Saturday, 27 May 2017

Human Acts

(May 2017)
  


Despite the facts that South Korea is just across the water from the island I currently call home, and that aspects of its history loom (disproportionately?) large in the realm of Japan’s diplomatic efforts, I understand its recent past in only the broadest of strokes.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Full Fathom Five / Last First Snow

Max Gladstone, 2014/2015
(April 2017)
  


OK, so I’m aware that there’s a sixth installment of the Craft Sequence coming out later this year, but I think I’m going to hold off on the rest for the immediate future. I think Gladstone is better at ending books than beginning them.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Gone to the Forest

(April 2017)
  


Bouncing into this straight off The North Water is not something I’d necessarily advise to anyone else, as both are short but well crafted stories about unpleasant people in unpleasant places doing unpleasant things. I’m also not entirely sure what either book was trying to say.
  

Friday, 21 April 2017

Dark Tales

(April 2017)
  


A new collection of short stories from Shirley Jackson, most of which have previously been printed in other collections, and I think all of them first appeared in various periodicals during the 1950’s. Annoyingly, I think the latter form of publishing does more for them than anthologizing them together like this, as en mass it becomes clear that the writing, or more specifically the plotting, can be fairly formulaic. In many ways the biggest weakness of this collection is the collection.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Hotel Iris

Yoko Ogawa, 1996 [Stephen Snyder, 2010]
(March 2017)



Odd little Lolita-esque novella about a bored and repressed high school dropout getting into a sadomasochistic relationship with an elderly man. Divertingly uncomfortable in and of itself, but to be honest the thing that sticks in my mind the most is how the blurb on the back gives away plot points that don’t occur until three pages before the end. I get that the constant cry of “Spoilers!” can be pretty tedious, but really. Three pages from the end.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Three Parts Dead / Two Serpents Rise

Max Gladstone, 2012/2013
(March 2017)
  


Welcome to the Craft Sequence, I guess. Good, solid secondary (?) world urban fantasy, featuring lawyer-wizards, gods, and disaffected wage slaves. It’s kind of addictive, so I’m probably going to work my way through the first five books in fairly short order (the sixth is due out this autumn). More thoughts on the deeper meanings of this blend of High Fantasy and Late Capitalism when I’ve got it all under my belt, as I’m not entirely sure it’s all working quite as it should just yet. Short term, however, I’ll merely state that Three Parts Dead is a better book than Two Serpents Rise: the central character is more compelling, the philosophical editorializing is less intrusive, and the story is less reliant on a fairly predictable face-heel turn. As I write this I’m partway through Full Fathom Five, and while some of these flaws are still evident, I’m pleased to report that for the most part things are definitely moving in the right direction.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Record of a Night Too Brief

Hiromi Kawakami, 1996 [Lucy North, 2017]
(March 2017)



On the one hand, I loved this, on the other, I found myself in a broadly grudging agreement with Ishihara Shintaro, which those of you who know me (and him) will understand is not a position I ever really wanted to find myself in.

Friday, 7 April 2017

The Moor’s Account

(March 2017)
  


A tale of imperial hubris gone awry, as it inevitably will. Reminds me in many ways of Dan Simmons’s The Terror, if that book had been written without the supernatural elements.

Monday, 3 April 2017

A Grain of Wheat

(March 2017)
  


Set in and around the Mau Mau Rebellion which preceded Kenyan independence, an incident I’d previously heard of but know shamefully little about. Political dimensions aside, what’s surprising about this book is just how much it sweeps, despite its relatively short length (barely 240 pages). I was expecting the politics, I wasn’t expecting the melodrama, nor was I expecting them to mesh quite as well as they did.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life

(March 2017)



I am, once more, rendered incoherent by Li's writing. I genuinely can't fathom how anyone is capable of producing anything simultaneously so precise yet so supple, so pitiless yet so profoundly humane. Just extraordinary.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Viriconium

(March 2017)
  


A full compendium of M. John Harrison’s Viriconium stories, originally published separately (as three short novels and a short story collection) between 1971 and 1985. I’ve previously written about how superb Harrison is as a stylist, and while that’s clearly evident here, I also suspect that reading all these stories together like this didn’t really do them many favours.
  

Monday, 13 March 2017

The Stars Are Legion

(February 2017)



Very good, very meaty (figuratively and literally), but I also read this with an increasing sense of déjà vu.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Monday, 6 March 2017

Norse Mythology

(February 2017)



Asgard reimagined as the prototypical frat house. Which is not such a departure from the source material, to be honest.

Friday, 3 March 2017

The Steerswoman

(February 2017)
  


Continuing what has become an impromptu ‘Competent Women’ season here on this is how she fight start, we have the first volume of Rosemary Kirstein’s long- and glacially slow-running Steerswoman series.

