book log: June 2014 part 1

June 29, 2014

As previously noted, the book log is woefully out of date. However, I want to try and write up this year’s Hugo Voting Packet while it is still of some use to other people (and indeed me, for purposes of doing my ballot), so I’m skipping straight to this month instead of trying to keep it in order. Here are the three short story nominations I’ve read so far (if it wasn’t in epub, it didn’t go on the Kobo):

35) “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere”, John Chu (Tor.com, 02-2013)

Hugo short story finalist. The water of the title falls on anyone who lies — the less truthful what is said, the harder and colder the water falls. It’s possible to avoid the water by being careful with your phrasing, but that just makes it obvious that you’re being economical with the truth. What does it do to relationships, for both good and ill, when it becomes impossible to lie convincingly? Beautifully written character-driven short.

http://www.tor.com/stories/2013/02/the-water-that-falls-on-you-from-nowhere

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/the-water-that-falls-on-you-from-nowhere

Amazon uk
Amazon US

(DRM-free)

36) “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Tor.com, 04-2013)

Hugo short story finalist. Wishes for the year are sent floating down a Thai river, and it’s one village’s duty and privilege to gather the wishes up and grant them, in exchange for the money and gifts attached to the wishes. It’s a situation that’s ripe for exploitation, but all the lives around the river are connected, and wishes can be granted in surprising ways. It’s a fun concept and there’s some nice writing in it, but the story didn’t quite gel for me.

http://www.tor.com/stories/2013/04/the-ink-readers-of-doi-saket

(DRM-free)

37) “Selkie Stories Are for Losers”, Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons, Jan-2013)

Hugo short story finalist. First person narrative by a young woman who has good reason to believe that selkie stories are for losers. It’s difficult to say much about it without spoilers. I liked it but thought it took time to get going.

http://www.strangehorizons.com/2013/20130107/selkie-f.shtml


book log July 2013 – part 3

May 31, 2014

More Hugo Voting Packet, plus an audiobook.

47) John Joseph Adams (editor) — Armored (anthology)

This anthology was included in the Hugo Voting Packet as the sample of Adam’s work for the short form editor category. As one might expect from the title, the stories are all about powered armour. However, it’s not just military powered armor. There are plenty of civilian uses, and some of them get an airing in this book.

Most of the stories are at least readable, and some are excellent. The anthology does suffer a little from the stories starting to seem too much the same after a while, but I think that could be dealt with by not reading the whole thing in a couple of sittings. If sf shorts about powered armour are your thing, this is a nice solid anthology.

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/armored-1

48) Clarkesworld

Sample issue of the zine, included in the Hugo Voting Packet as the sample of Neil Clarke’s work for the short form editor category. I enjoyed this a lot, and if I had more reading time I’d be very tempted to get a subscription.

http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/

49) Ngaio Marsh — Surfeit of Lampreys (audiobook)

The tenth Inspector Alleyn novel, abridged on 3 CDs and ably read by Anton Lesser. The Lampreys of the title are in fact titled, being of a spendthrift aristocratic family, eccentric beyond belief, broke as usual, and depending upon a handout from an extremely wealthy uncle. Who won’t play along, and of course is found murdered. An amusing listen. The novel also available as a full cast dramatisation from BBC Radio 4.

Amazon UK
Amazon US

50) Analog

Sample issue of the zine, included in the Hugo Voting Packet as the sample of Stanley Schmidt’s work for the short form editor category. Some excellent fiction in this issue.


Book log July 2013 Part 2 – Hugo novellas

May 31, 2014

I read four of the novellas on the 2013 Hugo ballot. Two of them in particular I think are worth explicitly recommending: Aliette de Bodard”s “On a Red Station, Drifting”, and Brandon Sanderson’s “The Emperor’s Soul”.

43) Aliette de Bodard – On a Red Station, Drifting

Blurb: For generations Prosper Station has thrived under the guidance of its Honoured Ancestress: born of a human womb, the station’s artificial intelligence has offered guidance and protection to its human relatives.

