Brief reviews of books I've read.
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I enjoyed this enough the first time that I lent it to several other people to read. And then when I wanted to read it again, I couldn't find my copy...
This is an alt-history detective novel, set in a Yiddish-speaking Jewish state in Alaska. The world's well-crafted and the writing's excellent, with Chabon's usual sensitivity to genre, character and speech. I would have liked to see a more ordinary solution to the mystery — but that's not really Chabon's style, I guess!
Good stuff, anyway.
Henry Mayhew wrote a comprehensive series of articles for the Morning Chronicle in the 1840s about the poor in London, interviewing hundreds of Londoners about their lives and livings. He collected and summarised his articles in three volumes in 1851, of which this is the first.
Some of the analysis has dated badly, but the raw information is fascinating: his interviews are extremely impressive both in breadth and depth. This is a key source for anyone who wants to write about — or in the voices of — 19th-century London. Well worth reading — or at least flicking through for the bits that interest you.
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
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…
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!
It would clearly be a shame not to try and realise some of the Radio Comics
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'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;
Those after more background may like to visit Michael Chabon's web site circa 2001, courtesy of the Internet Archive.
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'
Bugs: A Legal History.
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.
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.
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.
- 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
- Infinity Project
- James Bond
- Lake Wobegon
- Little Fuzzy
- London Labour and the London Poor
- Lord Peter Wimsey
- Mars Trilogy
- Martin Beck
- Merchant Princes
- Miss Marple
- Platform Studies
- Poseidon's Children
- Precious Ramotswe
- Realm of the Elderlings
- Revelation Space
- Sector General
- Sherlock Holmes
- Soldier Son
- Starbuck Chronicles
- Takeshi Kovacs
- The Dresden Files
- The Escapist
- 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