Monday, 27 February 2017

City of Blades

(February 2017)



Excellent storytelling; just one more chapter and suddenly it’s 3 A.M. stuff. It's also dedicated to "Sir Terry", which pretty much guarantees that I'm going to look on it favourably.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Babel-17

(February 2017)



Working my way through the canon. Slim book, fat (if not entirely watertight) ideas. Thinking of collating a Linguistics in SF list. There’s this, Embassytown, Snow Crash, and of course 1984. Any other ideas?

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Too Like the Lightning

(January 2017)



I enjoyed this book. In places I enjoyed it very much indeed. Please bear that in mind, as I’m going to spend most of what follows talking about its many faults. Though to be honest, they’re all really manifestations of one fault. It is all, appropriately enough, just a little too… a little too.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Ninefox Gambit

(January 2017)



I think I’m becoming more nostalgic in my middle age, and especially so when it comes to my reading. More and more I find myself harking back to the things I read as young(er) adult, not so much conceptually but emotionally. Part of this is the natural passage of time and experience, I think, but the more comparators you have for something the harder it becomes for it to raise its head above the herd.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Ammonite

(January 2017)



Space opera of a sort, despite the fact very little of it takes place in space. Marge Taishan is an anthropologist charged with investigating the planet Jeep. Unknown generations ago it was settled by humans, whose society has long since reverted to pre-industrial modes. An attempt at recolonization failed once it was discovered that he planet harbours a virus which kills all men (and a good proportion of women), leaving the planet isolated and the survivors quarantined.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Near to the Wild Heart

(January 2017)



A stunning and mercifully short journey through the inner lives of a young woman in inter-war Brazil. Lispecter's works have had a bit of a renaissance in recent years (as far as I'm aware, at least), and I can see why. The prose switches seamlessly between mimesis and stream-of-consciousness, as the orphan Joanna creates her own worlds as she passes through being raised by intolerant relatives and a loveless marriage to the unfaithful Otávio. I say 'mercifully short' because the effect of this constant tumult is as exhausting as it is captivating, and in the perfect marriage of form and function the reader can occasionly become as exasperated with Joanna as the characters around her; god help me, but I genuinely laughed out loud at some of Otávio's more exasperated interjections. Excellent stuff.
  

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Death Sentences

(January 2017)



Death Sentences is, at least as far as plot goes, about a poem that causes anyone to read it to die. The blurb suggests that this conceit is shared with The Ring, but for me the obvious comparator is Monty Python:

Monday, 30 January 2017

Kolymsky Heights

(January 2017)



A surprisingly nostalgic reading experience, this. A ripsnorting thriller praised by a number of authors I like (Philip Pullman, Alastair Reynolds) and which, despite being set in the early 1990’s, has a distinctly Cold War feel that threw me right back into the Tom Clancy novels I ploughed through as a teenager. It’s also utterly ridiculous.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Sky Burial

(January 2017)



This is one of those ‘non-fiction’ books, like, say, In Cold Blood or Tokyo Vice, wherein you’re not quite sure exactly how much trust you should place in the ‘non’.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Half-Resurrection Blues

(January 2017)



Everyone wants coffee except Dr. Tijou, who prefers tea.

I'm struggling to explain why I found this line is so funny, but it provided my first book driven LOL of 2017: a good three or four minutes of guffawing about tea. I am, however, going to give an explanation a bash, because if nothing else it's going to be a good way of working through exactly why I enjoyed this book so much.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Signal to Noise

(January 2017)
  


The first book of the year gets 2017 off to a mixed start. On the one hand, this garnered a fair amount of praise and I can see why: it's well written, thoughtfully plotted, and the characters are only too believable. But on the other, it also served to remind me that coming of age stories really aren't my cup of tea at all. If I were less of a middle-aged curmudgeon I'd be able to praise this for more that its technical execution, but as it stands I'll just say that if pig-headed and self-obsessed teenagers are what floats your boat then you could do a lot worse than this.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Count Zero

(December 2016)



So I finally acquired a replacement copy of this, and it was good. In the light of having read most of Gibson’s other stuff it was a little underwhelming, to be honest, in that it’s a very, very obvious bridge between Neuromancer (the plot’s essentially a carbon copy) and the Bigend ‘cool hunting’ books, and it doesn’t manage to execute either aspect quite as well as those it links together. Judged as a stand-alone work, however, it’s a very slickly executed piece of cyberpunk, which is only to be expected, I suppose.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Hammers on Bone

(December 2016)



A lovely little noirish Lovecraft/Chandler mash-up set, hilariously, in early 21st century Croyden. Well, I say 'lovely'…

Monday, 9 January 2017

The Gunslinger

(December 2016)



I'm pretty sure I've read some Stephen King before, but I'm not sure what. I know I've read The Running Man, but I'm not so sure about stuff he's written under his real name. I've a vague recollection of a book featuring about a rich writer and a terrifying lake, which doesn't really narrow it down all that much.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Everfair

(December 2016)



Steampunk alternate history in the Belgian Congo. With a premise like that you know things are going to be interesting, at the very least.