Book log: Stephen Cole — Doctor Who: The Monsters Inside

31) Stephen Cole — Doctor Who: The Monsters Inside

Second of the tie-ins published for the new series. Adequate but nothing special adventure for Nine and Rose, which I’d have probably enjoyed rather more had I read it on initial publication rather than after the monsters of the week had appeared several more times on tv. The Doctor and Rose are arrested and separated within a few minutes of landing on an alien planet — which turns out to be part of a solar system devoted to a privatised prison system, where landing without authorisation is itself a crime carrying a heavy sentence. Rose is shipped to a borstal, the Doctor is incarcerated in a scientific labour camp for aliens. They proceed to try and escape and find each other, but along the way realise that they have more problems than mere escape to deal with.

It’s a Who tie-in novel, with nothing much to either recommend or disrecommend it. The moralising about the prison system is heavy-handed even by Whoniverse standards, although not enough to put me off reading it. Not one I’m inclined to give permanent shelfspace.

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Book log: Reginald Hill — There are no ghosts in the Soviet Union, and other stories

First of the books read in April…

30) Reginald Hill — There are no ghosts in the Soviet Union, and other stories

Collection of half a dozen crime stories first published in 1987, which has some bearing on the tone of some of them. The collection is laced with a biting humour, and some superb if sardonic observations of human nature.

My favourite in the collection is the eponymous novella, in which Inspector Lev Chislenko arrives at the scene of an accident at a government building in Moscow, where the witnesses say they saw a man in old-fashioned clothes fall down a lift shaft – only there is no body. It’s an embarrassing case to be involved with, especially as the higher-ups want the rumours of ghosts quashed as un-Soviet. There are no ghosts in the Soviet Union. But to his discomfort, Chislenko’s investigation intended to prove the non-existence of ghosts by showing that no such accident happened even in the past leads him in a direction he hadn’t expected to go.

Other stories include “Bring back the cat!”, private detective Joe Sixsmith’s first case; “The Bull Ring”, a nasty little tale about brutal training methods used on Great War recruits; “Auteur theory”, a nominally Dalziell and Pascoe story which turns out to be meta discussion on more than one level; “Poor Emma”, which I can only describe as one of the odder pieces of literary fanfic gamesmanship I have encountered, probably as likely to infuriate Austen fans as please them; and “Crowded Hour”, about a “take the wife hostage at home” armed robbery attempt that twists and turns.

I didn’t like all of these stories, but they were all well-crafted pieces that made me think. Only half of them are ones I’d really want to read again, but I don’t regret the time spent on any of them.

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coming up on the book log

Yes, I have been trying to log April as I go, even if I haven’t been posting them within a couple of days of finishing a book. I’ve also got one or two things in the TBR mountain that are only waiting for me to get the current batch of reviews out of the way before I start reading them. In particular:

Inspector Singh Investigates: A Deadly Cambodian Crime Spree

Fourth in the Inspector Singh series, and Shamini Flint’s writing just keeps getting better. I read 2 and 3 as review copies offered by the author because I’d reviewed the first. She offered me a review copy of the new one as well — except I’d pre-ordered it from Amazon and started reading it the same day it arrived, so had already finished it. :-)

Daniel Fox — Hidden Cities

I hadn’t pre-ordered this from the Evil Empire because I was going to be good and try to support my local bricks-n-mortar stores. Inspector Singh arrived first, and I don’t want to start this one until I’ve core-dumped the previous in-depth review, because this is going to need a lot of attention. This is the third volume of Chaz Brenchley’s Chinese-inspired fantasy trilogy written under a pseudonym, and having read the first two parts I am eager to finish the story.

Alex Epstein — The Circle Cast

My current LTER win, not yet read because of the afore-mentioned backlog on reading stuff that will be getting an in-depth review. YA fantasy about Morgan Le Fay.

March 2011 book log

A very late posting of the book log summary for March, mostly because I’ve been scratching my head trying to work out how to review the Starfarers Quartet. Which I couldn’t just skip reviewing in depth, because it was a review copy from LTER.

