[reading] What have you read recently?

I'm re-acquainting myself with The Collected Ghost Stories of M.R. James. I'm not a big Christmas fan but these were written to be read at this time of year so there's one tradition I'm happy with!
Bought that as a Christmas present for myself a few years ago. Worth every penny.

This festive season, subsequent to a chat with Dom on another thread, I've been re-reading Len Deighton's Game, Set and Match trilogy. Currently a quarter of the way through the last one. Did think about re-doing the whole nine volume Samson saga but will stop after London Match.
 
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A Flame in Byzantium, by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. This is the first book in the Olivia subseries, and is #5 (roughly) in the chronological and #7 in publication order of the wider Saint Germain series.

Olivia Atta Clemens, who we met in Blood Games where Saint Germain brought her into immortal life, is living in her family villa outside Rome during the Ostrogothic invasion. She offers her villa to General Belisarius and accepts his sponsorship in Byzantium where she travels to escape the invasion. Here she becomes embroiled in politics as Belisarius falls into disfavour after Theodora’s death. Eventually, she is arrested and is accused of witchcraft...

This was written early enough in the series not to be as formulaic as later offerings. It helps it focuses on Olivia not Saint Germain and is different enough to be fresh. The story is reasonably historically accurate (although Yabro admits one of her sources is Procopius - probably History of the Wars rather than the Anekdota).

Recommended.
 
The Bloody Chamber and other stories, by Angela Carter

A paper version has long been in my library, so I snapped up the ebook when it featured in a deal. This is a collection of stories based on fairy tale tropes but not actually fairy tales. The stories were co-opted by the feminist movement, although Carter denied that they were feminist retellings of fairy tales.

The writing is by turns lush and spare, and the dream-like imagery evoked by the stories is what lends them the veneer of the fairy tale. However, these are not the stories familiar from childhood; although familiar, they take unexpected twists and turns and (at the very least) end with blood pooled on the floor (either literally or metaphorically).

Recommended.
 
The Scent of Tears (Tales of the Apt) by Adrian Tchaikovsky.
This was a free copy from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme in exchange for a review.

This is my first foray into Tchaikovsky’s world (and writing); The Scent of Tears comprises 11 short stories set in the world of the Apt; only the first and last story are by Tchaikovsky himself, the other 9 are byother authors. The world that these stories are set in is an intriguing blend of steampunk science fiction and fantasy: humanity is divided into various kindren, all partaking of the nature of a different insect species. The world is divided into the Apt - people who understand and use technology and cannot use or comprehend magic, and the Inapt - those who use magic and cannot comprehend or use technology (even a door handle will defeat them). Magic is on a downturn, and the Apt are in the ascendent.

I really liked this collection; as with many of the kindren, the stories were sharp and often had a sting in the tail. I was reminded of some of Dunsany’s earlier stories (the ones that end badly) and I suspect there’s some influence from Dahl (I’m ashamed to say I’ve never read any although I have The Complete Short Stories Vol. 1 in the tbr pile) but I have memories of Tales of the Unexpected from the TV.

Recommended.

Witchfinder by Sarah A Hoyt
I’ve had this one for a while, and only just got around to reading it. An alternate universe fantasy: the Kingdom of Britannia on the world of Avalon is at the centre of a series of worlds, some, like Avalon, with magic, others, like Earth, without.

Seraphim Ainsling, Duke of Darkwater, is a witchfinder; not in the Matthew Hopkinson sense, but one who rescues the magically talented from worlds where they are persecuted and gives them sanctuary in Avalon. The problem is that travelling to other worlds is forbidden by Britannic law. Miss Helena ‘Nell’ Felix is a computer programmer on Earth who is a witch; one day she meets a man who offers to show her other worlds and eventually takes her to Avalon. Their story is entwined with each other, the realm of Fairyland, and the royal family of both realms.

An interesting concept and a reasonable read. What spoiled it for me was the bad editing; I think this was a fairly early work by Hoyt and hasn’t been through a thorough edit - there are a number of spelling and spellchecker errors, and some of the transitions between character PoV are a bit dodgy.

OK with reservations.

The Complete Short Stories: Volume One, by Roald Dahl

Reading The Scent of Tears put me in mind of this collection, so I (metaphorically) dug it out of the unread Kindle books and opened the file. These are stories written early in Dahl’s career, and include his first published work written when a military attaché in Washington during WWII. One story I remember watching in Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected back in the 70s.

