Books belonging to series.

Laurie R. King, "The Beekeeper's Apprentice"

2015-01-09 · in Books, Mary Russell · 164 words

It must have been nearly an hour later that I became aware of Holmes, sitting on a stump and tossing his jackknife repeatedly into the tree next to him.


Yes, Russell.

Is it always so grey and awful at the end of a case?

He didn't answer me for a minute, then rose abruptly and stood looking down the road towards the house with the plane trees. When he looked around at me there was a painful smile on his lips.

Not always. Just usually.

The first in a series of novels starring Mary Russell and a retired Sherlock Holmes, now living (more or less) quietly on the Sussex Downs. The mysteries aren't especially complex, but that's not really the point; it's all about the characters, and the story is beautifully written.

This is another of those books where I'd ordered the next half-dozen in the series before reaching the end — thoroughly recommended.

Neal Stephenson, "The System Of The World" (reread)

2014-12-10 · in Books, Baroque Cycle · 117 words

I've a sort of riddle for you, to do with guineas, was how Daniel ended the twenty-year silence between himself and Sir Isaac Newton.

The final instalment of The Baroque Cycle. Stephenson has hit his stride in terms of style and plot dexterity by this point; this is a fine example of large-scale literary engineering, with a satisfying conclusion.

There is probably little point in me recommending this book, since anyone who's made it through the first 1800-odd pages of the trilogy is unlikely to give up before the third volume. Nonetheless, if you've just finished The Confusion and are wondering whether it's worth continuing: it is.

Robin Hobb, "Blood Of Dragons"

2014-10-24 · in Books, Realm of the Elderlings · 85 words

This is either the thirteenth Realm of the Elderlings book, or the fourth Dragon book, depending on how you look at it; it's the conclusion of the story about the resurrection of dragons that began back in the first Fitz trilogy. The writing and characterisation hers is up to Hobb's usual standard; good stuff.

I wonder which universe we'll get a book from next — it'd be nice to hear more about the Soldier Son world…

Neal Stephenson, "The Confusion" (reread)

2014-10-03 · in Books, Baroque Cycle · 132 words

The sun rose. What a moment ago had been glowing pools of spilled fire on the black velvet ground, were revealed as damp patches on khaki dirt. The bubbler ripped loose, hurtled away, and impacted on the roof of a monastery half a mile downrange. The chimney and dunce-cap shot into the air, spiraling and pinwheeling through the night sky as if the Big Dipper had scooped up a load of the sun's own fire.

See my previous review; and we're now moving into Newton and the Counterfeiter territory.

Rather more action-oriented than Quicksilver, although with occasional interesting alchemical interludes; I'd remembered the bit about steel but forgotten the striking description of phosphorus production. The epistolary approach to Eliza's sections works effectively.

Neal Stephenson, "Quicksilver" (reread)

2014-09-02 · in Books, Baroque Cycle · 176 words

Forgive an ignorant Vagabond, but I am used to men of action—so when the Doctor spends all day, every day, talking to people, it seems to me as if he's doing nothing.

He's accomplishing nothing—that's very different from doing nothing. Enoch said gravely.

Continuing my programme of rereading books I last enjoyed ten years ago, this is the first volume in Neal Stephenson's 3000-odd-page Baroque Cycle series. The series is a prequel to Cryptonomicon, and explores some of the same themes: cryptography, the history of computing, and most importantly the nature of money. As the founders of the Royal Society are key characters, it also sort of works as a sequel to An Instance of the Fingerpost — although Stephenson's characterisation of John Wilkins is rather different!

While this is an impressive and wide-ranging piece of work, with a number of Good Bits (my favourites generally being the Eliza-and-Jack sections), it's not as tightly-written as Cryptonomicon. Recommended if meticulously-researched, extremely long novels are your kind of thing.

Neal Stephenson, "Cryptonomicon" (reread)

2014-08-08 · in Books, Baroque Cycle · 205 words

My second favourite Neal Stephenson novel; just beaten by Anathem.

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.)

Michael Chabon, "The Amazing Adventures of The Escapist, Volume 3"

2014-08-03 · in Books, The Escapist · 52 words

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.

Michael Chabon, "The Amazing Adventures of The Escapist, Volume 2"

2014-08-02 · in Books, The Escapist · 48 words

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.

Henry Mayhew, "London Labour and the London Poor, Volume 1"

2014-07-24 · in Books, London Labour and the London Poor · 130 words

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.

Available from the Internet Archive. The copy they've scanned belonged to Edward Healy Thompson; I imagine he found the sections describing Irish Catholic life in London particularly interesting.

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.