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Michael Swanwick's "The Iron Dragon's Mother", despite the title, has more in common with the "Dragons of Babel" than "The Iron Dragon's Daughter", but does not really need reading those two books. 


The book is more polished than the other two, with Dark Faerie more consistent and developed, but that is not necessarily good, because the unexplained events and weird magic is one of the things that make Faerie so compelling. The characters are likable, though we do not see the same character development we got in TIDD. So despite similar ages it is more a suspense romp than a coming of age book. It gets better in the second half, but that may just be because I really like Raven. 


I may look those Aaranovitch stories, as I also read "Foxglove Summer" the fifth novel in the "Rivers of London" series, and I liked it a lot. It felt good to get out of London for a while, and the level of violence and anguish is much lower than usual. But maybe it is that some expected personal developments finally go right for Peter, and if you are this far in the series, you have to be rooting for him.


Starting Stephenson's "Fall, or Dodge in Hell", but I am unsure whether to reread "Reamde" or not. I did not like it the first time, which is why I have not reread it.  

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I personally don't think there's  a lot of need to reread REAMDE. It's almost standalone, IMHO. Like it doesn't hurt to remember some of the characters and their past connections but honestly, quite a bit of time passes quite rapidly and the circumstances all change pretty quickly as a result.


I just finished The Trials of Koli by M R Carey. Really good but really a cliff-hanger! Lots of crazy stuff happening on a post-apocalyptic Earth where the remaining humans have been reduced to small, primitive tribes gradually succumbing to the much more aggressive plants and animals that were bred during the climate change jackpot or something—it's not very clear. The primary characters are on a quest to reach London where they hope to find tech to fix their ailing machines and possibly a way to unite more people in one place to create a bigger gene pool. Hijinks ensue…

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  • 2 weeks later...

Ministry of the Future - Kim Stanley Robinson - this is a read in progress, pacing myself, one suspects only KSR could get away with bending expected writing rules, such that it feels like a collection of essays interspersed with periodic characters. I'll come back to it once I eventually finish.

Witchmark - C.L. Polk - a much easier read, the first of a trilogy by Polk. It feels like post-WWI, the lead character a gentleman medic, disgraced by running away from his responsibilities to join the army, now returned and working with shell-shocked veterans. Except another world, country names that are unfamiliar and secret magics. Our doctor has noticed something weird about his patients, but can't reveal how he sees this, because if he does he'll reveal his nature and be branded a witch. A stranger turns up, a journalist dying in his arms, clues adding up to show the man knew The Truth. I was looking for something slow, mellow, easy, and in first chapter or so I worried that this would be too slow. But once something spoilery happens in next chapter or two, then it really picks up and is thoroughly charming. Will they won't they gentlemen, magic secrets, and lots of drinking of tea. Jolly good.

Armageddon House - Michael Griffin - picked this up after after friend recommended. A novella, working out at a couple of hours reading. Four people are living in lockdown in a facility, each day feeling like a loop of the day before, a feeling I found familiar given current circumstances. Quickly it is clear things are odd, contradictory statements, suggestion that none of them entirely know what is going on. I was struck by how effectively this piece was set up from the narrators voice, establishing the standard, the theories, the characters in a tidy and concise manner. I was also struck by the idea of contained works, like in one location, which i have various thoughts about. With a story like this there is a joy in the immersion of the oddity/uncertainty, and I liked that a lot. But unfortunately there is a need to wrap it up, which is a less easy task, where many will fall down. Does the ending here work? I have mixed feelings on that, but regardless getting up to that point was entirely worth it.
Fleet of Knives - Gareth Powell - the second of Gareth's Embers of War trilogy. I was wary of the 1st book because of the War in the title, I tend not to be engaged by war, violence, etc, to a certain degree, depending how it is done. But book 1 was reasonably enjoyable. Unfortunately book 2 has more war, executions, prison breaks, and I stumbled on first attempt. Not what I'm looking for given current events. However, trying to decide what to read last Friday having finished the above two, I thought well I'll pick at this and see if I can get much further, and finished it. Like my comments in last post about Expanse, I can only say so much without getting into spoilers - characters from first book return, dealing in their own ways with events of first book, trying to establish how those events have changed everything.
Meanwhile, read Jan/Feb F&SF, January's Clarkesworld, BCS from December, and just read the most recent Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, in which the (i guess) novella You Have The Prettiest Mask by Sarah Langan is really good, complex take on pandemic, masks, culture, and how women are mistreated. The story is told from POV of 12 year old girl in an exclusive girl's school as society shifts and manages a pandemic carried by women that kills men. Which sounds a little too much for now, but it works really well. The other stories in this issue were really good too, so I recommend this particular issue.
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I feel like Fleet of Knives was a bit of a poor effort on his part. I managed to read through it without too much trouble, but was much happier with the third book and the first.


The Dispatcher by John Scalzi — A novela really, but still pretty enjoyable. This is one of those "If you change one rule about how the world works, what are the consequences" books. In this case, suddenly anyone who is murdered wakes up in their home rolled back whole and intact to a few hours or days before they were killed but with all the memories right up until their death. It was actually quite entertaining in a "let me tell you a story" kind of way.


Seven of Infinities by Aliette de Bodard — Another novela, this time set in her weird oriental-feeling Empire with ships-as-people and murders afoot. Unfortunately I didn't like this nearly as much as The Teamaster and the Detective though? But not a terrible book, just not really my cup of tea (as it were).

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Yeah, I was underwhelmed by Fleet of Knives, it felt pretty light weight, and I was trying to decide if that was just that book or my feelings on Gareth in general. Glad to hear it wasn't just me, and that it was likely the middle book syndrome.


I've kind of burnt out on Aliette. She was the It Girl of SFF for a while, and she was doing some interesting things. I think she has disappeared into her niche, which clearly is delighting her, but really isn't engaging me as much.

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Remote Control by Nnedi Okorofor. More short novela stuff! A lot of her usual themes, but this one was a little more enjoyable than most of her stuff recently has been for me. Small girl inherits terrible powers and roams the countryside as something of a living legend while trying to figure out what her origin story actually is. I think she managed to connect this one back to some actual sci-fi elements more strongly than usual, which did help.

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  • 4 weeks later...

March reading -

Acadie - David Hutchinson - a SF tor novella, mad scientists and rogues have pushed the limits of earth laws and fled into space, but the earth still searches for them. When an odd search vessel arrives the decision to flee and set up somewhere else is made, with a small team left behind to hide evidence and make sure they are not found. The initial set up is good, and I enjoyed. The twist and pay off frustrated some.


I Shall Wear Midnight - Terry Pratchett - book 4 in the Tiffany Aching series. Tiffany's past actions have triggered interest from uncanny things, here something dark is unleashed, which spreads in whispers and insinuations, causing women to be accused of witchcraft and witches to be beaten and hunted. I continue to enjoy this series particularly.