19) Edgar Allan Poe — The Fall of the House of Usher
Short story downloaded from FeedBooks, logged with notes 20 March 2011.
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20) Jules Verne – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
This is an old translation now in the public domain and available from FeedBooks. Logged with notes 20 March 2011
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21) James Stephens – Irish Fairy Tales
Part-read, logged 20 March 2011.
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22) Carola Dunn — Rattle His Bones
Eighth in the Daisy Dalrymple series about a young aristocrat who writes for a living and has a bad habit of stumbling into murder mysteries. Logged with notes 20 March 2011.
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23) Vonda N McIntyre — The Starfarers Quartet: Starfarers
24) Vonda N McIntyre — The Starfarers Quartet: Transition
In progress review posted 20 March, full review of the quartet posted 26 April 2011.
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25) Aoike Yasuko — From Eroica With Love 1
Re-read, previously reviewed at LibraryThing
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26) Aoike Yasuko — From Eroica With Love 2
Re-read, previously reviewed at LibraryThing
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27) Aoike Yasuko — From Eroica With Love 3
Re-read, previously reviewed at LibraryThing
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28) Vonda N McIntyre — The Starfarers Quartet: Metaphase
29) Vonda N McIntyre — The Starfarers Quartet: Nautilus
Full review of the quartet posted 26 April 2011.
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Book review: Vonda N McIntyre — The Starfarers Quartet

Note: I received this as a review copy from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme.

Omnibus edition of the Starfarers Quartet, published as an ebook reprint edition. The basic concept is a near-future setting where a space habitat is being built and fitted out for the first attempt at an interstellar voyage, using a recently discovered piece of cosmic string in the Solar System as a means of accessing almost instantaneous travel to another solar system. The habitat is set up as a university campus under international control.

In the first book, the station’s purpose is being politicised, with an attempt by the US government to commandeer the habitat and re-purpose it as a military station for use in a peacekeeping mission on Earth, nominally under international control but in reality completely controlled by the US.  The university faculty vote to continue their mission as planned, even if it means making an emergency run to the string and out of the solar system.

The second book begins with the Starfarer’s arrival in the Tau Ceti system, accompanied by a parting shot from the military cruiser which had been sent to stop them. The alien contact team who were the main focus of the narrative in the first book now get to do their job for the first time. The third and fourth books continue the story of the Starfarer crew’s attempts to interact with Civilisation

I found the first book somewhat frustrating to begin with, as I found the writing style a little hard to get on with, particularly the way a lot of point of view characters were simply dropped into the narrative with their own chapter and then abandoned for a while. It made the book feel very bitty to begin with. But once I had a handle on who all these people were and how their individual stories started to weave together, I found it fascinating.

The first book ends on something that is both a bit of a cliffhanger and resolution of the main plot. It could be read as a standalone. The next three books each end with resolution of that book’s piece of the story arc, but leave the reader expecting to see more arc — and unfortunately that includes the last one. It felt to me as if the author had left too many loose ends dangling at the end of the quartet, even though we do see the resolution to the main question of whether they will both make it safely back to Earth, and whether they will be able to leave the Solar System again once they have returned.

Some of those loose ends *really* needed tying up, to the point where I found it seriously irritating that they weren’t. It’s not billed as a mystery, but one of the plot threads certainly came over to me as being a mystery, with clues being dropped that the Starfarer crew had got something wrong — and it was never resolved as to whether they had or not. It may be just that I was misreading the author’s intentions and she *had* intended for the wrap-up somewhere in book 2 or 3 to be the Final Wrap-up of that thread, but if that was the case she should have refrained from making suggestions that there was a further secret behind the one unveiled. It left me feeling as if the final bit of that storyline in the last few pages was missing a significant part.

That niggle aside, I found the books very enjoyable to read once I’d picked up enough of the character threads in book 1 to follow what was going on. There is wonderful, wonderful world-building with a description of the maiden voyage of Earth’s interstellar ship, and the things it finds Out There.  And while the number of characters introduced in a very chop and change manner is confusing at first, it makes for a great depth to the characterisation over the course of the four books.

Some particular points of note — this series has both good science and good emotional development. And on the latter front, the people side of it includes the three members of a poly partnership amongst the lead characters – in a world where legally binding romantic partnerships of any sort are mildly unusual. This isn’t thrown in for titillation, but forms part of the world-building. And while we’re on the subject of diversity, the lead characters aren’t non-stop Default White American.

While I’ve rated this 3 stars overall, that’s partly a reflection of my disappointment with the ending. I’d happily recommend that people download the first book, available as a free sample from BookViewCafe, and try it to see if they like it enough to buy the full quartet.