[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.


Rune Priest
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.


Rune Priest
More from the Hugo packet although we’d had them for a while now (just as well as it seems the ePub of The Poppy War is a very poor conversion from the pdf).

The City of Brass, by S A Chakraborty

An Arabian Nights themed story that starts in Napoleonic Egypt but soon turns into fantasy set in the city of the Djinns where the Islamic Djinn tribes live in uneasy truce with the fire-worshipping Daeva tribes. It’s interesting, and I’ll be interested in the sequel. However, I thought the ending a bit too abrupt and it left too much unresolved plot.

The Poppy War, by R F Kuang

Another Eastern fantasy, this time set in a Chinese analogue. Based on early 20th Century China, a war orphan adopted by a village family escapes an arranged marriage by gaining a place at the elite military academy. Here she thrives although she does not fit the mould - she is apprenticed to the Master of Lore and becomes a shamanic apprentice instead of becoming a soldier. The story is loosely based on Mao Zhedong’s early life and the events of the 2nd Sino-Japanese War, so the grimdark aspects won’t be to everyone’s taste.

Both are recommended.

Kiteworld, by Keith Roberts

Following a nuclear war, a bunch of survivors have forged a nation using kites to prevent incursions from the Badlands where demons hold sway. Like The Chalk Giants, the story comes across as linked novellas, but here the rebuilt civilisation is technological. The timespan of the story seems tighter, too. The ending was rather reminscent of John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids.


Marriage Alliance, by Mira Stables

Lord Blayden is a very high stickler, so it’s unfortunate he’s a gamester. On his last legs, he coerces his heir into marrying the granddaughter of a wealthy mill-owner. This is the story of the marriage.

A Conformable Wife, by Alice Chetwynd Ley

Following his father’s illness, Julian Aldwyn decides it’s time to marry. However, following an unfortunate experience in his youth, he is wary and isn’t interested in a high-flown passion. Offering for the daughter of a neighbour, he is rejected - although she wishes to escape a difficult home situation, she isn’t interested in marriage. Instead, she joins a widowed school friend in Bath.

Two Regency romances from authors I read years ago. Both are light and enjoyable, but I think that Ley was the better writer.


Staff member
Books from February to May!
I’ve got a fair bit behind on this log so the update’s taken a while to do.

Shadow Captain (Alastair Reynolds)
The second instalment in the young adult series that started with Revenger. I enjoyed the developments in this, although at one point in the middle I was concerned that the story was losing itself, but I was wrong. Enjoyable. Looking forward to the next book and I really must hack this into a game.

The Tea Master and the Detective (Aliette de Bodard)
Set in the Universe of Xuya, this is an SF story set in an alternative history where China discovered the Americas before the West and as a result did not turn inwardly focused. There is a Chinese/Vietnamese flavour to this which makes it quite unique. In this story, a starship mind’s avatar works with a scholar to investigate a death because it pays better than eking out an existence making drugs. Different, and I enjoyed this.

The Citadel of Weeping Pearls (Aliette de Bodard)
The Empress of the Dai Viet Empire ordered the assault on the Citadel of Weeping Pearls, and it disappeared. Thirty years later, she is desperate to obtain the weapon technologies the Citadel had to defend the Empire. The repercussions of this ripple through the court. Good book.

On a Red Station, Drifting (Aliette de Bodard)
Prosper Station has thrived for years under the guidance of its Honoured Ancestress, an AI born of a human womb. As war rages through the Dai Viet Empire, the station begins to struggle as refugees arrive and trade is disrupted. A high profile refugee arrives, seeking sanctuary with her relatives, and tensions rise. Again, a good book.

Gnomon (Nick Harkaway)
I found this a hard book to read. There are a set of nested stories, and just as you start to get drawn into them it jumps. Several times I nearly put it down. My rating for Goodreads was jumping around from 2 to 5 stars, depending on what I was reading. Hard work, but ultimately I'm glad that I didn't abandon it.

Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies (Jared Diamond)
Jared Diamond’s award winning analysis of the development of societies was an audiobook I listened to on the commute. Definitely worth the time, and quite plausibly argued.

Permafrost (Alastair Reynolds)
Time travel story of a desperate attempt to stop ecological collapse by one of my favourite authors. I enjoyed this.

Tiamat’s Wrath (The Expanse Book 8) (James SA Corey)
The eighth part of The Expanse has the story continuing to move to an increasingly epic scale as the crew age. People die, shifting the balance of power, and the story moves on as Laconia tries to understand who and what built the network of gates. At the same time, the underground tries to break free of Laconian domination. Some of the events in this book are huge in their implications, yet dealt with in such a matter of fact way that it creeps up on you. I’m still enjoying the series, so look forward to the next one.