Moonshine - Jasmine Gower - had this for ages, one of those books with an eye-catching cover, and a pitch that made me curious. It is probably a good companion piece to Witchmark by CL Polk, which I read in February. Both have that kinda post-world-war 1 feeling, but not our world, despite the trappings. Here magic is frowned upon, live music is played in clubs, and there is a very flapper/modern girl sense. A nation of refugees, the only reason the live in this ash heavy volcanic city. A young woman starts a new job, hiding her particular form of magic, until she realises she is working for criminals and magicians. On the whole enjoyable, nicely atypical and unobvious. The "about the author" said about how much Jasmine likes world building and honestly, that was my biggest problem with it - numerous languages for no reason, ogres for no reason (the faeries made plot sense, but ogres seemed tenuous), and centrally all these people living normally breathing ash every day just felt too unbelievable to me.


Bestiary - K-Ming Chang - I caught a book launch for this, Chang being interviewed by another I am familiar with and like. I ordered the book after the launch from bookshop in London who held the launch, and was interested to see that the cover had a Kelly Link quote as an extra boost for this being an interesting work. Notionally the story is told through a series of anecdotes and folk tales, split between three generations, so chapter narrators are Daughter, Mother, Grandmother. But for the most part the story is the daughter's story, 2nd generation Taiwanese American, and how the family shape her. To a degree the story is lumpy and all over the place, it is hard to pin down a clear narrative and say "this is what this book is about." On the other hand, it is a joy of fantastic realism and oddity. The family live in a house build on landfill, holes open in the back garden triggering odd experiences. The daughter is told a story of a tiger spirit, who parents warn will eat children's toes if they don't go to bed - a tale that came from China to Taiwan, and persisted even though the island has no tigers, and on to America with immigrants. The daughter grows a tiger's tale, falls in love with girl at her school, squabbles with her brother. I can't explain this book, at times dream like, at times dizzying and hallucinogenic. I enjoyed.


Tindalos Asset - Caitlin R. Kiernan - The third in this series of novellas. There is an element, I've said of the previous ones, where they haven't really satisfied. And yet, in some way the previous stuck with me. So I read the third. Which, feels like the best of the three. I'm not sure whether the titular character was in the first one, I suspect not, but the Signalman is her handler and was definitely in the previous. Like the previous the story jumps around in time, piecing together the security agency's actions as they endeavour to prevent the latest potential Lovecraftian apocalypse. Here a siren priestess returns, and despite the asset's failure to stop her the last time she is forced back into operation. Quick, satisfying read.


What Abigail Did That Summer - Ben Aaronvitch - the third Rivers of London novella, set at same time as one of the previous novels, Peter is out of London and Abigail is drawn into a case of missing children by the talking foxes. There are a couple of stylistic niggles, particularly the persistent footnotes (and why they are addressed to an American audience). But as ever Aaronvitch satisfies and again as a novella this is a quick read.


Mythago Wood - Robert Holdstock - I've read a few Holdstock, but not this one, I've had it sitting for awhile, understanding it is considered by many to be a key text. Seeing various chatter on twitter, I bumped it up my reading list. Steve and Chris were neglected by their father, who was obsessed by the small patch of woods adjacent to their property. The brothers went to war, were affected by war, and the father died. Steve returns home, to find that Chris is now obsessed - the woods are not what they seem, they are primal woods, haunted by "mythago", or archetype historic figures from British mythology. Chris vanishes seeking his love, but instead she comes for Steve. The brothers fall out, and this leads deep into the impossible woods. Likely dated in places, and honestly feels like it gets a little bogged down in itself at times. Fairly consistent ideas with the other works of his I've read, and fairly enjoyable with that.


Dealbreaker - LX Beckett - sequel to Gamechanger, set 20 years or so after the 1st. I enjoyed Gamechanger a lot, and Dealbreaker doesn't disappoint - exciting, engaging, and to me essential science fiction. Unlike Gibson's Jackpot climate collapse, Beckett flips it so that the rich don't win, people work together sharing resources, encouraging pro-social behaviour to save the world. In book 2, things are still difficult, but pushing technology the story expands into space and first contact. Frankie who was a kid in book one is now a top pilot and is pushing out to the limits of our space to where the Exemplar races are waiting. But again, there are those who work against the common good, for their own selfish aims and to undermine everyone else. Over 500 pages, but a good solid page turner, which I thoroughly enjoyed and thoroughly recommend.


Walking to Aldebaran - Adrian Tchaikovsky - picked this up after friend's mention elsewhere. A novella, under 100 pages, read in a day. Scientists find the classic SF Big Dumb Object floating out past Pluto, inscrutable and inexplicable. A team of explorers is sent, and Gary, the British astronaut, finds himself wandering a vast labyrinth, encountering strange aliens, and not really understanding what any of it means. Fits into the lockdown/isolated location thing I was struck by with Armageddon House in February. I had mixed feelings, the back story felt extraneous at times, and the writing felt like it was trying too hard in one or two places. But interesting and largely enjoyable.


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Work and life got complicated in February, and work at least even more complicated in March. I hope I can find some stability now.


I started the reread of Stephenson's Reamde, but I could not finish it. Then I went for Fall, as that was the reason for the reread, and I have abandoned it around page 350. He tries too hard, and the only one character I care, a little, is Dodge himself, and I think that is spillover from Reamde. The first 300 pages are an introduction, and possibly another attempt by Stephenson to be considered a serious futurist, which is where he is always behind, despite his actual technical knowledge, compared to Sterling or Gibson. Because he sees only a small window, and misses the picture. Eventually I will get back to it, because it is interesting and informative, but that is not what I am looking for now.


So after the Fall fiasco, I was quite succesful with Japanese writers. After the overdose of Banana Yoshimoto in January, I read Hiromi Kawakami's The Nakano Thrift Shop. The book is more a collection of short stories, or “vignettes”, in the life of the four main characters, than a coherent whole. However they progress chronologically and they build on the previous ones. The characters grow and change. The final chapter serves as an epilogue to in a way tie up the loose ends.

I really enjoy the window the author opens on a Japanese woman’s life, even if it is only how close we are in most things, as well as so alien in others. The four main characters are somehow outsiders that nevertheless have managed to find a place. However they still are torn between conformity and happiness. The novel does not resolve the dilemma, and in a way the reader can choose how it goes.

All the characters are lovable, even with their defects, and you end up caring about them, which shows the skill of the author in building up a small universe in a thrift shop.


As I felt there was aconnection between Mr. Nakano and Mr. Nishino, possibly due to all the womanizing, I reread The Ten Loves of Mr. Nishino, from the same author. And yes they have their similarity, though without the counterpoint of his sister. It lacks the progression we see in the Nakano Thrift Shop, however.


It is a pleasure to read full stories that you can savor in a few hours. So I continued with Sayaka Murata Convenience Store Woman. This is a short book about trying to conform, and finding your place. Though it is quite specifically Japanese, most of it, with different details, could fit anywhere.

It starts as a comedy, but halfway it becomes an unflattering view of society, with some uneasy moments as normality is shown as fake. That will resonate more powerfully on those people who feel life should have an instruction manual and that others know something you don’t.

The ending, while unsatisfactory, is the only one that fits.


With my mood fitting ordered lives and short reads, I read in Spanish Yanagi Soetsu The beauty of everyday things. This is a collection of essays and articles presenting his views on the artistic value of everyday objects. Sometimes philosophical, sometimes very specific, they span a period of over 40 years where his efforts became popular and influenced art and design in Japan and abroad.

