[reading] What have you read recently?


Rune Priest
The Machineries of Empire series, by Yoon Ha Lee
Ninefox Gambit
Raven Stratagem
Revenant Gun

As I commented above, my initial impression was Warhammer 40K fiction (not that I've read any I hasten to add but I used to sell the models). These are pure space opera (and military space opera at that), set in the far future. The trapping of the stories are definitely SF; but the underpinning of the science is more based on magic - torture a bunch of heretics and the exotic technology will keep working. The empire is currently ruled by 6 factions - the Hexarchate - the seventh faction was wiped out a few hundred years ago.

The 3 books are focused on an (undead) general. His personality is kept in the 'black cradle' and periodically he is 'resurrected' to deal with a military crisis. The resurrection involves his memories and personality being grafted onto a host body - which may be a volunteer or not. His job is to keep the high calendar going (i.e. the status quo); people not following the high calendar are considered to be heretics...

It's an interesting series, sort of reminiscent of Glen Cook's Dread Empire series grafted onto his Starfishers and Darkwar series). Recommended

The Black Gods Drums, by P Djéli Clark
A steampunk Hugo-listed novella set in an alternate New Orleans. 2 people possessed by African gods (loas?) foil a plot to trigger a super-weapon developed on Haiti. Interesting background, but I didn't think much of the story.

The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington, by P Djéli Clark
A Hugo-listed short story. I thought this better than the novella. Based on fact, Washington had a set of dentures made from teeth purchased from Negro slaves of the Mount Vernon Estate. Recommended.

Other reading:
Simon's Waif, by Mira Stables

A Regency romance. Rescuing what he thinks is a boy and his puppy in a river, Simon Warhurst takes Harriet
Pendeniston into his household while she is recovering from an attack of measles. His housekeeper is known to Harriet as Aunt Bee - her mother was one of her friends. Once Harriet recovers, she can't stay there as the household is a bachelor one; Simon's sister takes her in and passes her to another friend of her mother's.

A light-hearted romp, recommended if you like this sort of thing.

Fanny by Gaslight, by Michael Sadleir

Read online on the Fadedpage. The story of a Victorian mistress. Something of a period piece these days; Fanny Hooper is the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy country gentleman, who in turn becomes the mistress of a civil servant bearing him an illegitimate daughter. Interesting for the descriptions of Victorian London, the underworld and vice trade.



Rune Priest
And that's the last 2 on the Best Novel list:

Space Opera, by Catherynne M Valente.
As a novella or shorter, this would have worked. But as a novel, it felt like hard work - and remember what they say about visitors - "fish and visitors stink after 3 days". Basically, a washed-up rock star and what's left of his band have to put on the performance of their lives in the galactic version of the Eurovision Song Contest - and not come last otherwise humanity will be exterminated. It felt like far too much effort and the sub-Douglas Adams writing style felt too contrived. I found it hard to keep all the aliens straight.

Hitich-hikers Guide meets Eurovision. You have been warned.

Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse (The Sixth World 1)
Very good. Tony Hillerman does Urban Fantasy.

Set some time in the near future where global warming has caused sea-level rises and flooded most of America, the Navaho are now living in the 6th World. Separated from the rest of America by a miraculous wall, gods and monsters hunt the clans. Orphaned Maggie Hoskie has been raised by a demi-god to be a monster-slayer. Abandoned by her teacher, she is monster-slayer and ends up stalking the witch who has created an army of monsters. Cue allies and betrayals, and a bitter-sweet ending.


Next up: the rest of the novellas. I've already read 2 on the list: The Black God's Drums and The Tea-Master and the Detective. I'll probably start with Martha Wells - and read #1 in the series first.

First Age

D&D h@ck3r and Hopepunk
Staff member
I've blasted through the Roman historical fiction first novel of Harry Sidebottom's Warrior of Rome series: Fire in The East. Satisfying action packed narrative of the defense of Arete (historical Dura) in Northern Syria mid 3rd century AD. Tub thumping action written by and academic who knows his history. 99p. I've got the next one and have dived in.



Staff member
Books in June 2019
A bit of an eclectic mix.

