Fast-paced narrative history about the last of the Plantagenets and the ascension of Henry VII. Very readable and a good overview of the period.
A chatty and personality-driven account of the last weeks of the war in the Pacific. Skippable.
Back in the days of yore, when what we now call “longreads” where simply New Yorker articles, giants such as John McPhee bestrode the Earth, writing detailed inimitable books about subjects like geology.
The Control of Nature is about mankind’s attempt to control vast amounts of material propelled by gravity - water, in the form of the Mississippi River; lava, i.e. most of Iceland; and the fast-rising San Gabriel mountains, which inconvenience Los Angeles properties by insisting on eroding.
In each of these cases, Man in his hubris has erected vast structures and machinery to protect material values threatened by Nature, which is essentially the theme of the book. McPhee is not optimistic on Man’s chances in the long run.
The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed is about a bunch of New Jersey dudes trying to build a new airship. The effort peters out shortly after the events covered in the book (early 1971) and now the only mention of the company involved cite this book. So it goes.
The Crofter and the Laird - McPhee spends a summer on the remote island in the Hebrides wherefrom his ancestors sprung - Colonsay. The book paints an elegiac picture of a world in decline, so I was happy to read that the island has actually increased in population according to Wikipedia.
Second volume in the series.
Unlike in Engines of Light, this second novel simply continues the action of the first, setting up for (hopefully) an explosive payoff.
I’m happy to read anything by MacLeod and I didn’t regret this either, but he has written better.
Last book in The Red trilogy. Sadly the weakest of the three.
The second book in The Red trilogy. First one was reviewed here.
Maybe not the very best near-future mil-SF I’ve read but pretty good nonetheless.
The Ancillary trilogy brought to a satisfactory close.
Warning: mild spoilers.
Sadly not one of MacLeod’s better books.
I think the idea of a series makes sense commercially. But while this book touches on similar themes as Newton’s Wake it feels more rushed.
The central conflict between the Acceleration and the Reaction (“Axle” and “Rax”) is hugely important, but we don’t really get a background in why we should care. I guess the Rax is the current “alt right” internet trolls with nukes and nanotech, or it could all be a huge mindfuck like the fact that the Carlyles in Newton’s Wake were originally Glaswegian gangsters, and the hated Rax are actually the good guys?
In short, the book doesn’t really delve into the fantastically unreliable narrator a simulated human could be, instead presenting people doing life-altering things simply from reading a message, despite knowing they’re in a simulation run by possibly hostile AIs. As this is an area that’s been explored before by MacLeod, simply skipping it to get plot momentum seems sloppy.
However it’s an enjoyable read and I will most definitely read the rest of the series. Maybe the big payoff is in the last book. I hope so!
I’m conflicted about this novel. I’m a MacLeod superfan ever since buying The Star Fraction in hardcover in the late 90s but this one seems a bit derivative. To me it reads as if he’s channeling Charlie Stross’ near-future Scotland in Rule 34 (although MacLeod has visited that future in The Night Sessions) and Iain Bank’s coming-of-age novels (The Crow Road, Stonemouth).
The ideas in the book are things we’ve read before too, and the characters less well developed.
In other words, this is for the MacLeod completionist.
That said, I’ve read everything he’s written apart from Intrusion (because I’m too old for dystopias), and will continue to do so. I still feel he’s better at the interstellar SF of The Fall Revolution and Engines of Light series. Hopefully his upcoming trilogy will continue on that tradition.
The second novel set in McAuley’s Jackaroo universe (after Something Coming Through).
If you liked the first book (or like McAuley in general), you’ll like this one.
I picked the book up thinking it would be a re-read from my teenage years, but I didn’t remember anything about it so I must have just thought I read it. I do remember seeing the movie around that time though, as the totally awesome film club in my hometown showed a Tarkovsky retrospective.
The novel and film have little in common, apart from the Zone, the fact that the Stalker has a “defective” daughter, and that the Zone contains something that grants wishes. In the novel, the Stalker Red is depicted as a tough man, skilled in the arts of getting objects out of the Zone and selling them for profit. In the movie, he’s a mystical guide. However, Tarkovsky’s scenography is absolutely spot on, depicting the Zone as an overgrown wilderness containing hidden dangers.
Of course, the concept of “the Zone” has taken on a new meaning after Chernobyl, but it’s interesting to see that Tarkovsky could find settings in the FSU long before that.
The Wikipedia entry for the novel mentions that it was censored at publication. It would be interesting to know that the censors found objectionable. The protagonists are depicted as thieves and profiteers, but they’re also supposed to be Canadian. Maybe the problem was that the antagonists were among the authority figures?
 The SF shelf at the local library had quite a lot of Strugatsky and Lem, maybe because they felt that most SF was too “American”.
Reading Gibson is always a treat. Nice to see him still firing on all cylinders.
Easily McDonald’s most bloody book, even if the themes of corporate warfare and melange of cultures can be traced all the way back to Desolation Road.
I love everything this dude writes so I highly recommend this.
Continuing in the tradition of his earlier YA novel Ship Breaker, Bacigalupi transposes the harsh reality of today’s refugees from climate change to a future United States. It’s sobering to realize the horrors in this novel are likely happening right now to people in places where no journalists bother to report from.
Rising temperatures has devastated the US South and West. States have de-facto seceded, closing their borders to refugees from Texas and Arizona. Phoenix is #downthetubes as states with more senior rights to water are ruthlessly enforcing their claims, sending “water knives” to destroy dams and water treatment plants, forcing entire cities to try to move elsewhere for the very basics of life.
In his previous novel The Windup Girl the scenario was life after peak oil. While great, that novel took a leap from our world to the future without really explaining how things got so bad. The scenario in this book is more terrifying - me may never run out of oil but we may run out of potable water.
Competent near-future military SF. First book in a trilogy.
Asher for me occupies that niche of SF writers that I like to read but don’t atively seek out. He’s readable and has decent world-building chops but something about him doesn’t grab me. That said, I enjoy his hard-boiled prose and refreshingly nihilistic view of future society.
Said nihilism can shade into something like fascism, like in the near-future Owner trilogy, but in the far future Polity universe, where humanity is led by AIs anyway, it grates far less. In a sense, Asher is the anti-Banks.
The novel under discussion marks a return to the Polity, or rather its lawless border region with the over-the-top homicidal Pradors. These aliens, denoted as “utterly evil” by our protagonists, are neverlessly examined as actors in their own right, in another sign of Asher’s even-handedness. Life in the future may be nasty and brutish, but if you’ve got access to the right (or wrong!) technology, it’s reasonably long. Long enough for you to dwell on your mistakes or plan elaborate revenge.
A short novella, not set in any of the previous Reynolds universes. A short read, but quite good.
Big thick doctoral thesis about Swedish police and crime novels and movies from the 1960s until today.
Covers Sjöwall-Wahlöö, Mankell, Stieg Larsson. To appreciate it, you have to read it for what it is, an academic work, and also know how to read Swedish.
This is a full-length novel set in McAuley’s “Jackaroo” universe, previously the setting of some short stories early in his career.
In the Near Future(tm), the alien Jackaroo appear over an Earth ravaged by climate change, economic collapse and rampant nuclear terrorism - The Spasm. They offer humanity free transport to fifteen habitable planets via wormhole gates. There are no strings attached (well our space program is ended, but it’s not clearly forbidden as it is in the previous stories).
Humanity has a new chance. Just like the countless other civilizations the Jackaroo have assisted in the past.
The gift planets are rife with artifacts left over from the “Elder Races”, not all of them benign or useful. For every fast-growing coral useful to constructing dams against the rising oceans, there’s a new drug spreading havoc. People have the chance to emigrate and start a new life on a new world, where they promptly fall back into a life of crime or start McDonald’s franchises.
Our protagonists come in contact with an alien eidolon, a ghost left in an artifact from the planet Mandala, and are caught up in a race against time to reach a dig site out in the planet’s outback… where something’s coming through…
I’m a huge fan of McAuley and really enjoyed this book. It’s an artful blend of first contact, humans vs alien and police procedural, and it takes a while to figure out how the two strands of the story is intertwined.
Big props to my local library for ordering this book basically as soon as it appeared in stores!
Search this site for the term: mcauley.
A good overview of that most dramatic period of the French Revolution. Andress puts it into the context of foreign war and domestic insurrection.
The Revolution casts a long shadow, and Andress does a good job explaining why. After 225 years, we take constitutional government and the separation of church and state for granted. But the French nation went from quasi-medieval absolutism with a de-facto Catholic state church to radical republic and official dechristianization within a few years. All this was lubricated by hectoliters of blood and the complete suspension of due process.
No wonder the existing powers of Europe viewed this much as they later viewed the Bolsheviks (themselves conscious imitators of the French) and pulled out all the stops to oppose the Revolution.
Also interesting is that the designation of “Terror” as an official policy wasn’t a later calumny, but actually the official name.
The revolutionaries were also horrible misogynists. Politics was not for women, in fact individuals like Mme Roland were especially singled out and vilified.
An excellent historical novel. As in her later Wolf Hall, Mantel does a creditable job inhabiting the inner minds of her characters.
I’m simultanously listening to Mike Duncan’s most excellent Revolutions podcast which is a great help in grasping the wider history of the Revolution. Just as in Wolf Hall, Mantel expects you to have a better grip of history than perhaps you remember from school.
A superlative general history of some now vanished states in Europe. From the well-known (Burgundy, Aragon) to the obscure (Etruria, Rusyn), Davies discusses their history and compares their fates.
The book is thought-provoking, as it makes clear that not all nations are destined to lead long lives. Davies is convinced for example that the UK will break apart, citing the example of how Ireland extricated itself during the 20th century.
This book has justifiably swept the SF awards lately. It’s an intricately designed space opera set in a human future that’s unsettlingly plausible. I’m usually tired of literal “space empires” but Leckie makes enough assumptions to make it work.
Of course there are downsides. The Radch expand by war, “annexing” rival systems and integrating their people and religions into their own. The titular “ancillaries” are prisoners of war, stripped of personality and memory and turned into elements of giant ship’s AI.
Underneath the genteel veneer of tea ceremonies, ritual gloves, and gender-neutral pronouns (everyone is “she” in this novel, a great touch) lies a dark heart of absolute power, state-sponsored euthanasia and utter lack of privacy, if you live on a ship or a Station monitored by an AI. Leckie avoids the trap of simply transplanting today’s society into the far future and gives us a glimpse of something that’s rather different - if instantly recognizable as human.
It’s apparently not a fantasy book series unless it’s at least a trilogy, and while I felt the abrupt ending of The Magician King was fitting for what I felt was the end of a Bildungsroman, I wasn’t too surprised to see The Magician’s Land in print.
That’s not to say I wasn’t happy. Grossman’s three books do a brilliant job of deconstructing the tropes of the magician’s school. It’s Harry Potter meets The Rules of Attraction, and Narnia at least gets a varnish of Lovecraft. The multiverse of the novels is brilliantly constructed and internally consistent.
Tying up all the loose strands of a story is hard work though, and while Grossman does a great job of setting the scene and telling the first half of the book, the last falls rather flat. However, only in the context of what’s gone before. It’s still one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read, ever.
The latest Laundry novel takes on vampires! Stross does a good job integrating the known lore about his universe - magic as a side-effect of applied mathematics - and his explanation about the origins of his vampiric cell makes internal sense.
However, if there’s one criticism that can be levelled at Stross is that his plotting could be better. This novel deal with double-cross upon double-cross and it gets confusing about who’s crossing who. To deal with this, jarring interludes of exposition are introduced that try to explain what’s happening.
- 400 Hundred Billion Stars
- Eternal Light
These are McAuley’s debut novels, and while they’re set in the same universe, they’re very different. 400 Hundred Billion Stars is basically an alien-contact novel. Functionally it’s a space opera, although thankfully not of the Galactic Imperium style. The main character is also a telepath, and although that’s handwaved as a form of quantum tunneling it’s still a rather 70s detail.