I went to him because I was looking for the principles behind the Muji Stores, and, as far as I know, he was the one who first recognized the intrinsic value of simplicity ("muji") in common objects, one of the greates effects of Japanese arts and crafts in the rest of the world.

As in all collected works there are some pearls, but also some failures. He was still a man of his period and with certain aesthetic snobbism (rejecting machine manufactured objects, and therefore ignoring design as an art), and you have to work through some dross to find those pearls.


I am also reading a vanity ress autobiography of a friend of my father, dealing with industrialization in Franco's Spain, and how the automotive industry worked to fulfill the regime's aim of a car in every hoesehold, and how that at the end killed all homegrown initiatives to become colonized by the multinationals. As that is also a big chunk of my father's life, it is personally interesting, even if the writing is dreadful.


Finally my brother loaned me his 1928 edition of Lowell Thomas' Raiders of the Deep. This is a book on German submarine warfare in the First World War, written by an American journalist based on interviews after the war.

Apparently it was compulsory reading for German submarine officers in the Second World War, which is ironic on a way, as the tactics and systems were quite different, but also understandable, as it presents the submarine officers as gentlemen corsairs, an elite breed of technological fighting aristocrats.

I can only assume that either they did not describe the drudgery and claustrophobic stress of a submarine, or the author preferred to gloss it over and focus on the courage of crewing a ship that might not surface each time it submerged and where you really were alone against the world.

Interesting but flawed, in my opinion, based mostly on reading later submarine accounts, but also showing the kind of book that influenced the following generation of submariners.

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I have "The Ten Loves of Mr. Nishino" part read after you had mentioned it previously, but it doesn't work got me as well as Strange Weather/Thrift Store, it feels too much like shorts. I will go back and read. Though, "People From My Neighbourhood" worked better than Nishino, and it is also more fragmented.


Spent Friday reading the latest Becky Chambers, "The Galaxy, and the Ground Within". The suggestion is that this is the fourth and final volume of The Wayfarer series - which always struck me as unfortunate pitch, given the Wayfarer and her crew are only present in book 1 - though, like the others, there are connections here to The Wayfarer. A small planet, middle of nowhere, but a convenient hub for wormholes to place that are somewhere. So the planet becomes populated by service stations - the story is set in a mom and son station, folks stop for a couple of hours, refuel, get snacks, free dessert in the garden, before getting their connecting tunnel. There are three ships, each with a single passenger, when there is an accident and the system has to shut, so that effectively the five characters are stuck, waiting for connections. Four alien races, none of them human: the mom and son big floppy muppet creatures, determined to make sure everyone enjoys their stay; the colour communicating lizard alien, who was in book 1, and is on way to meet the Wayfarer; an insect/beetle alien, disgraced and in exile with a crucial appointment they must make; and a refugee, unlike any of the others, mistreated and consistently on the edges of society. Typical of Chambers, this is warm and charming, there are tensions between the characters, between the races, there are questions of whether any of them will make their connections on time and if no what that will mean for their lives. So plenty of drama, for essentially a handful of characters locked in a service station for a number of days. I enjoyed this a lot.

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I seem to have locked into rereading a lot of paranormal/fringe science books from my bookshelves for the last few months. Some, I hadn't read since childhood or early teens. It's my reading equivalent of comfort eating. Or at least it used to be. I found myself getting annoyed by how badly written some books were; the rest were just bad. As a world-wise, cynical sixty-year-old I found myself wondering how anyone could take some of them seriously but clearly when I was younger I took them seriously enough to spend money on. Brad Steiger's Flying Saucers Are Hostile is probably the worst of the bunch, as he cites multiple UFO cases that he appeared to have made up on the spot. Donald Keyhoe's Aliens From Space is an ex-marine settling old scores with the Air Force and only tangentially discussing the USAF and CIA's fumbled response to the saucer scares of the 50s and 60s. Kenneth Arnold, the pilot whose sighting started much of the saucer craze, wrote a surprisingly sober account of his experience (and his subsequent encounter with a possible CIA asset by the name of Fred Criswell, who later made a living as a DJ on right-wing radio) in The Coming of the Saucers, which was co-written by Ray Palmer, who published the Shaver mystery stories in Amazing Stories.  It's all connected, you see...


But I have been revisiting John A Keel's body of work this past month and damn, they're a frustrating read. He had a keen mind and he was great at making connections with experiencers and getting them to open up. He put in the field work more than most (and he doesn't let us forget it) and his investigation of the Point Pleasant disaster and sightings of an entity known as Mothman led him to create an interesting thesis of the paranormal that owes more to The Trickster than it does little green men.  Keel's encounters with Indrid Cold certainly read as such.


But Keel became fixated on a number of urban myths that have long since been debunked (he had clear favourite bits of evidence: Florida's fifteen-foot-high penguin crops up over and over again in his work, as does the Socorro close encounter and the Oliver Lerch abduction—which appears to be a retelling of an Ambrose Bierce short story) and leaves me wondering if all the rest of his "evidence" is equally flimsy. He doesn't help matters by aping Charles Fort's disdain of science, either. He believes Velikovsky, but not Sagan. He espouses the hollow Earth theory, but scoffs at the idea of black holes. I'm left wishing that he'd brought his considerable intellect to bear on matters a little more critically. Operation Trojan Horse is probably his best and most convincing work. The Eighth Tower is probably his worst.

Edited by Chris H
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  • 2 weeks later...

Gamechanger by L X Beckett — Excellent example of solarpunk / cli-fi sort of in the same category as Karl Schroeder's Stealing Worlds. The premise is we have a society where we've managed to tame the threats of kleptocracy and toxic social media  with app assistants running our lives, monitoring our health and encouraging everyone to be positive and pitch into the still monumental task of saving the world from death by global warming and a crashed biosphere. You can stroke or strike anyone and the higher your social "karma" the less ads and interference you get from the digital sphere. Be too much of a troll and you end up in social media purgatory where you are still afforded the basics but every request brings you ads and social education interruptions first. Enter Rubi Whiting, a high-flying young Bounceback generation woman trying to switch career tracks from game player to social worker/lawyer who gets a very strange client who is trapped on the lowest level of the digital sphere and unable to make himself conform well enough to step up, but who also seems strangely powerful in his ability to crack digital systems… is he a demented senior citizen? An AI?


At any rate, well worth a read IMHO. A fun story with great characters to root for and against and lots and lots of fascinating suggestions for how to get out of the current hole we've dug

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Reading a lot of novels in April, so far, less shorts than in some months.


Bitterhall - Helen McClory - Contemporary novel by Edinburgh novelist, I don't think it expressly says that it is set in Edinburgh, but I assume it is and recognise some of the locations. Daniel is attracted to his new flatmate Tom, but quickly forms an intense friendship with Tom's girlfriend Orla. Daniel is obsessed with a historic diary, that he has stolen from a friend, but when Tom reads the diary something in it changes him, haunts him. The bulk of the novel is told by Daniel and Orla, their side of events, their meeting, their friendship, and their observation/understanding of what is happening with Tom.  The friendship, and chemistry between the two has a lot of appeal and drives the novel, particularly from Daniel's POV. An immersive novel, that I enjoyed a lot, though perhaps had mixed feelings about the end.

