davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)

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reason I can't recall, possibly just a news report or something else that caught my eye, I took a look, realised how out of date I was, and decided to bring myself back up to speed.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.

davidgillon: Text: You can take a heroic last stand against the forces of darkness. Or you can not die. It's entirely up to you" (Heroic Last Stand)

No standard print media since the last update, that was just last Sunday, but I accidentally got sucked into re-reading some Schlock Mercenary. Schlock has been running daily since 12-Jun-2000, which makes for a very large archive - it just completed book 16, so a post the other day suggested a few potential starting points for people. The earliest suggestion was the start of Book 10, so I followed the link to remind myself which one that was, and, erm, started reading. From 29-Feb-2008. 3025 strips in three days. Eek!

What rereading them revealed is just how good a storyteller Howard Tayler has become, there are bits buried at the start of books that illuminate things that happen a year or more later in our real time when the story reaches the end of the book. It''s often difficult to remember those when reading them daily, but they really show up in a reread.

Ostensibly about Schlock, the series developed into an ensemble cast:

Schlock - Cheerfully amoral 'Carbo-silicate Amorph', a sergeant in the mercenary company Tagon's Toughs. A shapeshifter, he keeps being mistaken for a 1.5m pile of manure. Occcasionally bright, commonly childlike, mostly violent.
Captain Kaff Tagon - Commander of Tagon's Toughs. Inclined to appear a bit dim, but actually very good at what he does. Which still doesn't stop him wedging his foot in his mouth with predictable regularity
Commander Kevyn Andreyasn - Possibly the smartest biological sophont in the galaxy. Has repeated revolutionised technology (and started galaxy spanning wars as a result). Resident Mad Scientist.
Ennesby - Formerly the AI running a virtual boy band, now Tagon's snarky adjutant.
Petey - Formerly the AI running the Tough's starship, now the face of the Fleetmind, a hivemind of starship AIs that control the Plenipotent Domain, the galactic superpower, which is running the war against the dark matter Pa'anuri of Andromeda, a war Kevyn accidentally restarted. Appears as a koala-like hologram,
Ebby, Legs, Andy, Nick, Elisabeth, Chisulo - the other members of Schlock's squad, with Ebby in command. Nick's the only human, and he makes Tagon look bright. Eventually designated as Xeno Team.

Book 10: The Longshoreman of the Apocalypse

The Toughs get a new job - escort a shipment of relief supplies to the artificial world of Credomar (a cylinder about 6km in diameter and 40 in length, with a population of 5 million). But first they pick up a few new recruits, including 18 year old roboticist Para Ventura. To a large degree Book 10 is about Para finding her place in the Toughs

So how difficult can delivering a few supplies be? Very, it turns out, when Credomar is factionalised over control of the food supply, the contract says they have to distribute the supplies, and the docks are out of action. With 65 megatons of supplies to unload, they should be done in about 25 years. That's when Para repurposes a damaged tank as the eponymous Longshoreman Of The Apocalypse, which promptly proclaims that it, LOTA, is too mighty for puny pronouns. When things go wrong, the Toughs have to launch a desperate raid to sieze a stock of antimatter, Para finds herself alone against a mob, and LOTA siezes a solution to the problem.

And meanwhile, there's the puzzle of Credomar's wierdly inefficient design.

Book 11: Massively Parallel

After accidentally bending their ship and its AI in Credomar, the Toughs have to split up to make enough to cover wages while it's repaired.

Schlock, Elisabeth and Chisulo get a job at the circus. As Chisulo is an uplifted elephant and Elisabeth looks like a elephant-sized gorilla they aren't entirely out of place, though Carbo-silicate amorphs are old news, which leaves Schlock playing janitor. They're undercover to investigate a murder, but something smells very off about their employer.

Kevyn, meanwhile, is back off to Credomar, King LOTA wants an evac mechanism for the city's inhabitants, and Kevyn is the inventor of the teraport. Things get murkier when they figure out the smoking gun of just why Credomar is so inefficiently designed, Are they building a safety mechanism, or unlocking a weapon of mass destruction? And can they trust LOTA?

And for Tagon and most of the company it's the humiliation of being reduced to mallcops. In Mall One, a rotating spacestation, full of open spaces and plagued by a mysterious set of urban runners. There's only one way to catch them - train the Toughs in Parkata Urbatsu, the martial art of urban running. Meanwhile, is Nick about to get a girl, and which girl is it going to be, the mysterious blonde spy, or the fast food clerk?

