Booklog: October 2011

Yes, it’s the extremely late book log for October, with books read 92 to 101 of 2011. All in one chunk below the cut.

92) Agatha Christie — The 4:50 From Paddington [audiobook]

Read by Joanna David and abridged on 3 CDs. An enjoyable audio abridgement of this Miss Marple story, and one that works well to present the salient elements of the plot. The characterisations do suffer a little from the abridgement, as one might expect, but Lucy Eyelesbarrow, who acts as Miss Marple’s sidekick in this novel, comes across fairly well anyway.

93) Joseph Lidster — Torchwood: In the Shadows [audiobook]

Audiobook-only Torchwood novel on 2 CDs, read by Eve Myles, and set during and after second season. This is a creepy and very Torchwood tale of a strange taxi driver who sends his passengers to a hell dimension to be punished for their perceived sins. They return as corpses, having lived out the remainder of their lives in a personally-tailored Hell while only a few hours have passed on Earth. Torchwood takes an interest in one of the missing person cases, and Jack finds himself on a trip to a Hell where death is the only release — and temporary death doesn’t count. A well-crafted horror story with good characterisation, and some interesting development of the relationship between Jack and Ianto. Eve Myles isn’t quite as good a narrator as the others I’ve listened to, but still does an adequate job. I’d note that the plot driver is yet another religious fanatic — they seem to be more common in the audiobooks than in the tv episodes.

94) Michael Kring — The Space Mavericks

First in an early 1980s space opera series which was never completed. Trading ships are divided into those belonging to the big conglomerates, and independents known as mavericks, with no love lost between the two groups. Enough mavericks have been beaten or even killed that maverick pilot Fripp Enos has had himself modified — an alien medical procedure that enhances the body’s natural defences in some startling ways. Few people had the procedure done even before it was outlawed, so Fripp can usually win a fight against even an armed opponent. Which is useful, because even though Fripp doesn’t look for trouble, trouble inevitably finds him.

Fripp rescues a teenage girl from a gang, and takes her to the police, only to find himself caught up in a government-sponsored kidnap plot. He and his partner rescue the girl again, and in the course of escaping and getting her back to her father, Fripp encounters a set of ancient ruins with active alien technology — including a ring with strange powers. The novel wraps up the action-adventure plot involving the girl, but sets Fripp and Kohn on a course of trying to find out more about the source of the ring.

It’s written in very purple prose, and it supplied more than its fair share of dubious gems for Thog’s Masterclass in Ansible. It’s also enormous fun, and not just in a “fun to poke holes in” way. The modification technology is well thought through with a believable downside to balance the advantages it gives Fripp, the book has an interesting take on the “ancient alien technology” theme, and it has my all time favourite description of hyperspace travel, with the concept of touching Spheres (actually of different shapes, not just spheres) which can only safely be crossed from one to another at the contact points, but where the foolhardy or desperate can slip along the interface to enter a new Sphere where they choose. And rather than being just the FTL needed to make interstellar travel feasible, the properties of Warp have a direct bearing on the plot. A happy teenage memory that’s still fun to read, even if I recognise its flaws.

95) Michael Kring — Children of the Night

Second of the space opera series which began with The Space Mavericks, and alas the last one to actually be published. This one has a plot which stands as a good single episode in its own right, but leaves the arc story about the source of Fripp’s alien tech ring at the point where Fripp and Kohn are merely one step closer to finding the answer. The series was clearly intended to include at least one more book to finish it off, but the third was never published.

In this book Fripp and Kohn get drawn into a revolution by a group of genetically engineered miners, and learn a little more about the ancient culture that created the ring. It’s just as much purple prose fun as the first book, and I for one would have loved to have the chance to read the next one.

96) August Derleth — The Casebook of Solar Pons

Collection of Sherlock Holmes pastiche short stories. Well-written and enjoyable, even if the Watson avatar shows more than a little USian influence in his language.

97) Sarah Pinborough — Torchwood: Long Time Dead

Second of the three Miracle Day prequel novels. Torchwood is dead or scattered after the events of Children of Earth. The Hub is a wreck being excavated by the Department in search of artifacts to scavange. But one member of Torchwood just won’t stay dead. The morgue drawers have burst open in the aftermath of the explosion, Suzie Costello is back, and she’s brought company.

This is a well-crafted horror novel that builds on the existing features of the Torchwood universe to create a very nasty fate indeed for some of Cardiff’s citizens, one that could spread to the whole world. While it’s set in the immediate aftermath of Children of Earth, it ties into season one in a way that will add richness for existing fans while giving some Torchwood backstory for new fans. And Sarah Pinborough has done a great job of expanding on the character of Suzi Costello. There aren’t many hard facts added, but we see more of her motivations and how she ended up as a killer.

An excellent look at what Torchwood, and its loss, mean to the people of Cardiff — even if they can’t remember their encounters with the team. Once again the Torchwood novels demonstrate just how good tie-in fiction can be.

98) Daniel Fox — Hidden Cities

Third part of the medieval China-inspired fantasy by Chaz Brenchley writing under his Daniel Fox pen name. And make no mistake, this is the third and final part of a single story which began with Dragon in Chains, rather than the third of three novels. You’ll need to have read the first two parts to get the most out of this book. Fortunately, that’s no hardship. This is a complex story that needs the space to do justice to the lives of its characters.

At the end of the second part (Jade Man’s Skin), the young Emperor had control of the island of Taishu, source of the jade that underpins imperial power, and was about to lose the city of Santung across the strait to the general who was attempting to overthrow him — until the no-longer-chained dragon disrupted the petty wars of humans. In this volume the characters have to deal with the consequences — the dragon will not permit boats to cross the strait unless they are protected by the presence of the Li-goddess of the sea, in the form of one of the children the goddess has taken for her use as a human avatar. As the humans play out their struggles for power, so do the dragon and the goddess, in a complex tales with many strands. It does not end in the boy Emperor winning back his entire empire, but that would not be the right end for this story, and it ends well enough.

As with the first two parts, this offers a thoughtful look at war and its aftermath, written in stunning prose. The trilogy is a long read, but well worth the time.

99) Ruth Rendell — A New Lease of Death

Third of the Inspector Wexford series.

100) Terry Pratchett — Wyrd sisters [audiobook]

Abridged audiobook on 3 CDs, read by Tony Robinson. Although it’s abridged, it does a good job of presenting Pratchett’s plot and characters, not least because Robinson is stunningly good at reading it.

101) Guy Adams — Torchwood: The Men Who Sold the World

Third of the Miracle Day prequel novels. A CIA team goes rogue with a cargo of exotic weapons they were supposed to be escorting after transfer from the Department in the UK to the CIA. A cargo marked Torchwood… This one looks at CIA Rex Matheson, one of the new characters introduced for Miracle Day. And that’s where it falls down for me, partly because I’m not that enamoured of Rex as a character — although oddly, I like him better in this book than I did on screen. This is backstory for Rex, showing how he first got involved with weird tech operations shortly before the events of Miracle Day, and I think is likely to work better for new fans rather than those who’ve watched the show from the beginning. It’s a competently written CIA agent thriller, but it doesn’t resonate for me the way the prequels about the original team members did.


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