Wilder Girls - Rory Power - I believe I picked this up after a recommendation from Jeff VanderMeer, who has a quote in the book. It has a certain Lord of the Flies/Annihilation feel to it - an exclusive girl's school located on what appears to be a contaminated island, they are quarantined from the main land, as each of the girls goes through a transformation. Over time the survivors try to find a balance, but more mutations are inevitable, food is running out, and something has to give. Mainly revolves around a group of friends, their reliance on each other and how the changes threaten to tear them apart. Quick, engaging, weird girl's school.


Dread Nation - Justina Ireland - from one weird girl's school, to another: Miss Preston's School of Combat for Negro Girls. The American civil war was cancelled after the dead soldiers got back up and started eating the living. This changed America substantially, but it didn't eradicate racism - the theory that the Negro isn't really human, so like an animal is immune to zombie bites, which obviously makes them perfect for being the first line of defence. Jane McKeene has been moved from the plantation to the combat school, where she will be trained to be a body guard for rich white women. The politicians claim everything is better, but families are disappearing, hostility is growing, and when Jane sticks her nose where she shouldn't things get real bad. At times the believability is stretched, the old chosen one, Jane is better than her peers in every way, people underestimate the highly trained killer because racism. Though, the racism is real, shocking and believable. And on the whole Jane works well, and I put the sequel on my wish list.


The Black Veins - Ashia Monet - I appear to have hit a run of catching up on semi-YA teen girl adventures - Blythe is a guardian, which means she has been given special magical powers, but so far has no access to them. When an opposing magical regime try and kill the guardians steps are taken to protect them, but not before Blythe's family are kidnapped by the enemy and she aims to recruit the rest of the guardians in a rescue attempt. This is a self-published novel, and it shows. I don't have a problem with self-publishing, I have no doubt there are some great novels. This one is very much enjoyable for what it is, it is a page turner, and in terms of craft there is a good solid pacing, elements that are introduced come back in a satisfying manner, and the ending nails the story, while leaving it open for book 2. But, as I say, it shows, the multitude of typos, of the wrong words in places, wrong characters. To be fair, plenty of professional novels have some of these issues, some very prestigious novels even. But this definitely feels like it could have benefited from another draft, tightening up some aspects, and really nailing all the errors that shouldn't have been there. Definitely entertaining enough, but you are warned.


The Employees - Olga Ravn - as recommended by @Fashionpolice, Danish SF novel, translated into English and published in UK by indie press that specialises in translated works - of which there are number of very good publishers at the moment. A short work, I suspect might count as a novella by word count, rather than a novel. 133 pages, a collection of witness statements, some a single sentence, others 2-3 pages. The people of the Six-Thousand Ship are all employees of the company that sent the ship into space. Some of them are born, human, they'll grow old and die. Some of them were manufactured and trained in 2 years, and will not die, can regenerate. But in other ways it is hard to tell them apart, they live in mixed dorms, eat in mixed mess hall. They find alien objects on the planet New Discovery and study them. The way the book unfolds it isn't entirely clear what is going on, that is up to you to piece together. The rivalries between human and humanoid, humans with their hologram children touching on themes of mortality/procreation/immortality. There is the sense of isolation being so far from home, and being somewhere that reminds of home, but isn't. There is a sense that the objects are having strange effects on people, the way the smell, feel, seem to get into people's heads, build obsessions. As the reports progress there is a sense of unease, of things going wrong, of things building towards something. It can be interesting to see the reviews, what other folk thought, though I also hate generic "it was like film X and TV program Y". The reviews on the cover suggest "Samuel Beckett if he had written the script for Alien" and "A sort of delicate Westworld - compact, crystalline, unnerving." As I reached the end I did wonder how this would feel filmed by Tarkovsky - the objects kept in a room and the responses to that recall Stalker, while the suggestion of a weird palpable alien influence recalls Solaris. This won't be for everyone, there aren't particularly characters, there isn't a clear plot, or development, you have to put it together. A genuinely odd little book, very much satisfying in its way.


Edited by remotevoices
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Strange Beasts of China by Yan Ge from my Tilted Axis subscription 2020, small press specialising particularly in Asian works we'd likely not see otherwise. I really enjoy books like this, not novels in the traditional sense, but somewhere between short story and collection of anecdotes with little magical/odd elements mixed in. The city of Yong'an is full of beasts and each chapter combines a definition of the beast, the author's encounter with the beast, and elements of the story she writes for the newspaper. In some ways reminds of Calvino's Invisible Cities except with Beasts and Kawakami's Strange Weather in Tokyo, as the author always ends up in the Dolphin bar with her no good friend or her elusive professor's assistant. Whimsical and witty, but also with darkness in places and like Invisible Cities all of the beasts describe people.

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I have ben trying, without success, getting The employees in English. And apparently no problems getting it in French. Any comments on the quality of the translation, and if one of the French speakers has read it in French, what is their opinion? As the original is in Danish, I need a translated one anyway, and Spanish is not an option right now.


If it gets the booker price I suppose it will be translated in Spanish, but I prefer not to wait.


As reading, mainly Spanish literature. Julian Marias connected novels Berta Isla and Tomas Nevinson. The stress of secrets, and what more secret than working for a secret service, and how it affects all around you. Pedantic and overwrought, I love his mastery of the Spanish language. So I can only recommend it if you read it in the original Spanish. 


I am also reading archeology works on Roman legions, camps and tactics. Mainly pdf through Academia.org. We have several camp ruins nearby, and I also got caught in the mystery of the fate of the IXth legion, and also how British nationalism wanted to have it destroyed by the Caledonians or the Britons. A deep rabbit hole of stele inscriptions and Roman politics, combined with nationalism and a popular series of novels. 





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On 4/23/2021 at 2:46 PM, remotevoices said:


And online conversation with Olga abd translator through Edinburgh Book Festival, next week.

Thanks for pointing this out - I watched it and enjoyed it - I picked up an extra copy in an actual book shop and sent it to a friend in the US on Monday. 

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Lilly pointed out initially on Slack. But I had a few reminders as I've joined the Lolli mailing list.


It was a good talk. I enjoyed the stuff about how the writing was inspired by art objects, the objects being so central to the book, then how in turn more objects were inspired by the writing. I didn't catch the artist's name though, I'll need to look that up.


I also note I was checking out Mariana Enriquez's short story collection in the book shop the other day, it has quite the eye catching cover. So I've signed up for the talk with her at the same time next week. part of the season on nominees.

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  • 3 months later...

King Bullet is the twelfth and final Sandman Slim novel by Richard Kadrey. As always, huge, violent and gory fun; this time around, we get a pandemic (and much wearing of masks) that turns out to be not as straightforward as your common or garden coronavirus. 


The end was satisfying, but the fact that it's all over leaves me rather sad. I love these books and have done so since I read #1 after Bill recommended it.



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  • 2 weeks later...

just for the record, don't think i've posted notes since april, so here is everything from mid-april till now....


Wild Girls - Ursula le Guin - part of book bundle, mainly novellas really, with extras like interviews. This was OK, important city culture thrives on stealing country folks as slaves - two girls taken and the story of the jealouses between their captors.