The second crams too much into one novel - Gibsonesque McGuffin chasing, virtual reality, intra-galactic wormholes, civil war IN SPACE, religious fanatic, alien macrostructures. The sensawunda is relegated to background noise.
However I’m a big fan of McAuley and I’m glad I’ve read these. They’re not bad books, just that he’s written better since.
Bit late, I read the following books in April:
- Sandman Slim and Kill the Dead by Richard Kadrey
- Crack’d Pot Trail by Stephen Erikson
A trilogy, comprising of the novels Child of the River, Ancient of Days, and Shrine of Stars.
It’s one of McAuley’s first novels and even if it’s cleaned up in this re-release I still think it’s a very good effort. The atmospherics of this far-future world are well-rendered. It reminds me of Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, in a good way. Recommended.
If I hadn’t already read World War Z I’d probably enjoy this book a lot more. However, the parallells between the two books are so close it’s not really funny. While Robopocalypse starts up well and has some chilling early chapters, it soon becomes clear that Wilson lacks the energy or the imagination to draw the conclusions about the world he’s created that Brooks does in WWZ.
This is the first novel by Baxter I’ve read and I was impressed by it. It’s classic sensawunda SF but is also well-written and gripping. There’s also a refreshingly view of future realpolitik that is both plausible and chilling. Recommended.
A sort of hipster Dan Brown, this is nevertheless an entertaining novel, if you can get over the idolization of Google within its pages.
An entertaining look on the human digestive system. Roach has a breezy style - sometimes too breezy, her one-liners aren’t really as funny as she seems to think - but most of all a serious approach to science writing. What sticks with you after having read the book is not all the gross facts, but a deep appreciation of the men and women working with a fascinating area of research.
I really like the universe McAuley has created in his Quiet War series. It’s sizable (solar systems-wide) but it’s believable.
This last(?) book takes place thousands of years after the events in Gardens of the Sun. A mighty regime, the Empire of the True, has risen and fallen after picking a fight with artificial intelligences. The solar system is battered, in recession, and beset by superstitious cults. Our hero Hari sets off on a quest of vengeance, complete with maguffin, after his family’s ship is captured by sinister forces. Recommended.
Set in the same universe as Saturn’s Children, Stross does a neat end-run around the problems of slower-than-light interstellar colonization by killing off biological humanity and replacing us with our mechanical descendants. They’ve managed to progress beyond the feudal hellhole of the first novel and are now in the middle of debt-fuelled late-stage capitalism, complete with scams and frauds designed to get hold of “slow money” - the hugely valuable bitcoinage financing colonizing starships.
Entertaining if rather heavy on the settings to the detriment of the plot.
The Engines of Light trilogy by Ken MacLeod
- Cosmonaut Keep
- Dark Light
- Engine City
The first book is maybe setting the bar higher than the other two can clear but there’s an undeniable pleasure in reading the entire series straight through.
- Newton’s Wake by the same author.
Late-period Iain M. Banks
- The Algebraist
Having finally read Hyperion I believe I can see where the inspiration for The Algebraist comes from. The space opera setting reminds me a lot of Simmon’s book.
I don’t really know what to say about Matter. It’s not one of my favourite Culture novels but re-reading it gave me a new appreciation of Banks’ talents as a writer.
- Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross
- The Stone Canal by Ken McLeod
Quick re-reads of two novels by Scottish-based authors, dealing with similar themes - artificial intelligence, and what it means to be sentient and free.
- Zoé’s Tale by John Scalzi
- Bedlam by Christopher Brookmyre
I borrowed these at the Halmstad library. Zoé’s Tale is written as a YA novel and it shows, but Scalzi’s trademark humour and the weirdly dark space opera universe it’s set in carries it.
Bedlam is a fun romp where the protagonist is trapped in a computer game. It’s better than it sounds!
A superlative piece of history writing. I honestly wished this wouldn’t end. One of the good things about it was giving me a perspective on medieval France, a region that I didn’t know much about. Tuchman’s “hero”, the last Sieur de Coucy, comes across as a complex, well-rounded man, grounded in his age and class but uncommonly competent. His journey through the century enables Tuchman to touch on topics such as religion, the status of Jews and women, wealth and status, even sanitation.
Audiobook narrated by Simon Vance.
The second installment of Mantel’s series about Thomas Cromwell. This is all about the fall of Anne Boleyn. This is the best historical fiction I’ve read since early Patrick O’Brian.
Comprising the volumes Basin and Range, In Suspect Terrain, Rising from the Plains, Assembling California, and Crossing the Craton.
Audiobooks, narrated by Nelson Runger.
McPhee is sort of an acquired taste, and 5 volumes of geology can be hard to swallow (although Runger does a stellar job reading them), but he covers the state of the research well. If you only read or listen to one volume, choose the first, which has a lucid explanation of the concept of deep time in geology.
Audiobook, narrated by Gideon Emery.
The fourth Laundry novel. Stross has fun linking fundie Christianity with the worship of unspeakable horrors from beyond the stars, but the expected chills aren’t really as apparent as in The Atrocity Archives and The Fuller Memorandum.
It does seem that Stross is going to go through with the endgame of CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN (aka The End of the World) as the series goes forward.
Another novel by Banks set in the Culture universe, but not as “filling” as his previous novels. We get a nice look into the technicalities of Subliming, and some more intra-Mind discussion à la Excession, but the book lacks that kind of “hook” that Banks uses so often — where some long-lost secret of the protagonists comes back to haunt them.
Part of the problem that Banks has set up with the Culture is its very superiority. In Consider Phlebas, this was countered with an intra-galactic war. Use of Weapons and others concentrated on the moral choices of Contact and Special Circumstances when they meddled in less developed societies. Excession used the cop-out to introduce a threat that simply just mirrors the Culture’s force (granted, it’s the point of the novel, but still, having a deus ex machina as the center of a story is a bit … strange).
The Hydrogen Sonata introduces the Gzilt, a civilization on the same tech level as the Culture, and the conflict this time is constrained by the fact that certain elements want to keep a secret and are prepared to kill to do so, but using covert means. So while there’s ship-to-ship combat it’s constrained by this secrecy, and a hard deadline (literally!). This gives Banks some scope in keeping conflicts between two literally superhuman factions within thrilling reason.
In the end however, this feels more like an expanded novella than a novel. Recommended for Culture fans, of course!
A powerful graphic novel set in a near-future near-dystopia where hedge funds and quants rule the world. The graphics and story are powerful, even disturbing, but the author has a hard time wrapping it up and resorts to a rather feel-good ending unworthy of the rest of the tale.
Hyperviolent SF thriller set in a dystopian future where the EU has taken over the world! Well-paced and plotted but feels a bit formulaic. Not gonna stop me from seeking out the sequel though!
A superlative historical novel.
Set in the reign of Henry VIII, it follows Thomas Cromwell, so often cast as villian of this era, portrayed as a devoted family man, a man with a violent past but with uncommon talents, loyal to his prince and unswerving in ensuring the Tudor reign and preventing a new War of the Roses.
Narrated by Simon Slater, who does a stellar job. Highly recommended.
Second book in The Expanse trilogy, and this one is really well done, with plenty of action and some believable technical details. I read the first book last week, my local library is well-stocked with current SF!
I can’t help being reminded by Paul McAuley’s Quiet War universe, set in basically the same place in the Solar system and with similar tensions. They’re both very good but Corey’s books are more pure space opera. Read them all and compare!
An interesting space opera centered on the near-ish future and the solar system. There’s a lot of cool ideas and the structure of the novel, with two viewpoints, is well done. What fails a bit is the plotting, there’s at least one climax too many.
This is the first book in a series, and I’ll definitely check out the rest of the books!
McPhee investigates freight transport - trucks, barge convoys, coal trains, and UPS.
In the middle is a recreation of Thoreau’s canoe trip in the 1820s, which may have been of great interest to the author but feels pretty longwinded to me. The rest of the content is classic McPhee. Recommended.
A flawed novel, great premise but the execution could be better.
A well-deserved Hugo winner, I’ve put off reading Hyperion for a long time because the copy on the back of the book always rubbed me the wrong way - giving a more fantasy vibe than the novel actually posesses.
It’s classic space opera - a bit too classic, with the assumption that after Earth is destroyed by a rogue black hole - oops! - mankind expands across the galaxy in the Hegira. But all the different worlds are eventually knit together in the WorldWeb farcaster network, a network of portals. This Hegemony looks a lot like our society, which felt cheap to me. But it turns out it’s no accident…
We have religious fanatics, electric trees, flying carpets, AIs, and galactic warfare! Plus of course the Shrike, the mysterious demon haunting the world of Hyperion, drawing pilgrims who are granted a wish or are killed.
Highly recommended. I listened to an Audible version with a full cast, which worked well considering the fact that all the travellers have different tales to tell.
Jane Austen - WITH DRAGONS!
The back cover promises “you have never read a novel like Tooth and Claw” but the fact is we have, in a good way. There the base of the Georgian society novel, leavened with opera buffa plot twists, all mixed with traditional fantasy dragon tropes - sleeping on gold, breathing fire, eating smaller dragons to grow larger. Very enjoyable and highly recommended.
A short dark fantasy novelette. A quick and rather disturbing read.
The concluding(?) volume of Asher’s Spatterjay novels. This one leaves the actual planet for the wider reaches of the Polity universe. It fails in that the characters in it aren’t really sympathetic, any of them, but neither are they really bad. So despite the action there’s a distinct lack of tension.
A funny take on the tropes of television SF series. You’re really not supposed to take them seriously, if you do, there’s a lot of weird stuff going on. This is a view from the inside of such a series.
A young man returns to the small Scottish town he was forced to leave 5 years ago. The local patriarch has died and he’s invited to the funeral - said patriarch being the head of the local crime family he so mortally insulted half a decade ago.
This is a bit like The Crow Road, but tighter and less generational. Sometimes you get the feeling Banks is writing the same Scottish novel over and over again. However, his characters and settings are top-notch, and his effortless placing of the novel in the now is as good as ever.
First novel in Asher’s Spatterjay series, and oddly not as compelling as the second, The Voyage of the Sable Keech, but still an entertaining read.
An entertaining space opera romp, where the entire premise seems to be “how can I get sailing ships and pirates into my universe? and zombies?!” and the rest of the stuff flows from there.
Well paced and competently written, this is a nice violent tome that doesn’t need too much intellectual attention.
A very nice far-future/post-Singularity heist novel in the vein of Charlie Stross. Rajaniemi is of Finnish origin but his English is perfect. However, the non-Anglo imagery and language lends a believable international spice to the future of uploaded minds and quantum criminals.
Another awesome novel by Mèiville, revealing a strange underground London full of weird religion and magic. The setup is great, the characters and concepts are awesome, but the ending falls a bit flat. But that’s just the final chapter and everything up to that is brilliant. Highly recommended.
A man is ripped from a deep sleep by a little girl. He’s in a room with other writhing bodies. It’s bitterly cold. The little girls runs, telling him to chase heat.
He’s propelled into a nightmare world of shifting gravity, of changing temperatures, of strange monsters out to kill him. He has only his memories, and crude notes gathered in a book by the little girl.
Where is he? Why was he born? Why don’t his memories of his previous life, preparing to be a teacher to a group of colonists preparing to settle a new world, jibe with the present nightmare reality?
Hull Zero Three is hard SF at its best, combining Bear’s trademark vision of weird biology with a frighteningly plausible look at how we would colonise an alien planet at any price.
I realised I haven’t blogged about this even though I read it a while back - the perils of ebooks…
This is a collection of articles that I think have been published in the Atlantic already. Lewis travels to Iceland, Greece, Germany, and Ireland to try to discover what happened when these countries were hit by the financial crisis tsunami. It’s a fun quick read, highly recommended.