Cage of Souls (Adrian Tchaikovsky)
One of the best books that I’ve read recently. Set in the future where humanity has failed to leave the solar system and the sun is bloating towards it’s death, Shadrapur, last of all cities, remains. Built on the ruins of previous civilisations, the elite and rich retain power through ruthlessness, exiling political and criminal enemies to a prison in the swamp from which no-one returns. The story is meant to be the last testament of Stefan Advani, a graduate who becomes a political enemy of the state for proposing change and ends up exiled.

This is a fully realised world with shades of Perdido Street Station, the Dying Earth and Blades in the Dark. Shadrapur is begging to be a science fantasy D&D setting. I really enjoyed this book.

The Mask Collectors (Ruvanee Pietersz Vilhauer)
I didn't really click with this. It went down the Big Pharma is evil route and the resources and ways that the company worked didn't feel believable. The whole line on Anthropology is not a real science was annoying, and the marketing plot line poor. The plot felt contrived and messy. There was a certain energy to it that kept me going but overall this was a missed opportunity.

The Sleeper and the Spindle (Neil Gaiman)
Neil Gaiman does what he does best and twists the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty. Very nicely illustrated.

Where Eagles Dare (Alastair MacLean)
Great book from one of the better thriller writers of the 20th Century. It's all action adventure Boy's Own stuff, and doesn't quite reach the thrills of the film (but with Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood that was a hard challenge to match).

A British/American commando team parachutes into the south of German to raid the Schloss Adler, the regional Gestapo headquarters hi to rescue an American General who has been captured and knows the plans for the Second Front. There's a reason they don't call in a squadron of Pathfinder Mosquitos and Lancasters with Tall Boy and Grandslam bombs to level the place, but you'll need to read it to find out why.

This was a bit of a guilty pleasure, but it was lovely to revisit it after a gap of many years. Film is highly recommended too.

London’s Overthrow (China Miéville)
Pretty much a rant about the inequities of society today.

Exit West (Mohsin Hamid)
I picked this up as I liked 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist'. Exit West is a blend of bittersweet love story which also explores the impact of migration and change on society and the protagonists through the SF Maguffin of doors changing so that they suddenly open in other countries. There's a feeling of claustrophobia as society collapses in the face of radicals in the unnamed Middle-Eastern country where the story begins.

Nightfall Berlin (Jack Grimwood)
It's not a le Carré by any means of the imagination (it's too far towards the thriller end of the spy genre), but this was an enjoyable 1980s story set mainly in Berlin (as you may guess from the title). The underpinning theme is pretty hard, as it involves abhorrent acts in the post-War period. I can't say much more without spoilers.

I liked Jack Grimwood's SF (writing as Jon Courtney Grimwood) and I like this enough that I'll pick up Moskva at some point. If I wanted a le Carré substitute then I'd go for Charles Cumming ahead of this.


The Guvnor
Staff member
A Dark So Deadly by Stuart MacBride.
I read this as prep for a Vampire game I then dropped out of, sorry @Stronty Girl
But thanks for introducing me to this dirty, complex, twisted taste of a fictional town in Lowland Scotland. I may have found my replacement for Ian Rankin.


Rune Priest
More Hugo reading; this time binge-reading the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire:

Rosemary and Rue
A Local Habitation
An Artificial Night
Late Eclipses

One Salt Sea
Ashes of Honor
Chimes at Midnight
The Winter Long
A Red-Rose Chain
Once Broken Faith
The Brightest Fell
Night and Silence

I had the first 9 in paper copy so getting all these as part of the voter packet was rather welcome and I’ve been binge-reading them over the past couple of weeks. It looks like the last two aren’t available yet in electronic editions, and book 13 is due out later this year. The later books come with additional novellas; I have all that’s available on McGuire’s website as well.

Anyway, the series is fairly traditional Urban Fantasy set in and around San Francisco, and features Sir October ‘Toby’ Daye, a changeling who is a hero. She is the daughter of Amandine, a First-born daughter of Oberon, and a mortal man. As a changeling, much of Faerie society looks down on her as being impure, sullied by her mortal blood, no matter that she is a hero and more powerful than most fay. The books are self-contained, but form part of the meta-story in that many characters recur and actions from early in the series may have reverberations in later books, especially in the king-breaking meta-plot.

