LibraryThing Early Reviewer gloating

I have just got home from the day job to find an email notifying me that I have won an LTER review copy of Edward Gorey’s “The Lions”. This will doubtless make one or two of my flist rather jealous. Of course, if it gets eaten by the Post Office on its way to me you can all point and laugh.

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August 2011 book log

I actually had this ready to go two weeks ago, but I’ve had fun and games with medication side-effects all month and haven’t felt up to posting much. You can find the detailed notes for each book by looking at LibraryThing or my blog entries for the dates noted.

74) Alexander McCall Smith — Corduroy Mansions
Good-natured and enjoyable, but about two-thirds of the way through I found that it simply wasn’t holding my interest any longer. Logged 28 August.
LibraryThing entry

75) Reginald Hill — A Pinch of Snuff
Previously reviewed when I read it in 2006, at LiveJournal and at LibraryThing
LibraryThing entry

76) Colin Kapp — Patterns of Chaos
This is a solid piece of 1970s space opera, with a plot on the grand scale combined with some fascinating details to flesh out the universe, and some well-realised characters. Logged 3 September.
LibraryThing entry

77) Bernard Knight — the Witch Hunter
The eighth in a crime fiction series set in the twelfth century, following the cases of Crowner John, a knight who has been appointed as the first coroner of Devon by Richard the Lionheart. This was the first I’d read, and will be the last even though I have another in the TBR pile, because it was a Did Not Finish for me. Logged 3 September.
LibraryThing entry

78) Jacqueline Rayner — Doctor Who: The Stone Rose
Seventh of the tie-in novels to go with New Who, and the first featuring the Tenth Doctor. Logged 11 September.
LibraryThing entry

79) Pati Nagle – Pet Noir
Short fix-up novel about a genetically engineered cat whose creation is commissioned by the security chief of a large space station. The chief wants an undercover agent who’ll be overlooked by criminals who might be suspicious of humanoids. Reviewed for LibraryThing Early Reviewers on September 11.
LibraryThing entry

Book review: Pati Nagle – Pet Noir

79) Pati Nagle – Pet Noir

Note: I received a review copy of this through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme.

Short fix-up novel about a genetically engineered cat whose creation is commissioned by the security chief of a large space station. The chief wants an undercover agent who’ll be overlooked by criminals who might be suspicious of humanoids. A Maine Coon who’s been genetically engineered to have human level intelligence, opposable thumbs, and a tongue that can wrap itself around human language is a useful thing to have loitering around fast food outlets and in cargo holds, picking up the gossip. An ordinary-looking cat won’t be suspected because the high cost of gengineered animals means they’re still rare — but it’s a price that’s worth it for someone who wants to bust a drug-smuggling ring.

The book is structured as a series of short stories covering the first year or so of Leon’s life, a first person retrospective from the day the Chief collects a know-all kitten from the labs to a year or so later, when Leon’s experienced enough to understand how very inexperienced and naive he was that day. The general tone is that of a hard-boiled detective story, only here the hard-boiled tone is distinctly feline-flavoured and the setting is futuristic.

It’s a lot of fun following Leon’s emotional and intellectual development alongside his cases, and the cases themselves mostly make good stories. There are some good observations of feline behaviour worked into this. Leon’s mostly plausible as a portrait of a cat with boosted intelligence, and his relationship with his human partner Devin, a mix of self-centredness and genuine affection after a rocky start, works well. However, there are two flaws which badly broke suspension of disbelief for me.

The first is that Leon is not just super intelligent, at 4 weeks old he speaks fluent English and he’s already showing a better grasp of human culture than a human ten year old. Yes, cats develop much faster, but there hasn’t been time for him to physically assimilate that amount of information, even if he does spend all day in front of the tv.

The second is that Leon speaks to other, unenhanced animals, who appear to be also human level intelligence in their conversation, even if they’re speaking in cat rather than English, which rather undermines the point of him being genetically engineered for human level intelligence. There also appears to be a single human-level language across at least three species who are not regarded as fully sentient by the humans and other sentient species on the station. It felt as if the author was trying to appeal to readers who like to think of their cats as being just little humans in fur coats.

One of the things I did like about the book is that it touches on the ethics of uplifted animals. It’s a very light touch, and anything stronger would have unbalanced the book, but it’s made clear that Leon is under an indentured contract and is required to pay off the costs of his creation by working for whoever owns the contract. He’s effectively the property of Gamma Station Security for several years, and he’s unimpressed by this.

