What have you read recently?

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Re: What have you read recently?

Postby maddz » 5:41pm on 25 Dec 17

Paper and Fire, by Rachel Caine (bk 2 of The Great Library).

I started reading book 3 without realising I’d completely missed book 2, but quickly spotted my error.

Book-smuggler Jess Brightwell and most of his classmates have graduated and start their new jobs, Jess and Glain as High Garda, most of the others as scholars. Thomas has been arrested and has disappeared, and Morgan has been taken by the Obscurists of the Black Tower. This installment details their efforts to link up and rescue Thomas and Morgan.

A well-written and entertaining YA alternate history series which is not too unbelievable (apart from the Welsh conquering England). I’ve been enjoying the books and look forward to finishing the rest.

Recommended.
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Re: What have you read recently?

Postby maddz » 11:16pm on 25 Dec 17

Ars Historica, by Marie Brennan

This was a give-away from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme in exchange for a review.

The book comprises 7 short stories in what can be described as an alternate universe or historical fantasy. They range in time from Mithridates V of Pontus to Ada Byron, via The Gunpowder Plot. In many ways the stories are companions to the historical stories in Maps to Nowhere and I am glad that these have also been collected.

I enjoyed this collection very much, and have no hesitation in recommending it.
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Re: What have you read recently?

Postby maddz » 3:14pm on 30 Dec 17

The Unknown Ajax, by Georgette Heyer

Another favourite of mine. Light, but very amusing. In the year after Waterloo, Major Hugh Darracot obeys a summons from the grandfather he has never known; his father having made a mesalliance and being cast off. Fate has taken a hand and his uncle and cousin are dead in an accident, leaving him the heir to the barony.

He joins the family at a house party, and wins the respect of the family, not least when his maternal grandfather’s ‘savings’ turn out to be in the region of £500,000 and hence he can save the family fortunes - if he chooses to do so.

Wildfire, by Ilona Andrews (bk 3 of Hidden Legacy)

Nevada Baylor declares herself and her family as a new House to save them from being taken by House Tremaine in the person of her paternal grandmother. She is supported by Connor Rogan, of House Rogan. During this, they are investigating the kidnapping of Connor’s ex-fiancee’s husband. She is the daughter of Olivia Charles, who was instrumental in the plot to destabilise Houston.

We find out more about the complexity of magic and genetics, and are left with a fairly major loose end which may or may not form another plot line.

Ash and Quill, by Rachel Caine (bk 3 of The Great Library)

Escaping from The Library after rescuing Thomas from prison, the friends end up in Philadelphia, the headquarters of The Burners. The city has been under siege for a century. Here they demonstrate a working printing press, and escape under cover of bombardment when the order is given to destroy Philadelphia. Returning to England and the Brightwell family, they again build a press, this time demonstrating it to the assembled book smuggler gangs.

After yet another betrayal, the friends end up in the hands of various factions, with Jess (masquerading as his twin brother, Brendan), Morgan and Wolfe ending up in the hands of the Library in Alexandria. Yes, another cliff-hanger.

I like the series, I like the world-building, but I am now concerned that the series may drag on. The Morganville Vampires series went for 15 books and various spin-offs, The Weather Warden series is currently at 9 books and more. It strikes me that this has the potential to turn into The Wheel of Time. I’ll stick it for another installment or two, but she needs to wrap the story-line up. A blow-by-blow account of a revolution is not my idea of a fun read.

The Deep Beyond, by C J Cherryh (omnibus of Cuckoo’s Egg and Serpent’s Reach)

Two stand-alone novels in Cherryh’s Alliance-Union universe.

Cuckoo’s Egg is a bit of an oddity. The human Thorn has been raised among an alien race and despite his obvious physical differences considers himself to be one of them. The book follows him from infancy to age 18 when he discovers the truth about himself and the circumstances of his genesis.

As ever, Cherryh delivers a believable alien race and mindset. The shoenoen are mammalian cat-like beings with a society reminiscent of a high-tech Far-Eastern society, albeit still with low-tech overtones.

Serpent’s Reach

A more typical Cherryh S-F novel, and one obviously in the Alliance-Union timeline than Cuckoo’s Egg. The eponymous Serpent’s Reach is an area of space in the Hydra region that has been interdicted to humanity because of the local alien race, the insectoid Majat. They are a hive-mind, with a social structure resembling ants or bees. In terms of memory, they are immortal although individuals can die. Four hives exist - red, green, gold and blue; effectively each is one individual with memories stretching back over at least a million years.

