded as sub humans to be treated as slaves. But rape, murder and killing the world can only be tolerated for so long. A super short work, read it in about a day, fascinating stuff about the alien culture, about dreams and myths and gods, and proper hideous human bad guy.

 

The Stone Weta - Octavia Cade - started this alongside The Ten Loves of Mr. Nishino, one paper one electronic. Which struck me as an interesting combination, given that they are both related series of stories about individual women. Weta is more coherent as a whole, while Nishino has an arc it feels more like individual shorts, so going to dip in and out of that. Regardless, I've read a number of shorts by New Zealand author Cade, and I think increasingly she is publishing horror work. This is full science fiction by comparison and is an extension of the short piece that really caught my attention. It is being pitched as her debut novel, but at a list page count of 133 pages not sure that is accurate. It starts with essentially the short story - a trans woman, a New Zealand scientist, has joined an underground science resistance made up of women scientists around the world. Each woman has a code name, a niche animal or plant or insect or... The Stone Weta is the code name of the initial character, and her initial story covers the network, zip drives of climate data being passed around the others, copies being made and hidden. The story has a decent uplifting ending, no spoilers as I encourage people to go and read it. This version takes from there and then gives us a series of chapters following the other women we encountered - climate denial is getting worse, evidence is covered up, articles are changed, data is deleted, scientists start to go missing. So you hit that peak of the original story, then crank the tension back up, uncertainty, paranoia, is anyone going to make it through to protect what they have all been working for? The last section is a return of the Weta, and in so doing mirrors the first part, summarising the final position of this narrative. The narrative is a little detached, but I think that is a stylistic thing, reflecting the scientists and the reports and their thinking. It wobbles a little more than the short, but holds, though not sure it would for a longer piece. I enjoyed it a lot, it is a strong near future SF piece, which I love and wish we got more of.

 

The Survival of Molly Southborne - Tade Thompson - a tor novella, the 2nd Molly Southborne book, this felt like decent ending, though I think I saw Tade suggest there was a 3rd on the way, which might work as enough open endings. Anyway, novella, probably helps to have read The Murder first. Every time Molly bleeds she creates a clone self that is determined to kill her. Without spoilers actions were taken in Murder, shit hit the fan. Molly is dazed by the fall out, but looks like things have changed and for the better. Though it isn't that easy, the flashbacks and trauma, the paranoia and the conviction that someone is following her. Because, of course, someone is. The world is expanded, more characters come in, and we are given a very different Molly. I think I enjoyed this one more, less violence helped with that! And Tade is definitely an author that continues to surprise.

 

Lagoon - Nnedi Okorafor - I've not finished this, but I've decided to list here now, because I might not finish. I'm tending to not finish things more often, or walk away for a while. Sometimes I go back, but if it isn't clicking then I have 10,000 other things to be reading. I also put this here, because it is hard not to make comparisons between Lagoon and Rosewater - both Nigerian alien invasions, with human/agents interacting with the alien in non-hollywood fashions. Problems: 1. I read Rosewater 1st and it just felt more satisfying and engaging, i enjoyed all the characters in those; 2. I'm just not engaging with any of the characters or the narrative, and the big reason for that is head hopping, we never seem to engage at any level or focus in close enough to a narrative core, without hopping to the next character. hopefully I'll go back and the end will bring some satisfaction, but for now I'm skipping it.

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Like many others, I have read a lot during the lockdown, though I have reread more than read new books. Partly because I am boycotting internet purchases, in order to help when it is possible the local stores. And partly because most of the books I have in the "To read" pile are books that do not attract me, which is why they are still there. Rereading requires less energy than reading and certain books are comforting these days of uncertainty. So I have read several books about that London I cannot visit (Ben Aaranovitch, Kate Griffin, China Mieville or Nick Harkaway). 

 

Also as many others, I have been using the extra time to rearrange the book shelves, specially as I am donating books to a NGO that resells them for local projects, and I do not have enough space, so all books I am sure I will never reread again will go. That also has rediscovered many books to re-read, either because I miss them, or to decide if they have to go or remain. And also some books that I did not even know I had them, and that I had not read. 