And all the strands braid back together again with a desperate mission into the heart of an enemy-held asteroid to rescue Kevyn's clone, and Tagon's dad. Of course neither are exactly helpless - never underestimate a man with a remote-controlled headless monkey and a bandolier of grenades.

Book 12: Force Multiplication

An earlier book saw the Toughs stumble on a deep black UNS intelligence operation, one that they only got out of alive by agreeing to have their memories altered. Petey now has a way to reverse that, and it's time for the Toughs to remember what really happened, what really never happened, and who did it to them. One of the not-memories is the wedding of Doc Bunny Bunnigus and the Reverend, which means doing the whole thing over.

Given the need to speak to her (not-)mother-in-law, Bunny quickly decides on a field trip to check up on Shep, one of the Toughs' retired soldiers. Given Shep lives in a rough habitat, she takes Schlock, Para, Legs and Ennesby along with her, and hires Kathryn (that would be the mysterious blonde spy) to ferry them there. Things rapidly escalate as they discover the whole habitat is under the control of the mysterious Professor Pau, who doesn't like doctors, but has a medicine to cover every eventuallity. With Shep kidnapped, it's up to them to get him back, and Kathryn may have just the skills they need. Well she would have if she hadn't just defaulted on the contract she signed, giving Schlock the right to eat her.

So it's Kathryn vs Schlock in the bowels of Haven Hive, and Kathryn turns out to be unexpectedly resourceful. But then she stumbles onto what's really going on, and she's not about to let that go unanswered. Even if it means a chance of running into Schlock again as the Toughs make their move to free Shep.

Book 13: Random Access Memorabilia

The Toughs are hired to provide security on an archaeological dig, the dig being on an artifact, Oisri, that's so old it has a planet wrapped around it. The problem being Oisri is potentially so valuable it may be worth throwing entire fleets at them. Fortunately the Toughs have an answer for that, an autofabricator with a large pile of dirt going in at one end and lots and lots of missiles coming out at the other. That takes care of the overt threat, but leaves covert routes open, including nano-warfare, which it turns out Tagon has a history with.

It actually turns out the major threat is on a more human scale when one of the scientists accidentally rips his head off, then gets up again. The Toughs are up against Redhack, the culmination of the intelligence project they stumbled on. It was supposed to be a means of immortality, now it's a weapon, turning people into killing machines, and the only way out may be to kill everyone the Toughs signed on to protect.

Meanwhile, there is a spy aboard their ship.

Book 14: Broken Wind

Kathryn is back at Mall One, bonding with Tagon's dad over a little urban running, when they run into an alien with a job for both Tagons and the Toughs. Which is when Karl Tagon finds out his son has blown up yet another UNS battleplate; time to get everyone out of Dodge before they're scooped up by UNS intelligence. That includes Kathryn's urban runners and Alexia Murtaugh, the mercenary/cop who took the blame for what went down in Book 12.

Meanwhile the Toughs are facing up to the news their ship was totalled when its AI went berserk during the events at Oisri. Petey wants them to retire, and some of them are seriously tempted, the Plenipotent Dominion is a post-scarcity society, thanks to having turned the galactic core into a power generator. If money isn't an issue, then boredom may be, and when Karl Tagon turns up with a gunship and a job, he finds his son and the Toughs ready to board. Of course there is the small matter of the gunboat refusing to answer to anyone but the spy who betrayed them.

The job the Oafans have for them is a bug hunt, but the scale of the bug hunt wasn't actually as clear as it might have been. Eina Afa, the ancient spacestation that needs delousing, is big enough you could stuff the Moon and Mars inside with room to spare. The job gets fairly rapidly rescoped as a biological sampling mission, but then the station's old defences wake up, and they're stuck trying to find a way to talk down yet another berserk AI.

Book 15: Delegates and Delegation

The Oafans send an embassy to Sol in Ennesby's new ship, with Captain Murtaugh and  Xeno Team along as security. Of course, diplomatic credentials or not, there's a certain intelligence agency that may consider the Toughs to know too much. If they knew what the Toughs really have in mind they'd nuke them from orbit, as the only way to be sure.  This time the Toughs aren't going to revolutionise technology, they're going to revolutionise society.

