Brief reviews of books I've read.
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The first anthology in the current edition of the Sector General novels, set in the central hospital of a galactic civilisation with a combination of easy FTL travel and an enormous variety of intelligent alien species. We follow human doctor Conway and his only-occasionally-human colleagues as they work out how to cater to the unusual medical needs of their patients. I'd read one of these ("Hospital Station"?)
The characterisation is paper-thin, and I still don't really have much idea of what a Hudlar or a Tralthan actually looks like, but that's not really the point; the author's interested in what you can do with a space-opera-like setting where conflict is rare, and there's some nice consideration here of how unusual alien civilisations could work.
The only complaint I've got is that this is a print-on-demand book — and as usual, the quality is appalling! Anyone would think Amazon were trying to kill off the paper book...
Published in 2013, this is an impressive collection of fantasy short stories — there was only one here that didn't really grab me.
K J Parker's
The Dragonslayer of Merebarton (set, peripherally, in the
Engineer universe) is excellent, as expected. Ellen Klages'
Sponda the Suet
Girl and the Secret of the French Pearl features some highly entertaining
alchemy. Several others — e.g. Ellen Kushner and Ysabeu S. Wilce's
Last, Great Adventure and Jeffrey Ford's
Spirits of Salt —
play with the fairy-tale form. All in all, good stuff, and highly recommended;
I'll be seeking more from all the authors here.
Reboots of sci-fi universes: not always a good idea. Scalzi's style — and especially his sense of humour — works beautifully in this setting, though. This is an updated Zarathrustra with a tighter, more compelling story than the 1962 original. Very good stuff; recommended.
John Scalzi's web site has various excerpts and interviews. And a power ballad. Just in case.
The Steel Remains, following the same cast.
This is essentially bringing what I tend to think of as the William Gibson plot
structure to dystopic fantasy, with a sprawl of largely-unrelated stories that
converge on an appropriately epic ending.
There's a lot of interesting complexity in this series' world, and some neat
structural tricks in the writing that had me reading back to check details
several times; this feels like it's a lot further into the story than just the
On the other hand, being a Richard Morgan book, this pulls no punches, and
would be a deeply depressing (and, sometimes, disturbing) work — if it
weren't so well-crafted.
The third volume's due this year. It's on my buy-immediately list already.
I'm wondering now if I can get away with putting this on the reading list for my first-year students...
The Edinburgh police investigate the robbery of an MMORPG's central bank
— and this being Stross, there's a bigger story to tell about the
lasting impact of the virtual world upon society.
I found the British urban perspective here rather more convincing than
Stephenson's take on the same thing in
As the author's recently
this wasn't meant to be predictive when it was released in 2007, but
we're now only one technological step away from it — and the
Snowden leaks and independence referendum have made it feel dangerously
topical at the start of 2014.
And I don't see much to complain about in Stross's vision of an
independent, EU-affiliated Scotland; the Yes campaign should be reading
this for tips.
Scotland's Future just needs more robo-taxis and quantum
Excellent stuff. Well worth a read — or reread, if you last read it in 2007.
Perdido Street Station in general style, and I enjoyed
it greatly for all the same reasons: if you described the setting out of
context then it'd obviously be completely ridiculous (our protagonist
starts by being press-ganged into being a pirate librarian), but it's
played straight, and the worldbuilding and characterisation all hangs
The result is a world that I don't so much want another story about as a
A good set of stories — I liked all of these, particularly Tim
Unknown Cities of America, which feels like it ought to be
a Dave Carter song.
Some lovely illustrations too.
It's been several years since I last had an Interzone subscription. I like the new format: smaller overall, with less glossy paper. Some excellent illustrations in this issue.
My clear favourite here was
The Hareton K-12 County School and Adult
Extension by James van Pelt; I'm a sucker for interesting worldbuilding,
and this story was essentially all worldbuilding.
I also liked Sean McMullen's
Technarion — bigger-picture
not-quite-steampunk without the padding — and Ken Altabef's short,
Il Teatro Oscuro.
Not really a Flashman novel, but it does feature Harry Flashman as a major character, and uses the same technique of conveying the feel of a historically-interesting context — in this case, England just before the outbreak of the First World War — through the exploits of an only-just-fictional character. And Mark Franklin is definitely not Flashman, which makes a refreshing change.
I do miss the footnotes, though! Their lack makes it less obvious which details are fictional and which aren't — although that did give me an excuse to go away and read about the events it's talking about in more detail, and perhaps that was the intent. Highly recommended.
Professional chemist and bartender Darcy O'Neil writes on the history and recipes of the American soda fountain. There's lots of interesting detail here — for example, the chemistry involved in making mineral water. Finally a good non-alcoholic drink recipe book -- mine's a chocolate phosphate!
- A Land Fit For Heroes
- Assiti Shards Series
- Baroque Cycle
- Brigadier Gerard
- Carlotta Carlyle
- Cities In Flight
- Culture Series
- Eschaton Series
- Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser
- George Smiley
- Halting State
- His Dark Materials
- Honor Harrington
- "I, Robot" Universe
- James Bond
- Lake Wobegon
- Little Fuzzy
- Lord Peter Wimsey
- Mars Trilogy
- Martin Beck
- Merchant Princes
- Miss Marple
- Platform Studies
- Precious Ramotswe
- Realm of the Elderlings
- Revelation Space
- Sector General
- Sherlock Holmes
- Soldier Son
- Starbuck Chronicles
- Takeshi Kovacs
- The Dresden Files
- The Flashman Papers
- The Grail Quest
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
- The Laundry
- The Owl
- The Pendragon Cycle
- The Tales Of Alvin Maker
- Wheel of Time
- Zones of Thought