Sharply written, they depict Dahl’s wartime experiences in the RAF, and follow into post-war life. The post-war stories I think were used for Tales of the Unexpected. Some are set in society, others depict country life. The most interesting is his account of the finding of the Mildenhall Treasure.

Recommended.
 
Kingdoms of Elfin, by Sylvia Townsend Warner

Another book that has long been in my library in paper format. Like The Bloody Chamber, this is a collection of short stories about Faerie, but (mostly) from the perspective of the faeries themselves rather than the unfortunate humans interacting with them or with the narrative. The writing is spare and avoids the lushness of Carter’s prose, yet is equally compelling.

The Faeries of this book are divided into many kingdoms that seem set into the courtliness of the Ancien Regime, but the faeries themselves just are; long-lived but not immortal, and not troubled by notions of religion or scholarship except as a means of whiling away time. Faerie society is very much classified: the aristocracy are primarily courtiers and think it déclassé to fly, the servants can and do fly. Their interactions with hunans are, by and large, without malice, but they do take mortal babies, turning them out when the adult grows old.

Recommended.
 
A Spaceship Made of Stone and other stories, by Lisa Tuttle.

A collection of SF short stories with a feminist slant. I was reminded of the SF published by Virago in the 1980s although this was distinctly less strident in tone.

OK, but probably not to everyone’s taste.
 
The Green Man’s Heir, by Juliet E McKenna

If urban fantasy is defined as a fantasy set in a modern day city setting, then this book is a rural fantasy.

Set in modern Derbyshire, Daniel Markmain is a dryad’s son making a living as a carpenter. Born of a dryad and a mortal man, as a male he partakes of his father’s mortal heritage but can see the otherworld, specifically other supernatural beings.

The book seems to be a fix-up of two novellas: the first details his battle against a wood wose which has a delight in torture and rape, the second details his battle against a wyrmling and the wyrm that’s trying to protect it.

Running through both sections is the Green Man himself, a shuck, dryads and naiads, and Daniel’s struggle to make his way in the modern world without tipping off mundane authority about his supernatural inheritance.

Recommended
 
Most of mine is on audiobooks. Listen to about 2 hours a day whilst driving to and from work.

My latest is The Korean War by Max Hastings

A very interesting "read". It is a conflict I only know the basics on. It was very interesting on the political, social and the military angles.

My dead tree book this month has been

Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History by Michael / Sam Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson,

This is a beautiful and gorgeous book. The artistic history of D&D is a trip down memory lane. I would recommend this to anyone.
 

Dom

Administrator
# Books in December 2018

## *Autonomous* (Annalee Newitz)
This is cyberpunk, updated. The villains of the piece are Big Pharma and the agency that protects patent rights which is downright brutal in its methods of enforcement. The main character is a bio-tech hacker who moves drugs she’s reverse engineered in a submarine. She’s pursued by a self-aware and indentured robot and its master from the agency, who leave a bloody trial of destruction. She rescues an indentured human (once AI/robots were deemed to be sentient, some humans demanded the right to be indentured too, the only difference being that it’s assumed that humans always start free) who helps her along the way as she tries to correct a mistake she’s made. The robot working for the Agency gains limited autonomy at one point and also choses to identify as a different gender.

So we have freedom and rights for autonomous self-aware beings, gender issues, bio-tech, nasty corporations with aligned government agencies, brave hackers and resistance against the regime, all contributing to a modern take on cyberpunk. If William Gibson had written *Neuromancer* 30 years later, perhaps this is more what we would have had from him. However, I think that his skill as a writer exceeds that shown her by Newitz, and his broken characters were more real - and likeable - to me. I enjoyed this: I could imagine the RPG scenario or film of it, but it didn’t quite hit that five star rating. I’ll be interested to see where her work goes next.

## *Lies Sleeping* (Ben Aaronovitch)
Book 7 of the Rivers of London series, so this was like an easy pair of slippers to get into. DC Peter Grant continues on his beat, and the simmering conflict with the Faceless Man starts to draw to a close. The book moves quickly (although there is a section which deliberately pauses) and comes to a satisfying ending. Not the best in the series, but a good book and one that leaves me wanting to read the next (a novella) which comes out in July 2019.

I also read all of the Forbidden Lands RPG books, but they are posted elsewhere.
 