Of course theirs may not be the only revolution people have planned. So it's up to the Toughs, a UNS ship designer, and a killing machine in a body he doesn't own to save the day and stop the UNS descending into civil war. (With a little help from a 750kg uplifted Polar Bear).

Book 16: Big Dumb Objects

The Toughs are still helping get their new home in the Neofan Freehold (aka Eina Afa) up and running. There are cities to be built in a day (okay, two), judiciaries to be created, and ancient librarians to be resurrected to see if they know enough to save the Galaxy (they don't, but they do know where the index is). Fortunately money isn't an issue when you have an ancient spacedock stuffed to the gills with millions of derelicts whose trans-uranic hulls are individually worth a fair fraction of the annual GDP of Sol system. And in between times, there's an archive Petey needs looting access to, which rapidly descends into a crime-scene.

But everything comes together when the science team stumbles onto the location of an ancient Oafan 'world forge'. Only one problem, it should be the size of Saturn, and it's been squished down to the size of Earth. Plus someone's already living there.

Fortunately the Essperrin are perfectly willing to sell access, for a ship or two. They would even be cute, as knee-high space ant-butterflies, but for their habit of 'improving' any technological system they can get their hands on. And their senior commander can't help noticing how much portable worth the Toughs new ships represent....

Over-Arcing Thoughts

I don't quite know how far back Howard Tayler has had the Schlock arc pinned down, but it's been clear for a while that the core arc is the Redhack technology and what functional immortality is going to do to society. The roots of that arc stretch right back into the very earliest days of Schlock Mercenary, when it was still primarily a daily strip and a long story arc was a month. The stories above represent the arc moving into the end game (Tayler's said as much), which is perhaps obvious when Book 17 is called A Little Immortality.  There's still the war against the Pa'anuri to resolve, and will Petey end up a benevolent god, or a tyrant, but I think those are the backdrop against which a more human story plays.

Schlock went through the same art evolution as a lot of webcomics, in fact it's early art is much more basic than a lot of comics start with. Tayler himself says: "Seriously, don’t start people at the beginning. Just don’t."  But if its art has evolved further than most, I still think it's the storytelling that has come furthest. That goes for characterisation too. Earliest Schlock had almost no female characters, but current Schlock has 5 female command characters out of 10 and several significant female characters in the enlisted ranks. Schlock doesn't just beat the Bechdel test, it has military operations being entirely run by female officers (the male officers are almost entirely absent from Book 15), and other female characters getting together to talk about the spaceships and robots they're designing and building. Kevyn, the resident mad-scientist, is regularly mocked by Para, who is simply better with robots and AIs than he will ever be (and Elf, his partner, is often the more practical engineer) Meanwhile Tagon started out as almost a buffoon, and he still has his foot in mouth moments, but he's now convincingly a commander to be reckoned with.

Howard Tayler is right, the Schlock archive is huge and intimidating, but I think it's worth the investment. Personally I might start with Delegates and Delegation to see if it appeals, the story is relatively self-contained even if some of the motivations won't be. That will leave you in a good position to work forward from there to the leading edge of the story, and you can go back and pick up the older stories at your leisure.

davidgillon: Text: You can take a heroic last stand against the forces of darkness. Or you can not die. It's entirely up to you" (Heroic Last Stand)
A little bit of a catch-up as a couple of these go back almost a month.

Currently Reading

Anno Dracula - Dracula, Cha, Cha, Cha, Kim Newman

It's 1959 and the Italian Dolce Vita is watching eagerly as the guests assemble for the wedding of the year - Dracula's marriage to the vampiric Princess Asa Vajda. Also in Rome, watching Dracula in his Italian exile, is Charles Beauregard, the man who thwarted him in Victorian Britain. But Charles is 106 and waiting to die, and not even Geneviève Dieudonné, the love of his life, can persuade him to let her give him the vampiric kiss and bring him over to be one of the undead. Arriving to help Geneviève with Charles' final days is Kate Reed, the vampire journalist whose credentials stretch back to being a prominent part of the resistance to Dracula. And it soon transpires that also in Rome, in fact working as Dracula's chatelaine, is Penelope Churchward, the third of the vampire women in Charles' life.

