this is part of as days pass by, by Stuart Langridge

Books I acquired (and have reviewed) in 2015

December 2015

Hounded goodreads

Kevin Hearne (Iron Druid #1)

Who doesn't love a book about a redhead chap with Irish heritage? Although Atticus is actually Irish, not like me with just family. Actually, he's more Irish than basically anyone has ever, ever been; two-thousand-year-old Druid and all that. What's interesting about this is that Atticus is convincingly quite a bit more powerful than most book heroes, but manages it well. There's no chapters of build-up for how he finally manages to overcome his doubts and pull off a complex magic thing to stop the bad guy; he can just march in and kick everyone's arse if he wants, because he's actually got the skills (and the nous to use them in some clever ways, I admit). Makes for a different sort of story than most. 

Hexed goodreads

Kevin Hearne (Iron Druid #2)

Atticus is pretty funny, I must admit. Still shruggingly pulling off feats between paragraphs that would be the climax of most other books, and he doesn't get too angsty about it either. It's a bit hard to see how the Druids got wiped out if they were all this nails, but a lot of what makes O'Sullivan as undefeatable as he is is having spent two millennia binding iron to his aura and crafting charms and so on, which others didn't and don't have.

Hammered goodreads

Kevin Hearne (Iron Druid #3)

Atticus actually changes things. Most urban fantasy stories stick semi-closely to the... "canon", I suppose you'd call it, the world of gods and monsters that mythology contains, and then make up their own bits. (This series is another example of All Myths Are True, of course.) But in this, Atticus kills a bunch of famous entities who aren't just made up for this book. This made me go: huh, this is new. Atticus's myth world doesn't look like ours does, now. This is an interesting new idea that I've hardly seen anyone do before.

Tricked goodreads

Kevin Hearne (Iron Druid #4)

Atticus vs the skinwalkers. These are different from the naagloshii in the Dresden Files. And Coyote is a total dick. Also I think I have actually successfully started reading Siodhachan as shee-ya-han as I'm supposed to, finally.

Hunted goodreads

Kevin Hearne (Iron Druid #6)

More of the Iron Druid. These are rollocking good fun, although if I'm honest they do all rather blur into one in retrospect; hard to know which order anything happened in, looking back on the books.
I have a question about magical weapons, though. If there are a bunch of gods around who can craft things like Granuaile's staff (the pronunciation of which refuses to stick in my head), then why does everyone go nuts trying to find or steal arrows that always hit or a sword that kills with one blow or whatever? Just get someone (Goibniu, Hephaestus, whoever) to make a new one instead!

Engraved on the Eye goodreads

Saladin Ahmed

Sci-fi and fantasy short stories, but against the backdrop of the Middle East and Islam rather than Europe and Christianity. I really enjoyed some of these; they aren't tracts. The characters are Islamic in the same way that mediaeval knights are Christian; it's just a standard part of their worldview but not actually hugely important to them. A bit like Despoilers of the Golden Empire by Randall Garrett. I hope more people buy Saladin Ahmed's stuff. Reading his Twitter stories about how he's hanging on the edge of financial viability is really depressing.

Adaptive Web Design: Crafting Rich Experiences with Progressive Enhancement, Second Edition goodreads

Aaron Gustafson

Detailed review at

November 2015

Magic City: Recent Spells goodreads

25 authors

Got for the Butcher and Lynch, obviously, both of which were good. Scott Lynch clearly has a head full of excellent ideas for stories which don't fit into existing worlds and so casually throws together a new world for a story and makes it feel real. This is an unusual talent and one that I wish more people had.

October 2015

The Changing Land goodreads

Roger Zelazny

Holds up well, much as Dilvish the Damned does. You'd hardly know this book is older than I am.

Dilvish, The Damned goodreads

Roger Zelazny

Never actually read this until my friend Andy battered me into submission about how I should. It holds up surprisingly well and is surprisingly fun. Zelazny really was good.