Gardens of the Sun - Paul McAuley - Gardens of the Sun - 2nd of the Quiet War quartet. Lots of green themes vs anti-science. Earth vs colonies. Occupied territory and brutality vs resistance, science and art. Dense, but building to an emotional climax


Curse of the Wolf Girl - Martin Millar Been slow on the Kalix books for some reason, probably because they are such slabs compared to typical Martin Millar novels. But read Curse of the Wolf Girl and loved, always such a distinct voice. Shame about being dated thanks to Brexit, no more Polish Werewolf Hunters! Kalix is a 17 year old depressive, Scottish werewolf, living in London with two students. Drama from inter-family werewolf politics, the increasing risk of the hunters, and Kalix's overwhelming depression/rage.


The Unlikeable Demon Hunter (Nava Katz 1) - Deborah Wilde - I got a 6 book omnibus on kindle, but only read book 1. Our titular Demon Hunter has been raised with the expectation that her brother would grow up to take on the role of demon hunter in a world wide secret organisation. But hey sexism, the assumption that only men can be demon hunters, so her brother is obviously the chosen one. Though the revelation that she is in fact that she is the chosen one, with no training, and a reputation for drinking and fucking, kind of makes things...interesting. Demons, handsome men, discrimination, sassy determination, and probably one of the steamiest books in the genre that I've read.


Roadside Picnic - Strugatsky Bros - Picked up Roadside Picnic cheap on kindle recently, been meaning to do a reread, see how new translation compares. Feels more contemporary/conversational than I remember. Funny to reread against new TV series Debris and Chinese satellite coming down, look out for weird artefacts


Chaos on CatNet - Naomi Kritzer - book 2 in the CatNet series, following on from the short story about the AI who tries to help people in exchange for cat content. I loved the short and Catfishing, and I love Chaos. Stef returns, starting yet another new school, where she meets Nell also on her 1st day. They both have troubled backgrounds, Stef's history of fleeing her violent father and Nell's involvement with an apocalyptic cult, and they both like girls which has different problems according to background. Stef's friends are all on CatNet, where she is friends with the AI CheshireCat. But with the new school she is persuaded to join a new app and Nell has access to an app through her cult introduces the question - what if there is another AI & its less well meaning? Warm, charming novels, written for teens, which shows at times, but lovely books, a joy. For all the warm and fuzzy, there is still threat: guns, kidnapping, riots, chaos. But friends & cat pictures.


Firebreak - Nicole Kornher-Stace - I admit I bought this book with only a notional sense of the plot, based on pretty cover and having read and enjoyed Latchkey in the last few months. With that, Firebreak is a stand alone novel, while also being an unexpected prequel to Latchkey. Archivist Wasp/Latchkey are set in a haunted post-collapse world, while Firebreak flashes back to collapse in progress to encounter the ghosts as living people. Mal & Jessa are refugees from a corporate city war, living in a hotel with a load of other people per room, with water/power rationing. Doing all the odd jobs and trying to establish themselves as streamers on the corporate game. A game haunted by the ghosts of the corporate super soldiers created to fight the corporate war. When the pair stumble on these characters in game, then IRL, their lives are turned to shit. A story of personal trauma, environmental trauma, war trauma, corporate manipulation & how people buy in to the toxicity of celebrity, pop culture and the power of media manipulation.

All Systems Red - Martha Wells
Artificial Condition - Martha Wells
Rogue Protocol - Martha Wells
Exit Strategy - Martha Wells
Been catching up on the Murderbot Diaries. Had to start again with All Systems Red, having skipped one and becoming confused. Really works as an arc, one of those tor series of novellas that probably could be a novel. I think the next book was a novel, then another novella. An aware security cyborg ends up trying to understand itself, work out who tried to kill it's clients, and unearth the truth, while watching all the shows and minimising emotions and stuff.


We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker - a pilot is a device to help people concentrate, to be their best selves. Starts with the rich, then subsidised so those cool branded blue lights are on every skull. Or not quite. Pinsker's 2nd novel follows the 4 members of one family. Val the teacher, who doesn't get a pilot due to her unease and the fact her daughter can't have one. Sophie her adopted daughter, prone to epileptic seizures, left behind. Julie, Val's wife, gets a pilot to remain on top of her game in a politicians office. And David, their son, 1st in family to get one. We follow David's getting one in school, joining the army and what happens from there. Sophie's increasing activism in the anti-pilot movement and the sense of unease, perhaps cover up around the technology. Song For  A New Day was more rock and roll, being about music and all. So We Are Satellites feels like a quieter novel, though having read Sooner Or Later it feels like Pinsker. Quiet is a good thing and a right thing for a novel like this, making it more intimate and personal than a more explosive work would be. Also given the themes of noise and quiet, that feels like an appropriate approach. For all that it isn't explosive, it still had me lying awake thinking.


When The Tiger Came Down The Mountain - Nghi Vo - 2nd Singing Hills Cleric novella. Again story within a story, this time the cleric has to tell a story to tigers about famous tiger spirit or be eaten. When a tiger tells you the story is wrong you listen.


The Brother's Jetstream: Leviathan - Zig Zag Claybourne - self described as goofy, a big saturated pulp adventure of Hollywood vampires, conspiracy cults, false prophets, and a war for the multiverse. A bit Jerry Cornelius, a bit DNA Cowboys, a bit... Comic book fun, full of colourful and engaging characters, perhaps like The Invisibles if they had been written & illustrated by Kyle Baker.


The Angel of Crows - Katherine Addison - apparently there's a genre of fanfic where you take a character and add wings: wingfic. This is Sherlock Holmes fanfic, but add wings. Dr. Doyle is injured by a Fallen Angel in Afghanistan and sent back to London, struggling to make ends meet he ends up in Baker St, sharing a flat with an unconventional angel called Crow. Together they solve crime; many of the cases being particularly familiar. While in the background Jack The Ripper works away, seemingly uncatchable. An entertaining enough read, a novel twist on familiar material.


Hummingbird & Salamander - Jeff VanderMeer - a mystery novel, a woman falling into obsession after she is handed a message that leads to a taxidermied extinct animal. Trying to make sense of the woman behind the message and the trade in rare animals our narrator self-destructs on the page. With the novel following that collapse. For me there is something missing here, the living characters are sidelined, the key characters are already dead. Even the trade in animals and the collapse of civilization are mainly asides. Resulting in a readable enough novel, that seems largely distanced from the stuff that would make a difference.


The Album of Dr Moreau - Daryl Gregory -  mixed genre novella, where the beast men are a boy band on brink of break up and Moreau the pop impresario who has been ripping them off all this time and has now been murdered. Science fiction, murder mystery, comedy. Great fun.


Victories Greater Than Death - Charlie Jane Anders - pretty much read this cover to cover on my day off yesterday. A delight to read. Tina is the chosen one, or at least a clone of a hero, except the result is she is just a teenager with lots of data but no experience. Meanwhile she and her Earth friends are out in space, caught in the middle of an ongoing war, in a race against time to stop the other side from getting their hands on some kind of super weapon. YA target audience, but readable for all ages. The Compassion perhaps recalling Iain M. Banks, with something like The Affront. Big space opera, roller-coaster adventure and the friendship that sees you through, hopefully.


