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I will be reading more books from him, for sure.

 

Meanwhile I quickly read Michael Swanwick's "Dancing with Bears", a full novel featuring two future con men in a post-apocalyptic/singularity earth that is a clear homage to Jack Vance.

 

I reread the two stories of Darger and Serplus in "The dog said Bow-wow", to get in the mood, and I actually liked them better in the short stories. However they are not the real main characters, more like catalysts/connecting thread for a fantasy story about a Russia that does not exist and probably never will, though it is quite interesting, in a series of creative and destructive events that risk destroying Moscow.

 

A light easy read, only a few ideas will remain after it is finished, but an entertaining use of time, nevertheless.

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^ I quite enjoy those characters and their misadventures in a post-apocalyptic Europe! He's written a third one, Chasing The Phoenix, but it doesn't come out until August 2016 in paperback and I'm loathe to buy a hardback if I can ever help it.

 

I just finished rereading The Magicians. Boy is that a completely different kettle of fish from the TV show! I had forgotten so much about what happened and when… Have to read The Fifth Season before I can start up on book 2 though. I'm thinking they may be worth owning as well, so I really need to get on to Amazon and buy them. The trilogy is only $28 right now, IIRC.

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Tim Powers "Medusa's Web". It is a very correct book that is read quickly and pleasantly. It just feels a bit fluffy, with less substance than what I am used from Mr. Powers.

 

The set up is quite classical Powers, a hint of the fantastic, damaged characters and an well researched background that fits with the fantastic elements. In this case it is silent movies Hollywood, combined with present day California.

 

However the story holds few surprises, the main characters are stressed less than usual, and the ending is telegraphed well in advance.

 

It is still a nice read, and you root for the main characters, with the alternating viewpoint working quite well (though it hints at how it will end). However, unlike other of his books, it does not linger in  but is quite forgettable once it is set down.

 

Actually it was seeing Chasing the Phoenix what signaled to me that I was missing a Swanwick book. I will also get it when it is out in paperback, as Swanwick is in my completist list.

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Finished The Fifth Season. Really quite fascinating in some ways. Not the most satisfactory of conclusions though? I desperately wanted more than what we got. One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the gradual realization that this may not be an entirely alien planet and culture. At any rate, it was enjoyable and I'd recommend it. Honestly, in terms of Hugo noms, I can see it being worthy, but the book that did the most to put the cattle prod to me so far last year was still Luna: New Moon.

 

I went ahead and bought all of Tobias Buckell's Mongoose books, so now I'm torn between going back to the Magician series and reading some of those for the first time.

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Ancillary Sword is less ambitious than the first book of the series. There is less action, less of the universe, most of the action takes place in one space station and less of the general alienness of the Radch.

Instead we focus on one on one relationships and how an individual planet works (or not) under an imperial, exploitative culture.

As a view how the present Western imperialism (economic and cultural) works it is not too bad, though others have done better. But it focuses too much on the main character, and some of the alien aspects that made Ancillary Justice unique are now just common in this second book. No gender? Accepted. Tea? Why not. Hands? Damned not working aristocrats. AIs? Just another quirky character.

What makes it less attractive also is that the main plot advances very little, and our knowledge of this future is almost the same as at the end of the previous book. We know much more of Breq, however, and more about the colonial system in one planet of the Empire. 

I will still get the third book in the series, even if I am still a bit dissatisfied. It is well written, the characters, despite the alienness, are easy to relate to, and I still want to know more about this imaginary universe.

 

Following Heavyboots endorsement I have just started Luna. I already see Ian McDonald's special touch.

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Forgot I had Kelly Link's Pretty Monsters to read still, so ended up doing that this weekend. Some of the stories are just amazing! I think my favorites are probably The Wizards of Perfil, The Surfer and The Constable of Abal. Pretty Monsters is interesting too, but not a favorite for some reason. All of her stuff reminds me of dreams you would scribble down just after waking up from dreaming them—very surreal but super-grounded. Her characters are always well-fleshed out, even if their motives sometimes adhere only to the logic of dreams. At any rate, a lot of fun and worth checking out, I'd think.

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glad you've been enjoying the collection.

 

i just read jasper fforde's "shades of grey", a weird future britain, so full of quaint british references. Something Happened, and the world was broken. the survivors live in small communities, where what colour a person can see determines their role in life. eddie russet has rocked the boat a little, so is sent to the outer fringes to learn some humility. but quickly finds himself out of his depth despite his own cunning and smarts. for me it plays more to the absurd than to being funny, though it has it's moment. humour is always an odd thing, i don't necessarily always get what other people find funny. but in general this feels like the absurd mix between something like Divergent (based on watching films) and Gone Away World - the arbitrary characteristics determining rank and role vs the bubbles of reality, of things disappearing and lost to the strange past.