This graphic novel (emphasis on graphic, there’s plenty of bodily fluids flowing here) is a fresh take on the old Cthulhu mythos. I was interested in how Moore would handle it and he did it masterfully. Recommended if you like that kind of stuff.
I was recently on vacation in the UAE and read the following books, all on the iPhone.
The Magician King by Lev Grossman
The sequel to The Magicians which I have read but not mentioned here. A very nice fleshing out of the wonderful (and scary) universe Grossman introduced in that book. Highly recommended.
In the Mouth of the Whale by Paul McAuley
Far future SF set in the same universe as The Quiet War. McAuley goes from strength to strength.
Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan
The second novel in the Takeshi Kovacs trilogy, this is yet another example of Morgan’s innovative SF noir. The writing’s tight, the action is brutal, the tech is cool, and the general sensibility is that even if you’re a supersoldier from the future who is effectively immortal, you can’t run away from your actions.
If you enjoyed Altered Carbon you’ll enjoy this too.
In the near future, anyone can be a soldier and wage war…
The novel depicts a UK where “New Model Armies”, essentially giant, permanent flash mobs with infantry weapons, are hired by states that are too poor to have their own armies to wage war for any purpose at all. The one the protagonist belongs to has been contracted by Scotland to fight to dissolve the Union.
As a logical conclusion of the move from footie hooliganism towards a permanent insurrection the novel has its points, as well as having some nicely written combat scenes. But having set up the concept, Roberts has a hard time wrapping up. The last quarter of the book is frankly a bit weird and doesn’t deliver on the promise of the initial premise.
What if there was a cure for aging? Would you take that cure?
I think nearly every human alive older than 25 would leap at the chance. That’s what they do in this chilling book, a world where a cheap genetic cure for aging is discovered and widely released. It’s a book length illustration of “be careful what you wish for”. Highly recommended.
I picked this up on a whim at the library and I knew nothing of the author. I was pleasantly surprised to read a decent tale of interstellar intrigue, in a universe where the Cold War still runs on after centuries and nearly a hundred colonised planets.
The military part of this novel is believable and well written. The depiction of the factions involved is rather cynical — I attribute this to the fact that Abnett is British and not American.
Recommended if you like military SF.
A new SF satire by the author of Jennifer Government. As before, the satire trumps the SF, but in this case the protagonist/anti-hero gets more say and is creepily believable.
I saw the HBO miniseries based on this a few years ago and to be quite honest the TV series is very faithful to the story. While this book is a fast read and well written I can really recommend the TV series instead.
A fine little graphic novel/biography of the author’s grandfather, a lieutenant in the Canadian Highland Light Infantry during World War II.
After dealing with the Singularity (The Fall Revolution cycle and Newton’s Wake) MacLeod takes a look at the Simulation Argument with his customary mix of politics and reminisces of recent (Scottish) history. We’ve been in these areas before - the parts of the Fall Revolution set in ex-Soviet Central Asia echo in the fictional Automomous Republic of Krassnia. And likewise the background in radical academia in Edinburgh in the 1970s.
If you’re a fan of MacLeod, as I am, this is not to be missed. But I’m not sure if it’s one of his better ones!
It’s hard to get a grip on this novel. It can be described as a modern-day geek technothriller. On the one hand, it’s densely plotted and very exciting, with none of the massive infodumps the author is (in)famous for. On the other hand, the entire book can be said to be a skeleton on which to hand a skein of infodumps. In other words, there’s a lot of action, but very little inner motivation.
I’d say it’s a season of “24” written by a nerd living in the US Northwest.
Stross continues to deliver on his near-future police procedurals set in an Edinburgh beset by the stormwinds of the future. What Stross lacks in empathy (he can be rather cold and clinical in his character portrayals) he more than makes up in sheer nerdy inventiveness. I can’t decide whether this book is better, worse or on par with Halting State, which is set in the same universe and contains a few of the same characters, but I do think it’s a book I’ll re-read just for the ideas.
This is a novel that’s that rare bird, believable space opera. Now, space opera by its very nature stretches belief, but even the fictional viability of the genre has been stretched in later years by that fell beast, the Singularity. Basically, the Singularity meme posits that sure, if we uploaded our minds into computers we might be able to solve the problem of faster-than-light travel etc, but we’ll probably no longer be human.
Williams neatly sidesteps the issue by creating an alien race,the Shaa, who subjugate all other intelligent species within reach of wormholes. They then keep everyone on pseudo-feudal societal stasis for a few thousand years, which lets the author provide his heroes with that space operatic staple, the quasi-Napoleonic navy. They also ruthlessly proscribe artificial intelligence, thus keeping the Singularity at bay.
Naturally, we plucky Earthmen lead the eventual rebellion against those pesky collectivist Naxids, who attempt to take over after the Shaa and basically kill everyone.
All in all, a hugely enjoyable read within its genre.
Wow, I finally made it to the end of a 10-book fantasy epic! I started the Malazan Book of the Fallen on book 3, Memories of Ice, and I remember getting thrown headlong into a weird fantasy universe unlike any other I’d seen before. Erikson operates in shades of gray, nothing more apparent than in this concluding volume where one of the main characters turns from antagonist to something like protagonist.
To be quite honest I don’t feel this last book was up to the standards of some of the previous. On the other hand, they retain the rare virtue of re-readability, and I look forward to reading through the entire series again.
Here are my “reviews” of some of the previous books, in order of the series:
Set in the same sort of bleak, post-Peak Oil future of The Windup Girl, this YA novel is a classic tale of boy of the people meets high-borne girl and goes on quest. But Bagigalupi keeps it real with a gritty and brutal story, pulling no punches in showing what’s needed to survive once “The Accelerated Age” collapses around us.
The chilling thing of course is that the inhuman conditions of our hero’s work dismantling old freighters along America’s Gulf Coast is occuring right now, on the ship breaking beaches of India and Pakistan.
I’ve been listening to audiobooks and reading on my iPhone lately so I’ve lost the discipline of actually mentioning the books I “read”. Here’s a roundup of recent ones.
Larry Niven, Protector
A novel set early in the Known Space universe, it’s the story of how the Pak protectors, the third stage of maturity in the originators of mankind, finally discover the ancient colony of Earth.
I haven’t read Niven in ages, and it’s fun to see how some themes of hard SF echo from this work to other novels written later.
Ursula K LeGuin, The Other Wind
A kind of wrap-up of Earthsea, dealing with the so-called afterlife there. Recommended for Earthsea completists.
The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge
Some decent stories here. For all his certified nerdiness, Vinge really can spin a story and he’s decent at characterization too.
Alistair Reynolds, Galactic North
A great collection of stories from the Revelation Space universe. Great audiobook reading by John Lee.
George R. Steward, Earth Abides
A classic post-apocalyptic novel.
A brilliant near-future thriller set in Turkey. It’s not as far-out SF as Brasyl but very good nonetheless.
This is the third novel in Gibson’s “Bigend cycle”, and like his previous trilogies (Sprawl and Bridge) it wraps up the stories of the protagonists we’ve met so far. It feels like Gibson’s getting lazy, basically recycling the tropes and even the plots of his earlier novels, using the viewpoints of two different characters to present the same scene, engineering little love stories.
Also, if you like me read BoingBoing all the time, very few of the cool gadgets and concepts will be new to you.
But, Gibson is always Gibson and he can spin an entertaining yarn. I must say I didn’t really see the plot twists coming and even though the McGuffin in the beginning felt really lame it escalated nicely towards the end.
Another book set in the same world as Quantico. Not bad if you like near-future thrillers.
A stunning novel, opening new vistas into a possible dystopian future and bursting with cool ideas and locations. Highly recommended.
This powerful work is the full text of Genesis, illustrated with the incomparable style of Robert Crumb. The earthy style suits this part of the Hebrew Bible perfectly, with it’s unwashed bearded patriarchs subsiding essentially as goatherds in a country looking very much like the modern Israel.
There are no elisions of repetitions or the recounting of obscure kings and cheiftains, each lovingly depicted in a mini-portrait.
I haven’t read Genesis since in high school (and maybe then I just looked for the juicy parts, like Sodom and poor doomed Onan). This was a nice reunion with a text that for all its brutality and ancient weirdness still resonates in our culture.
Please note that the biblical circumlocution “to know” is graphically depicted, so if you’re uncomfortable seeing, for example, Lot’s daughters getting their dad drunk and making sure their lineage survives, you may have picked up the wrong book. The same goes for the multiple depictions of violent death and rape.
But it’s not in any way a sacriligeous text. Crumb takes the story literally, and renders it as it should be — a myth of one people’s beginnings, made special only because it survives from the mists of the dawn of time.
A new Culture novel is a must-read for me, and this one doesn’t disappoint. It’s the usual space opera setting of different species and civilisations, and if it’s not as densely plotted and (frankly) confusing as some of the other novels (I’m looking at you, Excession) it’s a more fun read. You probably need to be a Culture fan to properly appreciate it, but then, who isn’t?
Bonus for the return of an old friend, I did not see that coming!
Reynolds goes steampunk but with a nice far-out SF underpinning. The world-building is pretty good, but the story is rather heavy on exposition and long conversations. Way better than House of Suns, though. Recommended.
This book features Sterling’s trademark rapid-fire illustrative language, but he plotting is much weaker than in his previous dystopian novels Heavy Weather and Holy Fire. The five surviving “caryatids”, results of an illegal cloning project during a massive climate crisis, are spread around the world. This gives Sterling a number of locations to basically tell a thriller story and infodump at the same time.
As idea-driven SF it’s great, as a novel, not so much. Recommended if you’re a Sterling fan though!
This amazing novel deserves all the accolades heaped upon it. I can’t believe I started reading this a few months ago but abandoned it after a few chapters. It’s a great book, immersing you in past, present and near-future Brazil and a super cool sensawunda explanation to how they’re tied together.
McDonald’s trademark language sizzles and pops, creating a wonderful presence in a country most of us know through old tourist films and horrific news reports about gangs running amok. The text is liberally strewn with Portuguese slang, adding to the verisimilitude. I discovered when I finished the book that there was a glossary (Pyr edition), but you can mostly grok the words from context.
Highly recommended, and I’m looking forward to McDonald’s latest novel, The Dervish House.
This is the sequel to The Quiet War and I was worried McAuley wouldn’t wrap up all the plot threads and it would become a trilogy, a bit like Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Mars” trilogy, a work it resembles in theme.
However, it all wraps up in a … not very happy ending per se, too many people are dead and too much damage has been done, but injustices have been righted and the villians have had their come-uppance. What’s notable about this work though, is the complexity of the characters. They are very believable, and McAuley does a good job of presenting even less sympathetic characters in a light that makes you aware of their motivations.
The science is spot-on, even if stuff like nanotech and advanced genetic engineering are glossed over. In fact it’s interesting reading in light of Charlie Stross’ recent musings about how practical a “pioneer” approach to space exploration would be. (For the standard libertarian, Heinlein-inspired view, see the opening and closing views of John Walker here.) McAuley describes a future colonising of Jupiter and Saturn as a post-capitalist endeavour, and contrasts it against the neo-feudalism of Greater Brazil on Earth.
After my initial disappointment with an example of “steampunk” I was a bit leary of Mainspring, which depicts a world that literally runs like clockwork. But Lake is a much better writer than Priest, he reminds me of both Gene Wolfe and Ian McDonald. Highly recommended, and I hope the sequel Escapement keeps up the good work!
Stridens skönhet och sorg by Peter Englund
This book by the renowned Swedish historian (now serving as the Perpetual Secretery of the Swedish Academy) explores the First World War through the diaries, letters, and official paperwork by and about a disparate collection of people.