Reading Newman's notes after completing this, I realised that I had missed a large element of the story. Newman's work as a film critic means he has an encyclopaedic knowledge of film, and the core motif for Dracula Cha, Cha, Cha is apparently Three Coins in the Fountain, which I'm not certain I've ever seen, with Charles' three women taking the title roles. Of course, that's not the only film motif. The Talented Mr Ripley is contemplating the prospect he may have bitten off a little more than he can chew in trying his games on Dracula's household. Secret agent Hamish Bond is in town, and there are several perfect adaptions of Bond film motifs, though Geneviève finds Bond a pale shadow of her Charles. Drawing on the Italian vampire movie tradition is a major subplot involving Matre Lachrymae,  the Mother of Tears, the guardian spirit of Rome, and a series of vampire murders, culminating in one at the wedding itself, and leaving our three protagonists needing to find the real culprit in order to clear Kate, who was caught literally red-handed.

Also included with the package is the novella Aquarius, which is a solo effort for Kate Reed as she is asked by the Diogenes Club to investigate a rare vampiric murder as a favour to Scotland Yard's vampiric B Division. It's easy enough to imagine Jack Regan of the Sweeney as a vampiric cop, but George Dixon of Dock Green?!? Lying close to the root of things is one of the creepiest images of the whole series, amoral secret policeman Caleb Croft turned into an academic of the beat generation, with his own little cult of followers.

Anno Dracula - Johnny Alucard, Kim Newman

It's 1976 and Francis Ford Coppola is in Romania to film his Dracula,  with Kate Reed as his technical advisor. Vampires are persecuted in Romania as the Transylvania movement is agitating for the creation of a separate Transylvanian state, to be ruled by vampires, of course. When Kate finds a half-starved Romanian Vampire, Ion Popescu, she helps him get a job on the production as a fixer. He thanks her by setting her up for the murder of their Securitate watcher. What Kate didn't realise was that Ion is Dracula's last child.

Having achieved his aim of slipping into the States, Ion Popescu becomes Johnny Pop, master of the disco dance floor, drawing the attention of New York's most famous vampire, Andy Warhol, just as another familiar face, Penelope Churchward decides to move on. Behind the scenes he starts to build his empire, by creating the drug Drac, which gives mortals an all-too-brief experience of vampirism. His New York career is cut short, courtesy of an intersection of the plot of Saturday Night Fever with Taxi Driver, The French Connection, (probably) Shaft, and Scooby Doo.

Meanwhile, out on the West Coast, Geneviève Dieudonné has run into an old PI, taking on one last case. Her help prompts him to suggest she has an eye for it, and she reinvents herself yet again. Things turn ugly when her friends start dying, and she finds herself faced with a tiny blonde cheerleader, convinced that Genè is the fount of all evil. Yes, it's Genèvieve versus Barbie the Vampire Slayer, but there's more to it than just those darn annoying kids, and she quickly  finds herself afoul of the new power in the movie business, Johnny Alucard, a man newly arrived from the East Coast and who seems to be financing a surprising number of Dracula films across all sorts of formats.

Having moved on from Andy Warhol, Penelope Churchward has gotten herself a job as an instructor on one of America's most secret projects, teaching America's best to be the best that they can be. Newman claims it's the film he hates above all others, but it's a gesture-perfect evocation of Top Gun, with Penny in the Charley role. Penny's success there prompts Alucard to bring her onboard to coach a protégé of his own.

As the Eighties pass Alucard entrenches himself in Hollywood, the Transylvanian Movement grows stronger. Geneviève reinvents herself as a forensic specialist - Bones, with blood. But in the UK Caleb Croft is back in the secret policeman role he fits best, and Kate is not his favourite person.

The endgame comes with the fall of the Wall. Alucard proposes that he should stage the Anno Dracula version of Liveaid, but this time the beneficiary is Transylvania, and the concert is the cover for a coup. The Transylvanian Movement just don't realise whose coup it actually is.

Structurally this is very difficult to review, it covers fifteen years in the character's lives, and it does it via a series of self-contained novellas. Geneviève the PI and Geneviève as Doctor Dee, the forensics specialist, I'd happily read far more of, or watch the TV series, but Kate's story is harsher, and the reality is that both our running protagonists spend the entire book being persecuted for their earlier interactions with Dracula, while all the while Alucard grows in power.

Apparently a fifth book is contracted, which is just as well, because this one ends with evil triumphant.

