[reading] What have you read recently?

Maddz

Rune Priest
#21
The Bad Beginning & The Reptile Room, books 1 & 2 of A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket

I got these as 99p deals last year because my sister's kids enthused about them and thought I'd see why. In all honesty, I didn't like them - I thought them depressing and I would not consider them to be suitable for younger children. The somewhat whimsical writing style I thought rather patronising; certainly when I was a child I would have resented that.

The Bad Beginning starts when the 3 Baudelaire children are orphaned when their parents die in the fire that destroys their home and are placed in the care of Count Olaf - a relative (of sorts) who lives in the city. Unfortunately, the Count's idea is to get his hands on the children's fortune, held in trust until Violet (the eldest) reaches the age of 18. He attempts to do this by marrying Violet (who is aged 14); thwarted in this because Violet uses the wrong hand to sign the marriage certificate, he is last seen escaping along with his accomplices.

In The Reptile Room, the children are sent to the country to live with their Uncle Montgomery who is a famous herpetologist on the eve of going on an expedition to Peru. His assistant has unexpectedly resigned, and a new assistant is to start. This turns out to be Count Olaf in disguise; his intention is to go to Peru with the children and bump them off there. Uncle Montgomery is murdered in the course of these machinations.

I may be completely missing the attraction these books hold for children, but in all honesty I would consider them to be more a young teen book than the suggested 8-12 years. They also seem rather repetitive.
 
#22
I'm just coming to the end of the second book in the Expanse series. My word, what a pace it has to it, and a way with end of chapter cliff-hangers. Also, rarely for a book with multiple points of view and different converging plots, I've been almost equally invested with all of them.
 

Dom

Administrator
Staff member
#25
# Books in January and February 2018
I’ve added in the roleplaying games now (compared to my past posts in UKRP) because we’re covering both in this forum

## *The Journal of Reginald Campbell Thompson* (Cthulhu Britannica)
This is a prop for the *Cthulhu Britannica: London* setting’s *Curse of Ninevah* campaign. I’d owned the PDF version for a while, and decided to pick up a physical copy when Cubicle 7 sold off their stock when their licence from Chaosium ended. Of course, as I was ordering the book, it went out of stock so I ended up tracing a new copy down on eBay. Hardbound, it’s the same kind of size as a Moleskine and tells the tale of an ill-fated expedition to Nineveh by a team from the British Museum. It isn’t the full story, but it does a grand job of teasing what went wrong. It’s enjoyable, and I think that players will lap it up if they get the chance to find and read it in the game. It’s not essential, but it’s a lovely extra.

## *Tremulus* (Sean Preston)
This was a re-read of a ‘Powered by the Apocalypse’ game which I backed on Kickstarter some time after I picked up *Dungeon World*. I’m planning to run it at *Revelation*, a roleplaying convention in Sheffield which will be over by the time that I post this. Tremulus is a game of Lovecraftian horror; it has a very bleak feel and the characters are very much expendable. I like the simplicity of the approach, which combines effectively with a structured playset approach where the scenario is built by asking questions. Unfortunately, my play experience showed issues with the moves and balance of the stats.

## *The Journal of Neve Selcibuc* (Cthulhu Britannica)
This is the second journal made as a prop for the *Curse of Nineveh* campaign. This time, it is the journal of Neve, a young American woman which has travelled to the UK to spend time with relatives. Along the way, she stumbles into dubious activities which are linked to the Campbell expedition. It’s a teaser; Neve is meant to tell the characters much of this, but it fleshes out the backstory. Again, you don’t get anything near the full story; it’s a hook into the adventure. It is an enjoyable read through.

## *Madouc* (Jack Vance)
The third book in the *Lyonesse* trilogy, this tale picks up and weaves together happenings from the previous stories. Princess Madouc is one of the key protagonists in the tale, as she grows up and resists the King’s aim of marrying her off for a politically beneficial marriage. Along the way she discovers that her ‘pedigree’ is not what she expected, and that she has Faerie blood… I really enjoyed this trilogy. I wanted to pick it up and read it all again, straight away, which I may do quite soon.