Ink & Sigil - Kevin Herne -this was something of a random buy, not having read Hearne's work before, partly driven by the fact that it was set in Glasgow. Trying to capture a Scottish accent is tricky, given the variables, and with that the results here are mixed. Though I'm happy to go with it, not least because of the sense of place - it can be such a rare pleasure to read somewhere set where you live and pretty much comfortably recognise locations as places you've been. (conscious of recent novel that had scene set in Glasgow that made me go: naw mate, that's Edinburgh!) But then, when I saw who his Glasgow guides were, knowing I've been some of those places, with those people, made sense. This is 1st book in a new series, a spin off from his Iron Druid novels. Aloysius MacBharrais is a Sigil Agent for the fae, who has lost his latest apprentice to a suspicious scone related incident, which in turn uncovers a dodgy fae trafficking circle. Drama and humour ensue and the result is a thoroughly good read.


Black Water Sister - Zen Cho - I think it was Spirits Abroad that I first read Zen's work, having bought the short story collection at 2014 London Worldcon just prior to attending a panel she was on, where I spoke to her briefly and got the book signed. The contemporary Chinese Malaysian informed stories were the ones I enjoyed the most, so there is an element where BWS is the novel I've been waiting for. Jess returns to Malaysia with her parents after growing up in the USA. Worried about not coming out to her parents while deciding how to achieve her planned future with her long distance girlfriend, she instead finds her life disrupted by her estranged dead grandmother who demands she helps to protect the temple of the Black Water Sister against gangsters. This felt less light in tone from my memory of the early stories, in fact the big encounter with the Black Water Sister is positively chilling. Very much a contemporary novel, informed by a culture, rather than an obvious fantasy novel, verging into horror at times with the elements of violence against women and the haunting results.


Gilded Latten Bones - Glen Cook
Wicked Bronze Ambition - Glen Cook
Having not read any of the Garrett novels in about a decade, I have read what appears to be the last three this year. I typically don't binge read, but with only two left and sense of culmination I read these back to back. Ex-marine turned private detective, becoming more respectable (for certain values...) over 14 novels. These last books throw the ensemble cast together, with all the characters added over the series for big battles with magic and murder and mayhem. Probably dated in ways, but light page turners, genre mash ups.


Chilling Effect - Valerie Valdes - I bought this a while ago, but bumped up my reading list after seeing it was nominated for Clarke Award and I'm glad I did. A big fun space romp, following Eva and her crew. Eva quit the dubious crew she was a member of after she did something too problematic to keep going and put together her own crew. Just coming off a failed attempt to deliver a score of psychic cats she is contacted by The Fridge, a notorious and anonymous interstellar criminal organisation, who have put Eva's sister on ice, where she'll stay unless Eva does some jobs. (Boy that is a run on sentence!) From there she pisses off a space emperor who wants to make her a fuck toy, and things just continue to deteriorate from there, until Eva has just had enough! Aliens, cats, artefacts, escalating peril. Good fun, bought sequel, hope it delivers more on the cats!


Alice Isn't Dead - Joseph Fink - I guess it was Christmas 2018 that I got the hardback of Joseph Finks adaptation of his podcast Alice Isn't Dead? So why did take so long to read? Might as well ask why the chicken crossed the road! But the weird dreams I had the night I read the first 100 pages before bed are definitely a contributing factor. Though, giving some space between podcast and book helps as well. I enjoyed the podcast and for all the "reimagining" of the story, this is the same plot in broad stroke terms. Alice disappeared, assumed dead, until her wife Keisha spots her in a crowd in a news item, repeatedly. Keisha takes to the road, a truck driver, trying to find clues, but stumbling across the Thistle man. A misshapen horror, haunting Keisha's trail, providing little doubt it is only a matter of time before he corners her in some lonely spot and eats her alive. But it isn't just that, it expands and builds, conspiracy, opposing conspiracy, escalation, deception and Alice isn't dead. Thoroughly enjoyed as a companion/expansion, I've downloaded the first series of the podcast to my device to listen to again from the start


The Left-Handed Booksellers of London - Garth Nix - A young woman travels to London, preparing to study art and hoping to find her father. Instead she stumbles on the world of the booksellers of London, an organisation who engage in the paranormal, enforcing accords with the fae and the like. But perhaps this stumbling is not a coincidence? As disturbances escalate and tensions rise. A breathless page turner, I tore through it and was done before I knew it.


City of Brass - S.A. Charkaborty
Master of Djinn - P Djeli Clark
Pretty much read these two back to back, both alternate takes on djinn, both part set in Egypt, both with references to The City of Brass. I have the whole trilogy by Chakraborty, this is the 1st. A 500 odd page slab of epic fantasy, which probably could have been shorter. Djinn politics and finances are surprisingly dull - much of the material with Ali didn’t engage me as much as Nahri. Nahri the street kid with glimpses of abilities that end up being more, sending her on a race for her life from Cairo to the Brass city, which is where the joy of the story is.
Master of Djinn is Clark's first novel, after handful of novellas and acclaimed shorts. A number of which set in an alternate history Egypt, where steampunk is replaced by djinnpunk (no idea if anyone actually using that term, but allow me a passing amusement...). Particularly this follows on from the short A Dead Djinn in Cairo. Fatma is an agent of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantment and Supernatural Entities, called to investigate the murder of a number of rich white men, who have been dabbling in the occult. Set against a background of Egypt as a world power, Europe on the brink of World War I, angels and djinn, murder and mystery. This feels much fresher and engaging than City of Brass, though that is absolutely a reflection of my tastes.


The Quantum Thief - Hannu Rajaniemi
The Fractal Prince - Hannu Rajaniemi
The Causal Angel  - Hannu Rajaniemi
Finnish authors trilogy written during his Edinburgh years, some of those influences showing throughout, partly as most obvious ballpark is with Stross and MacCleod. I read the 1st years ago and meant to get to the rest, but didn't get to it till now, deciding it made sense to reread the 1st to provide context and just as well. A thief broken out of prison, journey to Mars to retrieve a memory state, to Earth to put the next step in the heist, and an escape route to Saturn? Privacy standards, processor gods operating on dead souls and planetary fabric, and gaming systems. Worked well binged all together, keeping a steady flow. Doesn't feel like a lot of people writing this particular strain of science fiction, which is disappointing, even if some of the aspects feel dated (when was the last time you saw a reference to spimes?)


The Quantum Magician - Derek Künsken - Our man, see, he's gone straight, set up an art gallery in puppet town. Legit. Except, this dame, uptight, military type, she needs a magician and that he knows some tricks. They've got a new weapon, they're going to overthrow the government who has been suppressing the Sub Saharan Union for years. Problem is getting through the puppet's wormhole, it would take a miracle! Our man, thinks it is all going to go tits up! But for that kind of dosh, he's putting a crew of specialists together... for one last job.
Probably risky to follow Quantum Thief with Quantum Magician, given how acclaimed Thief is, but it made a certain sense. But they are different beasts in many ways, Magician much more a proper heist, putting a team together, establishing the connections, the risks that undermine the team, and the run itself. Lots of big post-human engineering, wormholes, banks and nations oppressing client states. Thoroughly enjoyed, thoroughly recommended.