 

One of those is Joe Haldeman's Forever Peace, a non-sequel to his powerful, although somewhat dated, Forever War. Even though it is from 1997 it is still quite appropiate, with a North South insurgency war which the North fights only with drones and always in almost enemy territory,. I will not spoil the plot, though I found it weaker than the whole drone situation and how post-scarcity in part of the world would work, just now when many western countries are toying with universal income as a response to the economic fallout of the epidemic. Well written and thought provoking, but showing its age in some aspects. I liked more the set-up than the resolution.

 

Earlier I finished Ann Leckie's ProvenanceAlthough it takes place in the same universe as the Ancillary books, this is a totally different book. Smaller in scope, focusing in several human cultures and an alien one, with an emphasis in people rather than politics and AIs as in the trilogy. Physically also the character is totally different, I could not help it but imagine the novel as an Audrey Hepburn romantic movie, full of misunderstandings but with most people inherently nice. As such, I really enjoyed the dialogues between the different cultures, and how they are not just transplanted earth stereotypes. The gender uncertainty is also played with in a fascinating way, though it is often difficult to follow. A nice short read, with believable cultures and a general positive attitude that is very refreshing.

 

I have also read Dale Furutani's Matsuyama Kaze trilogy (Death at the Crossroads, Jade Palace Vendetta and Kill the Shogun), that I had in omnibus form in French and had not yet read. The books are all connected by the common thread of looking for the daughter of his lord. However they are very different. The first one is a mystery novel, presenting quite well the rigid caste system and its limitations. For me it is the best of the three. The second is an action novel with swords, and even an unnecessary ninja. The last one is a mix of action and high politics, with Tokugawa Ieyasu as one of the main characters and a tricky ending. They go well together but I think it is impossible they will please all readers. From a small village mystery and facing some bandits to a conspiracy against the shogun, they go from realism to action gratification, as well as a kind of checklist of Japanese action films: ninja, gamblers/gangsters, daymio conspiracies... and more. Still, a nice read, slightly spoiled as the quality goes down as you advance.

 

Recently (relative as my last report here was in January) I have also read Alistair Reynolds' Revenger. The beginning of a new series, it is also quite self-contained, so I think I will wait before getting the following book in the series. It is not bad, but it is not great, either, and in the last third I lost most of my emotional interest in the characters. It is not justified by the plot, as they are consumed by revenge, but I just did not like where they were going, even if it is appropiate. The science is good for a Space Opera. The extreme future living on the ruins of the past has a long tradition, and it presents the world quite well, without unnecessary info-dumps. The universe is more promising than the characters, and it may well be what brings me back. But not now.

 

 

 

 

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Just been working through the Matador series as a re-read. Always enjoyable.

 

Luckily, our ingenious state is opening up the library again on Monday so for a slight risk of some COVID, I can possibly finally get a few new books. Woohoo!

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I'm approaching the end of Palm Sunday, a Vonnegut book I never read when I was in deep the first time. It's a collection of mostly nonfiction stitched together with connective tissue, and it's a mixed bag quality-wise. There are plenty of very good Vonnegut gut punches about life, but some chapters required slogging. I'm glad I've read it, but I won't read it again. In one chapter, V grades all of his works and gives this one a C. I think that's a fair assessment.

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Started the Ack-Ack-Macaque omnibus, that combines all three novels and a short story, and it is too much monkey for me. The first novel is very good, the second starts to be repetitive and even worse, I really, really hate infinite accessible parallel universes. I blame Heinlein. So I stopped halfway the third and may finish it later, when I am less burnt-out. 

 

So I read a couple of Spanish books, reread the first two books of Chris Wooding's Tales of the Ketty Jay, and Whispers Underground, the third novel in Ben Aaronovitch The Rivers of London series, that took out the bad taste the second left me and that had kept me out of the series for years. I will give an opportunity to the rest, as soon as I have made some place in my shelves and I can start buying books again.

 

I used to donate books to the local library, but they indicated me that the kind of books I donate are not what they want for permanent collection, so they will most likely get sold cheaply, so now I donate them to a NGO that resells them at 1-5 €, depending on the book and the state. Unfortunately they are closed due to the lockdown, so I will see next week if they open again or not. I may buy some books at the same time.