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no dominion - charlie huston - the second of a series of "joe pitt" novels, pitt being a rogue in new york's vampire community, taking odd jobs/private detective kind of role, pissing folk off but somehow having all the connections/luck to make it work. i remember reasonably enjoying the first. but i found this one more contrived, i suspect more to do with me than the book. though at times it felt like the narrative drive was how many time pitt could get the shit kicked out of him while learning just enough to stumble into getting the shit kicked out of him again. so that the idea of putting your character in peril actually starts to become a plot by numbers rather than actually engaging.

 

shadowboxer - tricia sullivan - just started. a young hispanic woman is a competitive fighter. but she has a temper problem and when she loses is too many times she finds herself sent to thailand to train and sort herself out. in meantime, there is a young woman been given into the control of a weird westerner, who is using her for her ability to travel to a strange forest other world. so couple things going on fight world and weird world, and no doubt they'll somehow collide. i like sullivan, an american living in the UK, has done some pretty cool/weird SF over the years.

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  • 2 weeks later...

finished shadowboxer, was a good/odd read. less thailand set stuff than i'd expected. though some of those elements followed the lead back to america and the plot thickened nicely.

 

signal to noise - syliva garcia-moreno - 2009, meche returns to mexico city, having spent the last years living in oslo. she has not spoken to her father since 1988, returning now for his funeral. the novel flashes back and forth between 2009 and 1988 - meche dealing with her family, while going through her father's record collection vs the rise and fall of teenage friendships, loves and betrayal. mixing in the idea that in music there is magic, which for a brief time made her life wonderful only for everything she had to come crumbling down. in someways this book frustrated me, though i had heard an interview with the author, so had some idea what to expect. in the UK it is very much published by a genre publisher, but it is much more mundane than one might expect, with even the magic aspect being fairly understated. on the other hand, by the end i did find it emotionally engaging, and wanted to slap the characters to get their acts together.

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The worst part of Luna: New Moon is that it is not a closed book but part of a whole, and we have to wait to see how the story continues.

 

It is not one of my favorite McDonald books, but it has his skill with choral narrative and future extrapolation mixed with what felt most of the time a best seller from the 80s, those that presented tales of ambition and revenge among the wealthy and powerful, and with plenty of steamy sex to keep readers interested. It is mostly that, but in the moon seventy years in our future. The sex is kinkier than in the 80s, but not so different, and the main weak point, simplistic characters, also sets me back to those books.

 

Despite my criticism, I still read it quickly and still need to know how the revenge proceeds, and if there will be any survivors at the end. So I will get the second one, in paperback, as after a couple of days the need to know fades reasonably.

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Last week during the flight I quickly read the double feature Wind/Pinball. This book is for Murakami readers. Though they are his first novels, they are too alien, and too disperse to be a good introduction to his writing. It could work, but it would require some effort. So take a star out if you have not read Murakami before.

 

That said, I loved the Murakami essay on how he started to write, and the books themselves. Because reading them after the rest of his works shows how his idiosyncratic style formed and crystallized, and can see so many of his tropes and details in the characters, shadows of what will be fully formed characters in later novels, or how the narrator is almost the same kind of man in most of them, and always a somewhat younger version of Murakami himself.

 

As in most of his books there may be some supernatural effect, or not, and nothing happens, or maybe everything changes, based on events that happened in the past and beyond our control. The narrator in the first one, Hear the Wind Sing, it is more a series of reflections and events, with more of a story arch than a plot. It is probably the hardest for those used to conventional storytelling.

 

Pinball has a more classic Murakami quest, and the reader is allowed a big deal of interpretation on the events shown. Do the twins really exist? Is the secretary after the narrator? And a previous event, a suicide, overshadows the whole story without it becoming the story.

 

The progression is huge. Now I need to reread the Wild Sheep Chase, to see the next step as a writer.
 

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Finally finished rereading all three of The Magician books. It's interesting to see that in some respects the TV show takes an extremely different route but gets to basically the same place. Having read/watched both, I prefer the books but the show is pretty good too if you haven't read them. (And who knows? It may interest you to read them afterwards too.)

 

Central Station, Lavie Tidhar — This didn't do much for me, unfortunately. It reminds me of stuff by Walter Mosely and China Melville, but not in the best of ways. I wouldn't say it's terrible, but it's pretty disjointed in covering the central story arc and a bit frustrating in that it basically ascribes to technology all properties of magic.

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i find lavie hit and miss. he seems to have (had?) a lot of hype over the last few years, likely through his own hard work, if nothing else. the central station stories were mostly printed in interzone magazine (no doubt a few other places? that is where i read a handful anyway). struck me as an idea with potential, that in the end just never really quite clicked. i gather there was some rewriting, as is the way of these things, to make the book more coherent. but in no hurry to pick it up.