Saturn Run goodreads

John Sandford & Ctein

Sandford does sci-fi. Or, more accurately I think, Sandford does a story and Ctein goes back over all the sentences and replaces "(description of how spaceships manoeuvre)" with an actual description in laborious detail. Although I might be being unfair to JS there. This is the second book recently (after Neal Stephenson's Seveneves) to try to make me care about orbital mechanics; is this a response to humanity's lack of space travel recently? Anyway, the story's pretty compelling, and I very much like the idea of what the Space Thingy turns out to be. However... there's a weird "America! Fuck yeah!" feeling about that. Descending into spoiler territory a little, you've got an American craft and an enemy-du-jour craft (in this book it's the Chinese) racing to get to the Space Thingy. The American President, back on earth, is quite a horrible bastard, but she's well characterised. Anyway, the Yanks beat the Chinese to the thing, and basically stitch them up so the Chinese don't get as much cool stuff. And it feels like we're basically meant to think that that's OK and that the Chinese are bloodthirsty pirates for being annoyed about this. And I can't help but think, blimey, if it had been the other way around, would the story have taken the same view? Still, the Space Thingy anticipated this fairly well, which is good. All in all, a good Sandford book, even if your eyes glaze over a bit at all the parts explaining about deceleration curves in the sun's gravity field and whatnot; the mix of Sandford excellence plus Ctein accuracy probably does help, here.

September 2015

The Death of Me goodreads

Jonathan L. Howard (Johannes Cabal #3)

Johannes Cabal short story, in which I was fooled too, so no blame, JC.

The Brothers Cabal goodreads

Jonathan L. Howard (Johannes Cabal #4)

Johannes and Horst, together again! I'm warming quite a lot to the lack of wonder in the prose of the Cabal books, especially since it's all so deadpan funny as well. Once again JC basically has everything worked out before getting into the fight, so he wins... and the ruthless ceaseless rationality is more attractive as something to emulate than perhaps it should be. There are just enough flashes of humanity and conscience that he's not an arse, and he knows this and doesn't like it which makes it all the better. Horst now less cool than his little brother.

Also, more authorial voice from Howard, the author, who seemingly harbours secret dreams of being Lemony Snicket and does a very good job of it. I read the nasty epilogue, of course.

The Steerswoman goodreads

Rosemary Kirstein

A friendly world. I like the idea of the steerswomen, although that suffers a little from the fantasy cliché of "everyone respects them" (because if they didn't, such a group could never have got off the ground). I like the mystery of the wizards, too; the remote wizard dealing with Things Man Was Not Meant To Wot Of is another cliché, but this neatly avoids it by having there be a few wizards, and they show up and do things occasionally like kill dragons (a small pest, not a terrifying enemy) or provide electric lighting, but nobody has any idea what the hell they're up to. Interesting. At one point I thought maybe they weren't magic at all (our heroine discovers copper wire but doesn't know what it's for, although we've seen what's clearly electric lighting and so know), but they are. At least a bit. Also, if I were properly enlightened I wouldn't have noticed that this is a gender balanced society, but because it is and ours isn't it felt jarring. But that's my fault, and it's excellently done; there's no politics being pushed here, just a picture of a world better than ours.

But. A small but and a big one. The latter is inevitably spoilerful, so beware.

The small but is this: a steerswoman (or steersman) will answer any question of yours truthfully, but in return you have to answer any question of theirs; this is enforced by how if you refuse to answer one of theirs, no steerswoman will answer any question of yours ever again. Clever. But: how does it work? Even given that they all keep logbooks and send them back, does every steerswoman memorise a big list of names? "Oh no, Keith of Pie Town, you're on my list"?

The (spoiler! stop reading!) bigger question is this: as far as I can tell, Rowan pulls the idea that the blue jewels are bits of a fallen Guidestar entirely out of her arse. There are no clues, no foreshadowing, and no indication of how she arrived at this conclusion. Maybe I just completely missed it, but I was bowled over by how much it came out of nowhere. Do better, please.

The Outskirter's Secret goodreads

Rosemary Kirstein

A travelogue around the Outskirts, which does quite a lot more world-building, and therefore the fact that these books are *actually* sci-fi rather than fantasy is slipped in so expertly that I hardly noticed it had happened at first.