There is a human colony living there with permission of the Majat. They comprise the (possibly) immortal Kontrin who interact with the Majat, the short-lived azi who are clones, and betas who are human-normal and are descended from ova. Trade with the rest of the galaxy happens at a single planet.

The story starts when a Kontrin family linked to blue-hive is all but exterminated by rivals. The only survivor is a teenager. The story is of her revenge on the killers of her family and the wider political interactions. Complicating this is red-hive’s new understanding of death and it’s meaning to humans.

Recommended.
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Re: What have you read recently?

Postby maddz » 9:03am on 05 Jan 18

Ghost on the Steppe, by Cecelia Holland

A coming-of-age historical novel, set on the Mongolian steppe about 3 generations after Genghis Khan. I think this is actually a YA novel from the plot and fairly uncomplicated writing style.

For telling a lie, Djela is banished to the northern herds on the border of the steppe. Here he proves himself by hunting and killing the ghostly Beast that has been terrorising the herds and the herdsmen.

Fairly short, I read it in the space of an afternoon. It seemed reasonably historically accurate, although there were one or two niggling spell checker errors which distracted me slightly. Apart from that, it was a perfectly adequate read.

A Cold Summer Night and A Bright Winter Sun, by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (bks 1 & 2 of Trouble in the Forest)

An interesting take on the Robin Hood legend. Robin Hood is a vampire preying on travellers on the Great North Road. He is building up a gang of outlaws by turning some of his victims. The Sheriff of Nottingham is a decent man, a former Crusader who has had experience with vampires in the Holy Land. Prince John is a cultured (and fairly decent) man, Gui of Guisborne a fop.

It may be a spin-off of the St Germain series, as the vampires resemble some of the more bestial vampires in that series, but there is nothing to say either way. (Unlike Four Horses for Tishtry, St Germain does not put in an appearance.)

Not a bad read, and I don’t have any hesitation in recommending this duology.

The SEA is Ours, edited by Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng

An anthology of SE Asian steampunk stories. Like many multi-author anthologies, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, and the SE Asian background makes for a more difficult read. The other thing was the overt anti-colonial tone in some of the stories; I don’t disagree with the sentiment but I found it a bit heavy-handed and probably not entirely suited to the story length. (In a novel, I think it would have worked but in a short story I think the world-building needs to be more seamless.)

I dipped in and out of this one, reading a story at a time. Worth reading, but probably not everyone’s cup of tea. Whether I’ll ever return to this is debatable.
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Re: What have you read recently?

Postby Dom » 4:02pm on 07 Jan 18

# Books in December 2017
Quite unintentionally, December became a bit of a SF month for me.


## *Artemis* (Andy Weir)
So, the sequel to *The Martian*, a book (and film) that I enjoyed immensely. I made the mistake of reading the [Adam Roberts’ review in *The Guardian*](https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/ ... he-martian "Artemis review in the Guardian") before I started this. My initial impression of that was that it felt like sour grapes about the success of the first, self-published novel. But was he right?

On reflection, I do think that some of the criticisms are justified; the novel - stylistically - is not sophisticated. It is more akin to the old juvenile SF that I loved growing up. The style is the same as *The Martian*, but this time the info-dumps tend to come in the form of letters between the protagonist and a pen-friend, something that actually meshes very tightly to the plot at the end of the novel. Like *The Martian*, it carries itself along with the energy that the main character has in overcoming the problems that they are faced with. That in itself harkens back to an older form of SF.

I really enjoyed this book, probably because of the nostalgia for a style that it engenders. *Traveller* is, after all, my favourite SF-RPG and that is grounded in the same roots. It isn’t as good as *The Martian*, but is definitely worth a look.

## *Ready Player One* (Ernest Cline)
This one is so grounded in geek culture that sometimes it almost tries too hard. The concept is simple; with climate change and a thirty year recession that shows no sign of going away, the world is a much less pleasant place than it is today. The protagonist - Wade - is a student, growing up in trailer stacks (imagine a 3D trailer park) and attending school via OASIS, an interactive 3D virtual reality that much of the population retreats into to escape a world with far too few opportunities. Wade - or Parzifal, as his avatar is known, is hunting for a huge prize in his spare time; the chance to inherit the fortune of the founder of the company who created OASIS.

The prize is hidden in the form of a quest that brings in a mixture of 70s and 80s tropes; video games, D&D, music and pop culture. As Parsifal progresses, the pace and the risks step up, and he finds that there are those who will take action in the real world to enable them to succeed at the quest. Like video game, the tempo at the end made me read the last third of the book in a single sitting, not wanting to put it down. It isn’t the best book I’ve read recently – I only gave it four stars on Goodreads – but I really enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to seeing what the film version will make of it[^1].