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I don't post in here enough.

 

Been re-reading a lot stuff.

 

Currently re-reading Dashiell Hammett's THE MALTESE FALCON:  Every character in it is pretty much a jackass, but I still enjoy it and keep re-reading it.  Guess that's why it's a classic.

 

Before that I read VIRTUAL LIGHT, part of a lazy re-read cycle of all of Gibson's novels, in order.  

 

Before that I tried starting BLACKFISH CITY by Sam J. Miller, but couldn't get into it, even after a couple total start-overs.  Moved it down the "to-read" pile a bit so I can come back to it later.

 

Before that I re-read Warren Ellis' TRANSMETROPOLITAN.  Which, when compared against our current reality, is far less cynical and fucked up, and in some ways more optimistic, than it used to be.

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The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August - Claire North - the debut novel by Claire, for some reason I ended up with an American hardback, and at the back of it clearly states Claire North is a pseudonym. Which has since been clarified, given that she is now about 8 books in? Claire North aka Kate Griffin aka Catherine Webb. I've already read The Sudden Appearance of Hope and Touch, and I have 84K and The End of the Day in my to be read pile. I had previously started reading this, but it coincided with some difficult times, and I was struggling to read. With the announcement of planned film, and spending time not buying more books, I decided to get back to it. It follows the formula I'm familiar with in the 2 I have read - establish idea, explore, threaten, push the limits. Harry is dying when approached by a child who advises that the future is ending. The child is like Harry, someone who after they die will wake up back where the started. With this the novel works through the processes - how did Harry discover this, how Harry founds others, how Harry finds the threat, how that threat threatens Harry, phew Harry survives, gosh things get worse. Another good solid page turner, these three 1st novels are really good. My impression is the more recent works move a little from that steady structure, but I'll look forward to seeing.


Ghost Frequencies - Gary Gibson - Newcon Press novella, part of series released at Glasgow's Satellite convention, which I realised I hadn't read as I was rearranging shelves. As a novella it is a super quick read. A team of physicists are doing some fringe research with quantum communication equipment, hoping to break new ground. But it is the kind of research that is funded by local billionaire rather than universities. Unfortunately it isn't going well, something is interfering, there are rumours of defunding, and a ghost busting team just turned up to do research in the old mansion which is being refurbished to be a centre of scientific excellence, but also turns out to have a bit of history, which is a hell of run on sentence! I enjoyed, haunted house science fiction novel, good solid page turner, done in a day, sorted.


White Cat - Holly Black - been sitting on my kindle for years, ripped through this in no time. Cassel is the black sheep of his family, the only one who isn't a "curse worker". Curse Workers can kill people with a single touch, or change their luck, or change their shape, or control their mind or... Everyone wears gloves, because it is the only way people can be trusted not to put a curse on someone. There is a push to make testing mandatory to identify curse workers, but for now they act like the mob. When Cassel is sent home from boarding school after an incident things start to fall apart, his family hate him for being powerless and for killing his best friend when he was younger, and his presence is clearly interfering with something they aren't telling him about. Thoroughly enjoyed, not quite what I expected, an interesting twist on urban fantasy/crime.


Void Black Shadow - Corey J White - ugh fucking ugh. I read the 1st of these and wasn't hugely impressed, made mistake of buying third in paperback for £1, so felt bound to read book 2 to read book 3. I'll rephrase that, these are three novellas, all following the void witch lead character. Space witches should be totally up my street, but the escalating levels of violence put me off and I ended up hate finishing this. At one point it is suggested that the lead character has single handedly massacred more than 23000 people, there is some notional hand waving, before easily doubling that figure without breaking a sweat. There is a cast of characters, which feels potentially like an attempt to have a crew like Becky Chambers pulled off, but they get sidelined at every opportunity, before returning to killing. Fuck this series, just fuck them.