As Englund says, it’s history at its most atomic. Copious footnotes explain the historical and factual background.
Refreshingly, the focus is spread away from the men at the (Western) front. We get insights into the lives of civilian schoolgirls in East Prussia, English nurses in Russian service, leatherbitten adventurers in East Africa, and French politicians.
By spreading his net wide and focusing laser-like on a few individuals, Englund shows the First World War for what it was: an international catastrophe that laid the bloody foundations of the last century and changed the world forever.
Hopefully this will soon be translated into English!
The Android’s Dream by John Scalzi
A novel set in a different universe than the Old Man’s War series, but which is basically the same as ours: sure, we’ve made contact with aliens but the only thing that happens to Earth is more embassies. Refreshingly, humans are on the bottom of the scale of galactic civilisations, which is a nice change from standard SF of this type where we naturally take our place with the big guys.
It’s an enjoyable yarn, competently spun.
The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross
The third of the Laundry novels is a pastische of Ludlum novels, replete with moles, double-agents and Russians. The Laundry is preparing for CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, when the stars are right and the Elder Gods will again walk the Earth. However, a crazy gang of cultists wants to accelerate the process and have their sights set on our geeky hero, Bob Howard.
Stross’ trademark blend of Lovecraftian horror and spy thriller isn’t really well-blended in this novel. There are some rough patches, and the very literal homage to 30s pulp cultists is a bit over the top - but maybe you really need to look and speak like that to invoke nameless horrors from beyond spacetime?
Another anachronism is the rampant iPhone adulation, which will age badly … but these kind of novels have a short sell-by date anyway.
Two more Laundry novels are in planning according to Stross’ FAQ and indeed the Cthulhu mythos is a very deep well with lots of ectoplasm to draw on. Let’s hope the coming novels are a bit better than this one though.
Night of Knives by Ian C. Esslemont
A novel set in the same universe as Steven Erikson’s novels about the Malazan empire, and indeed sharing a lot of the same characters. Esslemont co-created the world with Erikson but he’s not as good a writer, unfortunately. I guess you can say that he’s simply a competent one, while Erikson is great.
This novel really doesn’t add much to the Malazan mythos and can be safely skipped.
A mainstream detective thriller by McAuley, who is mostly known for his SF. Competently put together but with an artificial air.
In a future after catastrophic climate change has ravaged Earth, the conservationist ruling families based there declare war on the Outers, the humans who’ve colonised Jupiter and Saturn space with self-sufficient habitats.
More a political thriller and spy story than SF, McAuley manages to depict a deep-space future better than many others. Still, even if the story rattles along in a fair clip there’s something lacking. McAuley doesn’t have Charlie Stross’ effortless nerdic flow, nor Ian McDonald’s fluency in depicting other cultures. For all that though, it’s recommended.
This is the first part of a series, the sequel is Gardens of the Sun.
McAuley is on Twitter as http://twitter.com/UnlikelyWorlds.
A well-written capsule history of Poland, that very interesting country.
After reading this book I can say that “steampunk” as shown in this work is not for me.
The book is put together competently, but it’s too formulaic. Everything is like it should be: 19th century setting, alternate history, weird science that’s just a bit before its time, villians that are wholly evil, heroines that are not just good and virtious but also subtly updated to reflect our times (and maybe also reflecting the author?). It’s just not good enough.
This book has had rave reviews on BoingBoing and is nominated for a Nebula. Priest seems like a nice person and she deserves her break. But to me, there’s more formulaic style than good solid substance.
 I enjoyed Miéville’s Perdido Street Station which has a strong steampunk vibe, but its inclusion of magic probably disqualifies it according to some arcane taxonomy.
This is SF author Bear’s foray into “the day after tomorrow” thrillers, featuring a future FBI hunting domestic bioterrorists. For some unexplained reason, the bureau is under political attack. This adds some artificial tension to the plot, but it’s mostly just something tacked on.
For other unexplained reasons, three inexperienced agents are thrown into the action directly from graduation. There’s some romantic tension between the young male protagonist and an attractive yet tortured older female agent, but this too feels tacked on.
Bear’s reason for writing this novel (as explained in an afterword) was to warn of the dangers of bioterrorism, specifically weaponised anthrax. He deserves credit for portraying Muslim characters with sympathy and understanding, and for crafting an exciting, competently written tale. But in the end it’s obvious he’s a bit out of his depth writing this kind of story.
This is the penultimate book in Erikson’s epic “Malazan Book of the Fallen” cycle. This is the only fantasy cycle I’ve read and enjoyed since… well, the Lord of the Rings. However, Erikson subtly subverts the Manichean worldview of Tolkien and his epigones, introducing a gritty, smelly world of forces in precarious balance. It’s hard to describe, but it’s “realistic” in a way that Robert Jordan’s plastic world isn’t.
It helps that the writing is funny, and that Erikson has a good grip on both anthropology and military tactics.
“Dust of Dreams” is of necessity a cliffhanger, being but the first half of the end of the cycle. After reading this explosive tale I literally cannot wait for the sequel, “The Crippled God”. Highly recommended.
 for once, the word is used unironically.
Vinge is the poet laureate of the middle Internet era, the one defined by Usenet discussions, but he makes a huge effort in Rainbows End (sic!) to update the tech templates in A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky to something that could be considered modern.
Just like the concept of “identity theft” is unimaginably expanded in Charles stross’ Glasshouse, the future internet depicted in this book is the web write large, and in many dimensions, and only fully comprehended by kids, the dullest of whom are geniuses compared to their bemused and fearful parents. New forms of warfare have developed, and the tools of terrorism and mayhem are cheaper and cheaper. Parcel delivery is by rail launchers sending packages in ballistic trajectories.
Yet Vinge is not just a soulless nerd and technocrat, he has a real gift in describing the inner lives of his characters (even if his most detailed portraits seem to be of very clever people who have dysfunctional inner lives). Coupled with a clear, uncomplicated prose and a workmanlike pacing and suspense, this makes for an entertaining read which leaves you with a lot of ideas to ponder. Highly recommended!.
A “fixup” of a series of short stories into a novel, describing a Roman Empire that never fell (mostly because the Exodus never occured, and a Roman citizen in exile engineered the assasination of Muhammed) but that persisted into our time.
An interesting conceit, but one that becomes less believable as the alternative time goes by and the divergance of history increases.
One thing that’s missing is the view of the common people. Are we to believe that the imperial system managed to stay intact (military defeat and occasional palace coups notwithstanding) through over two thousand years?
Anyway, it’s fiction, and well-written and enjoyable fiction at that. Recommended.
A fun YA novel set in a post-apocalyptic steampunk wasteland. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for the sequels!
A collection of 2 novellas (Cydonia and The Human Front) and some shorter writings by the Scottish SF author. A lot of the influences in later works can be found, especially the left-libertarian politics.
This is a great book, a very readable overview of the 1930s. It goes into some detail about countries that I knew little about, like France and Japan, and gives a good look at the Spanish Civil War.
It’s striking to see how the twin blows of World War I and the Great Depression dealt the liberal democracies a nearly fatal blow. It’s also sad to see how inevitable war seemed, even quite early on. Fascism, Nazism and Communism were generally untried, and seemed like valid alternatives to the “tired, degenerate” democracies.
And in truth, there was a lot of rot in the US, Great Britain, and maybe especially France. They were slow to react to the needs of their citizens, and understandably very loath to begin a new bloodletting in the same scale as WWI. France especially has been much maligned for its defeatism. But it’s unsure how the Third Republic’s institutions could have dealt with it.
A stunning YA novel about a small child being brought up by ghosts and a vampire in an English graveyard after his family has been murdered. A very warm and pretty scary book. Recommended!
A well-written and entertaining space opera. Shades of Ian McDonald’s Desolation Road in its description of a future melange of humanity.
A novelette (or novella) “starring” the creepy Bouchelaine and Korbal Broach, the necromancers who make an appearance in Memories of Ice. Illustrated, in a not very convincing way, by Mike Dringenberg.
A nice example of Erikson’s “fantasy noir”.
A Very English Deceit: The South Sea Bubble and the World’s First Great Financial Scandal by Malcolm Balen
A short and interesting overview of the South Sea Bubble of 1720. Balen strews quotes from the dotcom bubble as chapter headings, but there’s no clear-cut connection between the two. If nothing else, the connections between the South Sean the very recent housing bubbles are clearer. Among them, the lack of regulation (due to outright corruption in the older mess) and the presence of very easy credit.
This is a pretty cool novel, a police procedural (roughly) set in a city that’s split down the middle, where inhabitants of one city literally can’t see the others (even if they’re in the same street) without being hauled off by the mysterious Breach. Daily life if full of unseeing and unhearing things. This makes solving crimes hard, to say the least.
I enjoyed it immensely. Highly recommended.
This novel was tough going in the middle, where it felt it was too much Tiste Andii moping (seriously those dudes are emo) and not enough action. It sure picked up in the end, and even revealed one of the “bad guys” as semi-sympathetic.
Re-reading Reaper’s Gale while I have the details fresh in my mind!
A novel set in the Culture. Not really a fan of this one. Feels like Banks is re-using a lot of ideas from earlier works. And the shocking revelation was pretty lame (assuming I identified it correctly).
The second of the Laundry novels, this book sees our hero Bob Howard trapped (literally!) in a James Bond plot, complete with supervillian, fluffy white cat, and Cthonic artifacts from beneath the Earth’s crust.
It’s an entertaining read, but Stross isn’t really very good at constructing plots that hang together. There are some lurches in the narrative that are pretty baffling, and most damning of all, it’s not very scary. It’s more a pastisch than a good horror novel.
There should be a name for that brand of SF where we’re thousands of years in the future, but the society is still just like middle-class America, with FTL ships and AIs. It’s not quotidian. Maybe it’s just lazy.
Peter F. Hamilton also writes in this style, but he does it with far more verve than McDevitt.
The underlying story is fun enough at first, centering around the search for a lost colony lost 6,000 years from the time of the story. But when we reach the end there’s a desperate attempt to lay on the sensawunda with a trowel, leading to a feeling of letdown.
I borrowed this book in a library, for which I am grateful. I would have been mad if I had paid for it.
When I saw this book at the local library, I snapped it up and then was pretty stressed out I wouldn’t be able to finish it in the four weeks I had lent it. It’s around 900 pages and I’ve read Stephenson before.
Turns out it wasn’t so hard (being sick at home helped). The book is a much easier read than the Baroque Cycle, almost juvenile in its themes and plot.
Anathem is set in an alternative world where the scientists are sequestered in huge monastery-like structures called maths. They are forbidden contact with the outside Seculaer world for one, ten, 100 or 1,000 years, depending on the math. Basically, every smart person ill-at-ease with the outside world (which is a parody of modern America, without culture or science) has the possibility to withdraw to a world of community, self-sufficiency, and pure thought.
Our hero, Erasmas, is a typical guy in these stories. Not too smart, trouble with girls, problems with authority etc. Things happen outside, he and his friends must venture forth to solve the mystery and save the world, yadda yadda.
Stephenson is an entertaining writer, if less so here than in his other books. The ideas in it are inspired by the Long Now Foundation and the interesting problem of how to preserve knowledge for millenia. The central plot point is nice SF too with a lot of giant space engineering involved.
If you’re not put off by huge books, I can recommend this whole-heartedly.
A great book, detailing the milleniarist dreams and designs on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It’s full of interesting details such as the search for a perfect red heifer (the ashes from its sacrifice will be used to purify the worshipers in the Temple), and the various groups working towards establishing control over the Temple Mount.
A brilliant memoir, and a perceptive analysis of modern Sweden. Brown was a young man who married a Swedish woman and moved to Lilla Edet in western Sweden and had a son. After working in a factory he became a journalist and moved back to England. However, he’s returned to Sweden many times. As an avid fly-fisher, he finds Sweden better than England in that respect.
