Books in July 2020


Staff member

Getting there!

The reading challenge of a book a week that I set myself for the year is close to being beaten. I've not read at this rate for such a sustained period since, well, before the kids arrived. I'm enjoying it.

The Berlin Spies (Alex Gerlis)
Enjoyable spy thriller; the set up is all cliche (Nazi undercover agents wanting to create a Fourth Reich) but the execution makes it feel believable and the story is well told. Definitely one of the author's stronger books.

The Last (Hanna Jameson)
A somewhat different post-apocalyptic novel. The protagonists are staying at a hotel when the apocalypse comes (a nuclear exchange which is implied to be provoked by the US President). The narrator is an American academic, who had been staying there while away at a conference. As they struggle to survive, he finds the body of a girl who's been murdered and starts to investigate.

I found this interesting. I didn't much like the protagonist, and it was perhaps a little too cosy apocalypse, but the story drew me on. It was definitely more of a crime novel set against the backdrop of nuclear war rather than an SF post-apocalyptic story, as the disaster was a means to an end. I'll check out some of the other books by the author now, which are described as modern noir.

Dark Intelligence (Transformation #1, Neal Asher)
First new Asher series that I've read in a while, and it doesn't disappoint. It picks threads up from previous books and runs with them. Although the human - and prador - characters are the primary perspectives through which we see the world, the real underlying story is of machinations between the dark-AI called Penny Royal, and the other AIs in the Polity. Penny Royal is at the heart of many nightmares, hiding in the no-man's land of the Graveyard, and area of space between the Prador Kingdom and the Polity.

Thorvald Spear is a man whose colleagues were murdered by Penny Royal, and he wakes up, restored from a memory back up, 100 years after he died. He then sets on a quest of vengeance against the AI.

It's noticeable that Asher's characterisation is stronger in this book than others. I enjoyed the pace of this, it felt almost turned up to 11. This is the new British Space Opera style pioneered by Iain M Banks, Alastair Reynold, Ken MacLeod and Asher himself completely on form.

War Factory (Transformation #2, Neal Asher)
The second of the trilogy, I found this didn't quite reach the same levels of energy as the first, but really enjoyed it. Penny Royal continues to cause turmoil in the Graveyard, the Polity and the Prador Kingdom as the AI continues to execute plans and manipulations. This book focuses on two renegade Prador factions, Father-Captains who refused to stand-down at the end of the war with the Polity. Ultimately, the plot spirals in towards the War Factory Room 101, where Penny Royal and two of the drones-AIs in the series were created. Another AI, The Brockle, a forensic-interrogation AI which has walked the line of acceptability in Polity starts to become interested in the manipulations which are underway and concerned about the way that Earth Central is handling them.

Infinity Engine (Transformation #3, Neal Asher)
The final book in the trilogy and everything is turned back up to 11 as the series builds to a finale. Brutal space battles and nasty AI shenanigans twist towards a climax. The Brockle decides to take action into its own hands, and the Polity and Prador Kingdom are determined not to let the Prador Sverl gain control of War Factory Room 101. Meanwhile, Penny Royal's plotting draws towards an ending and disturbing truths are revealed about the morality of AIs.

An enjoyable ending to the trilogy.

Vaesen: Spirits and Monsters of Scandinavian Folklore (Johan Egerkrans)
An absolutely gorgeous, high quality coffee-table book with beautiful illustrations and lore about Vaesen, creatures from Scandinavian folklore. A delicious taster before I dive into the roleplaying game of the same name.

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