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Scan 19To my shame I have never read any Gene Wolfe before now and decided to start with Peace, partly because of the beautiful cover (yes, I am that shallow) but also because the blurb on the back of the Fantasy Masterworks edition I have sounded intriguing and not at all fantasy like, and the book itself reinforces that view because it reads very much like an ordinary memoir of a man’s life, but it is implied that there is a lot more going on here.

Which is where I have to confess that I had a bit of a problem, because I clearly missed a lot of the subtext around death (not giving too much away as this is mentioned on the back of the book) and I was aware but possibly didn’t entirely understand the timey-wimey stuff until close to the end. This, I hasten to say, is totally my failure to appreciate what Wolfe was doing with this story.

Peace is beautifully written, engaging, with believable characters that I became very fond of, especially our hero Alden Dennis Weer’s Aunt Olivia and her various suitors.

Because I was aware when I got to the end of the novel that I had not really got underneath the skin of this novel, I went off to the world-wide webs to find out what others have said with the result that I am definitely going to read Peace again to see if I was just being particularly dim or if it is as ambiguous as it appears.

All of that sounds like I didn’t enjoy Peace but I really did like it very much. As I said, the writing is super. There is a female character who is rumoured (on apparently no basis at all) to be no better than she should be, the other ladies around her considering  all the rumours to be true because she is so fit

For to them a physical pliancy implies moral accommodation

There is also a lovely quote which made me think more about the process of writing than I normally do. Our narrator talks abut doing something between the last sentence he had written and the one he is currently writing, and says

have you never thought as you read that months may lie between any pair of words?

Reading back this is a very fuzzy and disjointed review of what is clearly an important book in the fantasy genre. But I was confused and can only leave you all with the quote on the cover from Neil Gaiman:

a tricky, deep and remarkable novel

I may have missed some of the points but I am very glad that I read it.

This was my first read for Once Upon a Time VII.

AngelmakerI could actually review Angelmaker in one word – awesome. I totally, totally adored this book which was recommended  by my dear friend Silvery Dude who then bought it for me as a belated birthday present in Waterstones Piccadilly the day after the Oscar ceremony when I went to assist him in the spending of his Christmas book vouchers.

I also *fangirl squee* had a Twitter exchange with Nick Harkaway, the author, after which I swooned and then finished the book in a massive reading session on Good Friday.

This is the story of Joe Spork, who repairs clocks and automatons and other lovely mechanical devices in London, and is asked to fix something really peculiar which kicks off a whole series of events which brings him to the attention of secret bits of the government, a magnificent super villain, a notorious serial killer and a strange sect of monkish types. In this situation he finds himself in the company of the greatest lawyer in the world (sorry Silvery Dude) Mercer Cradle (on whom I now have a huge girly crush), the lovely Polly and the nonagenarian spy Edie Banister.

And then there are the mechanical bees.

This is just rollicking good fun, an exciting and pacy story with lovely, sympathetic, complex and realistic characters that I became very attached too. Without giving too much away (and deciding not to go on and on about Mercer but, you know, best thing in a lot of very very good things) I loved it when Joe decided to tap into the influence of his late Dad-with-a-criminal-past. I loved the fact that everything that happens in this has consequences both good and bad for the characters and so has a real heart of truth in amongst all the fantastical elements.

And there’s quite a bit of enjoyable naughtiness as well. For those who like that sort of thing (count me in).

Almost impossible to articulate exactly how wonderful this is. One of my absolute favourite reads of the year, can’t see it being shifted at all.

IMG_00802312 is exactly the kind of sic-fi novel that I adore; lots and lots of hard science, detailed techie details and complex societies explained at length. I was absolutely in my element reading this as part of Carl’s sci-fi experience and its up there with Jack Glass as my favourite reads of the year so far.

So, those of you who know Kim Stanley Robinson will be aware that apart from the stuff I’ve mentioned above he is brilliant at world building and deeply concerned about what humans are doing the planet. All of those themes are on show here but expanded away from Earth to the other planets and moons of the solar system which humanity has colonised. We are many years into these developments, so Mars, Mercury and so on have  been bio-engineered, have their own social structures in place and people have altered themselves in many different ways so gender is a complicated matter. As is the politics, which is the thrust of the story – terrorist attacks (or are they), alliances and rivalries at individual and planetary levels. The role of artificial intelligence is also a big issue – can we trust the technology used to smooth things along, can we really hide things from the implants in our heads and so on.

This is a terribly rambling description of the book and doesn’t really describe the plot terribly well. Against this messy background is basically a love story between Swan and Warham, the former from Mercury  and the latter from Titan, physiologically very different but a couple who come together during the course of the story as they try to work ou what’s really going on. I really liked them both and found their relationship convincing and rather lovely.