But war has come to the Dai Viet Empire. Prosper’s brightest minds have been called away to defend the Emperor; and a flood of disorientated refugees strain the station’s resources. As deprivations cause the station’s ordinary life to unravel, uncovering old grudges and tearing apart the decimated family, Station Mistress Quyen and the Honoured Ancestress struggle to keep their relatives united and safe. What Quyen does not know is that the Honoured Ancestress herself is faltering, her mind eaten away by a disease that seems to have no cure; and that the future of the station itself might hang in the balance…

A consequences-of-war story set on a space station that’s part of a large interstellar empire, one that’s descended from an ancient Asian empire back here on Earth. Not an uncommon theme, but what makes this story different is that although it’s inspired by a Chinese story, the empire’s ancestor is Ancient Vietnam, and it’s written by a Franco-Vietnamese.

de Bodard has built a world full of rich detail, and peopled it with strongly drawn characters, most of whom are coping with being the ones left tending the home front. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

More information on the author’s own website: http://aliettedebodard.com/bibliography/novels/on-a-red-station-drifting/

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/on-a-red-station-drifting

Amazon UK
Amazon US

44) Jay Lake — The Stars Do Not Lie

I finished it, but I found it hard going for personal reasons, and did not like it. Which is a shame, because I like Jay, and I’ve liked other work of his.

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/the-stars-do-not-lie

45) Nancy Kress – After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall

While I enjoyed this one and could see why it made the ballot, I find that a year on I don’t remember much about it and don’t feel any urge to re-read it, unlike the de Bodard and Sanderson novellas.

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/after-the-fall-before-the-fall-during-the-fall-a-novel

46) Brandon Sanderson — The Emperor’s Soul

Blurb: When Shai is caught replacing the Moon Scepter with her nearly flawless forgery, she must bargain for her life. An assassin has left the Emperor Ashravan without consciousness, a circumstance concealed only by the death of his wife. If the emperor does not emerge after his hundred-day mourning period, the rule of the Heritage Faction will be forfeit and the empire will fall into chaos.

Shai is given an impossible task: to create—to Forge—a new soul for the emperor in less than one hundred days while trapped behind a door sealed in her own blood.

This was absolutely stunning, one of the best things I read all year. I’ve never read any of Sanderson’s work before, but going from this I need to find some more. It’s a beautifully constructed story which demonstrates the strength of novella length. The soulstamp magic system is fascinating, and Sanderson’s exploration of the philosophical implications about identity makes for a complex story with a great deal of depth. It deservedly won the Hugo. If you like fantasy and you haven’t read this yet, check out the excerpt posted at Tor.com: http://www.tor.com/stories/2012/10/the-emperors-soul-excerpt

More information with buy links for various formats in various countries at the author’s website:

http://brandonsanderson.com/books/elantris/the-emperors-soul/

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/the-emperor-s-soul-1

Amazon UK
Amazon US


book log July 2013 – part 1

May 25, 2014

Back to the ever more neglected book log. I’m going to do July 2013 in several parts, because there are a lot of titles, some of which I did or can say something sensible about, and some of which I left too late.

July was Hugo Voting Packet month. I chugged my way through an awful lot of words that were up for a Hugo, and logged the short stories at the time.

3 short stories:

33) Ken Liu – Mono no Aware (Published in the anthology The World is Japanese)

A young Japanese man is sitting in the control room of a generation ship, minding the solar sail. As the story cuts between his present and his memories, the story gradually reveals how and why he came to be there, and why the choice he makes at the end of the story matters so very much. Beautifully written study of loss and survival, and made me want to read the rest of the anthology it appeared in.