Red Moon - Kim Stanley Robinson - another hardback I previously started reading, got distracted from, and have now come back to finish. Fred arrives on the moon, which is dominated by the Chinese, he is an American, working for a Swedish tech company. He is delivering a quantum phone (which amused me having read this so soon after Ghost Frequency), but finds himself a pawn of inter-faction plotting, with the recipient of the phone dying and him being lucky to survive. Ta Shu is an old Chinese poet, a feng shui expert, and now an exotic travel guide, coming to the moon to shoot videos for his show. He befriends Fred as they disembark, and is distressed by Fred's disappearance, using his inside contacts to help. With this Fred is joined by a young Chinese woman, a dissident, daughter of potential new Chinese leader, and first woman to get pregnant on the moon. The novel alternates between Fred and Ta Shu, with occasional shifts from third to first person to deliver Ta Shu's video - a familiar KSR trick for data dumping and shifting, which was also used in New York 2140. As the book progresses our characters go to the moon, go to China, go to the moon, go to China, go to the moon, which starts to feel like a Neal Stephenson novel! The novel is set 50 years after the hand over of Hong Kong to China, the end of the protected period, Chinese leadership is approaching transition, the poor are restless, folk in Hong Kong are restless, there are huge financial protests in America. Hits a lot of KSR's usual key points, is decent enough, but not his best work, particularly given the last two I read by him were New York 2140 and 2312.

 

China Mountain Zhang - Maureen F McHugh - Funny to go from reading Red Moon to China Mountain, it wasn't planned, in same way as I've been conscious of finishing things I've started I've been conscious of trying to get through some of the things I've had sitting for a long time, like White Cat and China Mountain. This is set sometime after Red Moon, a socialist revolution has swept across America, and it is now heavily influenced by China. Such that China is the world power, Americans aspire to be Chinese, and getting to go to China is a big deal. Our lead character is half Chinese, half Hispanic, though has been genetically tweaked (in a process now illegal) to look more Chinese, so to many he is ABC (American Born Chinese), and so better than just regular American. Unfortunately his Chinese name Zhang Zhongshan was picked by over enthusiastic parents, and translates to the embarrassing China Mountain Zhang. The novel is from 1992 and in some ways feels dated, feels like something that wouldn't get published now, but in other ways with the environmental themes and how well it compliments Red Moon it is exactly what a science fiction novel should be, which in itself sometimes feels quaint. The novel follows Zhang as he goes from an engineer in New York, to the North Pole, to University in China, to specialist in China, and back to New York. The learning, the dififculties, particularly for a "bent" man in socialist states where that ranges being frowned on to being a death sentence. The Zhang chapters are oddly interspersed with short stories in the same world, other characters in New York, or on a colony on Mars, where they tie into Zhang's narrative and flesh out the larger picture. I'd read loads of stories by McHugh, she was regularly in the Best SF volumes year after year, so I'd been meaning to read this for a long time, and think it is her 2nd novel I also have sitting in my archives. This was good, worth a read, now one of those SF Classic volumes you can pick up.

 

Desdemona & The Deep - CSE Cooney - another of the tor novella series, as was the fuck ugh above. I have to admit, I initially found this annoying, and it generally irked me for a while. Desdemona is the heir to an industrial empire (no doubt to be married off as a prize at some point), her parents are divorced, so while she lives with her rich father, the novella opens with her roped into helping one of her mother's "causes". In this case it is a fund raiser for the girls who work in the match factory and are brutally disfigured by phosphorous before dying of poisoning. Desdemona is rich and spoiled, the event is lavish and excessive, she is horrified by the hideous women from the factory. Coming home from the event, she catches her father making a deal with a demon, sacrificing his workers to benefit his business. There are three realms, the day for human, the twilight for the gentry and the night for the kobolds, and as it turns out, each of the realms is accessible through her house. Determined to undo her father's work she sets out on a faerie adventure. I am struck by the rise of these kind of industrial fantasy works, I guess shades of steam punk, but factories and magic? Like Bolander's Harmless Great Things and Newman's Industrial Magic novellas, also from tor, and no doubt others. As it goes on I was grudgingly brought round, mostly.