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finally read "ancillary sword", i think i enjoyed this one more than justice. its much more small scale, close up, intimate, less driven and without the scale of justice. but some of the world building and filling in gaps is what made justice baggier at times. this one you get to focus much more on breq and her perception - the scale of her history, her response to the culture of empire, and i just love the way leckie expresses being able to see through multiple eyes/bodies and the ideas of identity that come with that. i ripped through this.

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Tuesday was a down-day for me as I tapped out to allergies and basically moped around the house in a benedryl coma. Between involuntary naps, managed to finish reading Tobias Buckell's Xenowealth series—Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, Sly Mongoose and Apocalypse Ocean. Plus I went ahead and bought his Xenowealth short story collection. Basically it's five books about the mythical Pepper and his genetic clone/daughter Nashara. They're essentially Rastafarian superheroes who can absorb ridiculous amounts of damage and keep going, and their mission is to free humanity, which has been enslaved by various aliens since discovering a wormhole network and venturing forth into the greater outside universe.

 

All in all, the books are pretty enjoyable reading if a little action-heavy. But they present a completely different take from the milk-toast cultures that usually make it into space in sci-fi, being a mix of Caribbean and Aztec mostly. And that I definitely enjoyed. Not to mention that instead of gloriously going where no man has… etc, humanity stumbles badly out of the gate and can't get its act together at any given point unless there is an overwhelming alien threat—another refreshing change up.

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Recently read the first The Magicians - I thought it was lame and derivative (Harry Potter, Narnia, Dark Materials). Found most of the characters, including the principal ones, most unsympathetic. It was pretty boring for most of its length, had a good action scene near the end which almost redeemed it for a while. I won't be reading any more of the series or watching the tv adaptation.

By contrast, Wind-up Girl  is terrific. It starts a bit confusing, you don't really know what's going on (politically) until half way through and it's sprinkled with foreign (I assume Thai) words which take some getting used to. But there's a strong story arc, strong characters, and a believable, yet horrifying, future world to comprehend.

And Angelmaker. Another tour de force from Nick Harkaway. Fascinating and weirdly British from the first page through the mysterious plot at breathless speed.

Edited by gil
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^ Wind-up Girl is Bacigalupi's least YA-feeling novel. I liked it but it's so bleak I don't think I've ever reread it. Sorry you didn't enjoy The Magicians though. I've always actually interpreted it as more of a fuck-you rebuttal to Harry Potter, Narnia, and all the kids magic stories rather than being derivative, but different folks, etc!

 

I read a weird, spooky old John Varley story called Press Enter yesterday. Brrrrr…

 

Also started on Company Town by Madeline Ashby. Really enjoying it so far!

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Again I liked Magicians a lot, but of course each to their own. I had mixed feelings about Wind Up Girl - a lot of good SF stuff, but the wind up girl stuff felt prurient at best, if not downright rapey. But that and the recent Water Knife are his 2 non - YA novels.

I just finished Trash Sex Magic.by Jennifer Stevenson. Part of recent Small Beer Press humble bundle. On one level an incestuous group of trailer trash are being threatened by developers who want the land. But the environmental impact comes up as an issue when the huge tree in the area is cut down and the river starts to move. On other hand The Tree was a massive magical spirit, filled with life magic, expressed largely through sex. Gelia and Rae, mother and daughter, are sex nature witches or something. The novel has this weird charged energy, filled with little odditties. But on some essential level it fits with the likes of Beasts of the Southern Wild and Annihilation - stories of place and environmental shift, brought to life with thay element of something other. I enjoyed this a lot.

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Company Town by Madeline Ashby — This book starts out really well. Fascinating main character and a lot of fun ideas. Unfortunately, I feel she squandered it all in an ending that comes somewhat from left field and somewhat from the "and they all lived happily ever after" camp. Still might be worth a read, as it had some fun ideas about the future of oil rigs as cities, but the ending really did grate on me.

 

Now onto Joe Hill's The Fireman.

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problem with rape/sexual violence directed towards a character as a way of motivating a character is that 1. it is icky, 2. cliched, 3. icky.

 

i've been catching up on "book burners" season 1, series of novellas written by a group of writers. about vatican team who get involved in magical mysteries - killing monsters and protecting the world. finding them reasonably enjoyable, but not sure they hold up as well being group written as they would being written by one author.