Dom

Administrator
# Review of 2018 Books
65 books read including 4 re-reads and several on graphic novels

**Best novel read**
The Labyrinth Index (Stross)
Runner-up: Thin Air (Morgan)
*Stross pips this one by keeping me up all night with an absolute page turner. Lyonesse is not on this as I read the first two books originally at the end of 2017*

**Best gaming book read**
The Sword, the Crown and the Unspeakable Power
Runner-up: Delta Green Handler’s Guide
*SCUP wins this by underpinning my best gaming experience this year.*

Notable point - I’ve read hardly any graphic novels this year.

Science Fiction (14)
1. *Autonomous* (Annalee Newitz)
2. *Thin Air* (Richard K. Morgan)
3. *Runcible Tales* (Neal Asher)
4. *Mason’s Rats* (Neal Asher)
5. *The Parasite* (Neal Asher)
6. *The Expert System’s Brother* (Nicolas Tchaikovski)
7. *Owning the Future: Short Stories* (Neal Asher)
8. *Dogs of War* (Adrian Tchaikovsky)
9. *Bridging Infinity* (Ed. Jonathan Strahan)
10. *Noumenon* (Marina J. Lostetter)
11. *Noumenon Infinity* (Marina J. Lostetter)
12. *Lifeboat* (Marina J. Lostetter)
13. *Elysium Fire* (Alastair Reynolds)
14. *Ironclads* (Adrian Tchaikovsky)

Urban Fantasy/Horror (7)
15. *Lies Sleeping* (Ben Aaronovitch)
16. *The Labyrinth Index* (Charles Stross)
17. *Witches of Lychford* (Paul Cornell)
18. *The Lost Child of Lychford* (Paul Cornell)
19. *A Long Day in Lychford* (Paul Cornell)
20. *Wyntertide* (Andrew Caldecott)
21. *Delta Green - The Way it Went Down* (Dennis Detwiller)

Fantasy (9, 1 off which was a graphic novel, but additional 4 re-reads of Lyonesse books so **13 total**)
22. *Norse Mythology* (Neil Gaiman)
23. *Through the Woods* (Emily Carroll)
24. *Collected Folk Tales* (Alan Garner)
25. *The Letter for the King* (Tonke Dragt)
26. *Alice* (Christina Henry)
27. *The Red Queen* (Christina Henry)
28. *Lyonesse 1: Suldrun’s Garden* (Jack Vance) x2
29. *Lyonesse 2: The Green Pearl)* (Jack Vance) x2
30. *Lyonesse 3: Madouc* (Jack Vance) x3

Spy Novels (3)
31. *The Man Between* (Charles Cumming)
32. *The Swiss Spy* (Alex Gerlis)
33. *The Trinity Six* (Charles Cumming)

Noir/Detective/Crime (2)
34. *Rupture (Dark Iceland #4)* (Ragnar Jónasson)
35. *Whiteout (Dark Iceland #5)* (Ragnar Jónasson)

Biography (1)
36. *The Princess Diarist* (Carrie Fisher)

Contemporary literature (2)
37. *The Reservoir Tapes* (Jon McGregor)
38. *Reservoir 13* (Jon McGregor)

Gaming (15 but misses out re-read of SCUP and lots of short books = 16)
39. *Delta Green Agent’s Handbook* (Dennis Detailer)
40. *Delta Green Handler’s Guide* (Dennis Detwiller)
41. *The Forbidden Lands Player’s Guide (Beta)*
42. *Forbidden Lands RPG* (Fria Ligan)
43. *Forbidden Lands: Spire of Quetzel* (Fria Ligan)
44. *Forbidden Lands: Raven’s Purge* (Fria Ligan)
45. *The Journal of Reginald Campbell Thompson* (Cthulhu Britannica)
46. *The Journal of Neve Selcibuc* (Cthulhu Britannica)
47. *Tremulus* (Sean Preston)
48. *The Sprawl* (Hamish Cameron)
49. *The Sword, The Crown and the Unspeakable Power* (Todd N. & Tom J.) x2
50. *The Cthulhu Hack* (Paul Baldowski)
51. *The Dark Brood* (Paul Baldowski)
52. *Cthulhu City* (Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan)
53. *Dark Albion: The Rose Wars*

Non-Fiction (7)
54. *A Brief History of Time* (Professor Stephen Hawking)
55. *The Storm before the Storm* (Mike Duncan)
56. *Surviving AI: The promise & peril of artificial intelligence* (Calum Chace)
57. *Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History* (Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, Sam Witwer)
58. *Stranger Things - The Companion* (Nick Blake)
59. *Notes from the Upside Down* (Guy Adams)
60. *Stranger Things - The Ultimate Guide* (Stephen Smith)
 
This is What Happened by Mick Herron. Seemingly inspired by the Hendy-Freegard case, with a touch of John Fowles' The Collector. Consequently a rather uneasy read. Efficiently done but I missed the humour of Herron's Slough House series.
 