One of the most interesting things about the book is the structure, which intersperses the main plot developments (which are often described in terms of the main relationships within each of those sections) with extracts from relevant documents and lists of, well, stuff. I love lists so not at all unhappy with this but I think these interjections do slow the pace of the story, and I occasionally got a tiny wee bit impatient.

Reading this through again I feel I haven’t really captured what the novel is about but that’s not surprising. When the Book God asked me what 2312 was about while I was reading it I simply couldn’t describe the story in any coherent way. All I know is that I had a ball reading it and wonder if there will be a sequel because if there is I will so be there!

Loved it.

Scan 3So, I asked and was pleased to receive Jack Glass as a Christmas present and it was always going to be my first proper read for 2013. I will admit that there were two big attractions for me: (1) the astonishingly lovely cover which you can see alongside and really caught my eye and (2) and the subtitle “the story of a murderer” which is intriguing for a sic-fi novel. It was also the first time I had read anything by Adam Roberts and it’s no spoiler to say that I’m going to be looking for more of his stuff.

The novel starts with a bit of scene setting by someone who is identifying themselves as a Doctor Watson figure and tells us what we need to know about what we are going to read, which includes the following:

A quantity of blood is spilled in this story, I’m sorry to say; and a good many people die; and there is some politics too. There is danger and fear. Accordingly I have told his tale in the form of a murder mystery; or to be more precise (and at all costs we must be precise) three, connected murder mysteries.

And so we are presented with a prison story, a regular murder whodunit and a classic locked-room mystery. In a properly sci-fi setting with lots of technical stuff which I always love. So this looked like it was going to be a real treat and I am very pleased to say that I wasn’t at all disappointed and read it in two sittings. All of the stories are equally fascinating but its worth noting that the first one, set on a prison asteroid where seven men have been sentenced for eleven years to mine the thing so that it can be turned into a luxury dwelling of the mini-planet style at the end of that period, so they have to cooperate to survive, is fairly brutal and grim and quite astonishing in its ending and the effects ripple into the rest of the book. That’s not to say that the other two stories are not as good, as they most certainly are, but they are more traditional and less gorily violent (well I thought so at least).

As always I don’t want to say too much about the plot because the fun is in discovering whats seems to be going on as things unfold, but Jack is a compelling character, much more complex than the set up might lead you to believe. And I developed a bit of a girly crush on Diana, one of the other key characters who is a rather privileged fifteen-about-to-turn-sixteen year old faced with some significant events. The world-building is also excellent but never force-fed so you begin to understand the political and other structures as the story unfolds rather than huge chunks of exposition.

13sfexp2001I really recommend this one, loved it, and it proved an excellent read for the 2013 Sci-fi Experience.

Couple of small things:

  • the opening section identifies the murderer(s) but I totally forgot by the time I got to the last story particularly, so it was a bit of a revelation and I felt like a total idiot when I realised I should have known;
  • the author’s drive for writing this was to bring together some of the conventions of Golden Age sci-fi and detective fiction (which I think he has achieved admirably); and
  • a Champagne Supernova is a real thing that astrophysicists are pondering, named after the Oasis song (which is a favourite) and made me giggle

WhispersUndergroundBenAar67930_fSo there’s a bit of a story to this one. I am a huge fan of Mr Aaronovitch after being introduced to his books by Silvery Dude; in fact the very first one, Rivers of London, helped get me through a particularly nasty cold back in the day. So when I realised that the man himself would be talking and signing books at the Waterstones in Piccadilly, well, I just had to go along, didn’t I? And because I’m a good friend * cough * I got a ticket for the Silvery One as well.

The evening dawned and after numerous “it’ll be fine” exchanges poor old SD couldn’t attend because of domestic (poorly small boy) circumstances so I had to go along by myself, a bit reluctantly I must admit because these things are often more enjoyable when you have someone to chatter with, but it turned out to be huge fun. Mr A is extremely entertaining and a pleasant hour passed as he talked about what bits of the London that appear in his books aren’t real (although it hasn’t stopped me looking for a particular building every time I go through Russell Square), the usual ‘where he gets his ideas from’ stuff and most importantly a hint about how many more volumes there will be in the series (very much a ‘keep going until I run out of stories’ vibe). And as you can see I got my book signed (and got one for SD as well to make up for his missing a night out – and his little boy is OK so smiles all round)

IMG_0192

Whispers Underground itself is well up to standard; starts off with a bit of ghost-hunting on the London underground, followed swiftly by the murder of the son of a US Senator which has something whiffy about it and attracts the attention of the FBI and off we go on a really enjoyable story which as always takes in lots of interesting stuff about London and has a nice arc building up in the background.

It’s always tempting to compare this series with the Bryant and May books by Christopher Fowler (which I also adore) but despite the superficial similarities (police investigating odd things, London as a character in the books, lots of interesting facts) they are very different, the supernatural element being the most obvious, but most people I know who enjoy one author also enjoy the other.