34) Aliette de Bodard — Immersion

A lot of things are stuffed into this short story. Imperialism, whether economic, cultural, or in the recent past nakedly military. Class and money. Identity, and how it ties into the imperialism. The use and abuse of technology. Common themes, but handled deftly, and with a genuine sf slant to them. There’s some superb world-building done in a short story word count, and characters whose fate I care about. This one’s my pick for the Hugo, although it was a hard choice between this and Ken Lui’s story.

35) Kij Johnson — Mantis Wives

Take praying mantises, give them human intelligence and emotions so that we can identify with them — and leave them their insect behaviour patterns, described in beautiful language that heightens rather than hides the horror of what’s going on.

I can see why this made the Hugo ballot. But it really doesn’t work for me. Not voting for this one.

36-40) 5 Hugo novelettes
From the Hugo website:
“The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi”, Pat Cadigan (Edge of Infinity, Solaris)
“In Sea-Salt Tears”, Seanan McGuire (Self-published)
“Fade To White”, Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
“Rat-Catcher”, Seanan McGuire (A Fantasy Medley 2, Subterranean)
“The Boy Who Cast No Shadow”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Postscripts: Unfit For Eden, PS Publications)

All well-written, although they varied in how much I actually enjoyed reading them. I’ve left it too long and would have to re-read to review.

Two of the novels:

41) Lois McMaster Bujold — Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance

A novel from the Vorkosiverse, with Ivan in the starring role. Funny, romantic and smart, just like Ivan himself.

42) John Scalzi – Redshirts

Very, very meta novel about junior starship crew members who slowly realise that in another universe they’re fictional characters, and that what the show writers do to them in that universe bleeds over into theirs. Which is not a good thing if you’re a redshirt. It’s territory that’s been trodden before, even in Star Trek itself, but Scalzi does an impressive job. The main text is a lot of fun, with some thoughtful and moving sections; but it’s the codas which really make this book something special.


2014 book log: 2) Sam Starbuck — The City War

February 21, 2014

Roman Senator Marcus Brutus is a patriot, devoted to the Republic. Many of his days are spent actively working for the Republic, protecting the system he believes in. His main respite is the occasional trip to his country villa in the company of his dearest friend, and lover, Cassius. But his tireless work may not be enough, not when the consul Julius Caesar is taking more and more power to himself. When Cassius first proposes a drastic solution, Brutus rejects the idea, but as the months go by, it becomes ever more obvious that given enough time, Caesar will overthrow the Republic and make himself emperor.

I bought this because I love Sam’s fanfic, and expected him to do a good job of original fiction drawing on historical fact. I wasn’t disappointed. This is one of those novels where I think it can be enjoyed both by readers who know nothing about the historical characters, and by readers familiar with the historical story, or with Shakespeare’s play. There’s a solid story here that fleshes out the basic facts and brings Brutus to life as a real person, a decent, honorable man faced with a choice between evils. His decision is not a simple one, and is made over the course of months, as more and more evidence accumulates of what Rome’s future could be if Caesar is not reined in.

And it’s not just Brutus who’s brought to life here. There’s a good exploration of Cassius and his motives. In addition, there’s a brief but lovely portrait of Brutus’s wife Porcia, and a marriage that is a loving partnership and friendship, not just a useful front for a gay man. Along with the historical characters, there’s original character Tiresius, a teenage runaway taken on by Brutus as a horseboy. Tiresius has secrets to hide, but as Brutus discovers more about the boy’s troubled relationship with his father, it provides him with insight into his own troubled relationship with Caesar, a man who may or may not be his biological father. The interactions between the characters create a rich portrait of a situation where there is no easy right and wrong.

One of the problems with writing historical fiction is that historical people could have very different moral values and beliefs, often ones that don’t sit well with a modern reader. In trying to make a lead character synpathetic, it’s easy to slip into the trap of turning him or her into a twenty-first century person in fancy dress. This book does a superb job of presenting the characters in their proper context, with believable explanations for their attitudes and beliefs about various issues.