## *The Sprawl* (Hamish Cameron)
I had to re-read the Sprawl because I was running the game at Revelation 2018. I really like the way this one works; chrome slick adaptation of ‘powered by the apocalypse’ principles with the tools to let you run heists and general illegality so they have the feel of a good movie. You do the legwork, and the mission is affected by the outcome. Good stuff. I may have to get a print of the black on white version though as my eyes aren’t quite what they were.

## *Ironclads* (Adrian Tchaikovsky)
Set in decades after Brexit, the UK has become a frontline state in the battle of corporate owned America with the Europeans. The protagonists are an American unit fighting in Scandinavia, normal infantry in a high tech war with robots, biological weapons and Scions. Scions are a form of mech armour, which is effectively invulnerable to infantry, and usually used by board members and owners of companies. The team are sent to find out what happened when a Scion goes missing deep in enemy territory. I really enjoyed this - a cyberpunk war story.

## *Witches of Lychford* (Paul Cornell)
Lychford is a small market town in the south of the UK which also happens to be at a juncture between worlds. A supermarket plans to build a new store, rearranging the geometry of the town’s roads, a decision which will break the protections that have been in place for centuries. An elderly local witch seeks allies to protect reality including the local Vicar and the New Age shop owner. I enjoyed the pace of this, and will be looking at more in the series.
 

Guvnor

The Guvnor
Staff member
#26
The Bad Beginning & The Reptile Room, books 1 & 2 of A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket
...
I may be completely missing the attraction these books hold for children, but in all honesty I would consider them to be more a young teen book than the suggested 8-12 years. They also seem rather repetitive.
My son adored them as a ten year old. He liked that they ran counter to all the expected narratives in child fiction and their black humour.
 

Maddz

Rune Priest
#27
My son adored them as a ten year old. He liked that they ran counter to all the expected narratives in child fiction and their black humour.
Judging by some of the reviews I've read, it would seem that either you like them or you don't. Several people picked up on the patronising asides, and not just adults either. I think that a shorter series would have been better, but to keep the series going for 13 or 14 books was probably a mistake.
 

Maddz

Rune Priest
#32
Hammer for Princes, by Cecelia Holland

A historical novel, set at the end of King Stephen’s reign dealing with the settlement between him and Henry Fitzempress.

A bit on the slow side, the story is told through the eyes of Fulk, Earl of Stafford and details his involvement in the political machinations behind the settlement, and the military campaign leading up to it. As befits the period, the story is male-dominated; Fulk’s wife, Margaret, dies early in the story, and the only other major female characters are the Lady of Highfield, and her cousin, Alys of Dol. None take part in the politics or the main plotlines.

It’s an interesting read, fans of Ellis Peters will recognise the setting, and largely historically accurate.
 

Maddz

Rune Priest
#33
Mairelon the Magician and Magician’s Ward, (collected as A Matter of Magic), by Patricia Wrede

Having backed Good Society, I decided to re-read this and it’s sequel, Magician’s Ward, which are available as the omnibus A Matter of Magic (note that Amazon has this as the third volume of a trilogy not as an omnibus). I will also re-read the Sorcery & Cecelia series. Linked to the world is Magic Below Stairs.

These are historical fantasies set in a Regency England where magic works and is a respectable professional occupation suitable for members of the ton.

Mairelon the Magician: Kim, an orphan living in the rookeries of London, is hired to investigate the wagon of a street performer based in one of London’s markets. This is complicated by the fact that Kim is actually a girl and the street performer is actually a magician. Caught in the act, the magician (whose stage name is Mairelon) hires her for her thief skills to help him recover some stolen magical artifacts and clear his name of the theft.

