Sunday 24 December 2017

A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens, 1835-1854
(December 2017)
Every year I mean to read this book at Christmas, and every year I forget until about December 29th, at which point the moment has rather passed. I finally got the pitifully small affair that represents my act together this year, and it was in no way worth the wait.
He’s not subtle as a writer, is he? Soporific at points, certainly (though this is as much about the influence of the passage of time on prose style as Dickens’s writing itself), but never afraid to assert and reassert and rereassert the Moral of the Story until the reader has been bludgeoned into shame-faced coma of ethical contrition. The most notably thing about reading A Christmas Carol—having obviously been exposed to adaptations of it in various other media for as long as I can remember—was how Scrooge has basically repented of all his sins by the midway point of the visit of the Ghost of Christmas Past, yet we’ve still got two-and-a-half more apparitions’ worth of spectral hectoring to go.

Friday 1 December 2017

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Bookmark Six

Having made a sort of peace with the state of the world (or, at the very least, having developed better coping mechanisms for dealing with the Ongoing Shitshow), I was able to read something that approached a decent number of books this year.

Monday 20 November 2017

Agents of Empire

Noel Malcom, 2015
(November 2017)

A fascinating book. Takes as its premise the interconnected stores of a family of minor Albanian nobility, and follows them through their various trials and tribulations in Venice, the Balkans, and Istanbul in the late 1500s. Slightly ponderous writing, but not overbearingly so, and every so often contains gems such as this: "…the chronicler Ureche would have nothing good to say about Aron. His main passions, allegedly, were 'pillage, debauchery, gambling and bagpipe-players.'" Thorough, enlightening, and on occasion surprisingly funny.

Friday 17 November 2017

Never Let Me Go

(November 2017)

Gyah. What a singularly frustrating book. What, to be more specific, a singularly frustrating narrator.

Friday 10 November 2017

Within the Sanctuary of Wings

(October 2017)

And so the Lady Trent books reach a suitably rousing conclusion. Suitable in that while great affairs of state and nation are settled with no little help from our protagonist, for most of the book not very much seems to happen at all. It’s Shangri-La with scurvy, in a nutshell.

Wednesday 8 November 2017

The Remains of the Day

(October 2017)

Reread this for a thing. I wasn’t going to write too much about it here, as this isn’t the thing (yet), but I find that I have thoughts that are not so directly connected to the thing and so here we are.

Friday 27 October 2017

Money Shot

(October 2017)

I love the unabashed pulpiness of the Hard Case Crime covers, even if I’d never actually read one prior to this. It certainly lives up (down?) to its billing.

Wednesday 25 October 2017

Call for the Dead

(October 2017)

I’d not read any le Carré before, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this. A satisfyingly unthrilling thriller about downbeat spies in 1960’s suburbia. An amateur dramatics society plays a significant role. A supporting character keeps bees. The main character spends much of the time in bed. The espionage equivalent of a cosy catastrophe, which is exactly what I needed on a four-hour train ride through rural Japan in the pissing rain.

Friday 20 October 2017

Nowhere to Be Found

(October 2017)

A book so slim that even calling it a novella might be pushing it; I finished it in under an hour. It’s good; interesting in that kind of unanchored, dissociative way that seems to be becoming something of a trend for female East Asian writers in translation.

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Four Roads Cross

(October 2017)

The culmination of the first round (Series? Season?) of the Craft Sequence. I've finally learned not to bounce out of one of these books straight into another, so Ruin of Angels will have to wait, despite the lure of the brand new shiny-shiny.

Monday 9 October 2017

Fever Dream

(September 2017)

This is a gloriously unsettling little book; the kind you can polish off in under two hours but will stay with you for a long, long time after. It's been getting enough press elsewhere that I can't really add anything new here, so I'll content myself by saying that, for all that the underlying mystery turns out to be a touch disappointing in its mundanity, this is still an absolutely terrific (in all senses) demonstration of tone and voice. Recommended.

Monday 2 October 2017


(September 2017)

Derivative. Animal Farm reimagined with an overly complex plot, too many characters, and a frankly disappointing lack of relatable livestock.

