Friday 4 May 2018


(March 2018)

A spy and a love story in three acts, of which the middle one is excellent, the first is an excessively detailed infodump, and the third is a little too bleak for its own good. All this adds up to a good book that needs, but repays (but then reclaims), quite a bit of patience.

Amberlough City is the capital of the self-named region that surrounds it, one of the four semi-autonomous states of the federation of Gedda. It’s a playground for what, in our world at least, we might label Jazz Age hedonism, and we explore it through the eyes of Cordelia Lehane, a burlesque dancer, Aristide Makricosta, her part-time MC and a full-time smuggler, and Cyril DePaul, his lover and a spy. Over the course of the first act it’s revealed that the far-right Ospie party is rising to power in one of Amberlough’s sister-states, and Cyril is dispatched in order to subvert their planned theft of the election. It goes wrong in a way I’m still not entirely sure about. In fact I’m not entirely sure about a lot of things, exactly, but it all (eventually) clicks into place when you realize that the Ospies are the Nazis and Gedda is a simplified version of 1920s Europe. The middle section of the book takes us on a rollicking gallop through a city in the throes of occupation, and it closes in a frankly distressing manner as the noose tightens around our three leads and all that they love.

Monday 30 April 2018

Raven Stratagem

(February 2018)

Less “Wow!” shock-of-the-old than its predecessor, but a better story. Somehow manages to avoid Middle Volume Syndrome, giving a whole, self-contained narrative while still holding back enough juice for the final installment. Lee’s only getting better as a writer, and the best news is that Revenant Gun comes out very soon indeed.

Friday 27 April 2018

Things We Lost in the Fire / Things We Found During the Autopsy

Mariana Enriquez, 2016 [Megan McDowell, 2017]
(February 2018)

I must confess I read these books simply for the story implied by the juxtaposition of their titles. This was unfair, as both short story collections are, in their own very different ways, very good indeed. The Enriquez is a slice of Argentinian weird noir, with an off-kilter, vaguely supernatural vibe that reads like Shirley Jackson’s edgier younger sister, while I literally cried laughing at the Manickavel. Things We Found During the Autopsy is a breathtaking collection of short, powerful, and often violently funny stories. Driven, urgent stories, though I was often unsure as to whether they were driven by satire or just sheer rage.

The Gentoo penguins will be confused and angry that you have accused them of slavery and invading the Caribbean … thus signalling the beginning of great violence.

Saturday 21 April 2018

Facing the Bridge

(January 2018)

After my first experience reading Tawada was something of a qualified success, I decided to try again with this older collection of three longish short stories. In summary, it confirms what I think I already knew—she’s an intriguing writer, and one worth engaging with, but not one I’ll ever really love. There’s just a little too much distance in her work, too much detachment to engage on that more emotional level. To be fair though, that’s probably deliberate.

Unlike Memoirs of a Polar Bear, the stories here have been translated into English straight from their original Japanese, rather than passing through German on the way. Germany still features prominently in the first tale, though, as it splices the life of (the real-life) Anton Wilhelm Amo with the experiences of (the fictional) Tamao, a Japanese exchange student studying in Leipzig.

Monday 16 April 2018

A Man of Shadows

(January 2018)

Nocturnal noirish nonsense with Noon. I still remain enamoured of the Noon of Pollen and Vurt I read in my late-teens, the dislocation of the familiar that seemed so startling when one first encounters it, which means I can forgive him a lot. I do find myself agreeing with this Strange Horizons review, however, in that the atmosphere is brilliant, but I’m not quite sure what the point of the rest of it is. I’ll still be buying the sequel, though.

Friday 13 April 2018

The Stone Sky

(January 2018)

Wrapping up another trilogy as the New Year dawns. (Dawned). I think don’t think it’s an understatement to say that Jemisin’s Broken Earth will eventually come to be seen as significant as Gibson’s Sprawl. While not perhaps the strongest entry of the series (it lacks The Fifth Season’s tripartite trickery and The Obelisk Gate’s almost claustrophobic development of character) it’s nonetheless an excellent climax for an outstanding series. I’ve read a fair number of SFnal three-parters over the last few years, but this is easily the best of the decade, and I can’t see anything coming close to challenging it.

Monday 9 April 2018

Mona Lisa Overdrive

(January 2018)

The last of the Sprawl trilogy and, ironically, a rather contained affair. Though I am writing this a couple of months after reading, and my memory isn’t what it was. It all takes place in a derelict factory and the wider fields of cyberspace, which I suppose is the point—the disconnect between the physical and the virtual.

It’s not one of Gibson’s stronger works, to be honest. All the loose ends seem to get wrapped up rather too neatly, to the point where the reappearance of certain characters seems to verge on fan service. Which reminds me that Molly Millions plays a significant part and that, actually, quite a lot of stuff happens in London and other cities so my opening line was touch unfair. Still and all, it does eventually boil down to a guy on a gurney wired into the matrix, so I wasn’t all wrong.

Saturday 7 April 2018


(December 2017)

The first of Malka Older’s Centenal Cycle, the last of which comes out this summer. Given all the other trilogies I’ve still to catch up on, starting a new one seems like a bit of a leap of faith, but I’m very glad I did. The “relate it to what the reader knows” tagline would be something like “Snow Crash meets The West Wing,” in that Older takes the almost throw-away concept of micropolities from Stevenson’s book and then explores that through the slightly melodramatic viewpoints of young political operatives working behind the scenes. The two main PoV characters are Ken, a fixer for the broadly progressive Policy1st party, and Mishima, a security chief for Information.

Following a worldwide conflict of some sort (Isn't it always?), the world's governance has been reconfigured into a kind of global first past the post system. Each constituency is an even 100,000 people, which obviously mans that they're packed very tight in urban areas and cover large swathes of wilderness. In major cities the laws thus change from block to block, à la Snow Crash. There are global elections once every decade, and campaign for the third such is in full swing. These are policed by Information, which is essentially Google with its own police force, and the closest thing this world has to a global bureaucracy.