Magician’s Ward: Mairelon has adopted Kim and has taken her as his apprentice (having found that Kim has magical talent). As a magician, Kim is acceptable in polite society no matter her antecedants, and is making her come-out. However, Kim’s antecedants are coming calling, and Mairelon is caught up in the fall-out.

I do like these; very light-hearted and written in the style of Georgette Heyer (as opposed to Charles Dickens). The world building is interesting, but I am unsure that history would have taken the same course with formalised magic (more or less my objection to The Temeraire series). In that respect, the world building of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is more believable.

Recommended, but note that these are being marketed as YA fiction.

Needle, by Hal Clement

I picked this up (along with the sequel) in the Gateway SF sale last year, having had these in paperback for many years. Clement was noted for writing SF that was completely hard science-based and firmly rooted in the plausible. This book (and the sequel) are unusual in that they are set on Earth and are near future rather than an alien world and far future. It was originally published in 1950 and reads very much like it’s set in that era.

Both an alien hunter and the criminal of his species that it is pursuing crash land on Earth. The story is written from the viewpoint of the alien and details his effort to survive and to fulfil his mission despite being marooned with none of his advanced technology.

The twist is that the alien species are protoplasmic lumps that spend most of their time in symbiosis with other species, generally (but not invariably) intelligent. The Hunter enters into symbiosis with a 15-year old boy, Robert Kinnaird, whose parents live on a tropical island producing bio-oils.

While a great read, there are a number of problems:

1. No female characters. The only females mentioned are Bob’s mother, the sisters of another character, and the nurse at Bob’s boarding school back in the US.

2. Technology is rooted in the 1950s, so slide rules not calculators. However, the bio-oil is produced by specially-bred bacteria.

3. Although there is a school on the island, Bob attends boarding school. It’s possible this is to do with Bob’s father being in a senior role on the island.

Recommended, but with reservations.
 
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Guvnor

The Guvnor
Staff member
#34
I often have thought that an alternative science fiction would be one in which transistors and possibly any form of electronic device simply don't work. That wouldn't rule out computers but they would need to be mechanical. Now that might make one thing that a lot of the science fiction that we are used to is impossible but it is possible to build machines at the nanoscale. Some of the high-tech aliens would be extremely competent clockmakers. I assume somebody has written this book already.
 

Dom

Administrator
Staff member
#35
An interesting side question is although you can build nanoscale machinery, is it viable to do the imaging work and manipulation if you rule out solid state electronics. I guess you could do it with valves but it would be challenging.

Things like the Babbage engine would have huge operational challenges - heat, balance... etc which shouldn't be underestimated!
 

Maddz

Rune Priest
#36
Isn't that effectively the Dune situation? Although the prohibition is on 'thinking machines' which implies computers - hence the existence of Mentats. David Lynch did it quite effectively (visually) in his Dune - it was very WWII.
 
#39
When I worked for NASA were still using some of the same hardware in the late Nineties that was used for the Apollo missions and even the Gemini ones as well, so nearly forty years.
 

Maddz

Rune Priest
#40
Through The Eye of A Needle, (Needle book 2), by Hal Clement

The sequel to Needle. Set some years after the events of Needle, Bob Kinnaird and Hunter have returned to the island after Bob graduated from college. However, Hunter’s symbiosis with Bob has had unfortunate consequences; Bob’s metabolism has got heavily disrupted to the extent that he is dying so they are hoping to find a way of making contact with Hunter’s ‘people’, who they now realise may have an exploration team on Earth.

The sequel suffers less than the original in the matter of female characters; there are several, two who actually are important to the plot. This may be down to the age difference; Bob was aged around 15 and at a boarding school in Needle; now he’s in his early 20s and left college so instead of going around in a same-sex group, he has matured and actually notices females and accepts them as more-or-less equals.

We learn more about the set-up on the island; the company are benevolent capitalists and take good care of their people. As it happens, it turns out that the two stories are actually set between the end of WWII and the Korean War; actual dates weren’t mentioned in Needle, whereas they are here.

Recommended, but best to read them together.
 
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