Seeing your country through the eyes of an “foreigner” is a refreshing experience. Brown has a fine eye for certain details in 1970s Sweden (and 80s Britain too) and his very personal story rings with the truth that comes from experience.
Alan Moore et. al., Top Ten): Book 1, Book 2, The Forty-Niners
Three great graphic novels that combine the pulpy look of classic comics with serious themes. Recommended.
Ken McLeod, The Night Sessions
“Near-future” SF set in a world where the excesses of the “Faith Wars” have led to religion being seriously marginalised. Interesting mix of SF and police procedural, and McLeod’s upbringing in weird Scottish sects gives him a good background, but ultimately not one of his best works.
Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden, Baltimore
Interesting young-adult(?) novel set in the aftermath of an alternate-history Great War. Mignola’s illustrations are excellent. Good stuff if you’re at all a fan of Hellboy.
Gathered these two reviews in one post.
JPod by Douglas Coupland
This is an updated Microserfs and it really reads like Coupland is just coasting. He tries to darken the white-bread ambience of the earlier book with drugs and people-smuggling but it’s basically the same book with a version bump.
Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA by Tim Weiner
The CIA’s reputation is already the worse for wear, but this book basically tears any remaining mystique to threads. In hindsight the CIA made many mistakes and the “successes” (Iran in the 50s, Afghanistan in the 80s) came back to haunt them.
What’s lacking from the book is a wider discussion of just why so many covert actions to influence or suborn governments were undertaken, not just by a rogue CIA but by successive presidents. In hindsight going head-to-head with the Soviet Union was rather unnecessary, but few knew that at the time. In part this was due to the CIA being incompetent, but I think it would have added to an understanding of the Cold War.
This SF novel has received rave reviews, and it’s not hard to see why. A great first-contact story, it’s also an exploration of consciousness and the theory of mind.
Sometimes it’s tough going, but the reader is rewarded by an astonishing vision of humanity’s place in the universe.
Author’s website is rifters.com.
Hard SF about a future race of aliens living on an engineered asteroid orbiting a neutron star at a significant fraction of c. It doesn’t get much harder than that!
A big part of the book is devoted to the aliens trying to make sense of the bizarre orbital mechanics they can observe. This is tedious, as the terms used are the native ones and the explanations are couched in terms that you really need to pay attention to if you want to know what’s going on.
There’s all too many pages of this, and even if the alien society is nicely visualised it’s a hard slog.
Basically, this is one neat idea padded into a novel. Avoid if you’re not a fan of hard SF.
A most satisfying seventh installment to the Malazan saga. Erikson keeps up the pressure and keeps this massive fantasy tale on track.
Part of Erikson’s greatness is his humour, something that’s sorely lacking from multi-volume fantasy such as Tolkien or Jordan. He’s also pretty good at old-style military engagements, and indeed the entire series can almost be described as “military fantasy”.
Update 2008-08-14: I just re-read Memories of Ice, the first book in the series that I read, even if it’s the third in sequence. It’s amazing how much stuff in the series is foreshadowed.
I’m going to re-read Midnight Tides next!
Debut cyberpunk/technothriller from Williams, who’s running an active blog promoting it.
What can I say? I think the ideas are bigger than the novel (I think I first read about it in John Scalzi’s “The Big Idea” series). Trad cyberpunk predicts the withering of the nation state, this novel has a more realpolitik feel to it in that the nation states of the US and Russia will never give up power. The future depicted in The Mirrored Heavens is bleak from the outset and gets bleaker from there.
It’s a promising start, lets hope Williams follows it up!
For me, a quick entertaining read, but about as nourishing as a bag of crisps. I’m broadly in agreement with Jonathan McCalmont’s review.
Kapuścińsky beskriver hur Herodotos Historia följt honom på hans karriär som reporter, från de första trevande stegen i Indien och Kina till hans resor i Afrika och Mellanöstern.
Boken flätar förtjänstfullt samman både bilden av den moderne polske journalisten och hans grekiske inspiratör och i någon mening läromästare. Den är också en bra introduktion till Herodotos verk.
I can’t help but feel that this is a previously rejected novel by Reynolds that’s now been exhumed by his publishers in search of a few extra quid.
It’s a half-baked space opera in the Iain M. Banks vein, ranging over the galaxy and across millions of years. It even has some Banksian foreshadowing, hinting at dark and mysterious secrets to come. But nothing comes of this, and there are plenty of other plot strands that are simply left dangling.
The scene setting is amateur, the plot is ludicrous, and the characters are two-dimensional.
An alternate-history/alternate-universe CIA novel, where a “sheaf” of the multiverse (the “Real” America) has developed technology to access other, parallell universes with different timelines. Being Americans, they can’t resist spreading their version of freedom, happiness and the American Way to every other universe, whether these universes want it or not.
It’s a fascinating story, well told and suspenseful. It’s slightly marred by explicit exposition and some typographic niggles, and the universe-hopping and toime-travelling becomes a mite confusing near the end, but it’s a very good read.
A rather weird book. It reads like a throwback to the New Wave of SF, all drug-addled and full of weird human-on-alien sex. The unabashed non-hard elements and post-modern leavening of space opera tells us this is more a stylistic exercise. The plot is something to hang language on.
For all this, it’s a pretty exciting read, even if the amoral actions of the main characters tend to put you off. The parts set in our time are well captured, and contain “mundane” details of whacked-out relationships and issues like anorexia.
I’d recommend this if you don’t have to pay for it.
The sequel to Ilium. Highly recommended. Simmons is great around both the prehistory of Homer and his future history. Great use of tension and plenty of sensawunda.
A novel set in the Revelation Space universe. We finally get to see what life in the pre-Plague Glitter Band was like, and this novel does a good job of problematising Utopia.
This setting isn’t as broad as the other novels, but the stakes are typically high.
Not a novel to begin with, but great for Reynolds fans.
Part near-future thriller set in yakusa Japan and Sarf London, part SF set in far-far-far-future Earth, this is a hard book to summarize. The thriller part dominates, and seems to be set 15 years in the future mostly so our hero can have some bad memories from Iraq in his youth. The SF element nearly makes sense, but it’s not an SF novel for beginners.
I’ve read one other novel by Grimwood, Pashazade. This is similar, but at the same time almost completely different. Recommended.
A “last man on earth” story set in a Los Angeles beset by vampires. Very much a Fifties novel. Reading this after World War Z was a bit unfair, the latter is a much better story.
Subtitled “An Oral History of the Zombie War, this is a fictional account of the war against the plague of the undead that’s due to engulf us in about 4 years.
Riveting and horrific.
Update 2008-05-08: John Walker has a more extensive review.
A superlative noir near-future SF thriller. I haven’t enjoyed a book like this for a long time. Highly recommended.
More a novella than a full novel. Starts with a bunch of kids stuck in a VR education simulation but the near-future high-school drama soon morphs into something much darker.
Spook Country got some negative reviews, and even though I’d been looking forward to it a long time (Gibson is one of my “read-anything” authors) I decided to wait a bit before buying it. I snatched it up at the library and enjoyed it.
A few people have remarked that Gibson’s stories are pretty shallow and uninteresting, but the point his novels is not the plot, it’s his descriptions of places, people and things. The plot is a meta-MacGuffin that serves the purpose of getting the protagonists to new places where they can fondle shiny new things. These are descriped in the trademark Gibson style.
This book is more of the same. Read it if you like Gibson, skip it if you don’t.
A fun satire but pretty poor SF. I think the fragmented societies of Ken MacLeod (Star Fraction) and Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash) are more likely than this future ruled by giant corporations. The government is privatised as there are no taxes. The dirty secret is that without taxes, a huge chunk of “private” enterprise will go bust: military, parts agriculture. Big Capitalism is as addicted to the state as “welfare” recipients.
I was really looking forward to this book, but can’t help but being disappointed. MacLeod’s first foray into techno-thriller territory starts out well. It’s a chilling portrayal of a paranoid post-9/11 Britain. But after a while you recognise the backstory, it’s the same setup as in the Fall Revolution series, with bits from Engines of Light and even Newton’s Wake thrown in. In the end it gets really SF-y, and not in a good way.
In short, I’ve read better MacLeod novels.
I really enjoyed this book. Raban buys a boat and circumnavigates England, Scotland and Wales. The book is written in the early 80s, so the Falklands War, the miners strike and the beginning of the Thatcher era are observed from a position out at sea.
This is a view of an England (for Raban touches mostly in England, and the Isle of Man) in transition, lost in the change between manufacturing and fishing and the new “service economy” and tourism.
It’s a wise, compassionate book, mixing travel writing and memoir. I’ll definitely try to read more by Raban in the future.
This is simply wonderful book. Part mountain climbing memoir, part cultural history that charts the growing Western fascination for mountains.
A centrepiece is a fascinating account of George Mallory’s obsession with Mount Everest. The chapters are a culmination of the preceding book, showing how the changing perceptions of mountains formed Mallory, and how his death in turn shaped those perceptions.
What it says on the tin. All the classic stories.
It’s a pity Conan Doyle didn’t manage to keep Holmes dead after the first collection of stories, because the quality went down quite a bit the more he wrote.
A juvenile novel set in the Discworld universe.
Snagged it from the local library. Pratchett is always entertaining.
A layman’s history of the great plague epidemic in 1348. The first chapters are very interesting. The middle of the book bogs down in a detailed history of the plague’s progress through England. It’s relieved by a chapter about the impact on a fictional village.
The book is from 1969, I bought it some years ago and re-read it now, inspired by a radio show I heard about the impact of the Black Death on the recruitment of clerics to the Catholic church.
An entertaining fantasy in which dragons are used as military vehicles in early nineteenth century Europe. Implausibly, everything else (the UK, Napoleonic France, sailing navies) is unchanged. This seems pretty unlikely as according to the backstory, dragons had been used in war since the Crusades. I’m thinking that if dragons existed alongside humans they’d fundamentally change human society, especially since they have intelligence on par with humans.
However, this means that Novik can write a mix of Austen, Patrick O’Brian, and probably oodles of dragon fantasies which seems to be a distinct subgenre of mainstream fantasy. It’s a good job, and an cracking read.
I must confess I read this in one sitting, staying up until 5:30 in the morning to see how it ended. It’s a satisfying end to a long story, anf although most lose ends were tied there were a lot left dangling.
Now I can venture onto the Interwebs free of the fear of spoilers.
This book could almost be called realist fantasy. It’s a world that’s very like the European Middle ages, with none of the nasty bits edited out. There’s blood, guts, lice, forbidden love between liegemen and ladies, and the oaths and fealties that bind lord and vassal have literally divine sanction. Break them and all Hell breaks loose.
This world is believable in a way that many other fantasy worlds are not. It’s a far cry from Robert Jordan’s plasticky universe, if not in the class of Steven Erikson’s multi-layered mythos.
A bonus: the book is self-contained and not obviously part of a series.
A crew of asteroid miners are ordered to investigate a self propelled moon and are whisked far, far away.
Most of the story is about the personal rivalries between factions of the crew, but there are generous helpings of hard-SF sense-of-wonder too. Some wonderfully disgusting aliens make a cameo appearance near the end.
This was a quick read. Like most of Reynold’s books, it’s not really a very good book by literary standards, but there are lots of nice ideas and images in it.
Another quick read. I’m not sure I think Stross is that great a writer, actually. But he can weave an entertaining tale.
However, a lot of the themes are repurposed from his previous novel Iron Sunrise, and even though the universes are different it still feels like they are too similar.
Hit the SF bookstore in Gamla stan and picked this up today. Read it between 2 o’clock and half an hour ago, thus, a quick read.
Not really as good as Old Man’s War but still entertaining.
Read this while on Easter holiday. Not bad at all.
