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.