So a series that is going from strength to strength and I can’t wait for the next one.

About ‘Salem’s Lot:

‘Salem’s Lot is a small New England town. Like so many others it contains the usual quota of gossips, drinkers, weirdos and respectable folk. Of course, there are tales of strange happenings – but not more than in any other town its size.

Ben Mears, a moderately successful writer, returns to the Lot to write a novel based on his early years, and to exorcise the terrors that have haunted him since childhood. The event he witnessed in the house now rented by a new resident. A newcomer with a strange allure. A man who causes Ben some unease as things start to happen…

When did I first read this? 1976 or thereabouts (Genesis had just released Wind and Wuthering which was being advertised on the radio almost constantly as I was reading this so I think the date is about right)

What age was I? An impressionable 14

How may times since then? I can’t believe this is only the fourth time I’ve read this but the stats don’t lie (at least not in this case)

Thoughts about the book:

This wasn’t the first Stephen King book I had read; I had devoured Carrie earlier the same year, enjoying the thrill of unhappy teenager getting her own back and loving the style of the book with its mix of traditional narrative alongside eyewitness reports and newspaper clippings and so on. But ‘Salem’s Lot was the big one for me, setting two things in stone for the future (1) vampires are my monster of choice (even sparkly ones a la Twilight) and (2) I would read anything by Stephen King – and I’ve pretty much stuck to that in the (gulp) 36 years since then  though I sometimes come to his stuff a while after publication.

I wish I had been able to keep the paperback version of this that I read as a teenager; if memory serves it was completely black with an embossed (?) head, and the only colour was a drop of blood – who could resist that? Sadly I lent it to someone and never got it back, but I indulged a few years ago in the rather lovely illustrated edition pictured above, with wonderful photographs, a glorious design and loads of additional material (like deleted scenes etc); a real pleasure to read.

I just love this story – a wonderful cast of characters dealing with the supernatural in a realistic setting, a cliché now perhaps but to someone my age at the time a real revelation. Love, horror, bravery, evil – all there in spades. And I can confirm that the feeling of dread about characters you have come to care about is still there even after several re-reads.

Interesting how much of my view of the book was affected by the TV version starring David Soul, for which I have a real soft spot; some of the scenes are still very vivid. Not a bad adaptation though I was still surprised to be reminded in the book that Ben was dark-haired.

This is a real treat for anyone who hasn’t read it before and worth revisiting for those who have, one of my absolute all time favourites.

This is the third book in my Big Re-Read project.

First thing to say is that I pre-ordered Hell Train on Amazon on the basis of the cover and title alone, and when I later read the synopsis of the novel I knew that my instincts were right. This is wonderful, gory stuff.

I am a huge fan of Christopher Fowler, who in recent years has focussed mostly (but not entirely) on his remarkable Bryant & May series of detective novels, but I first came across him as a horror writer via the (sadly now out of print, I think) Darkest Day which I read on holiday in Istanbul; something about its style worked really well in the early evenings against the sound of the call to prayer. Since then I’ve read as much of his stuff as I can get my hands on and a number of his books have been reviewed here.

I’m not going to go into the plot of Hell Train other than to say that it is about a group of passengers who find themselves on a sinister train, the Arkangel, somewhere in Eastern Europe around the time of World War One, and have to deal with some rather unpleasant situations before they reach their unknown destination. The story is book-ended by the tale of Shane Carter, an American who finds himself tasked with writing a script for Hammer Studios.

Oh, I so wish this was a real movie.

I grew up watching Hammer films on TV; I was a particular fan of the various Draculas (I’m sure that’s what triggered a lifelong interest in vampires), loving both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. I’m ashamed to say that I don’t think I’ve ever been able to watch the The Curse of Frankenstein since my first attempt ended in abject failure when I stayed up late as a teenager on my own to watch it on BBC 2 and couldn’t bear the Monster’s face when Lee pulls the covering from his face. Although it’s entirely possible I imagined the whole thing….

So this was definitely my cup of tea, especially as it is reminiscent of one the greats from the 1970s, Horror Express. They really don’t make them like that any more.

But what of the novel? Well, quite simply I really loved this; a good framing device, an exciting story, some proper nastiness, excellent villains and characters you can really root for (I am looking at you, Isabella). I am sure there are absolutely loads of references and in-jokes that I didn’t get which will add to the enjoyment of a genuine film buff, but my verdict is great fun all round.

I am a huge fan of Christopher Priestley, having read all three volumes of his Tales of Terror Series, and as part of RIP VI his excellent ghost story Dead of Winter (reviewed here), a real gem. So as soon as I found out that Mister Creecher was being issued I had to get a copy and it hasn’t lingered long on the TBR pile.

