Brief reviews of books I've read.
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My second favourite Neal Stephenson novel; just beaten by
When this first came out, it was partly set in the present day and partly during the United States' involvement in World War 2 — so now, of course, it's partly a historical novel set in 1999 (pagers! GSM phones! BeOS!), involving a bunch of cypherpunks attempting to set up a slightly-shady digital currency. Which has, of course, happened in the meantime.
In general, this has aged pretty well. It's structurally very neat, being written as an ordered set of standalone vignettes (many of which would make decent short stories) rather than as continuous narrative. It's a long work but not an overpadded one, and maintains an even pace throughout. There's certainly enough complexity here to reward rereading several times, especially if you've gone away and read more of the relevant history in the meantime…
(The typesetting in this paperback edition leaves quite a bit to be desired, though, especially the maths near the start and anything set in a monospace font. It's not unreadable, but it is jarring. Other editions may be better; I've certainly not had the same problem with Stephenson's more recent books.)
Third anthology of Escapist comics, and the final one to date — the best
of the three, I think.
I particularly liked
Another Man's Escape and
The Final Curtain,
but all the stories are strong and there's a range of interesting art styles.
Second collection of Escapist stories; not as much to my taste as the first.
The Boy Who Would Be The Escapist by Kevin McCarthy and C. Scott
Morse is my favourite here; the cigarette-cards cover is also nicely done.
A bumptious man who works in the Navy Office, forever discoursing on subjects he knows nothing about, but very enthusiastic, and quite likeable in his simplicity. His name, as I recall, is…
I do not wish to know his name, Mr Aubrey.
Oxford, 1663, in the aftermath of the Restoration: an academic is found murdered in his college rooms. The story is related by a visiting Italian medical student — and then it's told again by another of the participants, who has read the previous account but puts quite a different interpretation on events — and similarly twice more, with the true solution being revealed by the final narrator.
This is a well-written, elegant mystery story with excellent characterisation and a detailed, plausible historical setting. Highly recommended.
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.
- 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