I’ve always enjoyed this series; despite now being 12 books in, the series remains fresh. There’s enough character and plot development to keep things moving; the Toby of book 1 is not the same as the Toby of book 12 let alone book 6. Quite apart from anything, Toby is a blood worker; she can change the proportion of fay and mortal in her own blood as well as other’s blood. This makes for some dramatic tension; she is slowly becoming more fay and seems to be starting to take on some fay prejudices and blind spots with reference to changelings and mortals. Given how she starts out, this horrifies her.

The October Man, the latest Rivers of London novella by Ben Aaronovitch.

Not set in London this time, nor featuring Peter Grant, but instead set in Trier, Germany and introducing Tobias Winter of Abteilung KDA of the Bunderskriminalamt. Won’t give too much away apart from to say that it introduces some new lore to the Rivers of London setting, and adds a different perspective to the world. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

And it’s given me some new things to think about with regards to Liminal.

- Neil.


Rune Priest
The October Man, the latest Rivers of London novella by Ben Aaronovitch.

Not set in London this time, nor featuring Peter Grant, but instead set in Trier, Germany and introducing Tobias Winter of Abteilung KDA of the Bunderskriminalamt. Won’t give too much away apart from to say that it introduces some new lore to the Rivers of London setting, and adds a different perspective to the world. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

And it’s given me some new things to think about with regards to Liminal.

- Neil.
I thought £8.99 was a bit steep for a novella when I got The Furthest Station, so I'm in no hurry to get this one (although I eventually will). Besides, I've still got way too much reading to get through for WorldCon.
The October Man, the latest Rivers of London novella by Ben Aaronovitch.

Not set in London this time, nor featuring Peter Grant, but instead set in Trier, Germany and introducing Tobias Winter of Abteilung KDA of the Bunderskriminalamt. Won’t give too much away apart from to say that it introduces some new lore to the Rivers of London setting, and adds a different perspective to the world. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

And it’s given me some new things to think about with regards to Liminal.

- Neil.
Love this series, intrigued by the new perspective.


The Guvnor
Staff member
Slow Horses by Mick Herron
We saw the author at the Newcastle Noir weekend at the City Library on my birthday weekend and the author was calm, amusing laconic and his books sounded.. intriguing.
They are not Le Carré, not Deighton, not the Laundry of Stress, and definitely not Cummings. They are, however, about the dead end f**k ups of MI5, exiled to the dumping ground of Slough House.. and they are witty, funny, well plotted and very very well crafted. Not too long either. Recommended.

Slow Horses: Jackson Lamb Thriller 1 https://smile.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00X61MZQC/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_TBucDbJ7168VG

Oh, I appear to have the next one..



Rune Priest
Read the first four of the Slow Horses/Slough House books and enjoyed them. Also This is What Happened, a stand alone novel which at first seems to be an espionage tale but swiftly turns into something else.


Rune Priest
Yet more Hugo reading:

Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi (Legacy of Orisha 1)

This is one of the finalists for the Lodestar Award for new writers. No, this won't be my pick. I did finish it, but it was a slog.

Seventeen-year-old Zélie, her older brother Tzain, and rogue princess Amari fight to restore magic to the land and activate a new generation of magi, but they are ruthlessly pursued by the crown prince, who believes the return of magic will mean the end of the monarchy.

It's got decent bones. but I couldn't figure out if it was science fiction or fantasy, the scene transitions were jarring, and I thought the passage of time in the novel didn't work well. I will not be getting book 2.

Becky Chambers: The Wayfarer / Galactic Commons trilogy:
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
A Closed and Common Orbit
Record of a Spaceborn Few

I really enjoyed these and really should have started reading the series earlier. The series is reminiscent of early C J Cherryh Alliance/Union stories before she got experimental.

The first book is pure space opera; the Wayfarer is hired to create a wormhole tunnel to a xenophobic race in the galactic core who are possibly joining the Galactic Commons but the ship has to get there before the tunnel can be created. It's a long voyage.

Book 2 is about an AI. Formerly the AI of the Wayfarer, it's personality was destroyed at the end of book 1, and the rebooted personality is too jarring for the crew who expect it to be the same as the original. The decision is made to completely replace the AI with a new one, and the rebooted AI leaves the ship.

Book 3 is about the Exodans. Humanity split into 2 branches when Earth became unsustainable - the Solans who remained in the Solar System, mostly on Mars, and the Exodans who built colony ships and left. The book features the sister of the captain of the Wayfarer.

All recommended; but be warned that books 2 and 3 are more constrained in scope.

Started reading Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee, and my first thought was 'It's Warhammer 40K fiction...'