Overall, something of a mixed bag. It’s a fun light read, and has some laugh out loud moments, but there are some niggles which mean I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it. A free sample consisting of the prologue and first chapter are available for download at Book View Cafe, which will give you a reasonable idea of the style.

LibraryThing entry

78) Jacqueline Rayner — Doctor Who: The Stone Rose

78) Jacqueline Rayner — Doctor Who: The Stone Rose

Seventh of the tie-in novels to go with New Who, and the first featuring the Tenth Doctor. Mickey finds a Roman-era statue of Rose in the British Museum, so Ten and Rose go on a trip to make sure she’s around to act as the model. But the first thing that happens when they arrive is getting mixed up in a missing persons case. A wealthy man is searching for his son, who was last seen going for a appointment to put the finishing touches on a statue of him.

It’s not hard for the reader to guess how the sculptor is achieving his astonishing output of exquisitely detailed statues, but that’s not the point of the story. The real meat of the story is in the Doctor’s quest to find the source of the sculptor’s powers — and, of course, rescue a few people along the way. There are some good plot twists, and nice handling of time travel paradoxes in this story. Raynor does a good job of bringing ancient Rome to life in this book.

One of my favourites of the new series tie-ins so far, and the second of Raynor’s which I’ve enjoyed. I’ll have to look out for more of hers.

LibraryThing entry

book log: 77) Bernard Knight — the Witch Hunter

77) Bernard Knight — the Witch Hunter

The eighth in a crime fiction series set in the twelfth century, following the cases of Crowner John, a knight who has been appointed as the first coroner of Devon by Richard the Lionheart. This was the first I’d read, and will be the last even though I have another in the TBR pile, because it was a Did Not Finish for me.

Even though the elements of the story should have been a draw for me, I found it hard to get into, and the lead character hard to like. Things came to a head for me with the scene where it becomes clear that Sir John ignores his wife in favour of not one but multiple mistresses. It may be historically accurate, and the author was at pains to then tell us that John’s marriage was a failure but that neither party was at fault, it having been a political marriage that both were forced into by their families — but that’s the problem for me. Having shown us a miserable marriage where John’s wife seems to be an unreasonable shrew, Knight then tells us rather than shows us what the problem in the marriage is. I don’t find infidelity an appealing characteristic in a lead character unless it’s carefully grounded, and while this may have been partly to do with my coming in several books in, it focused my attention on the real problem I had with the book — too much telling and not enough showing for my tastes, and both in the wrong places. After three chapters, I wanted to know the end of the story, but not enough to read the chapters in between. So not a complete failure, but not a series to add to my reading list.

LibraryThing entry

book log: 76) Colin Kapp — Patterns of Chaos

76) Colin Kapp — Patterns of Chaos

Another of the books that I greatly enjoyed as a teenager but haven’t read for some years. Fortunately it turns out that this is one I still enjoy. A man wakes in the middle of a vicious attack upon a city by a starship, dragged from unconsciousness by a voice inside his head. He has no memory of who he is and what he’s doing there, but the voice in his head is no hallucination. The first priority is to get him up and moving to where he’s supposed to be — because Bron is a deepcover agent with a telepathic link back to his base, and being amnesiac doesn’t excuse him from the job he was sent to do. Within a few hours, the planet he’s on will be destroyed by hellburners, deadly missiles that can tear a planet apart. And in those hours, the Destroyer fleet will raid, taking slaves and goods, and most particularly anyone with expertise in chaos theory — the concept that the patterns of chaos can be read to predict the future. One of the first things Bron learns about himself is that he has a synthetic personality embedded to allow him to pass as one of those experts, making him a target for the raiders – and a Trojan horse.

Which would be an interesting story in its own right, and the initial phase of the book is a very good story of a deepcover agent rediscovering who he is a bit at a time, while in the middle of the most dangerous job he’s ever done. But Kapp takes it to a new level, as Bron comes to understand that the hellburner was aimed at him. Specifically him, personally. And that it’s been on its way for 700 million years…

This is a solid piece of 1970s space opera, with a plot on the grand scale combined with some fascinating details to flesh out the universe, and some well-realised characters. It’s short by modern standards, but that’s all to the good, as it’s a tightly written story. An entertaining way to pass a few hours.

LibraryThing entry