Vienna Spies (Alex Gerlis)
An interesting story set towards the end of the Second World War in Europe, mainly in Vienna. The British attempt to establish a network in the city to make contact with an influential opposition politician who has been in hiding for many years to prepare for the power struggle after the war is won. The Soviets attempt to do the same thing and the agents from both sides have come into contact before. It's a story of rival intelligence operations from allies who know that they will be enemies in the future against the collapsing Nazi regime in a country which wholeheartedly embraced the Third Reich.

Enjoyable, and there were points when I was anxious for some of the characters I liked, but I think I prefer the way that Luke McCallin's 'Man from Berlin' books covered this same theme. If I could give a half mark, this would be 3.5 out of 5. However, I will read his new book set in 1970s Berlin at some point to see how that goes.

Scattered Among Strange Worlds (Aliette de Bodard)
Interesting short stories. The first deals with dislocation and disengagement, as a younger woman returns from exile to honour her grandmother. The second deals with Mer People exiles from a polluted ocean and the call to return to the sea. Enjoyable.

Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master (Michael Shea)
D&D focused but a good collection of tips for building and running a role playing campaign. Some ideas are quite thought-provoking.

In Morningstar's Shadow: Dominion of the Fallen Stories (Aliette de Bodard)
Vignettes from the universe of “The House of Shattered Wings”, which I’ve yet to read. Angels have fallen from the heavens and magic is real. Warring Houses have shattered Paris. This is a collection a fragments of tales. I liked the setting and stories and will read the novel as a result.

The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049 (Tanya Lapointe)

Absolutely gorgeous art book full of concepts, art work and photos that shine a light on the development of the movie.


Rune Priest
The Murderbot Diaries 1 & 2: All Systems Red and Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells. #2 is up for the Hugos Best Novella. As it happens, it won’t get my vote as I felt that it did not work as a stand-alone work; I felt that unless you had read #1 you wouldn’t understand much of the background.

The set-up for both novellas is fairly standard SF; humanity has spread into the stars, and employs artificial people who are considered non-people by some governments. Murderbot is one of them: although sexless she is a Terminator-like SecUnit rented out as security to various concerns. Technically, she has no free will, but she has managed to hack her governing module.

The first novella is Murderbot working as security to a planetary exploration team. Things go wrong, and a second team elsewhere on the planet is wiped out. Murderbot keeps her team alive and safe. It turns out a rival corporation wants to take over the planet before it can be interdicted because of Forerunner relics.

The second novella deals with Murderbot’s journey into her past. Previously, she was employed by a mining company and apparently massacred the team. She has no memory of this as she was memory-wiped and her governing module replaced.

A further two novellas complete the story. However, each novella costs as much as a full-length novel (see my earlier comments on The October Man). Others have commented unfavourably on this trend; the two installments plus the other two would make a good-sized novel.

I enjoyed the stories, so I’m recommending them, but watch out for sales.

Beneath the Sugar Sky, by Seanan McGuire (Wayward Children 3). McGuire’s other entry for the Hugos.

Another instalment in a series of novellas priced the same as a full-length novel. I have #1, Every Heart a Doorway, which I read a while back (but haven’t recorded a review). Both novellas are set in Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children (which makes it sound like a rather twee YOI cum children’s home). Here, children who have fallen through portals into their own fantasy worlds and who have returned home either readapt to mundanity or return to their fantasy world.

Like the Murderbot novellas, it helps to have read previous instalments. Unlike Murderbot, each is self-contained enough to stand alone, although there are references to previous events. Recommended, but again look out for a sale.

A Marriage Arranged, by Mira Stables

A light Regency romance by an author I enjoy. Lord Julian Wellasford is trying to recover his ancestral home, which was sold by his gamester father. However, the current owner, a Mr Morley, does not wish to sell. Mr Morley suggests a compromise instead; his adoptive daughter is of an age to marry, so he suggests that the two youngsters see if the suit, and if they do, the estate will be settled on their children.

Light, but recommended.

Back to the Hugos again: next up is Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti: The Night Masquerade. Started reading it, and I think I need to read the other 2 first as there’s a lot of what seems like flashbacks. At least the prices on these are a lot more reasonable.