Friday, 2020-01-31

The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School by Kim Newman

The first book in the sequence, and the better one, in my opinion. The action is more focussed, the characters introduced, and the Big Bad threat better developed.

Thursday, 2020-01-30

The Haunting of Drearcliff Grange School by Kim Newman

Apparently the second in a series, which explains the rather abrupt mis-en-scene. I guess is this a YA novel, but I wonder how many in the target audience are up to snuff with interwar British public school slang.

It’s well creepy, though. Newman has come quite a way since I read Anno Dracula back in the day, and I haven’t really read much of his stuff after that. The setting is between the wars, and some people are Unusuals - they can do magic, basically. In a all-girls boarding school, something returns after a disastrous trip to London…

Wednesday, 2020-01-29

The Bohr Maker by Linda Nagata

I believe this is Nagata’s debut novel, from 1995, and it holds up well. It’s deep into mid-90s SF tropes and the characterizations may be a bit stereotypical, but the scenes are well described and the action is snappy.

Tuesday, 2020-01-28

Twice on a Harsh Moon

(wow, that title…)

Two works of SF set on our satellite:

Luna - a series by IanMcDonald

New Moon 🌒 Wolf Moon 🌒 Moon Rising

The series comes to a satisfying, if slightly rushed, conclusion. The fact that maybe 80% of the female character’s names start with A doesn’t really help, nor does the sudden introduction of a fourth major faction (the University on Farside) feel very organic.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein

I think the influence from this book on McDonald’s work is pretty obvious. Both feature a Luna that’s used for extracting resources for Earth[1], both feature a future libertarian[2] society, and both feature the move towards independence.

Of course, Luna is written 40 years after The Moon… , and instead the Moon’s inhabitants being convicts from an authoritarian Earth, the ones in Luna are the ultimate gig workers. They take out loans to finance the trip, and pay for the “4 basics” - air, water, carbon and data. Don’t have enough to cover those? You will die and your mass reclaimed.

I find Heinlein’s view of women retrograde and borderline misogynistic. He gets points for imagining a future melange of languages, the libertarian quasi-utopian is as (im)plausible as McDonald’s, and the depiction of “Adam Selene”, the friendly AI that helps with the independence is well written.

One big difference is that in RHA’s work, libertarianism is an utopia, in Luna it’s a nightmare.


[1] Although Charles Stross has tweeted that the helium economy in Luna makes no scientific sense, the idea that it would be economical to grow wheat on the Moon and send the produce to Earth, as in TMiaHM is even dumber.

[2] in the “original” there are no laws, only contracts sense.

Saturday, 2020-01-18

With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by Eugene B. Sledge

Continuing my deep dive into the rot and shit of the Pacific theatre. Sledge has another background than Leckie (who was a sportswriter as a civilian) and has less facility with words. I believe Leckie spent a lot of time drinking beers with other vets, polishing his anecdotes, while Sledge pushed his memories back - he alludes to frequent nightmares after his experiences.

Tuesday, 2020-01-14

Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man by Simon Sebag-Montefiore

An accessible read on the fall of France and the evacuation from Dunkirk. This is the first book by Sebag-Montefiore I’ve read and I’m not that impressed.

I did like the attempt to give other viewpoints than the British, though.

Dunkirk-in-memory is weird. I’m sure the recent movie (the reason I wanted to read this book) got a lot of lift from Brexit, and that the Leavers imagine they’re doing something similar. Of course Dunkirk was a crushing defeat, but in that curious British (English?) way, it’s almost more famous than some victories (cf. Scott vs. Amundsen). Perhaps it’s an memory of Thermopylae, as echoed by Hjalmar Gullberg’s poem about the death of Karin Boye:

Ej har Nike med segerkransen
krönt vid flöjtspel och harposlag
perserkonungen, jordens gissel.
Glömd förvittrar hans sarkofag.
Hyllningkören skall evigt handla
om Leonidas’ nederlag.

By far the most chilling parts of the book are the discussions in the War Cabinet on whether Great Britain should seek an armistice with Nazi Germany. Churchill, whatever his faults and motivations, deserves credit for not giving in. Leavers see themselves as heirs to Churchills, but they’re actually followers of Lord Halifax.

Thursday, 2020-01-09

Helmet for My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific by Robert Leckie

I enjoyed the TV miniseries The Pacific, and this is one of the inspirations for it. Leckie is a good if journeymanlike writer, and the story flows chronologically with no significant pauses. Flashes of class differences, frank discussion of petty criminality and sexual promiscuity, and actual sympathy for the hated enemy enliven the text.

Tuesday, 2020-01-07

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

For some reason I’ve not read this classic from 1956 before. I’m glad I did.

Although this follows the basic Count of Monte Cristo formula, it has enough SF concepts for many novels. The central conceit of personal teleportation implies disease spread, new forms of criminality, new forms of urban development, threat of inter-system war - all summarized in breezy paragraphs.

Bester has also thought about the implications for those who because of brain damage or injury cannot “jaunt” - rehabilitation, or degrading slave wage labor at workplaces where jaunting is impractical.

The view of women is from its time, but could be plausibly explained by a neo-Victorian reaction in the novel. The female characters are thinly drawn, but not devoid of agency.

Thursday, 2020-01-02

The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood by James Gleick

Gleick at his usual lucid self. Not as thick (or as deep) as Chaos, but a good read nonetheless.