[^1]: Especially if the D&D module reference makes it into the plot.

## *Fever Swamp* (Luke Gearing)
A short sandbox hexcrawl setting compatible with most OSR rules, set in swampland that can only be realistically traversed by boat. Nicely presented (there is something that reminds me of the old Ladybird books in the small hard cover format) and clearly laid out, this is a setting that could be dropped into other fantasy campaigns quite easily. Even though there are some plot hooks that can be used to draw characters in (the search for a missing - and wanted - scholar, for example) the direct engagement to another campaign is less obvious than the previous Melsonian Arts Council book, the Crypts of Indormancy.

The other area that is a little lacking is on the environmental hazards of the journey through the swamp. I feel that there was an opportunity lost to present some none creature and combat based encounters; however, this may well have been influenced by the ongoing play I have had in a One Ring campaign where travel is much more significant. As it stands, the longer you travel in the swamp, the more likely you are to catch a disease. The drag of the environment itself - coldness, wetness, dirt - is left to the GM to improvise.

That said, this is a competent, well presented, well organised and useful setting. It just doesn't scream "run me" in the way that others like Crypts of Indormancy, Slumbering Ursine Dunes and Hot Springs Islands have.

## *Persepolis Rising* (James S.A. Corey)
The seventh book in the Expanse series (so this would equate to something like series 8 and 9 on TV at the rate that they are converting the books). This book does something radically different; it advances the timeline of the story thirty years further into the future, allowing us to discover the long term consequences of the events in *Babylon’s Ashes*. Holden and the *Rocinante* are still around, but some of the old alliances and power structures have realigned, as might have been expected after the cataclysmic events in the preceding books. It’s interesting to see the shifts in motivation that have occurred; everyone is recognisable but they’ve also moved on. The story builds on elements from the previous books, things that have been left there hanging, and the ending, while satisfactory, leaves me wanting more. I enjoyed this a lot, but you don’t carry on reading up to the seventh book of a series if you don’t enjoy it.
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Re: What have you read recently?

Postby maddz » 3:35pm on 08 Jan 18

First book read from the Gateway sale: The High Crusade, by Poul Anderson

Owned for many years, this is a grand romp originally published in 1960. A force of Englishmen about to embark for France in the French Wars of Edward III instead embarks in a visiting alien spaceship and gets lost in space. They end up conquering the aliens and creating a feudal space empire. Somewhat dated in terms of style and language; female characters only get walk-on parts and certainly have no agency, and references to other countries and religions are mildly derogatory although this would be historically accurate in terms of feudal England.

David Drake’s Ranks of Bronze series is a later version of the concept.

Fun, but somewhat dated.
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Re: What have you read recently?

Postby maddz » 10:34am on 11 Jan 18

Something Coming Through, by Paul McAuley

An interesting science fiction noir novel. It starts as a braided story; one strand set on Earth, the other set on the planet Mangala. The Earth strand is basically the backstory to the Mangala strand, and eventually both strands converge in the last few chapters. This makes for an interesting read as to begin with there seems to be no obvious connection between the two strands.

The story starts with a couple of cops investigating a murder on Mangala. Then the action moves to Earth where a girl is investigating an alien breakout on Earth; the company she works for is trying to understand alien technology (and psychology).

Earth has been contacted by a race called the Jackaroo, who have granted humanity 15 worlds and control access them to them by means of a shuttle. The Jackaroo are completely neutral observers; once they have made their gift, they don’t interfere any more. This is not the first time they have made the gift; it has happened multiple times and the remnants of previous races can be found on the various planets, both as ruins and fossilised races.

An interesting concept, and deftly handled in the way the story develops.

Recommended.
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Re: What have you read recently?

Postby Dom » 1:43am on 13 Jan 18

The sequel and related shorts are good too.



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Re: What have you read recently?

Postby maddz » 11:33pm on 13 Jan 18

The Quiet Gentleman, by Georgette Heyer

The Earl of St Erth returns to his ancestral home a year after the death of his father. Living there are his stepmother, half brother Martin, and cousin Theo. His return is much resented by Martin as he was treated as the heir (the Earl being in the army and his mother having fled her marriage with the previous Earl). Various accidents befall the Earl, and the blame all points to Martin.

A deft blend of mystery and Regency romance with a not too implausible plot. This is a favourite of mine; I tend to prefer the less romantic plots.

The (Compleat) Traveller in Black, by John Brunner

I picked up the ebook in the recent Gateway SF sale; the 1987 paperback has been in my library for many years. This contains the 5 linked short stories featuring the entity ‘who has many names but only a single nature’ (the original version of The Traveller in Black does not include the story ‘The Things That Are Gods’).