Monday 18 September 2017

The Vagrant

(August 2017)

I remember this book generating a fair bit of buzz a couple of years back, but it doesn’t really live up to it (or, to be fairer and more accurate, to my memory of it). There are a lot of interesting parts here, but somehow it never quite adds up to more than the sum of them.

Monday 11 September 2017


(June 2017)

A lot of life has intervened since I read this book, as it has a wont to do. From what I can remember, Heathern fills the chronological space between Random Acts of Senseless Violence and Ambient, and so it was kind of an odd experience reading it prespoiled, as it were. Still entertaining enough, certainly, but lacking the linguistic virtuosity of the former of the ludicrous satirical anger of the latter.

Friday 30 June 2017

The Essex Serpent

(June 2017)

A drily amusing (and on occasion laugh-out-loud funny) historical novel from the author of After Me Comes the Flood. The Essex Serpent has been receiving plaudits left, right, and centre, and it’s certainly very readable (that most ambiguous word of praise); it’s a little over 400 pages and I got through it in a weekend. It’s not, on the surface, a hugely challenging book. Engaging, yes. Thoughtful, certainly. Erudite, even, but you don’t emerge at the end feeling as if you’ve been put through the wringer, emotionally or intellectually. This is, of course, not necessarily a bad thing at all.

Monday 26 June 2017

Central Station

(June 2017)

Central Station is a mid-future cyberpunkesque novel comprised of a dozen or so chapters, many of which were originally published as stand-alone short stories. They’ve obviously been reworked fairly carefully (or, more generously, were originally written with a very clear eye on the big picture), and for all that there is something of a central plot running through the book, its focus is very much on these interlinked vignettes exploring migration and belonging, faith and memory.

Monday 19 June 2017

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe

(June 2017)

It was only when I was about two-thirds of the way through this beautifully written novella that I learned it’s based on a H.P. Lovecraft story—The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. (Related note: I must at some point actually read some Lovecraft.) By that point it’s pretty clear that we’re deep into that kind of territory, what with shifting skies, uncaring gods, and caverns full of ghouls and nightmare tentacle beasts. Johnson’s use of language is glorious, and it’s here wedded to a well-done but traditional quest narrative, which I suppose is fair enough, given the title. Even without a detailed knowledge of this book’s progenitor, it’s a couple of hours of joy. Recommended.

Thursday 15 June 2017

Red Girls

Kazuki Sakuraba, 2006 [Jocelyne Allen, 2015]
(June 2017)

Red Girls is a family saga, spanning sixty years in the town of Benimidori. It’s a company town, built around steelworks owned by the titular Akakuchibas, and we follow the family’s rise and, if not decline, then stagnation, as three generations of its women (and the town itself) exemplify the experiences of post-war Japan as a whole. This fictional community, it’s probably worth mentioning, is located on the very real, very provincial San’in coast of Chugoku, which is not so very far from where I live now.

Friday 9 June 2017

The Glorious Angels

(June 2017)

Justina Robson is a novelist whose scope of imagination frequently leaves me in awe, but whose plotting just as frequently leaves me scratching my head trying to work out exactly what’s going on. In this regard Glorious Angels, somewhat counterintuitively, seems to do slightly better than those of her other books I’ve read.

Wednesday 7 June 2017

Speak Gigantular

(May 2017)

This is an intriguing if slightly uneven short story collection set largely (but not exclusively) in London, but with enough fantastical elements that I was tempted to pitch a review to Strange Horizons. Ultimately, however, I’m not sure I’m capable of crafting a suitably insightful path through these stories, so you’ll just have to settle for some disjointed observations here instead. You’ll live.

Wednesday 31 May 2017

Food of the Gods

(May 2017)

Before we get into details about this book there are a couple of larger points I should make. The first is that it’s a compendium edition, collecting Khaw’s two previous Rupert Wong novellas (Rupert Wong: Cannibal Chef, [2015] and Rupert Wong and the Ends of the Earth [2017]), which is something I wish I knew before preordering it then also buying those novellas separately in order to get up to speed. This is how those nefarious publishers get you: Make blurbs so spoilery and disruptive of the reading experience that you give up reading them entirely, then use your carefully encouraged ignorance to get you to buy more stuff.

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


(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.