The Course of Empire, Eric Flint and K D Wentworth

The 'course of empire' here seems to be a descendant of the old Roman 'Cursus Honorum', the path of offices that would take a young Roman from his first position to dictator. Junior Jao leader Aille arrives on Earth for his first posting. He is literally marked for great things, the once in a generation hope of one of the leading clans of the Jao. But the occupation of Earth isn't going well, 20 years after the conquest there is still resistance, and Governor Oppuk, once the great hope of his own clan, the traditional mailed fist antithesis of Aille's clan of elegant plotters, is regularly driven to furious retribution by Humanity's refusal to accept that the Jao way is better.

Aille steps into his waiting slot as second in command of the human Jinau troops, which is roughly equivalent to sending someone fresh out of Sandhurst/West Point to command all forces in Afghanistant. But Aille has been sent to learn, and as he doesn't have any staff beyond his personal tutor in the art of command, he sets about creating one from people who have things to teach him, picking up a technocrat here, a potential bodyguard there. And scandalously he doesn't restrict himself to only Jao, drafting the hyper-competent Jinao general Ed Kransky, Caitlin Stockwell, hostage daughter of the puppet president of the US, (also the one human who truly understands the Jinau's postural sub-language, though she lacks the ears to be truly fluent) and Pfc Gabe Tully, a resistance plant in the Jinau, who can't decide whether to kill himself now before the interrogation starts, or if he's fallen into an incredible intelligence gathering opportunity.

Initially the game plays out as a dance between Aille and Governor Oppuk, each trying to lure the other into a mis-step, but Aille keeps raising the stakes, and then the stakes are taken out of their hands entirely as the Ekhat, the legendary world-scouring xenophobes for whom the Jao themselves were once Jinau, announce their arrival in the solar system. Humanity thought they were just a Jao bogeyman, meant to scare them and justify the occupation, but now they're here, and Oppuk's response is to abandon the humans in favour of a last stand in space. Aille has different ideas.

I started reading snippets of the later books in the series online, and went looking for the earlier ones, and it turns out the first one is actually free at Amazon, so if military SF is your thing, or for that matter alien societies with some nicely observed non-human edges, then this may be worth a look.

Blunt Force, K B Spangler

The fourth Rachel Peng technothriller, the novel series spun off from Spangler's 'A Girl and Her Fed' webcomic. Two years ago, in the first of the series, Digital Divide, OACET Special Agent Rachel Peng, the cyborg liaison to the DC MPD, allowed psychopathic murderer Jonathan Glazer to escape from custody. She had a good reason, he was going to escape whatever she did, he really was that competent, and her way meant he did it without killing anyone, and paid his debt with enough information to prevent OACET being wound up by Congress and the cyborgs drafted into the military. Now Glazer is standing at her front fence, wearing a dead friend's face, and telling her he has been sent to help her, because another move against OACET has been set in motion.

What that move is soon becomes clear as Rachel finds out Hope Blackwell and Avery Hill have been kidnapped. Whoever kidnapped Hope (aka 'the Girl') is riding the tiger, because she's one of the top ten judoka on the planet, and has anger management issues (plus her husband is Pat Mulcahy, aka 'the Fed', director of OACET, who was lethally dangerous even before he was a cyborg). But Avery is Hope and Rachel's honorary niece, and she's two. The game becomes a little clearer, and a lot murkier, when the kidnappers make themselves known. They're a militia, one focussed on the bizarre political world of the US sovereign citizen movement, and their leader has a little problem he'd like Mulcahy's help with. So it's a standoff, and if some of the militia were hoping for something a little Ruby Ridge or Waco, what they actually get is Josh Glassman, Mulcahy's deputy, a man who can turn anything into a party, even a siege.

Thanks to Glazer's reappearance as Marshall Wyatt, the cyborgs know there's a deeper game, but they don't know who the enemy is, or what their end game is, and explaining just why Glazer/Wyatt is helping means Rachel needs to 'fess up to the whole letting-him-escape thing, which causes some major soul-searching among her bosses and the rest of the cyborg collective. But they need Rachel, she's their best investigator, particularly when backed by her MPD team, their best bet of figuring out what the endgame is before the endgame happens to them. And all the while the clock is ticking, because Hope is off her meds, and eventually her judgement will go and she'll push the militia further than they can tolerate*.