Again with untelegraphed revelations pulled off by Rowan, though (avoiding spoilers here); I admit that it's not actually a *problem* that we the readers couldn't have worked things out beforehand (it's not an Agatha Christie book), but there is a constant sense of arbitrariness when some shocking swerve in the plot is revealed by Rowan out of nowhere at all, and she's done that at least once in each book now.

Also, the final scene feels like it should be the climactic finish of this first arc, what with it being the thing Rowan's been trying to do for two books now, and instead it just sort of is arrived at and despatched in the space of a single chapter. It feels almost as if it were rushed, which is a weird word to use for a series which gets two new books a decade.

The Lies of Locke Lamora goodreads

Scott Lynch (Gentleman Bastards #1)

Marvellous story of long-con artists in fantasy Venice with lots of alchemy and a little magic. Locke is perhaps the most realistically-speaking character in non-urban fantasy; he actually sounds like a real person. If you haven't read this, what are you waiting for?

Red Seas Under Red Skies goodreads

Scott Lynch (Gentleman Bastards #2)

The return of Locke Lamora! I got terribly bored by all the sailing and pirate stuff. All the parts with the Sinspire were super excellent, though.

The Republic of Thieves goodreads

Scott Lynch (Gentleman Bastards #3)

More Lamora, including (finally) an on-screen Sabetha Belacoros! Loved all the bits in Karthain; didn't like all the bits about the play, in much the same way that I didn't like all the boat bits in RSURS. I just wanna read about long cons in fantasy Venice, I suppose. Hustle but with alchemy. Sorry.

The Kill List goodreads

Frederick Forsyth

First Forsyth book in a while where he hasn't cut and pasted a whole entire chapter from a previous book. Actually surprisingly good; I mean, it's pretty standard FF material, and he still just does not understand computer technology and needs to spend ten minutes running all the internet bits in his books past the nearest developer person, but it's a diverting read for as long as it lasts.

August 2015

A Memory of Light goodreads

Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson

Realised I never actually got around to finding out how the whole Wheel of Time ended, and I should have done. I got really quite tired of the Aes Sedai in the earlier books and so I stopped about halfway through, but reading the WOTFAQ was always interesting -- I like the storylines, just not Jordan's way of delivering them, or any of the characters. Sanderson seems to have improved that a bit, although his strengths are more to my mind in worldbuilding, and this world was already built. Anyway, now I know what happens at the end. Reasonably convincing, too; there were costs, there was heroism, there were discoveries made in the heat of the moment because they needed to be. 14 books later, this probably goes into the "all time classic fantasy stories" list alongside the Belgariad and Thomas Covenant and the Feist stuff and Shannara and so on, and it feels rather like that; everyone's read them, hardly anyone has them as favourites. It would have been good to see what Jordan did next, and now we can't.

The Evolution Man goodreads

Roy Lewis

Odd but extremely good story about cavemen discovering fire and hunting and whatnot, but all the characters have completely modern voices (and are a bit aware of the fourth wall, too). Fascinating. I assume this got a huge resurgence for people getting it for the same reason I did; that Pratchett recommended it in an essay. Highly recommended.

The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare goodreads

G. K. Chesterton

I could probably quote half of this from memory, but I didn't have an electronic copy, and Project Gutenberg provided, as ever. The best Chesterton thing in long form (the essays are better, but shorter), and I'd almost forgotten just how mad it goes at the end. Worth it alone for the discussion between Syme and Gregory before the anarchists arrive, including the base assumption that both will do what's honourable.

July 2015

Outrage goodreads

John Sandford & Michele Cook (The Singular Menace #2)

More from Shay and Twist and the gang. Reading it, I felt again that this is not YA at all; it's just a Sandford story where the protagonist happens to be 16. But on taking a step back, the underlying story is a bit cliched -- evil corporation experimenting on humans, stopped by plucky young heroine on a quest to save her brother -- and characterising that as "YA" is probably terribly unfair, but I do. Still excellent and worth your time, though.

The Annihilation Score goodreads

Charles Stross (Laundry Files #6)

I fear I am going off the Laundry Files books. I think I liked them more when they were amusing light tales and not super-serious.