Redder Days - Sue Rainsford -Second novel by the Irish author. Follow Me To Ground was an impulse buy, lovely little hardback and a seductive opening few pages. Disappointingly Redder Days is one of those ugly oversized paperbacks, which I particularly dislike, which is particularly frustrating as clearly given cover design the publisher has tried to capture something of the same feel. Having enjoyed Follow a lot I had been watching for this to appear, but it as yet isn't something I've found on any of my rare bookshop trips this year - so I ended up ordering. Like Follow, Redder is very much earthed in place, about land and a dank feral magical nature. The red is described as not really being a plague, but seems possibly infectious? A story of a cult forming around a conviction that only with their charismatic leader, and protection rituals informed by lies and salted with self-harm can protect them against the red. All the shades of something that isn't a plague, that transforms a person, and can infect those around, colour coded degrees, chanted in song to ward off the red. The details of that and much of what happens here are unclear. With some works a lack of clarity can be frustrating, but in other, like Rainsford's work, the uncertain is part of the appeal. Writing that draws you in, seduces you, leaves you a little disoriented.


Star Eater - Kerstin Hall - debut novel by the South African writer. I was keen to pick this up after her novella The Border Keeper, which was a lovely piece of new weird fantasy. Star Eater follows a sister in the governing body/church, where the women gain powers by eating the flesh of their mothers. One side effect is that men who get too close to a sister are transformed into hideous immortal monsters. Faced with a drought, likely rationing and inevitable unrest things are getting difficult. With factions back stabbing to force through their own solutions, inevitably our heroine becoming central to the plot. I had a few niggles about plot/world building, but I am also going through particular phase of inhaling books and perhaps not taking as much time as I should. Enjoyable overall and I'll be interested to see what Hall does next.


Rabbits - Terry Miles - if you are familiar with Miles' podcasts then you'll have an idea what to expect from the novel adaptation from the Rabbits podcast. It isn't strictly an adaption of the first series, though id has been a while since I listened, but it is full of elements from there. Rabbits is the name given to a game, following clues and conspiracy theories, with an increasing sense of mania and possibly altering reality. I rushed through this over the weekend and was very much satisfied. It gets pretty far out there at times, but ticks a lot of my boxes, and curiosities.


There is no Antimemetics Division - qntm - Had this recommended by word of mouth and I'm sharing with you word of mouth. A meme is an idea that spreads, an antimeme is an idea that hides itself, some times erasing memories, sometimes devouring all who learn of the idea. Reminiscent of Stross' Laundry Service novels, where demons and elder gods are mathematical functions. Here they are memes, but ones people can't remember, dealt with by a division people can't remember. An odd book, at times feels episodic, but that form makes sense given the fact characters keep needing to remember what is going on. qntm throws everything at the reader, the full range of anti memes leading to ultimate disaster. I enjoyed this, something different, a bit indie, a bit raw.
After I posted this on instagram, someone said they were interested, but thought it sounded like an SCP. Which I had never heard of. SCP appears to be an online shared fictional world, and qntm is a participant in that, and this is an SCP.


Sisters of The Vast Black - Lina Rather - A tor novella. Nuns on a living space ship just want to help people. But central earth church and state are looking to regain a foothold in the distant colonies. Meanwhile all the nuns have secrets and agendas, as does the space ship itself. For a novella the pacing feels off, too much going on. So it is at least half way through before we can get a grasp of all the parts and appreciate where it is going. Decent enough in the end, but not really as engaging as I want a novella to be.


Upright Women Wanted - Sarah Gailey - a tor novella,which I've had my eye on for a while. Came across on last week's trip to Edinburgh, stocked by same specialist store as I previously bought hardback of Magic For Liars. An alt-Western, where America is consumed by war, all machines and fuel going to the war effort. Leaving a wild west world in its wake - small towns adhering to approved rules, enforced by sheriffs. A woman runs away after her girlfriend is hung for owning unapproved material, stowing away in a librarian wagon. But her perception of the librarians as upright women distributing approved material turns out to be more complicated in reality - rebels, posses, life on the road is dangerous, but she is enthusiastic and determined. A good solid short book, the romance element maybe comes in too quick given circumstances, but likely has to given a book this length. Good fun read.


Contraband - George Foy - Science fiction is about the time it was written. Science fiction dates quickly. It is increasingly difficult to write science fiction. All things people say and that I was conscious of reading Contraband. My understanding is that this is a 2019 edition of a 1997 novel. But reading it felt really temporally weird - world war 2 references, lots of 1960s references, a stray Alanis Morrisette reference. Clearly there are a couple of decades between my reading and original publication, but it just felt older. And I can't tell if that was me or the book.
As the title suggests this is a book about contraband. The lead character is referred to primarily as the pilot and he is a smuggler. But the new BON agency is cracking down on smuggling and their algorithms have become spookily effective. To a degree retro, a straight forward smuggling novel, it mixes in VR with VCR, and TV addicts with algorithms, which makes this cyberpunk novel.
A lot of the themes are about borders and free trade. Which recall Hutchinson's Fractured Europe novels and I wonder how those will read in 20 years. On other hand flu like viruses at 38°C and references to Afghanistan are timeless in some ways...?
I definitely enjoyed bits of it, took it as is. But there are parts that are dated on so many levels, which creates such a strange experience. Definitely the nature of the beast when it comes to reading unknown old novels, but an experience one is more used to from perhaps reading a Philip K. Dick novel rather than a 1997 novel.


Within Without - Jeff Noon - The 4th of Noon's Nyquist novels. Each set in a different location/country, where the private investigator has to deal with the unique rules that the place lives by before he can solve his latest case. From each zone having a different time zone, a country of words and fiction, a small town folk horror, to Within Without which is about borders - inside and outside. If you are familiar with Noon then there are a lot of his familiar themes at play here, sifting of his twitter spores into a novel shape. In Delirium celebrities bond with "images", an alien life form, which enhances who they are building up their fame. But when a famous actor is separated from Oberon, his image, then Nyquist is hired to retrieve it. Fame and fog, magic and mystery, encounters with fictional characters that come with real threat. I probably need to go back and re-read the 1st two novels in this series, I enjoyed them, but Creeping Jenny and Within Without are just so good I suspect there was an element of my brain catching up.



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  • 4 weeks later...

I finished the latest le Carré I have, A Legacy of Spies, and Colson Whitehead's The Nickel Boys. On deck (among many others) I have The Topeka School (which I decided to get after half the staff at Powell's recommended it a few Christmases ago), Children of Men, and I want to re-read The Peripheral before I finally read Agency. (!!!!!!!!! I know!)


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Egads! Well that makes me feel better about buying WRC10 and not playing it yet even though I installed it last Thursday. 😹


Just got Becky Chambers' A Psalm for the Wild-Built and started it last night. So far so good? Apparently all the robots gained sentience and absconded to the wild quite a while ago and that's all I know so far.


So far recently, the books I can recommend are:

  • Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick by David Wong
  • Chaos on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer
  • Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
  • A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine
  • Gamechanger and Dealbreaker by L X Beckett
  • The Koli trilogy by M R Carey
  • Unnatural Magic and The Ruthless Ladies Guide to Wizardry by C M Waggoner

Apologies if I went back too far, but those are the recent ones I seem to remember not writing up necessarily.

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  • 8 months later...

The English part of the recent reads. Many is my own obsessions completing series.