So it is 1818, and we meet Billy, on the streets, ill, and turned into a pickpocket after running away from the chimney sweeper who treated him cruelly. He stumbles across an enormous man, apparently dead, lying in a  side street, but as he is about to rob the body he is accosted by members of a street gang. But before they can beat him, the mysterious body rises from the ground and does them serious damage. And so we meet Mister Creecher, and his relationship with Billy begins.

Mr C looks after Billy during his illness and they form something of a bond, though Billy is very aware of the strangeness of his new companion and in exchange for food, shelter and some assistance in frightening potential robbery victims into parting with their valuables, Billy simply has to follow one man around London. But that man happens to be Victor Frankenstein.

This is a wonderfully different telling of part of the Frankenstein story. The creature is a compelling character, a mix of intelligence, brawn and childish desires, especially for the mate that Frankenstein has promised him. His recognition of his otherness is both touching and sad, and his desire to not be the only one of his kind, while filling Billy with horror, is the driver that moves him on.

But it is Billy who is really the heart of the story, as he works his way from street urchin to more sophisticated criminal before the events that will turn him into a character that some of us will know from another famous 19th century novel. There are clues to Billy’s identity for those that want to see them, but I’m not going to give it away here as it is part of the impact of the novel.

There are some lovely literary references and in-jokes which I found really enjoyable, and some real historical figures popping up here and there, most notably the Shelleys. Priestley paints a really effective picture of London at the time and what it was like to be an outcast child with no hope other than the workhouse or the type of hard manual labour which we would consider abuse today.

I have to confess that I haven’t read either of the novels from which the main characters are drawn, a bit surprising in relation to Frankenstein given my love of things gothic but I tried once when I was a teenager, and found it really hard going in comparison to Dracula.

But this is an excellent, creepy, atmospheric story which has made me consider giving Frankenstein another chance.

Heartily recommended.

This was an interesting one. I must admit that I bought it largely for the cover, I am a sucker for pumpkin-headed things and am still disappointed that my copy of Simon R Green’s Shadow’s Fall has this cover rather than this one.

Anyway, that’s what attracted my attention, and then of course I read the blurb and liked the idea of an annual animated pumpkin thing rising from fields and running a gauntlet of young men, and one of the quotes on the back talked about blood and gore and candy, so it was a clear choice for RIP.

And then I started reading it and hit a bit of a snag at first because it was unpleasant and nasty and I couldn’t connect with any of the characters. But, just at the point I was seriously considering setting this aside something changed. I’m not sure exactly what or when – perhaps it was the background to the October Boy being explained made it more interesting – but I decided that I would persevere and I’m glad I did because although it continued being nasty and unpleasant it was also well-written and had a real narrative drive  and I did begin to like the “hero” a bit more and the character that I particularly loathed got his comeuppance in a suitable way.

So with retribution meted out it turned out to be a good read.

And as I said, very apt for RIP VI for which I think it’s my fifth read.

I have said elsewhere how much I enjoy the Mary Russell series of books by Laurie R King so will not repeat myself unnecessarily here; pleased to say that Pirate King is no exception to that rule and was a lovely fun read after a run of dark and creepy novels.

This is the eleventh in the series and although it does refer back to previous adventures it does so in a non-spoilerish way so would be a good place to start if you have never read a Mary Russell novel before. It is certainly much more light-hearted in many ways than the others and gives a good insight into Mary’s character and her relationship to her famous husband Sherlock Holmes.

So, bit of plot. Mary is persuaded by the imminent arrival of her brother-in-law Mycroft (with whom she’s had a bit of a falling out) to take on the role of assistant to a film crew to investigate the disappearance of her predecessor (was it foul play or had she just had enough) and the distinct air of criminality which follows each of the company’s productions (gun running, drugs etc.) This leads to a trip to Lisbon and then Morocco in what turns out to be a bit of a romp (and that’s a word I normally avoid though it seems appropriate here).

This is huge fun. There are pirates and ingenues and megalomaniacal film directors and chaperones and secret agents and disguises and all manner of derring do set against the backdrop of a silent film production, in this case a film about the making of a film about The Pirates of Penzance. I love stories about early movie making (Bride of the Rat God (sadly out of print it seems) and Hollywood being two that spring to mind, though very different of course) and the technical problems and practicalities of making a movie in the 1920s really spring to life here without being heavy-handed, which has always been one of this author’s strengths for me.

And as much as I love Mary on her own it’s always better when Holmes himself gets involved; the dynamics of their relationship are one of the joys of the series, so I was very pleased whenever he turned up.

A very enjoyable read all round, and I can’t wait for the next one.

I considered listing this as an RIP read because there is mystery and peril galore but it was just too light-hearted to sit alongside my reading this for that challenge.

Bride of the Book God

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Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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