[reading] What have you read recently?


Rune Priest
I recall quite liking this when it came out. Rather easier to get into than his Thomas Covenant stuff, and I preferred it to his later SF stuff.
The SF story was reminiscent in some ways to a story in Rhonda Parrish’s anthology, Equus. I agree it’s much easier to read than the Thomas Covenant, but I’m wondering if that’s a function of how old I was when I first read them. I really ought to try rereading them and see if my judgement is the same 30+ years on. However, that will have to wait for a Gateway sale - there’s no way I’ll pay full price for something I didn’t keep in paper copy and didn’t much like.

If I can be bothered, I’ll join the local library and see if they’ve got them there in epub. (I’m finding hard to be bothered with paper these days.)


Rune Priest
Somehow I don’t think I’ll bother joining the Cambridgeshire library - the selection of SFF ebooks is poor and seems to be aimed at YA readers.


Rune Priest
The Only Harmless Great Thing, by Brooke Bolander.

A rather odd mix of the radium girls, elephants and Disney. There’s two intertwined stories: a WWII thread with elephants taking over from the radium girls, and a future thread dealing with nuclear waste and the need to keep warnings going for millennia - and elephants again.

The link between the two stories is Topsy the elephant, executed in WWII for killing one of the foremen at US Radium, and her story produced by Disney and distorting elephant-human relations ever since.

Strange, and I’m not sure if I liked it or not.


Rune Priest
Josephine Tey Inspector Alan Grant series:

The Man in the Queue
A Shilling for Candles
The Franchise Affair
To Love and be Wise
The Daughter of Time
The Singing Sands

All were read online at fadedpage.com as Tey is still in copyright in life +70 countries.

Alan Grant is a Scotsman working at Scotland Yard, although he has private income following the death of an aunt. I’m not sure when the stories are set; I suspect they are roughly contemporary with their publication date. There’s quite a lot of theatrical element in them; Grant is often an escort to an actress he has known for many years.

I enjoyed them despite their datedness; they’re cosy in style but have some sharp psychological elements to them.

Josephine Tey Miss Pym Disposes and Brat Farrar. Two non-series mysteries.

The first is set in a ladies teacher training college devoted to physical education. This is overtly psychological as the title character has written a best-selling psychological text, and the all-female environment has the usual Sapphic overtones. A plum teaching post given to one of girls considered undeserving of it results in a fatal accident - or is it?

The second is a country house mystery. The heir to the estate is approaching his majority when his long-lost older twin brother turns up out of the blue. All but the heir accept the claimant as genuine; so why is the heir convinced his brother is dead?

All recommended.


Rune Priest
Alternate Histories by Stephen Baxter

An omnibus of the Time’s Tapestry quadrology and the Northland trilogy. Both series are alternate histories, but Northland is more of a classic alternate universe with a fixed divergence from our own history, and Time’s Tapestry is more about trying to create divergences from our history by means of sending information back in time.

Time’s Tapestry (Emperor, Conqueror, Navigator and Weaver) deals with 3 decision points: the Claudian invasion of Britain to a decision point of the attempted assassination point of the Emperor Constantine (to prevent Christianity taking hold), the Saxon invasion of Britain to the outcome of the Battle of Hastings (to create a long-lasting Saxon Empire), and the Reconquista (to make Columbus go east as a successful general rather than the discoverer of the Americas. The last book deals with what is actually behind all this and has a successful Operation Sealion in WWII.

I found the first 3 books more interesting than the fourth; in some ways it might have been better to interweave the storyline of the 4th book into the other 3; it was pretty obvious by the second book who the two actors in the story were, and I found the fourth book rather tedious and it felt like padding in many places. Warning: there’s a fair amount of Gödelian theory in the fourth book, so it might not be to everyone’s taste.

The Northland trilogy (Stone Spring, Bronze Summer and Iron Winter) deals with a single divergence: the survival of Doggerland beyond the Neolithic by means of a sea wall. The Northlanders retain their hunter gather society and become a formidable force for stability in the Old World while having long term links with the New World. Again, I felt the last book to be weakest.

Recommended, but for my part it’s likely it will never be read again.


Rune Priest
By Demons Possessed, by P C Hodgell (Chronicles of the Kencyrath 9)

Looks like we’re almost to the end now, I guess another 1 or 2 books before the story wraps up.

Anyway, Jaime and her command are at Tagmeth wrapping things up before heading to Gothregor to graduate as randon (or not). Except the past intervenes in the shape of a messenger from Tai-Tastigon and Jaime is forced to return to clear matters up there. The only way she can get there and back before Midsummer Eve is to use the Builder gates at Tagmeth - and they have their own perils.

Things are not well in Tai-Tastigon; quite apart from the political situation the religious situation has got out of hand with Ishtier back and meddling in the power flows. Jaime clears things up in her own way - breaking things when necessary - before she heads home with a wild ride to Gothregor.

The book does read much like a clearing up of loose ends: we find out more about the religious situation in Rathillien and previous threshold worlds, and we’re beginning to understand what the likely rôle of the Ty-ridan will be.

Recommended, and do check out Baen.com for the prequel short story.
A couple of novels in pdf from the Hugo packet:

The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal

On the face of it, an alternate history mash-up between The Right Stuff and Hidden Figures.

Mathematician Dr Elma York, daughter of a general, is married to a rocket engineer. In the 1950s, they have borrowed a friend's mountain cabin for a get-away; while there, a meteor hits Chesapeake Bay wiping out much of the Eastern seaboard. While helping with the rescue and reconstruction efforts, it becomes apparent that the long term outcome is going to be a run-away greenhouse effect; the sea ground zero means that major amounts of water vapour have entered the atmosphere. Humanity's only hope is to leave Earth; a multi-national NASA-equivalent agency is set up, and the Yorks both join.

The story has much to say about the stultifying atmosphere in 1950s USA for women and people of colour. Elma dreams of becoming an astronaut but is denied because of her sex even though females are better suited physically (this is actually historic). Even when accepted into astronaut training, the female candidates are treated like pin-ups not people with a serious job.

I enjoyed this very much, and I can see it would cause issues with the puppy brigade. Recommended

Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik

I had major issues with this - the pdf supplied was not suited to episodic reading; the number of times I had to find my place again made the reading experience extremely poor. I will have to try converting it to epub (which doesn't always work very well with pdf) and see if improves matters but I may not get around to re-reading until after Worldcon.

This is a version of the Rumpelstiltskin story set in medieval Russia. Miryem is the daughter of a soft-hearted Jewish moneylender; when her mother becomes ill, she takes over from her father and starts making a decent return on the money he has lent out. Wanda is the daughter of one of the debtors, Irina is the daughter of the local boyar. Their stories meet and entwine together with the stories of others, especially the story of the Staryk King who is trying to prevent the demon Chernebog taking over the winter realm and the Tsar who is a host for Chernebog courtesy of his witch mother.

The PoV tended to jump around a lot, even within the same chapter; coupled with the problems I had reading the pdf this made the whole story seem very disjointed. It looked good, but I'm reserving judgement until I can re-read it.