The Bird King - G Willow Wilson - Wilson is probably most famous for the creation of Ms. Marvel, the smash hit Pakistani American Muslim super heroine. The Bird King is her 2nd novel, it is similar to her debit Alif The Unseen in that it works with Muslim mythology (Wilson, I understand, is a convert). The novel is said in Europe at the time that Spain became a country instead of a collection of smaller countries, with that the land that is now Andalusia was a Muslim state and is under siege. Fatima is the sultan's favoured concubine, born into the harem, the fact that her mother was pregnant when she was sold having come as a surprise. Fatima is stunning and for a concubine she is influential, but she is still a captive, having sex with the sultan when it suits him. She dreams of being free. Her best friend is Hassan the map maker, who makes maps which are magical. The soldiers arrive to demand surrender and when they learn of Hassan one of the conditions of surrender becomes handing him over to the Inquisition. Fatima grabs Hassan and they make a daring escape, but where do they go? They have told each other the legend of The Bird King for years, in which the king lives on a mysterious island out there - is that something they could find? Or will they die at the hands of the Inquisition? Really enjoyed, just really good and recommended.

 

Demon Bound - Caitlin Kittredge - The 2nd of Kittredge's Black London novels, I picked a number of them having enjoyed her Coffin Hill series, these are her poor man's John Constantine series. This another started previously, put aside, and come back to. I have mixed feelings on the series, unpublished in the UK, no doubt writing to a US audience, it feels at times a little cringey from the UK. All magic is Irish, I don't make the rules, that is just what seems to be the case here - Jack Winter is the Morrigan's crow mage, an ex-junkie, punk singer from Liverpool, um sorry, Manchester, who has sold his soul to a demon. Pete Caldecott is an ex-police officer, who has had run ins with Jack in her youth, and bumping into him again seems to turn out she is a weir, a source of magic. So they survive the 1st novel, spoiler, and have teamed up as grungy exorcists. So big haunted house in the country, wild magic, but time is running out for Jack's soul, so insert random detour to Bangkok, and um... In the end I probably actually enjoyed this more than the 1st, benefiting from mostly not actually being in London. If you've read all the Hellblazer that you can find then this might scratch that itch, just about.

 

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Light of Impossible Stars by Gareth L Powell — Third in the series about Culture-like ships that have independent Minds running them. I liked this better than the previous one but probably still not quite as well as the first in the series. Worth a look if you're missing Culture novels though!

 

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu — This is a really strong short story collection. Lots of fascinating ideas and he explores the same universe in a number of different short stories, so you get to see how he thinks various parts of this future he envisions end up playing out. And he's a good enough writer that the stories themselves are also excellent, with well-drawn, sympathetic characters.

 

The City We Became by N K Jemisin — As much as I enjoyed The Broken Earth series, I am so over all magical realism stories that I don't think I can finish this book. I got about 50 pages in last night and just couldn't take any more. Started re-reading something random from my shelves instead. She's a great writer, the characters are well rendered, etc. Just not for me at this juncture. Maybe some day once I've become less burnt out on that sub-genre.

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Well, everything is fire, so we keep on reading to keep on sane. Which of course, doesn't help when SFF/Comics authors, editors, etc are being outed as ranging from deeply problematic to worse.

With that, I note Paul Krueger who did Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge, which I posted about last month has been outed in the problematic category. Then ironically, I just got round to reading The Lies of Locke Lamorra by Scott Lynch, which to some extent is a contemporary genre benchmark, recommended to me loads of times over the years since it came out. Not my cup of tea specifically, but I did pick up cheap years ago, and finally got round to reading this month as a friend said she was enjoying a lot. And I did enjoy a lot. On other hand, yesterday's news is that Lynch and his wife Elizabeth Bear are problematic. While there is debate about whether their accuser is equally problematic, and I don't know the details, that doesn't mean everyone being problematic cancels out any of them being problematic. We all come to our own decisions, but I certainly don't want to be in the position of recommending books knowing that the people responsible should perhaps not be supported in any way.