Neverwhere goodreads

Neil Gaiman

I didn't like Neverwhere on first reading, and I only recently went back to it. It's a lot better; I don't know what I didn't like. Anyway, a standard Joe Everyman character discovers London Below, a typical Gaimanian version of London existing coincident with the normal one but full of weird urban fantasy characters, half of whom are tied by name into London history -- there are characters named Old Bailey and Islington (an angel), Shepherd's Bush has actual shepherds in it, etc. Slightly surprisingly, Richard really is Joe Everyman and doesn't turn out to have mystical powers or whatever. Croup and Vandemar fit the fairly standard "two bad guys, the thin ratty clever one and the big tough one" archetype played to by Mr Wint and Mr Kidd, Hale and Pace, Mr Pin and Mr Tulip, and so on, but they're also genuinely worrying in places, and the final denoument was surprising to me at least and well executed. 

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality goodreads

Eliezer Yudkowsky

Harry Potter, Scientist edition. I liked all the starting stuff which is basically Harry pointing at the whole Rowlingverse and saying "this is stupid and shouldn't work". And it ends well; all plot threads pulled together, satisfyingly and interestingly. It palls rather a lot in the middle; I felt a bit guilty about having so enthusiastically recommended it to friends when I got bored with the middle bit, but the end redeems it, mostly. No desire whatsoever to go read Yudkowsky's rationalist writings, so if this is secretly a first-hit-is-free seduction attempt then it didn't do a very good job. 

May 2015

Seveneves goodreads

Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson isn’t good at endings. Anyone who’s read any of his stuff knows this. He is good at ideas, and they’re what his books are about. The Diamond Age wasn’t about its plot, it was about nanotechnology. Anathem was about Platonic epistemology. And Seveneves is about orbital mechanics.

Basically, the moon blows up. Nobody’s very sure why. Because this is sci-fi rather than a Michael Bay film, the moon isn’t instantly vapourised into nothingness; all the rock is still there, so instead of a moon you’ve got a cloud of boulders the size of the moon, drifting around where the moon was. Then a popular scientist bloke on Earth, who is called Dubois Harris but really ought to be called Duneil DeGrasse Tyson, points out that all those rocks that make up the moon are going to come out of orbit and land on the earth. Specifically, earth is going to spend five thousand years being bombarded by rocks from the sky, which will cause some problems. Specifically specifically, it will destroy everything. Everybody’s dead, everybody is dead, everybody’s dead, Dave.

So the plan is set to stick a few thousand chosen people on the international space station so they survive and humanity continues to exist, in the two years before rocks fall and everyone dies. That’s the first third of the book. There are some quite emotional scenes of people singing in St. Paul’s Cathedral as the bombardment starts; Stephenson glosses over but makes you aware of the unbelieveable Niagara of politics which is going on back on Earth to decide who gets to live and who doesn’t. The second third of the book is the story of these last remaining humans up in space, and this is where the orbital mechanics comes in; loving, pages-deep detail is devoted to how the international space station rotates its angle of perigee and moves to a higher plane of rotation or something. I have no idea whether this is true or not, but I assume it is. In American Psycho (the book, that is), Bret Easton Ellis went into huge stupid detail about the cravats and suits and pocket squares that the characters all wear, but secretly if anyone had actually worn the things he described they’d have looked stupid… because Ellis knew that everyone reading would just gloss over the actual brand names and have a picture in their heads of a bunch of jumped-up 80s yuppies. It is possible that what Stephenson describes is actually the space station doing insane loop-the-loops, as some sort of extremely erudite joke on the reader destined only for the astronauts among us. This is not helped by how the International Space Station gets re-christened “Izzy”.

Anyway, those of you who are imagining that this becomes some sort of peace-and-flowers Star Trek world where everyone comes together would probably be better off reading something else. It’s basically Lord of the Flies but in space. Now why didn’t I see that coming? Oh, wait, I did. It’s all quite believeably told, mind you, even if I just couldn’t bear to actually read a chapter or two in the middle where a venial ex-President incites a schism. And we end up with there being only seven woman left from the cast of thousands, and everybody else is dead. Dave.