It’s not a romance, because it follows Marcus Brutus and his relationships with Cassius and others in the months leading up to the assassination of Julius Caesar, and anyone who’s familiar with either the history or Shakespeare’s play will know that Things Do Not End Well for the conspirators. But well researched as far as I can tell, beautifully written, and I’d recommend it to someone looking for historical fiction with an LGBT theme.

http://riptidepublishing.com/titles/city-war

at Amazon UK
at Amazon US


Book log 2014 – 1) Charles Stross — Overtime

January 12, 2014

I have not abandoned the book log for last year, but I’m going to get caught up with this month’s while I can still remember them.

Cthulhu Christmas-themed novelette set in the Laundryverse, a couple of books into the series timeline. There’s just about enough backstory that I think someone completely new to the Laundryverse could enjoy this, but you’ll get a lot more fun out of it if you already know at least a little about the world it’s set in.

Bob Howard works for a branch of the British secret service which is devoted to putting off for as long as possible the forthcoming invasion of our universe by the eldritch horrors from beyond time and space. Except it’s still the civil service, with all that implies about audit trails and HR…

Being confined to a hospital bed by your last field assignment is no excuse for not putting in your annual leave request on time, so Bob’s left minding the office phone over Christmas as Duty Officer. The upside is triple pay. The downside — sometimes you have to earn that triple pay. It’s Christmas Eve, and the Bringer of Gifts will be visiting all the boys and girls, even the ones at work. And especially the ones who work in the Laundry.

Lovely satire of the office Christmas party and life in the civil service under austerity measures, with a large helping of geeky jokes, and good fun to read. It was a Hugo nominee for good reason.

Originally published and still available as a free read at Tor.com, but also now available formatted as a cheap DRM-free ebook.

Amazon UK, Amazon US, Kobo, Tor.com


book log June 2013

January 1, 2014

Onward with the book log… Again pretty skimpy, but check out (30) because it’s good and it’s in the BVC 50% off sale until 6th Jan.

26) Ian Rankin — The Flood
Picked this one up, and put it down again within a few pages — not because I thought it was poorly written, but because I discovered that I really wasn’t in the mood to read this style of story. I’ll probably give it another go at some point.

27) Agatha Christie — A Pocket Full of Rye
Re-read of Miss Marple novel, previously reviewed here: http://www.librarything.com/work/29788/reviews/71474847

28) James Blish – Jack of Eagles
“Oh, look, SFGateway is republishing books I haven’t read in years!” It has some issues seen through 21st century eyes, but is still a worthwhile exploration of psi powers.

http://www.librarything.com/work/199007

http://www.sfgateway.com/books/j/jack-of-eagles/

29) Francis Durbridge — Tim Fraser Again (audiobook)
Another case for engineer turned secret agent Tim Frazer, definitely of its time but a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. Unabridged on 2 CDs and read by Anthony Head. There are some good detailed reviews on Amazon UK. It’s available on Amazon US, but might actually be cheaper to order from the UK at the moment.

30) Chris Dolley — Reggiecide

(Note: I received a free review copy of this through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.) An entertaining steampunk pastiche of Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster stories. It’s one of a series of shortish stories about gentleman private detective and silly ass Reggie Worcester, his automaton valet Reeves, and his fiancee Emmeline, In this one, the chaps have to investigate the disappearance of Guy Fawkes, who has been revived as a Promethean by one of his descendants. Alas, Fawkes has but one thought left in his head… I found that it worked well even though I hadn’t read the earlier stories. Good fun if you like speculative fiction and Wodehouse.

It’s also in the BVC sale – 50% off until 6 January… http://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/book/reggiecide/

31) Margery Allingham — Police at the funeral (audiobook)
Re-listen of an Albert Campion abridged audiobook.