This my favourite Brunner; I think it helps that it’s mythological fantasy rather than science fiction (some of his science fiction novels come across as ‘troubling’, especially in their attitude to women). Women do feature in the stories, some with agency, some without, but there isn’t the sloppy characterisation seen in some of his SF longer works.

The eponymous Traveller in Black is an entity who walks the border between order and chaos and is engaged in bringing order to the world. He travels whenever 4 planets are in a specific conjunction. Each story relates to a different journey.

Recommended.
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Re: What have you read recently?

Postby maddz » 4:48am on 19 Jan 18

Northwest of Earth, by C L Moore

Another Gateway acquistion. I owned a copy of Shambleau many years ago, but culled it before I moved to Cambridge, not appreciating the brilliant writing. Both books are Moore’s Northwest Smith stories, but Shambleau has less stories than the new collection.

Pure pulp at it’s best. Stylistically very reminiscent of Clark Ashton Smith or H P Lovecraft if either had written science fiction stories. Don’t expect much enlightened attitudes - females (although strong characters in their own right) are either vamps or victims (often both), and other races are either degenerate or at best sidekicks.

Great background material for a pulp planetary campaign - from the jungles of Venus to the deserts of Mars, the Solar System has been home to many humanoid races over the millenia.

Recommended.
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Re: What have you read recently?

Postby satbunny » 11:29am on 19 Jan 18

maddz wrote:Northwest of Earth, by C L Moore

Another Gateway acquistion. I owned a copy of Shambleau many years ago, but culled it before I moved to Cambridge, not appreciating the brilliant writing. Both books are Moore’s Northwest Smith stories, but Shambleau has less stories than the new collection.

Pure pulp at it’s best. Stylistically very reminiscent of Clark Ashton Smith or H P Lovecraft if either had written science fiction stories. Don’t expect much enlightened attitudes - females (although strong characters in their own right) are either vamps or victims (often both), and other races are either degenerate or at best sidekicks.

Great background material for a pulp planetary campaign - from the jungles of Venus to the deserts of Mars, the Solar System has been home to many humanoid races over the millenia.

Recommended.
I'll investigate

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Re: What have you read recently?

Postby maddz » 12:48pm on 19 Jan 18

satbunny wrote:
maddz wrote:I'll investigate

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You might also want to look out for S M Stirling's Lords of Creation series: The Sky People (set on Venus) and In the Courts of the Crimson Kings (set on Mars).

Sadly neither are available (in the UK at least) as ebooks, and not available in print from Tor either (I don't know if the rights have reverted since Stirling is no longer a Tor author and neither of these are featured on Baen where Stirling seems to be published now). I was lucky enough to find both second hand. (There's also a short story from the series in Old Mars, edited by George R R Martin and Gardner Dozois, which is available in Kindle and others).
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Re: What have you read recently?

Postby maddz » 4:11pm on 20 Jan 18

The Chalk Giants, by Keith Roberts

A somewhat difficult to classify book by a British author. It comprises a series of linked short stories or novellas set in Dorset, in and around Corfe Castle, with a framing story. I’ve owned several books by Keith Roberts for a while as I come from Dorset and am familiar with the settings of many of his stories.

The framing story and the initial stories are straight-forward post-apocalyptic stories following a limited nuclear war (which is touched on and not detailed apart from a mention that Birmingham and Glasgow were destroyed, and an implication that other bombs were air bursts). Then the stories start veering into the fantastic: civilisation is rebuilt with prehistoric overtones and subsequent invaders have elements of Viking and Celtic tribes.

Enjoyable, but probably not to everyone’s taste.
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Re: What have you read recently?

Postby satbunny » 10:11am on 21 Jan 18

I read
A Dying Light in Corduba
and
Three Hands in the Fountain
by Lindsey Davis on holiday.
These are books 8&9 in the Falcons detective series set in Vespasian's Rome.
Lovely way to learn about the Roman Empire and follow a private eye and his extensive extended family.

I read the two Witcher short story books
The Last Wish (short story collection)
Sword of Destiny (short story collection)
by Andrzej Sapkowski.
I heartily recommend this series, and reading them in the right chronological order, which I didn't!

https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/amp.redd ... oks_guide/

Then I read a Tom Thorne and Helen Weeks crossover
Time of Death
by Mark Billingham

So, a Catholic mix on my holiday

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Re: What have you read recently?

Postby dr_mitch » 11:57am on 21 Jan 18

I love the Falco books, though I'm still quite early in the series.
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