Onwards....
The Bitter Seed of Magic - Suzanne MacLeod - I really need to be better at keeping track of my keeping track of what I have read. This is the second time recently I've looked at my obvious shelves and seen how far I am into a series and then bought the next volume based on that, only to find that I have already read it. So yeah, I had read this back in 2016, and it is obviously hiding on some overflow cranny, while books 1 and 2 are more clearly visible. MacLeod is one of the UK paranormal romance/urban fantasy authors who doesn't seem to get talked about a lot, and she isn't necessarily the top of her field, but they tend to be enjoyable/entertaining. Which is why I decided to fill the gaps in reading this series. Genny works for Spellcrackers.com, she is not magic, but can break magic. She is pure sidhe, though her father was a vampire. She is also suspected of being the cure for a fertility curse against the sidhe. So lots of stuff about fertility, the curse, um consent, dubious politics, witch in-fighting, troll police officers, goblins that love blinky shoes, and hot hot men. Despite having read before I stuck with it, it was fine, though the swooning was a bit much for me, and some of the fertility/consent stuff got a little...intense?

The Fifth Season - N.K. Jemisin - I've enjoyed Jemisin's shorts, but never read a novel. Part of the problem is the hype, the fact that I tried to read the extract from book 2 for voting on Hugos, which put me off, and that tonal/second person thing which at times jolts me. But I stuck with it, got my head into it, didn't find any of the problems I was afraid of once I got going. In someways the epic fantasy tag is also part of what put me off, and the bleak. And yeah, it is about the end of the world, but there is a factor where it is a world where there is a long history of endings. It could also be said that it post-apocalypse science fiction, numerous climate change disasters, cultures build up over time, after disaster, the stray technologies of dead civilisations, and the fact that while the countries/continents are unfamiliar, they do refer to it as Earth. The book follows three voices, each of the women narrating cover different generation, different events, but they are all Orogenes. Orogenes being the polite term for people who has earth/seismic/tectonic abilities, with some associated displacement/power law that affects temperature. The precise nature of this isn't 100% clear and doesn't need to be, the discrimination and enslavement of them is more relevant to the plot. Damaya is a child, her powers have been discovered and she has been collected to go to the "university" where her kind are trained/controlled, and if they fail they are destroyed. Syenite is a graduate of this "university", climbing the skills ladder, and going on a supervised mission with a ridiculously powerful mentor. Essun is older, hiding in a community, her life collapses just as the latest Fifth Season arrives - she has been discovered, her son who has inherited her power has been murdered by her husband (which is the first chapter!). We follow the three and the world and their lives come together. And unsurprisingly, given the acclaim, it is good, and it is worth a read, and I do already have the other 2 volumes sitting here, ready for soonish follow up.

Redwood and Wildfire - Andrea Hairston - I picked up my first Hairston novel in one of the StoryBundles, and it is currently available in the StoryBundle "Pride" collection. I love "Will Do Magic For Small Change", I found it intoxicating and engaging and exciting, but in that peculiar small way that particularly works for me. And I picked this up as a result, the characters Redwood and Wildfire are old in the 1980s of Small Change, here it is back in the 1898-1913 kinda range, when they are young. Which makes it a different kinda novel, and less obviously my cup of tea, but still has a lot of the same charms and worked really well for me. Both these novels start with death, in R&W Redwood's mother is lynched while Redwood, a child, flees through the woods with her family. Wildfire witnesses the murder and is haunted by it his entire life, how powerless he was, how Redwood's mother was always good to him. And this is a story where haunt is literal, through the years there are conversations with ghosts, sinister haints in the night. The novel alternates between the two titular POVs, following their trials in Georgia, the racism, the poverty, then Redwood's determination to become a singer, to take to the stage. Up to Chicago, performing, getting involved in the early days of music. Redwood is inherited hoodoo from her mother and has strange abilities to change reality, mildly mostly, though sometimes in a big scary way. Wildfire is half Irish and half Seminole, and has inherited a certain magic of his own from his ancestors. Throughout they are both haunted, but both empower each other, and there is a certain will they won't they, how will they find any kind of happiness. At times the misery can feel like it is a constant, but the magic and joy tend to cancel that out. I enjoyed a lot, and while I don't believe there are other novels in this world, I will be looking to pick up her imminent new novel, and her debut science fiction novel, at some point.

