Brief reviews of books I've read.

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James White, "Mind Changer"

2014-04-14 · in Books, Sector General · 48 words

... and finally we get a story starring O'Mara. General opinion seems to be that this is one of the strongest books in the series, and I'd agree; there's considerable skill both in plotting and characterisation at work here.

James White, "Final Diagnosis"

2014-04-13 · in Books, Sector General · 46 words

Sector General from a patient's point of view.

I was pleased to have worked out the mystery fairly early on in this one — although I did have the advantage of having read the preceding books recently...

James White, "The Galactic Gourmet"

2014-04-12 · in Books, Sector General · 58 words

I suspect James White might have felt the series was getting a bit too serious after the last two books. In this story, Gurronsevas — who appears to be Traltha's answer to Alexis Soyer — resolves to improve the standard of Sector General's catering. Mixed results ensue. Suitably amusing stuff.

China Miéville, "The City & The City"

2014-04-09 · in Books · 68 words

I'm not going to spoil the premise of this alt-history detective story (unlike every other review I've seen). I thought this was pretty good, verging on excellent in several places; there are some lovely twists to the worldbuilding, and the last few chapters have some great imagery — I could imagine this working really well as an anime film...

James White, "General Practice"

2014-03-31 · in Books, Sector General · 157 words

The third Sector General omnibus. As the introduction points out, Conway is now (mostly) too senior to have adventures, so we have two new protagonists, and more of a focus on O'Mara's psychology department.

Code Blue — Emergency (1987) has substantially stronger writing and characterisation than the earlier stories (helped by not being a fix-up novel), and I really liked the setting. It even passes the Bechdel test!

The Genocidal Healer (1991) is excellent — it goes off in a surprising philosophical direction, albeit one that would have been quite topical at the time, given that James White was from Belfast. It was nice to see Khone getting some of the best lines here.

Again, a POD book; variable print quality and some OCR errors, but probably better on average than the previous two. There's no in-print omnibus of the rest of the series, so I've ordered individual copies...

James White, "Beginning Operations"

2014-03-25 · in Books, Sector General · 101 words

I've never been very good at reading series in the right order — this is the first Sector General anthology, not the one I read a couple of weeks ago, and it includes the only one of the novels that I'd read beforehand.

The science and engineering stands up very well; the gender attitudes less so, particularly in Star Surgeon (1963). Will we ever find out Murchison's first name?

This is also a POD book, and the print quality's fine this time, but the text suffers badly from missing words and typos.

China Miéville, "Iron Council"

2014-03-15 · in Books, Bas-Lag · 84 words

Revolution in New Crobuzon — and a truly epic train journey. This reads as rather less enthusiastically strange than the previous two books, and the Wild West-inspired settings didn't really work for me, but the parallel stories are very effective and the ending's neatly-engineered.

Unfortunately, Miéville hasn't written another novel in this universe in the last decade (although Railsea looks promising). My recommended reading order for this series: Perdido Street Station, Iron Council, The Scar.

James White, "Alien Emergencies"

2014-03-01 · in Books, Sector General · 158 words

The second 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.

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...

ed. Jonathan Strahan, "Fearsome Journeys"

2014-02-19 · in Books · 108 words

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 One 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.

John Scalzi, "Fuzzy Nation"

2014-02-12 · in Books · 68 words

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 Zarathustra 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.