Beneath all the technothriller edges, there's a solid political thriller here, one rooted in the story of OACET and its creation and continued existence, and a disturbing dive into the worldview of the militias. While lurking in the background, 'helping'  is Glazer/Wyatt, whose 'help' is likely part of an even deeper game.

I thought this had one or two slightly rough edges, I'd personally have done without chapter one, which is in a different viewpoint, but I still consumed it in a single sitting and Rachel remains one of my favourite characters in contemporary fiction.

* Even with her judgement intact Hope is still regularly beating up her guards, even while duct-taped to a chair. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out what was going on. Her explanation is "Martial artist tricks", but there's a side of the Girl and Her Fed universe, Hope's side, that the technothrillers don't address.

Up Next

I've got some beta reading to do, not sure what comes after that.

davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)

Currently Reading

Penric's Mission, Lois McMaster Bujold

The certainties of Penric's life in the World of the Five Gods have changed since last we saw him in Penric and the Shaman. He's now around 30, though still taken as younger, the Princess-Archdivine has died, medicine has lost its attraction, and he has moved on to a new Duke's court. His new lord has decided he might make a useful spy, which is quite a change for a Sorceror-Divine (and almost a doctor) of the Bastard. The change in role clearly excites Penric, but things don't go so well, and soon he's quite literally in a hole, with Desdemona, his inner demon, she of the 11 prior lives, all female, called on to perform a little life-saving self-surgery. Still, it's difficult to keep a good man, and his demon, down in a hole and Penric and Des manage to figure a way out. Which still leaves him overseas, in a city where he is visibly a foreigner, and there's the small matter of the man he was sent to meet, who will have been thoroughly incriminated by the documents he was carrying.

Penric is rather too late to prevent his contact's thoroughly Byzantine punishment, but his stubborn side, and maybe also the Bastard, mean he's not about to abandon him, or his interestingly widowed sister, even if that means taking up doctoring again. It's perhaps surprising just how dangerous a spy Penric could be, but he's constrained by his ethics as both doctor and divine, though of course that's a divine of the Bastard's order, and the Bastard's ethics are interestingly flexible (I loved the way Penric finance's himself). And only Penric could interrupt a duel to the death to tell his opponent 'look, you're doing it wrong' and deliver theological advice.

Grand Central Arena, Ryk Spoor

Ariane Austin is your typical space-racer pilot, bar the blue hair and the all-powerful AI in the box on her belt, in a post-scarcity society that has expanded to dominate the entire solar system, but can't make the jump to an interstellar society for some reason. Then up pops Dr Simon Sandrisson, who just happens to have figured out a jump drive, but can't get it to work as all the automation fails the instant his test probes jump. So he needs a pilot, and the rest of a crew. Cue crew assembly montage, mostly focused on power engineer Dr Marc C DuQuesne, who is More Than He Seems.

The jump drive is based on the everything's closer in warp space principle, what they hadn't bargained on is warp space being full. There is a mini Dyson sphere for every star system, and at the centre of everything is the Arena. It's sort of the Babylon 5 scenario, but rather than a beacon of hope, all alone in the night, the Arena is a beacon of full-contact sports, where everything is up for challenge. The Arena is old, and ruled by what is presumably an AI, but no other AI works in Arena Space. Nor do nuclear reactors, which is a bit of a bugger when you need your fusion plant to recharge your jump drive. The Arena is also the meeting place for the various factions of Arena Space, and the medium of commerce is betting on formal Challenges. But that's okay, Humanity is a society of insane risk-takers by Arena standards. (Of course we are, got to have that human exceptionalism) So it's up to Ariane, as newly designated leader of the Faction of Humanity, to figure out a way to refuel their ship.

Obviously this means Humanity variously bonding, having scientific meet-cute, or thoroughly annoying all five main factions in no time whatsoever. The Molothos are your typical aggressive xenophobes, the Vengeance think it's all an alien plot, the Faith are the Arena's version of B5's Vorlons (the cuddly Kosh version, not the fascist planet destroyers of Season 4), the Analytic are scientists and the Blessed to Serve are the biological slaves of an AI dominated society. And then there's Orphan, clearly the same species as the Blessed, and leader of the Liberated, a faction of one, who serves as their guide to the Arena. And lurking in the backgroud are the Shadeweavers, the polar opposite of the Faith, with more than a touch of B5 techno-mage about them.