 

also finished "england's hidden reverse", which is something of a mess of a book, charting the interwoven history of 3 bands, how they met each other, played in same bands, collaborated, etc. the author jumps between the bands seemingly at random, the photo of art for one band will accompany text discussing other band. i have been a huge coil fan for years, so was fascinated by all the sections about them. some of the other sections on nurse with wound and current 93 were interesting - and as both have bandcamp pages with their whole discography, i did find myself listening to albums as the book talked about them. but still find both bands hit and miss to my taste. as a book there is some good material, how something like riddley walker inspired current 93, or how coil became friends with clive barker and were to do the hellraiser soundtrack. but things like the author's bias tends to be distracting - dismissing bands i like while raving about bands that bored me senseless - which is one thing, but contradicting his subjects and the like...hmm.

 

also reading "they're note like us" book 2, graphic novel, woman with telepathy gets caught up with a group of hipsters each with their own abilities, and it is a weird cult scene. she resists and things change, this book following on from the turning point of the previous - new opportunities, but also new issues as the actions attract attention.

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  • 2 weeks later...

This Census Taker. China Mieville's recent novella, or something.  China Mieville knows how to write. That does not make this a good book, or even a good story.

The first impression is that it was a new project that did not make an internal cut, and what remained was published as such. It is not a full story, it is not even a snapshot, it is just a few scenes and some internal dialogue with glimpses of some post-catastrophe future. The glimpses are interesting but incomplete, and the main plot points (it does not merit being called a line) scattered and false feeling.

It might be a teaser for some further work, but in that case it fails terribly at teasing. It is like looking at what remains in the floor of a cutting room, the discards.

 

Fortunately I have enjoyed some recent reading as well. Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor.  In a simple way this book overturns most fantasy conventions, while remaining mostly conventional. And it works. The worldbuilding is subtle and quite incomplete, leaving space for much further description. The main character is meek and clueless. Yet he is also likeable and fair, and he has others to handle the pointy stuff. 

So this book is mostly about handling people's problems in the less disruptive while trying to survive a conspiracy or three. This is no hero, just a young man doing his best, and how limited being emperor actually is. I hope there are more books set in the setting, even if they do not have Maia at the center, as it may be difficult to keep the same level of interest without creating artificial conflicts.

But it is good to see someone using the medium of fantasy to focus on loss, the constraints of power and the difference between doing good and being good, and without dark ones, dread overlords or doomsday artifacts. 

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ancillary mercy - finished the trilogy. weird how the 2 books work so much better as a seamless pair than with justice as a trilogy. this one did a wee bitty too much retreading, this is the plot, these are the people, while trying not to, which made it feel clumsy at times. but other than that i just thoroughly enjoyed this whole scenario. the translators were brilliant and then add in the ghost ship, so much shit waiting to kick off and complicate the battle between emperors as an empire collapses. and so much drinking tea.

 

the water knife - paolo bacigalupi's 2nd adult novel after a number of YA novels that followed the wind up girl. i have mixed feelings - this is perhaps the nastiest novel i've read in sometime - the violence, particularly against women, is again very striking here. and yes, this is end of the world, break down of law, if you aren't a man in a gang, with a gun, then you aren't safe. but still... in saying that, it is compelling and page turning. a brutal future thriller, the world has gone to shit, got water or die, this makes fury road look a bit fluffy. reading this was weird, friday i saw in a glass room, rain lashing against the walls, reading about water shortages and politics of collapse and backstabbing, while feeling that my country is collapsing. against the background of british turmoil, this was a little too close to the bone, a little too difficult to read - people are going to fuck up, look out for themselves, and we are all fucked, so fucking fucked.

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^ Bacigalupi is the absolute master of bleak. And I don't think he sets out to necessarily do bleak so much as he simply follows a scenario to very logical ends with a good grasp for how people react to catastrophic change.

 

Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor — Fascinating, highly African and deep, deep future novel. Magic has come back into the land and technology has been thrown aside. One set of people is dead set on the genocide of another, everything is one giant desert, and the children of rape by the genocidal are shunned but tend to possess incredible powers. This is the story of one of them who grows up to fight against the genocide. Occasionally we are thrown hints about WTF happened to get the world to where it is today, but mostly it feels like something written about tribes from the past—except that they do use computers and technology here and there still. I was torn at points, but mostly I ended up enjoying the book and particularly towards the end, I was quite glad I had persevered and read the whole thing. Another of her books called The Book of the Phoenix just popped up on one of the short lists for nominations, so I'll be reading that soon too.

 

In other news, I put out holds on a bunch of books figuring I had plenty of time to read them and now like five have suddenly arrived at once! Egads. One down, four to go, lol. I am now hooked in pretty deeply to Linda Nagata's Red: First Light, which is a highly cynical tale of future war, almost ala Hammer's Slammers, but with a lot deeper characters than David Drake manage to create. But I just got news that the 5th book is the new Charles Stross Laundry book so I definitely have to read that next!

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