Brief reviews of books I've read.

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Charles Palliser, "The Quincunx" (reread)

2014-07-17 · in Books · 206 words

I was rather intrigued by the idea of writing a Victorian novel on a computer. One of the unforeseen consequences of this, however, was that I didn't notice how long the book was becoming.

From the author's comments at the end — in paperback form, it's nearly 1200 pages.

At the surface level, this is a pastiche Dickensian thriller, giving a whirlwind tour of the seamier side of London in the 1820s — but it's really a ferociously complicated multiple-viewpoints mystery along the lines of An Instance of the Fingerpost, and it's written using a mathematically-constrained structure in the same way as Life A User's Manual. This is an extremely impressive piece of work, designed to reward rereading, and there's a lot that I didn't pick up the first time through. I was particularly struck this time by John's behaviour in the final chapter; not one to read, bleary-eyed, late at night!

Many of the mysteries are discussed (but not necessarily solved) in a long discussion thread about The Quincunx on Simon Morris's blog — don't read it until you've completed the novel at least once, though. If ever there was a book that needed a wiki for annotations…

Michael Chabon, "Gentlemen of the Road" (reread)

2014-07-11 · in Books · 56 words

The original working—and in my heart the true—title of the short novel you hold in your hands was Jews with Swords.

In short, this is what you get when Michael Chabon decides to write a swashbuckling adventure story. Excellent stuff. I wish he'd do a sequel!

Michael Chabon, "The Amazing Adventures of The Escapist, Volume 1" (reread)

2014-07-06 · in Books, The Escapist · 88 words

It would clearly be a shame not to try and realise some of the Radio Comics stories from Kavalier and Clay, and that's exactly what this Dark Horse series is doing, with a variety of guest artists and writers playing Sammy, Joe and Rosa at various stages of their careers. There's some really nice artwork here; in particular, the Luna Moth stories drawn by Bill Sienkiewicz and Dan Brereton, and the lost Escapist story illustrated by Gene Colan.

Michael Chabon, "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" (reread)

2014-07-06 · in Books, The Escapist · 90 words

Michael Chabon's Great American Novel (and well-deserved winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize), exploring the lightly-fictionalised Golden Age comics industry in wartime New York through the eyes of cousins Sam Clay and Joe Kavalier, writer and author of The Escapist. This is a fantastic piece of work, deftly demonstrating Chabon's skill with a wide range of genres and milieus; highly recommended.

Those after more background may like to visit Michael Chabon's web site circa 2001, courtesy of the Internet Archive.

ed. Jonathan Strahan, "Reach for Infinity"

2014-06-18 · in Books, Infinity Project · 59 words

The third Infinity Project anthology, the theme this time being humanity preparing to leave Earth. As before, the quality bar is very high; I particularly liked Greg Egan's Break My Fall (which would have been equally at home in Engineering Infinity) and Adam Roberts' Trademark Bugs: A Legal History.

Leo Rosten, "O Kaplan! My Kaplan!" (reread)

2014-06-15 · in Books · 76 words

Leo Rosten's collection of stories about an American language class for immigrants, which I first heard through Kerry Shale's BBC Radio readings. These are both very funny and very well-written; in addition to his mastery of variably-mangled English, Rosten does a great job of capturing the pleasures and frustrations of teaching — something I wouldn't have recognised when I last read this ten-odd years ago! Highly recommended.

Leo Rosten, "The New Joys of Yiddish" (reread)

2014-06-13 · in Books · 47 words

I was actually looking for the Hyman Kaplan stories, but found this first... This is the 2001 edition with copious footnotes updating Rosten's original text; it's probably due for another update by now. Still a good read.

Alastair Reynolds, "Terminal World"

2014-06-03 · in Books · 85 words

Set in a far-future Earth where a Calamity of Physics has resulted in zones that allow different levels of technological sophistication — like Vinge's Zones of Thought but at town-sized scale — this is very nicely done. It starts off reading like a China Miéville story, where the details of how exactly the world works take a deliberate back seat to the interestingly-wacky not-quite-steampunk storyline, but by the end we're clearly back in Alastair Reynolds territory. Recommended.

Alastair Reynolds, "Pushing Ice"

2014-05-24 · in Books · 70 words

Another standalone Reynolds novel: when Saturn's moon Janus starts accelerating away from the solar system, a mining ship's crew is dragooned into investigating it. This is essentially Reynolds' take on the Rendezvous with Rama series, with the focus very much on the resulting human society rather than the aliens. I thought the frame story here was a particularly nice idea.

Alastair Reynolds, "Century Rain"

2014-05-17 · in Books · 68 words

An interesting mix of post-apocalyptic SF and alt-history detective story. This dates from 2004, and isn't quite in Reynolds' normal vein; as a result, it has quite a different feel from his space opera, although there's some overlap in themes with his more recent work (e.g. the Slasher/Thresher tension). A tidy story with an impressively wide scope; recommended.