Awesome book. There so much common sense in here it should be illegal.
The most important lesson to gather from this book is that your employees (if they’re knowledge workers, but who isn’t in this day and age?) are an asset, and not just an expense. In the information age you don’t invest in machines and buildings, you invest in attracting and retaining the best people. Putting these people in offices that are cramped and not conductive to knowledge work is like not taking care of your machines or buildings — you’re effectively destroying capital.
Uneasy blend of SF and fantasy, with some rock-and-roll thrown in. Reads like the basis for a fantasy RPG sometimes.
Religously-tinged SF horror about a race of proto-hominids existing deep beneath the surface of the Earth. A page-turner.
A collection of “weird” tales from the beginning of the twentieth century. Flavours of Saki.
Military SF from Baen Books. Reminiscent of David Weber, the same glorification of weapons and the military and the same right-wing outlook. The characters are not entirely one-dimensional though.
Schlock I’m glad I borrowed from the library and didn’t pay for. Slightly entertaining nonetheless.
A riff on Starship Troopers with some elements of The Forever War. Good writing and great humour. Can’t wait to buy the sequel(s).
A history of the anti-communist movement in forties-fifties USA.
Two novellas from Reynold’s Revelation space universe.
A short history of the World War II battle of Kursk in 1943.
This book felt like Leonard wrote it with one hand tied behind his back. The redeeming feature was the excellent narration by Paul Rudd.
Subtitled A World of Freedom, Chaos, and Crime, this is a very good book about the modern realities of maritime transport and law enforcement. Langewieshe’s thesis is that the oceans, by their very size, are natural havens for shady types like pirates, unscrupulous shipowners and ineffectual regulators.
He writes about shipwrecks, piracy, and the shipbreaking industry in India and Bangladesh. Central to the book is the sinking of the passenger ferry Estonia, a wound that has not yet healed in Sweden. He shows how most landlubbers will rather indulge in conspiracy theories to explain the accident, instead of accepting that the sea is a very dangerous place, and that shore-based attempts to impose order are inherently doomed to fail.
This audiobook was read by the author, which worked well.
Palin recounts his travels around the Sahara filming for the BBC. He’s a good author and narrator, and conveys a good picture throughout the book of the country and the people.
Yet another history. This focuses in large part on the global aspects of the war, in addition to trying to explaining the conflict in terms that the combatants understood — the conflict between liberalism and authoritatism. In the author’s view, the war wasn’t fought for meaningless reasons, and he asserts that the later view of it as a senseless carnage is a product of poets and authors writing during the 1920’s.
Boken handlar om Catrine da Costa-fallet från 1984. Utgångspunkten är den mediakampanj som bedrevs kring 2000 för att dom båda läkarna skulle få upprättelse. Men ju mer Borgnäs gräver i fallet desto mer märkliga omständigheter finnar han.
Han är mycket kritisk mot Leif GW Persson som på egen hand bestämt sig att läkarna måste vara oskyldiga. Men enligt Borgnäs pekar många spår, inte bara i Catrine-fallet, mot Obducenten. Persson och Guillou gjorde allt i sin makt att peka polisen åt helt andra håll, med stora konsekvenser för dom oskyldiga som råkade komma i vägen.
A generation starship approaches a system after a 400 year voyage, intent on colonising the asteroid belt and pushing off again. They are shocked to discover the first alien intelligent life encountered during humanity’s 15,000-year expansion.
A nicely done novel, especially the fact that the aliens are more “human” (closer to us) than our putative descendants. Also a good treatment of the generation ship problem: how do you ensure a stable population over a voyage spanning centuries? The answer: genetic engineering and late-stage capitalism, with the “founders” investing in the ventures of the colonising “ship generation”.
A blend of the spy thriller with H.P. Lovecraft, mixed with IT life satire.
- Cosmonaut Keep
- Dark Light
- Engine City
Nice blend of science fiction and politics from the master himself.
I actually finished this last week, but I’ve been planning a longish review since before the weekend. Now I’m actually writing I can’t say much other than that this is a really good book if you like cyberpunk flavoured noir — and who doesn’t?
Here’s my review of Altered Carbon. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the second book in the trilogy, Broken Angels, soon.
This is the latest instalment in Erikson’s epic, The Malazan Book of the Fallen. This dense work benefits from an incremental approach where you read and re-read the previous books over and over again to try to catch all the details and nuances. Luckily, the books are so well-written that this is not a chore at all.
The Malazan universe is exceedingly complex, with new gods, forms of magic, and undead pre-humanoid species turning up every few books. Sometimes they have the appearance of dei ex machinae, but it doesn’t matter that much.
This book is the sixth in a ten-part series, I’m sure Erikson will be able to keep things up for the concluding four. Until then I’ll re-read Memories of Ice again.
I finished three books this long weekend, capsule reviews follow.
The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe.
Apparently 2 novels, The Knight and The Wizard, I read this tome in trade paperback and got a sore back for my pains. Only thing wrong with this book, which is vintage Wolfe. Echoes of the Torturer series, this is in a classic fairytale setting with knights and princesses and elfs, but with a few twists. Our hero grows to be a man in a night, battles giants and dragons, dies and goes to Valhalla, returns to claim his queen. Great stuff.
The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead by Max Brooks.
What it says on the tin. Worried about the plague of undead coming to eat your flesh? This book tells you what to do before, during, and after an outbreak of zombies in your neighborhood. Also contains tips for surviving the apocalypse of an Earth dominated by the living dead.
Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett.
Pratchett takes on the military and adds a twist to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” meme.
Subtitled “A Codemaker’s War, 1941—1945”, a memoir of work in the SOE (Special Operations Executive) during World War II. Well worth the read.
The title refers to the author’s offer to his superiors: either code pages printed on hard-to-obtain silk were issued to agents, or they would have to use their cyanide tablets.
A book about the political background of the Restoration. Mostly interesting for the origin of the Whig and Tory parties in British politics.
This is a re-read. Not as good as the earlier novels but Gibson is still a master of his own kind of tech-distilled noir style.
A Discworld novel dealing with the evils of organised religion. Readable, but I’ve read funnier stuff.
A nice reinvention of the cyberpunk genre, set in alternate-future Ottoman Alexandria.
[…] Things only started to unravel in the sixth [year] when I decided there was nothing wrong with my school that couldn’t be cured with a sub-machine gun and unlimited ammunition […]
A fantasy novel about a ne’er-do-well musician in San Fransisco who’s life is turned upside down when he’s attacked by a being from the parallell universe of Faerie. Naturally his destiny is much grander than he thought…
Well written like all William’s books. The beginning is near social-realism — our hero loses his unborn child in a miscarriage, his girlfriend, and his mother to cancer in the first few chapters. This sets the tone for the rest of the book and removes any inconvenient characters that may mess up the path of destiny.
A classic public library book: something you’re delighted to find in the shelves but won’t pay for in the store.
This is the first audiobook I’ve listened to, and was a really good one. Stephen Fry’s narration is brilliant, lending colour and excitement to a very long, episodic book. What the scriptwriters of the film adaptation will do to ensure that the film isn’t over four hours long, I don’t know.
The first Reynolds novel I read, but not the best. The parts on the generation starship are well-written though, but the steampunk ambience in Chasm City isn’t as interesting.
The fourth book in the Malazan series.
The second part of the Malazan Book of the Fallen series.
This book rests on a central premise, that an alternate 1959 Earth has been preserved like a fly in amber by some all-powerful aliens. In the far future, two warring factions of humanity stumble upon it and use the artifacts there to complement the forgotten history of the Nanocaust.
Reynolds skilfully weaves together “hard” S-F with a Simenon-like detective story. But if you ignore the technical mastery and the skillful plotting, the story is basically absurd. But it’s an enjoyable read nonetheless. I stayed up until one in the morning yesterday to finish it.
This is a re-read.
It’s hard to describe what’s so good with Erikson’s writing and universe. Perhaps it’s the gnarly texture of the world,the pervasiveness of magic accessible to most people, the sweat, the blood, the many-layered mythologies…
I was lucky to get Deadhouse Gates and House of Chains at the library, I’ll be re-reading them as soon as I finish with Century Rain.
Update 2006-06-12: re-read it again.
A new installment in the Malazan series, this moves the action to a wholly different part of the world? universe? — it’s not clear. It’s been a while since I read the preceding book, and my grasp of all the different races, gods, and demons is a bit shaky, but I’m pretty sure we haven’t encountered the Tiste Edur in detail before.
They are an agricultural people about to be conquered by the rapacious Letherii, whose society is like a caricature of our own Western society. But all is not as it seems, as the closest this series has to a figure of pure evil, the Fallen God, has other plans…
A good read as usual with Erikson.
Feh. There should be a warning printed on this 1,144 page book:
This is the first book in a series
Dunno if I’ll buy the sequel. Hamilton is a capable wordsmith, and the plot moves along at a respectable clip. But the surface is a bit too polished, the characters a bit too much like cardboard.
This is the type of book that publicists call “epic” that others might less charitably describe as “bloated.” […] An editorial pruning might have put this prospective doorstop on more people’s “to read” lists.
Today, this kind of book would be called a mashup.
A little bagatell, as we say in Sweden.
An S-F novel not set in Bank’s Culture universe. Has good sense-of-wonder factors, but the characters seem a bit cardboard-like for Banks.
Well, the trilogy is done. It was never boring, but it takes a good writer to keep the reader hooked for three thousand pages. Stephenson does a good but not stellar job.
Update: the books are frequently funny, but not often laugh-out-loud funny. The following passage made me lol though. The hero, Daniel Waterhouse, and sir Isaac Newton are meeting with an informer in the pub of the Newgate prison, called the Black Dogg:
The Black Dogg was not the sort of tavern that contained a great deal of furniture — patrons either stood, or lay on the floor. There was a bar, of course, in the literal sense of a bulwark erected between the prisoners and the gin. This was now a palisade of burning tapers. […]
Well, that was a hard slog. I’ll be reading The System of the World next, because The Confusion picked up considerably two-thirds of the way through, and also I’ve already payed for it. But I can’t say the trilogy is Stephenson’s best effort.
Yawn, yet another HP adventure. This was better plotted than the last, but still not really a good book.
A “hard fantasy” novel, containing some nice ideas (really only one idea, but the ramifications are well thought out). Well written, if a bit confusing at times. As it’s fantasy, of course this is just the first novel in a series… sigh. I’ll perhaps pick up the next book when it arrives in paperback.
- Patrick O’Brian, The Hundred Days
- Bruce Sterling, The Zenith Angle
- Charles Stross, Iron Sunrise
A mix between The Secret History and (I guess, I haven’t read it) The Da Vinci Code. Not bad at all.
These are the books I read during my two weeks vacation on the west coast of Sweden.
Four novels by Patrick O’Brian:
- The Nutmeg of Consolation
- Clarissa Oakes
- The Wine-Dark Sea
- The Commodore
In my opinion, The Thirteen-Gun Salute is the last really good Aubrey-Maturin novel.
- Mike Bryan, Dogleg Madness
- Carl Hiassen, Skinny Dip
- Charles Stross, Accelerando
- Men at Arms
- Officers and Gentlemen
- Unconditional Surrender
Based on Waugh’s own experiences in World War 2, this is a funny — and grim — trilogy about the death of Honour and the birth of the base modern age.
Whew! I just completed an extended trip down memory lane. I last read them in my early teens, but still remember nearly all the plots.
Swallows and Amazons: the first book.
Swallowdale: the arch-nemesis of the Amazons, the Great Aunt, makes her first appearance.
Peter Duck: my battered Puffin paperback was liberated from the school library in Kuala Lumpur. It’s marked
HIGHGATE HILL PRIMARY SCHOOL
HQ KUALA LUMPUR GARRISON
c/o G.P.O. KUALA LUMPUR
The last date is 16.10.75. As we didn’t move to KL until 1977, I’m guessing this book was sold out or given away.