Piranesi, Sussanna Clarke. This is a strange but excellent book. It requires some work to get into it, as the narrator is evidently unreliable, though things improve. Add a homage to Piranesi, besides the title, and several mysteries to reveal. Most of them are solved satisfactorily too. It is totally different from her previous novel, but still riveting and exciting. It is much shorter too.


The employees: A workplace novel or the 22nd century, Olga Ravn. This is a book that requires some work, and that at least in my case I reread it inmediately to review the story with all I learnt while reading it. Something is/has happened on a spaceship, and the book are the interviews to members of the crew, during and after the event. The reader has to build his/her own version of the story from these fragments, including choosing who to believe, and how to interpret those part outside our own references, and how do you interpret the human / synthetic divide. It is short, so I did not care for having to go back and reread other fragments. Atmospheric and troubling, including some questions on being sapient (that for us now is synonimous with being Human, but may not be in the future). Fashionpolice pushed me into this, but I enjoyed it a lot.


Red Country, Joe Abercrombie. Another Abercrombie book in the world of The first law. The story stands on its own quite well, but many of the supporting cast (and one is quite important) come from previous books, so although it is not necessary to have read all the previous books, it makes things clearer. This is a western transplanted into fantasy. Missing children, restless natives, violent men and women with troubled pasts, gold rush, wagons in a prairie... And it is well done, though maybe respecting the limits of the genre too much. That also means the plot is more linear and predictable than other Abercrombie books. There are a few likable characters, which help, considering how nasty most of the returning characters are.


The long way to a small, angry planet, Becky Chambers. I feel as if I am the last person here to read this book. I really enjoyed this book, though it is more light entertainment. Although it is presented as part of a series, it stands perfectly well on its own, so feel free to check it. I was going to write adventures, but even though they live a great adventure, what we have here is common peaceful people caught up in big events by doing what they do best, and as usually happens to common people, they suffer for it. Common does not mean normal, and the cast is varied and quite interesting. Maybe it shows my age, but aliens are more of the humans in make up variety and taken to the extreme than really alien, but it fits well with the trope of small ship traveling the galaxy. For me it actually felt as Jack Vance's Gaean Reach or Cj Cherryh's trader stories, but adapted to the XXIst century. No secret agents of the AIs or trigger happy mercenaries in the stars, just a construction team working hard and with varied back stories. I will be reading more of her books.


First person singular: stories, Haruki Murakami. This is a series of short stories that are narrated in the first person and that could all be supposed to be narrated by Mr. Murakami himself, though only the title story, First Person Singular, does explicitly say this. They narrate some weird, some magical and some mundane events that at the same time seem relatively minor but also affect significantly the life of the narrator. I believe Mr. Murakami expresses a particular style of maleness I can identify with, a bit clueless, sometimes cruel by indifference or ignorance, and well intentioned, though he is also proof that good intentions are not enough. He helps me to come to terms with myself. It is a short book, so I savoured it slowly. A couple of stories did not work for me, but it is so short that I will not say names, as they may be the ones that touch you more. It is very subjective, so I will not impose criteria that may depend on my own life experience.


Manazuru, Hiromi Kawakami. A complex book, with an unreliable narrator that does not trust herself and who may have blocked memories from the past. As well, the tough moments of raising up a teenage girl without a father. I feel it complements very well, with the ghosts and the oniric experiences in the town of Manazuru, and a middle age mother based on the writer, a feminine point of view complementing Murakami’s masculine and childless one. Mainly because it is so different from my own situation it is both strange and interesting. The book requires quite a lot of work, in deciding what you think happened with Reí, and what is happening with Kei. But it rewards the effort with a good, emotional tale and real character development. Quite a lot from a little over 200 pages. Reflecting on it, I wonder if the reason why it reminds me of Murakami is that the translator is Michael Emmerich, and I have read all his Murakami translations? It has not happened with her other novels.


The heroes, Joe Abercrombie. Though it belongs to the same set as The First Law trilogy and shares several characters with it, it can be read independently. It takes place some seven years after the First Law and a couple of years after Best Served Cold. It is a battle in a dark fantasy, from multiple viewpoints, so blood, gore and all kinds of violence are presented, though in my opinion better than in The First Law. As such, I think it presents quite well the randomness and stupidity of battle, the friction as Von Clausewitz would say. But it still requires a high tolerance for written violence. 


The hanging tree, Ben Aaranovitch. This far (the sixth book) in the Rivers of London series reviews do not matter as much. Either you are into it, or you will not even think about it. It is witty, well written and easy to read. I did not like it so much is because it gives us hope that some of the big story arcs will move forward, and at the end they move, but only a bit.


Lies sleeping, Ben Aaranovitch. This is not the end of Peter Grant and the Rivers of London (7th), but it marks a change in the series, which I feel should have come in the previous book, to complete the story after Foxglove Summer. The author has tried to fit too many things, and many details or characters from previous books, with the end result that there are many loose ends and they are dealt with in short time and with little flair. Less characters and more screen time for them would have made a more satisfactory story. The impression is that this stage had to be closed, and that meant other things had to be rushed, including the ending, which I found unsatisfactory. But I am so happy to close this that I hope the series returns to single arc novels.


What Abigail did that summer, Ben Aaranovitch. It was worth to read the whole Rivers of London series to enjoy this small book. It is positive, funny and smart, with a great heroine and an amusing cast of characters. Its only defect is that to enjoy it fully you need to read the whole series. It is more wholesome than the typical Peter Grant story, but that is a plus in this case. That strengthens the idea of magic. A must read for any fan of the series. The events are concurrent with book 5, Foxglove Summer, which is my previous favorite. 


Permafrost, Alastair Reynolds. It is a nice time travel short novel, with a great premise and a good handling of paradox. As it is quite short, almost any detail would be spoilerish. But the reasons to try are good, the set up is also good, and it does not use multiple universes, which is a cop out in time travel. This is the type of time travel tale I would have liked to see in The Agency.


A little hatred, Joe Abercrombie. Mr. Abercrombie revisits with a new generation the Chain of the World. Some old favorites are still around, but we meet a new generation of narrators / protagonists. If I had written the review just after finishing I would have been gushing, but once I got over the pleasure of having a new series, the defects, mainly in plot and world building as the writing is very good, start to pile up. So much that I am still unsure if I will get the next one, as it can only go worse from the set up. Dark, moody, with some young people in love. Lots of people get hurt, but this is just the set up. The industrialization seems contrived, and I would have preferred less similarities with work movements in Earth. 


A closed and common orbit, Becky Chambers. Although it is the same series as the previous book, The long way to a small, angry planet, it does not continue the adventures of the Wayfarer crew. Instead it focus in two minor characters of the previous book, the mechanic Pepper and Sidra, the new name of the AI Lovelace replacement, now housed in a body. It deals with growing up in a harsh or world, or awakening in it, and how to cope with disphoria or inadequacy. It is less optimistic and upbeat than the first book, but I hope it does not require a spoiler to say things improve and it gets a proper ending. As any good science fiction book should, it actually writes about our present but using the tropes of science fiction to present some ethics troubles (child labour, gene modification, AI rights) openly. Although you will miss some of the background, it does not reallyrequire having read the previous book. It is still probably too positive, but it does not pull many punches, and it is a more complex and for me more enjoyable book than the first one. 



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