Well, actually about six months worth of reading, since the last of these appears to have been in early December.
I'm not certain what I ended up reading around Christmas, I may have a poke around and see if my Kindle will tell me, but the New Year started on a bit of a tangent. I used to be fairly current on modern naval stuff, partly as a spin-off from the job, partly from personal interest, but that had gradually drifted over into a focus on between-the-wars stuff. Until January, when for some reason I can't recall, possibly just a news report or something else that caught my eye, I took a look, realised how out of date I was, and decided to bring myself back up to speed. Mostly I've been doing it through online stuff, but I've also been buying and reading a lot of stuff for the Harpoon naval wargame rules (written by techno-thriller author Larry Bond), which works to sieve down a lot of information into a condensed form. So that's been one thing, and has probably consumed several hundred hours - realistically that's more than I wanted to spend on it, but I do tend to obsess, and obviously that ate into time where I might have been reading fiction.
Spinning off from that (or possiby vice-versa?) I re-read all of 'The Last War', an ongoing web-based alt-history based on the Berlin Wall not falling and a NATO-Warsaw Pact conflict in 2003. I used to read it regularly (it has its own Yahoo group), but hadn't followed it actively in years. It now stands at somewhere over a million words to date, and he's only a couple of weeks into the war.... Very detailed, in the style of Clancy's Red Storm Rising, and wryly amusing for his habit of using TV characters for a lot of roles - so, for instance, you have Dirty Harry Callaghan as head of LAPD running their response to KGB-initiated rioting, and David Woodward's Callan acting as control to a rather nasty assassin. It gets truly bizarre when you have different characters played by the same actor running into each other, as has happened on a couple of occasions.
In fact big re-reading projects pretty much sums up the year to date. Reading Charles Stross's 'The Annihilation Score' led me to re-read the entire set of Laundry Files books up to that point (I'm still behind as 'The Nightmare Stacks' has just dropped down to a price I'm prepared to pay). I thought I'd reviewed the Laundry Files, but I've just checked and apparently not, so I'll leave those for now and come back to them en masse. As a spin-off from reading the actual Laundry books I also bought and read the RPG based on them, plus several of the supplements.
After that I had a bit of a reading hiatus, so deliberately picked up something I knew would be a light read to get myself started again just before Easter. That was the first book in Mercedes Lackey's Collegium series, which is a new timeframe in her Herald books. That turned into seven books in five days, all five of the Collegium series, plus the first two of the three book Herald Spy series. I slowed down a bit for the last of them, then decided I might as well re-read the entire series as the collections were cheap on Amazon. So that's another three trilogies: Arrows of the Queen, The Mage Winds and The Mage Storms (which I thought I hadn't read, but had). Annoyingly I can't find my copy of 'By the Sword', which lies between Arrows and Winds, and is probably my favourite of them all. And annoyingly it doesn't seem to have an ecopy available. I'll probably go on to read the Owl Knight trilogy, and maybe the Griffins prequel trilogy, I'm fairly sure I haven't read either before, but, like the Laundry Files, I'll probably cover all of these in a separate post. I have lots of thoughts, some favourable, some very much not.
And the most recent thing I've re-read is Mary Gentle's 'Grunts', which was an utterly bizzare turn for the author who had just produced the gorgeously gothic 'Architecture of Desire' etc. 'Grunts' is the story of what happens when great orc Ashnak of the fighting Agaku, plus a few of his nestmates and a couple of amoral halflings, are sent to rob a dragon's horde of weapons during the run up to the final battle between Good and Evil. It turns out the dragon was a militaria collector, and his entire horde is weapons the like of which the orcs have never seen, an entire hollowed-out mountain stuffed full of AK-47s and M-16s (not to mention tanks and gunships and worse). The dragon's dying curse is that the thieves will become what they steal, and the stuff they steal includes a complete set of US Marine Corps manuals. In just a few pages the Orc Marines have staged a fighting retreat from the plains of faux-mageddon and are figuring out what to do with themselves. If they can just stop magicians spelling their weapons into not working then they have a weapon against which magic has no defences (yes, that's a bit chicken and egg). They're orcs, they don't mind being cannon-fodder, but they much prefer being cannon fodder that wins (and they've had more than enough working for Dark Lords). That sends Ashnak and a few of his best orcs off on a quest to get the required talismans, which brings them back into contact with the two halflings, and their mother; which sets up unending emnity between Ashnak and the sons, and a rather more complex relationship with their mother. And then a whole lot more stuff happens: war crimes, election campaigns, alien invasions, and war crimes trials, and if no one actually says 'peace through fire superiority' then it's a concept the Orc Marines would understand perfectly (well, apart from the peace bit).
I remember thinking 'Grunts' was wonderful when it first appeared, but re-reading it a quarter of a century on I can see its flaws (and realistically I suspect I've changed a lot in the past 25 years). Some of the humour now makes me wince. Yes, they're Orcs and “naterally wicious,” (to borrow a line from Dickens), but beyond the pratfalls and the humourous fraggings those really are war crimes (and rape humour) we're being asked to laugh at. And more fundamentally, there's something a little incoherent about the narrative. It's basically Ashnak shooting his way to running the planet, and it is reasonable that we get the final battle between Good and Evil out of the way quickly, as it's a story about winning the peace, but the major portion of the book seems to be more 'and then this happened' than any clearly plotted progression. There's some nicely handled character progression - an elf who turns into a perfect Orc marine while stuck in an Aliens scenario, for instance - but there's also what looks like it should be a major character arc around an actual US Marine, only for it to be over in four randomly scattered scenes.
I still like it, and it was innovative when it was written, but it hasn't aged as well as it might and if things still make me smile, then it's more often a guilty smile than I'm comfortable with.