Winter Holiday: the D’s, Dick and Dorothea, make their appearance.
Coot Club: a favourite.
Pigeon Post: a bit different from what I remember. I focused a lot more on Dick back then, guess it was identification with him.
We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea: a great book.
Secret Water. Not one of my favourites.
The Big Six: classic juvenile detective story
Missee Lee: a swashbuckling tale involving a female pirate chief with a passion for Latin. Our heroes are forced to endure that fate worse than death: lessons in the holidays. The shiftless youngest, Roger, unexpectedly shines as a Latin scholar. Mildly racist in a 30s kind of way.
The Picts and the Martyrs: an interesting book. The premise is that in order to be nice to Mrs. Blackett, the D’s have to be “naughty” and live in the woods, cooking their own food and generally having a typical S&A-type adventure. This is because the dreaded Great Aunt would blow up if she found them living with the Amazons. Interesting juxtaposition of morals here.
Great Nothern?: early eco-friendly children’s literature. The setting is in the Scottish Highlands, which lends it another flavour than the Lake District or the Broads. I thought I likes this book better than I actually did.
I’m taking a break from O’Brian for a while. This book marks the end of my collection of WW Norton paperbacks, which are larger than the editions from Harper Collins that follow. Someday I can afford to replace them all with hardcovers.
Another one of my favourites within the series.
Here we first make our acquaintance with Andrew Wray, who will succeed Admiral Harte as Jack and Stephen’s bête noir in the coming novels.
Fourth book in the series. In my memory, rather drab (maybe because it’s based on fact, not pure fiction). But very well written, like all O’Brian’s books.
Looking for a replacement for my missing HMS Surprise, I see that the ghouls at WW Norton have published the first three chapters of the last book O’Brian was writing before his death. I’m torn whether I should get it too. I really need to rejoin the Gunroom and ask the opinion of the denizens there, but I really don’t have time to keep up with the flood of mail right now.
The most Austinesque of the series. Perhaps the best.
Unfortunately, I can’t locate the next book, HMS Surprise, which is a pity, as it’s my favourite.
I’m re-reading the Aubrey-Maturin series, also known as the Canon.
Shampoo Planet by Douglas Coupland.
This is Coupland’s second novel, and the first by him that I read, back in the day, when the Nineties were young (it’s written in 1992). I don’t think I’ve read Generation X in the original.
Like all Coupland’s early novels, this is an amusing read.
Quick work was done of the following works this long weekend.
Newton’s Wake, by Ken Macleod.
Classic space opera. Less well-plotted than the author’s other novels. This feels more of a collection of cool ideas and scenarios (how do you get an artifact off a planet that’s smack-dab in the output of a pulsar?) than a real novel. MacLeod’s trademark politics is not really to be seen.
Ares Express, by Ian MacDonald.
Set in the same universe as the Hundred Years of Solitude pastiche Desolation Road, this is more of the same Martian future — anarchist, caste-ridden, and filled with BIG trains. A nice read if you don’t have to pay for it.
Zeitgeist, by Bruce Sterling.
A re-read. An extended riff on pop music and the seamy underbelly of the last days of the twentieth century. Rather light-weight, but filled with Sterling’s trademark zany descriptions. No characters actually exist, as they all talk in exactly the same way. That is, like Sterling himself.
Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis.
The first part of Lewis’ “Space Trilogy”. Interesting read. I may be older, but the religious themes are stronger here than in the Narnia books. Nice demolishment of a pro-coloniast straw man in the final chapters.
A Discworld novel.
The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: a Trilogy in Five Parts, by Douglas Adams.
Some books simply don’t age along with you. When I first read the first two books in the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide series in high school, they were the funniest books I’ve ever read (even in Swedish translation, which is excellent). Now, however, the lustre is gone.
Also, the last novel (Mostly Harmless) ends very strangely. Lots of loose ends…
I re-read this to freshen my memory of the books in anticipation of the upcoming movie. I think that it the movie is “Terry-Gilliamised” — I could totally see a movie in the same vein as Time Bandits — it should be a huge success. There’s a lot of action in the books, and you can get a pretty good movie by boiling them down to an hour-and-a-half of script.
Oh, and I finally grokked the meaning of SubEthaEdit…
The Haunted Wood, by Allen Weinstein.
A rather dry, factual account of Soviet espionage in the US around the Second World War.
Many interesting stories, presented in a workmanlike style. Spying as a not very exciting vocation. Non-judgemental, though. The Soviet operatives were just doing their jobs, so to speak. But the price paid by the agents was sometimes very heavy.
The Minority Report and other stories, by Philip K. Dick.
Dick is perhaps the only pulp-era SF writer who’s been absorbed by the US academe. These stories are short and rather political, with plenty of Cold War paranoia and nuclear holocaust angst to fuel them.
Miss Wyoming by Douglas Coupland.
I read this book in about 24 hours, a very enjoyable read. Like William Gibson’s, Coupland’s prose is fluid and nearly frictionless, and he relies on this property to slip the reader effortlessly through plots that are thin and rather silly.
Like Microserfs, Miss Wyoming offers glimpses into the incubators of popular culture — in this case: Hollywood. But unlike his depiction of hackers in love, his LA cast seems cardboard-like. The central protagonist’s history of drug and sex abuse are alluded to, but seem tacked on, not part of his character at all. And the eponymous Miss Wyoming is a blank slate, an impossibly naif ex-beauty queen who’s words of wisdom are not hers at all, but transparently the author’s.
Enjoyable read, none the less.
The Last Grain Race, by Eric Newby.
18-year old Eric Newby signs on as an apprentice on the barque Moshulu in 1938, bound for Australia for grain. His middle-class background contrasts with the Finns and Ålanders serving alongside him in the fo’csle of this last example of a sailing merchant ship. With humour and warmth he tells the tale of sailing round Africa to Australia and back via Cape Horn.
A great read, like all books by Newby.
The Pragmatic Programmer by A. Hunt and D. Thomas.
There’s a lot to like about this book. The authors advocate a pragmatic approach to developing software: use what works. Don’t get bogged down in methodologies, communicate effectively, test ruthlessly.
The edition I read was pretty Unix-centric, which is fine by me. But if you’re working in a MS environment you might be forgiven for being mystified by Makefiles and Emacs.
I myself enjoy using Emacs for day-to-day editing, but I think a well-designed IDE can leverage a language in way that a text editor cannot. MS Visual Studio.NET was very nice, and the authors talk a lot about the browsers available in the Smalltalk world. There are advantages in both approaches. I’d rather write documentation in Emacs than in Word, for example.
I’ve been inspired to use a few of the principles expounded in the book in this very weblog. For example:
The DRY principle (“Don’t repeat yourself). Earlier I had a list of links in the sidebar that was duplicated in my Bloglines setup. So I wrote a script that fetches my blogroll from Bloglines and puts it in its own post. Now I only have to maintain my blog links in one place. The same principle applies to my reading list and the data of what I’ve listened to on Audioscrobbler.
Decoupling. I’m trying to keep the internal links of this weblog consistent and decoupled from the current implementation (i.e., that it’s situated on http://gerikson.com/blog. That way I can set it up somewhere else with little or no effort. (This is in no way a vote of non-confidence in the allaboutsymbian.com team who very generously let me have some space on their server. It’s just that I’m planning on getting my own server sometime and I want to be prepared for that eventuality.)
The New York Review of Books, vol. LI.
The NYRB is always interesting. I usually find two or three articles that are worth reading, but I try to slog through all of them. As it’s my father’s subscription, I usually read two or three when I visit my parent’s. After Christmas I grabbed all the issues for 2004, and I’ve been reading them since then.
Reading a whole volume does get a little tedious, however. The paper is pretty topical, so there was a lot of election coverage. Some things, like Abu Graib or Michael Massig’s indictment of the American press on their toadying coverage of Bush’s casus belli retain their topicality still. Others feel more dated.
I’ve added some books to the reading list based on the reviews.
Intelligence in War: Knowledge of the Enemy from Napoleon to Al-Qaeda by John Keegan.
A series of case studies on the use of intelligence in warfare. Mostly centered around WW2. The Al-Qaeda reference seems a later add-on to boost sales.
Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett.
A Discworld novel. ‘Nuff said.
Dr. Strangelove’s America: Society and Culture in the Atomic Age by Margot A. Henriksen.
A sort of cultural history of the Cold War. Through dissections of popular films and books, especially Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, Henriksen exposes the corrosive effects of nuclear weapons on American morals and society.
Heavy Weather by Bruce Sterling.
Re-read this for the nth time. The prose and ideas are top-notch, but the story isn’t really up to scratch.
Update: could Katrina mark the start of this particular future?
Johnny and the Dead by Terry Pratchett.
An enjoyable non-Discworld novel.
Also short, I finished it in a day.
Ilium by Dan Simmons
An absolute corker of a book, weaving together Homer, Shakespeare, and the far future in a heady mix.
I haven’t read Simmons’ earlier Hyperion novels, but now that I’ve found he’s a great writer, I most definitely will.
Ship of Fools by Richard Paul Russo.
A “novel of ideas” that still stays pretty suspenseful. Granted, some of the ideas went over my head. I think a practising Christian would have more enjoyment of those parts of the book. But still an effective SF thriller.
Soundtrack: Anna Ternhiem, Somebody Outside.
Revelation Space by Alistair Reynolds.
Space Opera in the hard SF mould. Full of cool neologisms (lighthugger, reefersleep) and well-written, despite a predilection for the word caul.
Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve read it before, but the scenes of carnage and mayhem seem a little bloodless, and the characters aren’t as fleshed-out as they could be. Entertaining none the less.
Soundtrack: Lisa Loeb, Cake and Pie and The Way It Really Is.
A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge.
An absolutely brilliant SF novel, with the right mix of hard science and sense of wonder. If it has a fault, it’s that the central love story is a bit weak. But the aliens are well realised, and the apparent anthropomorphism in the beginning of the novel is really part of the plot.
What am I reading now? The reading list has been updated.
The Pirate Wars by Peter Earle.
A well-written, comprehensive history of piracy.
Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan.
A classic noir story updated with cyberpunkish themes. Full of sex and gore. Very entertaining.
Damn Good Show by Derek Robinson
Goodbye Mickey Mouse by Len Deighton
Two very different books about the same period of time: the bomber war against Germany in World War 2.
In Damn Good Show, Derek Robinson writes about bombers, having written about fighters in Goshawk Squadron and A Good Clean Fight.. He brings to the story his trademark humour and nihilism. This time though, he doesn’t kill off all his characters by the end, instead leaving a little ray of hope that some might come through the horrors of war and make a life on the other side.
Along the way, he debunks many myths about the wartime RAF, but doesn’t subtract anything from the extraordinary courage that it took to bomb an enemy country in pitch-black, freezing planes.
Deighton’s book is much more traditional view — the cold, squalor, and fear experienced by the American pilots protecting the bombers in P-51:s is present, but somehow he doesn’t convey as much realism as Robinson. The love story, although detailed, is banal. The characters are from central casting — the brainy, handsome Eastener, the brash uncultured guy from New Mexico, the beautiful English girl who loves them both. Deighton fleshes them out, but they still look and feel like cardboard.
Love and War in the Appenines by Erik Newby.
Inspired by the Colditz book I re-read this classic of escape literature.
Of course, this being Newby, it is also very funny.
Redemption Ark by Alistair Reynolds.
The second part of the Inhibitor trilogy. Nice enough read. Reynolds can’t do love scenes, or feelings at all for that matter, but makes up for it in plot and sense-of-wonder.
Singularity Sky by Charles Stross.
An entertaining if uneven romp through a universe where nanotech disrupts post-Tsarist colony worlds and where an uploaded civilisation does all it can do to prevent entities from changing the past, thus editing them out of history.