32) Nisi Shawl (Editor) — Bloodchildren: Stories by the Octavia E. Butler Scholars
Limited edition fundraiser anthology from Book View Cafe, which is superb and deserves a proper review when I’ve re-read it. No longer available, alas.


book log May 2013

December 30, 2013

20) Alexander McCall — In the Company of Cheerful Ladies
Sixth in the series about the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. The usual collection of small and large puzzles for the ladies to solve, and two new characters for the series. Mma Ramotswe knocks a gentleman off his bike, and thereby gains a new staff member for the joint premises of the detective agency and the garage. Mma Makutsi joins a dance class and thus acquires a new friend. As ever with this series, gentle humour and believable domestic mysteries make this a pleasure to read.

http://www.librarything.com/work/20047

21) Sayers — The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (audiobook)
Superb BBC full cast dramatisation, with Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter. If you’re a Sayers fan, this radio dramatisation is well worth getting.

http://www.librarything.com/work/10709447

at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

22) Georgette Heyer — Venetia
One of Heyer’s Regencies. There are several excellent reviews on LibraryThing, so I will merely say that I adored it.

http://www.librarything.com/work/16552/

23) Gladys Mitchell — The Twenty-third man
Another outing for the inestimable Mrs Bradley, this time on holiday to the Canary Islands, and a cave with a somewhat erratic number of mummies of ancient Kings. As usual for this series, enjoyable murder mystery with a fair bit of macabre humour.

http://www.librarything.com/work/1246526

24) Mark Coker — Secrets to ebook publishing
The head of self-publishing company SmashWords offers some useful advice on self-publishing via ebooks. While it’s slanted to using SmashWords, it’s wider-ranging than that. It’s free to download, and the contents are useful and well-written. Available from SmashWords, obviously, but also on Amazon and presumably other platforms.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/145431

25) Edward Marston — The Merry Devils
Second in Marston’s mystery series set in an Elizabethan theatre troupe. Enjoyable read.

http://www.librarything.com/work/425601


book log April 2013

December 30, 2013

14) Oscar Wilde — The Picture of Dorian Grey
Lots of reviews and critiques out there already, so I’ll simply say that I liked it.

15) Gladys Mitchell — Watson’s Choice

28th Mrs Bradley mystery. Mrs Bradley is invited to a weekend country house party thrown to celebrate the Sherlock Holmes anniversary. Naturally, someone provides a real life mystery, complete with a real live Hound of the Baskervilles. The plot wanders a bit, but it’s still a lot of fun if you’re a Holmes fan. I suspect that it will be less fun if you’re not, as the book is stuffed with Holmes references and jokes.

http://www.librarything.com/work/439987

at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

16) Mary Stewart — Stormy Petrel

Romantic suspense set on a remote Scottish Island. the story’s fairly simple, and the appeal is in watching the interplay of the characters, and the evocative descriptions of the island and its way of life. It has mixed reviews, and I can see why; but I liked it a lot.

http://www.librarything.com/work/96426

at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

17) EM Forster — Where Angels Fear To Tread

There are plenty of other reviews, so I will only note that I liked part of the novel, but it didn’t quite gel for me even though I like this sort of social satire. I don’t regret the time spent reading it but am not inclined to re-read. It’s out of copyright in some countries, and thus available on public domain sites.

http://www.librarything.com/work/20427

18) Agatha Christie — Death on the Nile (audiobook)

Abridged audiobook on 3 CDs, read by David Timson. Heiress steals friend’s fiancee, friend starts blatantly stalking, even unto the honeymoon cruise on the Nile. Heiress is found murdered, and as the husband points out, the ex-friend has an obvious motive. The one problem is that she couldn’t possibly have done it. Nor could any of the other people the heiress has provided with motives. The abridged audiobook has been well edited for the plot, but does by necessity skimp on the character development and social observation. There’s also an unabridged audio edition, read by David Suchet, which I’ve not yet listened to.

http://www.librarything.com/work/29995

at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

19) T Baggins — Fifteen Shades of Gay (for Pay)

Contemporary m/m romance, and yes, the title’s riffing off That Book. What it isn’t is a rip-off of That Book. It’s a thoughtful and well-written look at men coming to terms with their sexuality, seen through the eyes of a young actor who takes on male escort work to pay for his sister’s chemotherapy, even though he’s straight. The blurb for the book tells you all you need to know about the plot, and there’s little point in rehashing it. It’s a plot that has the potential to be very cliched, but Baggins shows what a skilled writer can do with the concept, and the book is a joy to read.