The third part of the book is… five thousand years later. Humanity has recovered and built cities in space and is returning to the earth… and is divided into seven separate tribes, based on which of the seven Eves they descended from. It’s all rather Brave New World in feel, assuming that Huxley had stopped every two pages to lovingly describe how a space elevator works. And then it ends. Anathem had a proper ending, so Stephenson is getting better at this stuff, but Seveneves backslides a bit.

It’s all rather 60s sci-fi in approach. Back when the star of the story was some cool new idea you had about space, like solar sails or geosynchronous satellites or whatever, and the ridiculous lantern-jawed spacer hero was really only there to stand around and explain the cool physics. Seveneves is like that. If you like that sort of thing, you’ll like this. If you like Stephenson, you’ll like this. If you like space engineering, you’ll like this.

Machine of Death goodreads

Ryan North

Conveniently available for free PDF download. A compelling idea, here -- a machine is invented which can from a blood sample predict accurately how you'll die, but does so ambiguously, so that OLD AGE might mean you getting old or you being stabbed by an old guy -- which was then riffed on by a whole bunch of people who wrote short stories. The best are collected here. Some names that are known -- Yahtzee Croshaw, Randall Munroe -- and a few good stories in here, but overall the quality is pretty patchy. Still, you can get it for free, so go get it for the good ones.

April 2015

Uncaged goodreads

John Sandford & Michele Cook (The Singular Menace #1)

Typical (typically excellent) Sandford. I don't know what's "young adult" about this, other than that the protagonist is 16 rather than 35. Twist is a bit of a caricature, but not too much; LA sounds like a really dreadful place, which was my experience when I went there but not this much; Shay is red-haired and pretty, which are Mary Sue traits, but not much is made of her attractiveness other than her finding a few things easier than actual people might, not that she notices. Not sure if "Sean" is supposed to be a real actual actor person or just a character. If you like Sandford, you'll like this.

Ignition! goodreads

John D. Clark

Mentioned in a Derek Lowe column. This is hard to find but nonetheless interesting; tales from the golden age of chemistry, when men were men and safety was a dirty word. If you know anything about chemistry, some of these anecdotes will cause your eyebrows to raise so much that they lift clear off your head and into the sky. Entertaining to read about, at a long remove; glad the world is no longer quite so blasé about this sort of thing.

The Dragon’s Path goodreads

Daniel Abraham (Dagger and Coin #1)

Started to read based on a recommendation from a friend. Bounced off the first few chapters and found something else to read instead. I should persevere.

March 2015

The Thief goodreads

Megan Whalen Turner (Attolia #1)

I started off not liking this all that much. It felt like a long slog through most of the book, but I kept at it. It is worth it for the ending. It really, really is.

The Queen of Attolia goodreads

Megan Whalen Turner (Attolia #2)

Less clever than The Thief, I think. Partially because I just do not buy Eugenides's infatuation. It is dropped on us unconvincingly out of a clear blue sky. Completely discombobulating.

The King of Attolia goodreads

Megan Whalen Turner (Attolia #3)

Cleverer even than The Thief. If you're looking to write a protagonist who can pull off the "ahaha! you thought you were winning but in fact I was all along!" reveal, study Gen. He's the best at it ever. The sauna scene is particularly revealing (ha ha).

A Conspiracy of Kings goodreads

Megan Whalen Turner (Attolia #4)

Wow. Sudden huge downturn in this series, at least for me. This is not about clever plans; it's about politics. And Gen comes off as rather a dick. I didn't enjoy this hardly at all. Except the bit with the gun, obviously.

February 2015

Rude Astronauts goodreads

Allen Steele

I remembered reading this from the library in the town I grew up in, years and years ago, and so sought it out again. Most of the stories stand up pretty well, still; I don't really like Steele's longer works, but I've always enjoyed short stories. The alternate history stuff in here about Goddard and whatever is excellent; I don't think I actually realised the first time around that it _was_ alternate history.

January 2015

Atlantis Found goodreads

Clive Cussler

Evil neo-Nazis attempt to conquer the world while being classy about it. Dirk Pitt stops them, as usual. Minor credit for the line one of the family gives about not venerating Hitler, though.

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