A big part of the book (a bit too long) is a hilarious sendup of the kind of neo-Napolonic space navies as described by David Weber in the Honor Harrington series.
Blood, Tears and Folly: an objective look at World War II by Len Deighton.
I was pleasantly surprised by this book. Deighton’s Goodbye Mickey Mouse didn’t impress me, but this is a nice “amateur” history of WWII. Contains nice backgrounds to the different conflicts, with and emphasis on the tech aspects of the war.
I’ve really read too much about the Second World War. The problem is that the war’s status (in the US at least) as “the last good war”, together with the “Band of Brothers” aesthetics and the multitude of video games set there almost make the whole thing like a comic book. Despite the blood and guts falling out, the war is still like those 50’s and 60’s comics where heroic Brits and Yanks fight against Krauts and Yaps.
The Stone Canal by Ken MacLeod (re-read).
Fscking brilliant. ‘Nuff said.
Pattern Recognition by William Gibson.
Compulsively readable, like everything Gibson has written. But the beginning is much better than the end, which feels contrived and flat.
Like Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, this book shows that good SF is really about our own time.
The Cassini Division by Ken MacLeod (re-read).
Continuing my MacLeod jag. This is also not as good The Star Fraction and The Stone Canal, but as a plausible utopia, it kinda works.
The Sky Road by Ken MacLeod (re-read).
The final installment of McLeod’s series of books about the fall and rise of a socialist-anarchist society.
Possibly the weakest of the four, but enjoyable none the less.
Update: Ken MacLeod has a blog. The things you find when you putz around the ‘Net…
Flight of Passage by Rinker Buck.
A well-written, poignant memoir about two boys and their flight from New Jersey to California, both honouring and removing themselves from their difficult father.
Imperium, by Ryszard Kapuscinski.
A travel writer mostly known for his writings on the Third World, Kapuscinski tells us about his encounters with the Imperium — Russia, first in its Czarist incarnation, then as the Soviet Union, and lastly stumbling towards a new system, which seems unlikely to be democracy in the Western sense.
From the harrowing account of his childhood in Soviet-occupied Poland, to the recollections of camp inmates in Magadan and the tragedy of Armenia, Kapuscinski paints a bleak picture of a great country plundered and murdered by generations of ruthless rulers.
This passage sums up the Soviet period. A batch of deportees has arrived in Magadan after a freezing sea voyage. They are counted, slowly, by illiterate guards:
The half-naked deportees stood motionless in a blizzard, lashed by the gales. Finally, the escorts delivered their routine admonition: A step to the left or a step to the right is considered an escape attempt — we shoot without warning! This identical formula was uniformly applied throughout the entire territory of the USSR. The whole nation, two hundred million strong, had to march in tight formation in a dictated direction. Any deviation to the left or the right meant death.
A democratic future in Russia seems unlikely:
The Russian land, its characteristics and resources, favor the power of the state. The soil of native Russia is poor, the climate cold, the day, for the greater part of the year, short. Under such natural conditions, the earth yields meager harvests, there is recurrent famine, the peasant is poor, too poor to become independent. The master or the state has always had enormous power over him. The peasant, drowning in debt, has nothing to eat, is a slave.
On the future:
And yet this country’s future can be seen optimistically. Large societies have great internal strength. They have sufficient vital energy and inexhaustible supplies of all kinds of power so as to be able to raise themselves up from the most grievous setbacks and emerge from the most serious crises.
Update: Just saw a TV programme about Kapuscinski, A Poet of the Frontline. So now I’m adding The Emperor to my reading list.
Brev från nollpunkten by Peter Englund.
A collection of essays about the defining moments of the last century: the First World War, the Great Terror, the Holocaust, the Allied bombings of Germany and Japan, and the atomic bomb over Nagasaki.
Also contains an essay about the eery similarities of Nazi and Stalinist architecture.
Absolution Gap by Alastair Reynolds
(Title shamelessly stolen from P.M. Agapow’s review of a different novel.)
Space opera in the Iain M. Banks mould, with bold sweeping vistas and more or less dysfunctional characters. Unlike Banks, this is hard SF, which means that the speed of light is still an absolute limit. Other than this, anything goes.
Reading this prompted me to re-read Revelation Space, the first novel set in this universe, and after just a few pages I can say that this novel is not up to the standards set by that one. Despite this, it is an entertaining read and more well written than most.
Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town by Paul Theroux.
This is the best book I’ve read in a long time. Partly because of the great writing, partly because my own background growing up in Kenya, and partly for the fact that Theroux has mellowed quite a bit. I remember his alter-ego in My Secret History as a prick, which is perhaps ungenerous as that book is a novel. His previous travel books have also left a sour taste in my mouth, but here he’s much more generous to the people he meets.
The chapter on Kenya is depressing, as my memories of childhood there are happy, and I could see a bit of what he describes when we went back some years ago.
Two books have been added to my reading list after this chapter:
- Graham Hancock, The Lords of Poverty: The Power, Prestige and Corruption of the International Aid Business
- Michael Maren, The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity
A point Theroux makes when visiting Malawi, where he worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Sixties, is that only Africans can help Africa. The vast influx of foreign aid and charity hasn’t helped much. I’m sure that Africa’s problems are not due to aid and charity — the effects of colonialism and unfair trade practices by the rich world are much bigger factors — but aid hasn’t helped.
Theroux paints a bleak picture of a continent that just can’t be able to get its act together. He offers no solutions, only observations. But those are made with such clarity that the reader is left with the feeling that things will get better, one day.
PS Cecil Rhodes dreamt of an railway from the Cape to Cairo. Theroux has no such dreams, and he travels in the other direction.
A Good Walk Spoiled: Days and Nights on the PGA Tour by John Feinstein.
I now know more than I thought I ever wanted to know about professional golf in the US. Synopsis: it’s damn hard, but if you’re good and lucky, you too can fly to tournaments in a private jet.
The first sports book I’ve read, interesting experience. All aspects of society are filled with jargon. If you know nada about golf, read something else. If you know the difference between a birdie and a bogey, it’s recommended.
Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks.
Although Banks’ Culture novels are always enjoyable, this one feels like he’s coasting.
Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick.
A well written popular history of nonlinear dynamics.
Boys and Girls Forever by Alison Lurie.
A collection of essays about childrens literature.
Svenska förintelsevapen by Wilhelm Agrell.
A history of the Swedish plans to build WMDs, specifically a plutonium bomb and VX and mustard gas.
Never got past the planning stage due to politics and a new sense of the term “international security”.
The last chapter has interesting info concerning Iraq’s gas and nuclear programmes after Gulf War 1.
Body of Secrets by James Bamford.
An “exposé” of the NSA. This book has a hacked-together feel, as if it was composed of several magzine articles. The author veers from describing the NSA as an all-knowing threat to democracy and liberty, to telling us about glitches, catastrophes, and bureaucracy hampering the Agency’s ability to protect the US from it’s enemies.
There’s some interesting information in here though (assuming that the information is accurate):
The description of how Israel attacked a Sigint ship during the Six Days War.
The capture of another Sigint ship by the North Koreans in 1969.
How the Viet Minh could monitor US radio traffic during the Vietnam war, as the Americans didn’t bother to use communication security.
The sum of the book seems to be that, yes, the NSA can listen to every phone call and read every mail, but that they don’t have enough qualified people to make sense of what they’re picking up.
Must … install … GPG …
Venona: spåren från ett underrättelsekrig by Wilhelm Agrell.
A history of the Venona telegrams intercepted in Sweden during the Second World War, and the implications of their decoding on the revelations of Soviet espionage in Sweden during the period.
Man, that was a long sentence.
Agrell describes the Venona decrypts as the “Dead Sea Rolls of the Cold War”. The limited decryption of the traffic meant that the recovered plaintext nearly raised more questions than it answered.
Colditz: the Definitive History by Henry Chancellor.
An entertaining history of the famous WW2 POW camp.
The most interesting thing about this book is the fact that Colditz, despite being the “prison of last resort” for repeat escapers and Deutschfeindlich, was actually more humane than many other places in Nazi Germany. Compared to concentration, extermination, and slave labour camps, it was a “bad hotel”.
Action This Day, Michael Smith and Ralph Erskine, editors. Bantam Press 2001. ISBN 0593 049101.
A collection of essays about Bletchley Park during the Second World War.
The most entertaining one is by the late John Chadwick.
This is how he describes his arrival in Heliopolis following the evacuation of Alexandria in 1942:
My arrival created administrative chaos, since I was a lone naval rating attached to an Army Intelligence Unit, itself attached to an RAF station.
He was later promoted “Temporary Sub-Lieutenant (Special Branch) RNVSR” because the material he handled was classed ‘Officers Only’.
Later, after the Italian Armistice, he wanted to promote code discipline in the Aegean:
[…] I volunteered to go on the next mission to act as liaison with the Italian Navy in Leros, in the hope of preventing any further breaches of security. My suggestion was rejected, and I was told brutally that my superiors did not mind if I were killed, but they were unwilling to take the risk of my being taken prisoner.
Chadwick later deciphered Linear B along with Michael Ventris.
Fire in the Lake by Frances Fitzgerald.
An excellent history/reportage about Vietnam during the American War.
Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War by Paul Fussell.
A blend of personal memoir, history, and literary criticism centering around WW2.
”(…) what time seems to have shown out later selves is that perhaps there was less coherent meaning in the events of wartime than we had hoped. Deprived of a satisfying final focus by both the enormousness of the war and the unmanageable copiousness of its verbal and visual residue, all the revisitor of this imagery can do, turning now this way, now that, is to indicate a few components of the scene. And despite the preponderance of vileness, not all are vile.”
The Bomber War: Arthur Harris and the Allied Bomber Offensive 1939-1945 by Robin Niellands
A “fair and balanced” history of the Allied bombing campaigns during World War 2. A book similar to The Most Dangerous Enemy: A History of the Battle of Britain by Stephen Bungay.
Niellands doesn’t make any excuses for the Allied bombing. As he writes, there was a war on. And it is worth remembering that area bombing of civilians was initiated by the Germans, in Guernica, Warzaw, Coventry, and London. But the futility and horror of the bombing still remains. The point is not that area bombing was immoral. The war was immoral. But it still had to be fought.
Arthur Harris and his Command fought and died for the right of others to vilify their memory.
The First World War by John Keegan
A history of WWI.
The opening and closing chapters are eloquent in their condemnation of this horrible conflict, the defining event of the twentieth century. But the intervening ones are dry history, failing to convey the horror of the fighting.
For a novelist’s view of the war, read Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks.
Piece of Cake by Derek Robinson.
A brilliant book about fighter pilots in France and England in the beginning of World War 2.
Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctorow.
20 years in the future, IRC pals from the same timezones help each other out to try to further their Tribes’ way of life — easygoing PST, hard-hitting EST, and stodgy, state-loving GMT. Each Tribe has agents in the other’s territory, working in management consultancies, trying to undermine the enemy’s competitiveness with hare-brained theories.
When our hero comes up with a great P2P scheme his friend and lover conspire to put him away in a mental hospital so that they don’t have to share the profits.
Not as far “out there” as Down and out in the Magic Kingdom by the same author, but still a great read. Especially since it’s free.
Goshawk Squadron by Derek Robinson.
This is Robinson’s first book about war in the air. The dogfighting over France in 1918 is presented as just as bad as the fighting in the trenches. Powerful stuff.
The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien.
Re-reading this for the n-th time. The final episode of the film trilogy inspired me. I was pleased to find out that my internal movie was still the same. I was also impressed that Jackson was so faithful to the book.
Too bad the Swedish translation is so flawed. I would really like Leo to read this. He’s old enough but his English’s not good enough for the original. Viking will be old enough when the new translation is ready.