It’s an m/m romance, so of course the POV character isn’t straight after all. But this isn’t a gay-for-you story. There’s a solidly laid foundation for a character who is in deep denial about his bisexuality, and has good reason to be that way. It’s Andrew’s story, so we see his character grow and change the most; but there are also good portrayals of men who aren’t in denial to themselves, but are closeted to their family and have different ways of coping with that. Perhaps it edges over into fairytale territory with how quickly Andrew comes to accept having gay sex without accepting that he’s bi, but the story’s good enough to carry it.

Be warned that it has the potential to be triggery for readers who’ve had to deal with cancer. Baggins doesn’t dwell on the reality of living with cancer in a loved one, but doesn’t gloss over it either — the one that got me was the comment about neighbours who insist on showing their neighbourliness by just popping in to see how you are even though they’re not well themselves, and infectious. But with that one caveat, thoroughly recommended.

http://www.librarything.com/work/13260408

at Amazon UK
at Amazon US


book log March 2013

December 28, 2013

Taking advantage of the Christmas break to (very slowly) catch up on the book log. Alas, it’s long enough since I read these books that for most of them I can’t write anything in depth about them.

10) Subterranean Scalzi Super Bundle

Big ebook bundle, previously reviewed.

11) Agatha Christie — Death in the clouds (audiobook)

Abridged audiobook on 3 CDs, read by David Timson. A passenger aboard a plane between France and England is found dead, apparently of a wasp sting. Poirot rapidly finds evidence otherwise, and what appears to be the murder weapon — placed where Poirot is the most likely suspect. Poirot knows he isn’t the killer, but in proving himself innocent, he will also need to correctly identify the real killer, lest some other innocent be wrongly convicted by one of the many false clues.

The abridged audiobook is well edited, and ably read by Timson, but as always suffers somewhat from the abridgement. I enjoyed listening to it even though I haven’t read the novel in decades and remembered nothing about it; but I am minded to try the unabridged version read by Hugh Fraser the next time I want to listen to it.

Librarything

Abridged audiobook ISBN 978-1405046442 (Macmillan Audio Books)
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Unabridged audiobook: CD ISBN 978-0-00-719111-6, download ISBN 978-0-00-724855-1 (HarperCollins)
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

12) Maria Dahvana Headley — Queen of Kings

Dark fantasy novel which takes as its premise the idea that Cleopatra did not commit suicide, but sacrificed to the dark goddess Sehkmet to try to protect her country and her husband from the invading Roman army — and found that she had sacrificed her own soul as part of the price. A price paid in vain, as Octavian tricks Mark Antony into committing suicide and the Romans take her children as captives. But Sehkmet’s new servant is now immortal, and consumed with a quite literal bloodlust for revenge. Octavian will find that his conquest of Egypt and its ruling family is not complete just because the Queen appears to have died at her own hands…

Cleopatra as a newly-made vampire fighting with a goddess for control of her own body while in pursuit of her stolen children is an intriguing premise. Headley’s novel has its flaws, but she makes good on the promise to the reader to provide an unusual twist on historical fact and historical myth. I’m glad I bought this. There’s an excellent review by Snat on LibraryThing which says pretty much all I would have liked to say about the book: http://www.librarything.com/review/75919863

Amazon UK
Amazon US

13) Wilkie Collins — The Woman in White”13) Wilkie Collins — The Woman in White

One of the earliest mystery novels. I bailed about half way through, not because I wasn’t enjoying it, but because I was having trouble concentrating on long work at the time, and this is indeed a long work. Out of copyright, and as such freely available from public domain websites such as Project Gutenberg and Feedbooks.


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