Annabel Scheme - Robin Sloan - Scheme was the debut novella by Sloan, which I guess I read after coming across his first novel about a weird book shop. Scheme is a detective, of sorts, weird and occult, in a quantum altered San Francisco. Very Jeff Noon kinda story. I just re-read this because Sloan returned to the character for a San Francisco newspaper serial, featuring the latest adventure of the detective in 15 parts. The archive link is here: https://www.robinsloan.com/notes/newspaper-serial/

Seastead - Naomi Kritzer - I saw this being talked about on twitter the other day, a series of intereconnected stories/novellas published 2012-2015 in F&SF. I worked out I had 4 of the 6 stories, so sat and read those all together. Turned out I had read most of them at the time, but it was nice to read as a kinda novel. Beck is a 16 year old on a series of autonomous man-made islands off the coast of America, and it turns out she was abducted by her father, and her mother is not dead. The rich abuse the poor with bond contracts, and Beck gets involved in helping, which pisses folk off, there is retaliation, she gets drawn in further. Etc. Really solid near future SF, even if it is a few years old now, I really enjoyed these.

With that, I have also been generally catching up on F&SF, Lightspeed and Asimov's issues. Not driving to work is killing my fiction podcast listening, but trying to compensate by reading issues. We don't tend to talk about shorts here much, and it isn't always especially easy to cover individual pieces. And I tend to do my annual summary anyway...

With that... I've been reading "Swimming Among The Stars" by Kanishk Tharoor, which is a collection of short stories that has been on my wish list for a while, and I finally picked up. I've read a handful, taking my time working through them. They tend towards the quiet, the understated, at times a little melancholy, but with that the writing is really lovely. The title story is about the last speaker of a language, her realisation that is the case is she is interviewed by university team, and her thoughts on how words would be translated (a person swimming among the stars would be an astronaut). There is an elephant delivered to Morocco as an unexpected gift from India, the UN displaced by climate change, and so on. Looking forward to enjoying the rest.

The Sunken Land Begins To Rise Again - M John Harrison - Having not been to book shops or really buying physical books, and trying to catch up on my backlog, I did take the decision to treat myself to this in hardback, pre-ordering a few weeks ago, so it arrived last Saturday, despite official publication apparently being only a couple days ago. If you aren't familiar with Mike, then that title will likely be deceiving, because nothing as obvious as a sunken land rising happens in this novel. But if you are familiar with Mike then you'll probably have an idea of what to expect, even further some of this material may be familiar, having been odd extracts on his blog over the last few years, and I'm sure odd stories in his collection/other places. Which adds to the odd sensation of reading this novel, and this is a novel of odd sensations. While Mundane SF was used as a term a few years ago, likely little of it was as Mundane as this. As we alternate between Shaw and Victoria, a not quite couple, we get bogged down in the minutae of their broken lives, the squalor of their thwarted ambitions. The lacklustre nature of their relationship and the communication between them being a particular demonstration of who they are and how they are going nowhere. With that comes an edge of unease that the two of them are adjacent to, that they half witness, perhaps suspect, but dismiss and deny. Voices in the night, references to water babies, they both have glimpse coincidences that only the reader can piece together as coincidences. There are parallel encounters, the fact they both end up living by the water, they see things, hear things, have conversations that would be knowing if either of them had a clue. And it is all peripheral and glimpsed, which is what Mike excels at, the sense of did something even happen, was that a dream, or something else. So is the ending satisfying, did it all make sense, was it worth it? To a degree that will come down to the reader and the experience they found in reading it. But, don't be surprised if my work in progress bears a piss poor resemblance to the spirit of this work.

Edited by remotevoices

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Damn, now I want to read Seastead but I guess she's hidden them all because her agent is trying to sell it as a book. 🤔

 

Re-read Neal Stephenson's Zodiac: An Eco-Thriller and I still love it. Sangamon is a complete asshole of a character but the fact he also owns it completely makes him very likeable somehow.

 

Currently reading The Network Effect, the latest Martha Wells Murderbot novel. So far, so good albeit with a very confusing start to it. EDIT: And indeed it was a pretty satisfying ending! :)

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