For 2018 I didn't record what I read, and I missed it. So I'm back to doing it for 2019.

1: The Annihilation Score (Charles Stross)
I've slipped a few books behind in the Laundry series, and I'm not sure why as I really enjoy it. Still, more to read! This one shifts protagonist to the point of view of Mo, and presents a deconstructivist take on superheroes in the Laundry universe (in a way which works surprisingly well), along with the King in Yellow. Good stuff.
 
2: Cibola Burn (James S.A. Corey)
Book four of the Expanse series. I'm not sure what to say about this... it's a space thriller, with some hardish SF trappings, good characters, and tropes from other genres. It was an extremely gripping read, and I felt myself hating the villain in his combination of pettiness and fanaticism, and ability to infect others with both.

There's a formula to the Expanse books so far which keeps me from wanting to read the whole series all at once, but that's an observation rather than a criticism; I definitely plan to carry on reading them. Just not straight away.
 
3: Trigger Warning (Neil Gaiman)
It's a book of Neil Gaiman short stories. I read many of these in 2017, but I'll post it here as I finished the collection this week. As with Gaiman's other collections, there's a mixture in terms of theme and in terms of quality. The shorter pieces tend to just evoke a single mood, with mixed success.

But there were more than a few which were very good. Highlights for me were the fractured fairy tale of The Sleeper and the Spindle, the Isle of Skye folk tale that is The Truth is a Cave in The Black Mountains, a Doctor Who story, Nothing O'Clock, the fun of The Thin White Duke which reminds me of Moorcock as well as David Bowie, Click Clack the Rattlebag for a fun horror gimmick, a Vance pastiche in An Invocation of Incuriosity, and another tale featuring Shadow from American Gods in Black Dog. Oh, and a weird Sherlock Holmes tale, The Case of Death and Honey.

Apart from the highlights I could take or leave it, but typing this I realise there were quite a few highlights.
 
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. Similar structure to Cloud Atlas with five interlinked tales, portraying a secret war between two factions of immortal beings . Sort of thing you might get in a game of Unknown Armies perhaps. Actually found the supernatural elements the least interesting part of the book. I was rather more taken by the antics of posh boy sociopath Hugo Lamb and the mid life crisis of Martin Amis-alike Crispin Hershey. Also enjoyed the depiction of main character Holly Sykes' adolescence on the south coast. Often seemed like an unwelcome diversion when the occult stuff reared its head - struck me as very sub-Tim Powers or Clive Barker. The climactic battle is excitingly done though.
 
4: The Fifth Season (N.K. Jemisin)
I was impressed with this. A fantasy novel which is original in its concepts, doesn't drown the reader with dull detail, and is genuinely good. A rarity for me, especially with more recent fantasy books. The concept is a world wracked by earthquakes, and sometimes ruined by a "season" where they get out of hand and create sufficient atmospheric disturbances to bring on a years-long winter. And orogenes- those who have control over the earth, and are feared and hated for the danger of their power.

It's cleverly and engagingly written, in a style which reminds me a little of Iain M. Banks. It engaged me; the book's the first of a trilogy, and I feel a bit cheated it ended on a cliffhanger, though it did solve other mysteries, But it's pretty relentlessly grim, meaning I'm not likely to read the next right away, though part of me is very tempted.
 
Antrobus Complete, by Lawrence Durrell

This is the omnibus of Esprit de Corps, Stiff Upper Lip and Sauve Qui Peut plus a previously uncollected story. Set in various Balkan countries after the war (mainly Yugoslavia and ‘Vulgaria’), the stories deal with life among the diplomatic corps.

The cast of characters include Polk-Mowbray, the British Ambassador, Antrobus, his Head of Chancery, various other members of the British Mission, including Aubrey de Mandeville, Third Secretary, military attachés Dovebasket and ‘Butch’ Bembow, Drage the Embassy butler and other minor characters.

Very much of their time, the stories still retain much wit and charm despite what would be seen nowadays as political incorrectness and racism.

I enjoy them, but I can recall living a similar lifestyle in the early 60s in Cairo and I got told many stories of the expatriate lifestyle in the 40s and 50s by my mother. Others probably won’t care for them because of the attitudes shown, but the stories were meant to be satirical humourous pieces.
 
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