And it's up to Ariane to win the prize of a trip home.

If you imagine Babylon 5 crossed with Golden Age SF you'll get the right feel for this, it's space opera on a grand scale, with all humanity's fate in the hands of Ivanova Ariane, backed by a certain power engineer whose name is a flaming banner he's more than he seems.

Spheres of Influence, Ryk Spoor

The sequel to Grand Central Arena. Ariane and the others have been back to the Solar System, to explain why Humanity is now at war, and the politicians and diplomats are Not Happy. But it's time to head back to the Arena ahead of the official mission, but with a new recruit to the crew. Marc thinks Ariane needs a bodyguard, and he has just the 'man' for the job, Sun Wu Kung, the Monkey King.

Here be spoilers for Grand Central Arena )


Meanwhile, back at the Arena, everyone is plotting, especially those factions Ariane managed to humiliate the first time around. And the plotting gets worse with the arrival of two human diplomats, and a wildcard. But Ariane was difficult to beat the first time around, and this time she's got the Monkey King backing her.

I liked this just as much as the first, but there are two major flaws. The first is it loses a little focus on what makes the Arena so attractive a storytelling venue, the second is the real problem, the story seems to be missing about it's first sixth. There's a back-story summary that includes about a page of 'and what happened in between' that's actually fairly important to the plot. I'm not certain whether that means it was written as a separate novella, was a late editorial deletion, or what, but it should definitely be there at the start, and it isn't. It's still a thoroughly entertaining story, but it's a flawed entertaining.

Shadow of Victory, David Weber

I'm a fan of the Honorverse, and Weber in general, but I found this seriously irritating. That's not to say I didn't also thoroughly enjoy it, I read all 800 pages in under 24 hours, but it has some serious issues. This is the latest in the Shadows sub-series, which concentrates on the exploits of Admiral Michelle Henke and Captain Aivars Terekhov and his crew in the newly annexed Talbot Cluster (because Honor is now far too senior for the ship-to-ship stuff), and the main problem is it's a thematic repeat of Shadows of Freedom, the previous book, with walk-on parts for A Rising Thunder, the last mainstream Honor Harrington novel and Cauldron of Ghosts, the last novel in the Crown of Slaves Zilwicki/Cachat sub-series. Essentially we're getting three years of history we've already seen three times over, from a fourth perspective.

Shadows of Freedom was the Mesans (slave-creating, ubermensch, behind-the-scenes manipulators) using agents of the Solarian League (the 800lb gorilla of oppressively corrupt bureacratic states) as puppets to set up local liberation movements/terrorist cells to oppose the Manticoran annexation of the Talbot Cluster (never mind the overwhelming majority of Talbot cluster residents being firmly of the thank god you got here before the Sollies, where do we sign up to be imperial subjects opinion). Victory has them repeating the same stunt, but in Solly territory, telling the liberation movements on various Solly client states that they're the Manticorans, here to help them break free of Solarian oppression, and that the Navy will be there when they do rise up to keep the Solarian headbreakers off their backs - the operational concept is for all these efforts to fail and tarnish the Manties' rep.

So you have the Polish planet with its football-based liberation movement, the Czech planet with its party-based liberation movement, the Celtic planet with its forestry-based liberation movement, the US planet with its redneck liberation movement, and the other planet with its non-denominational liberation movement. All expecting Mantie help and the Manties none the wiser. Results are varied, for values of varied ranging into circa 10 million dead. (I'm not convinced having both Polish and Czech liberation movements was wise, I got thoroughly confused as to which character belonged in which movement).

There aren't actually that many new characters. A couple of Solly intel types who are beginning to figure out the Mesans are manipulating them (of course we already had a couple of Solly intel types who are... etc),  a new Mesan junior spymaster and his sociopathic deputy, and Aivars Terekov's wife Sinead, who is A Force of Nature - a significant chunk of the book is Sinead flattening anyone who stands between her and her husband after he's redeployed after precisely two nights at home. For fan-service Ginger Lewis finally gets her own ship, but having built her and it up, she and it aren't even present for the culmination of her own arc. And at the end of it all the overall series narrative has moved on a whole 12 hours from Cauldron of Ghosts.


Other observations. Not having read any Honorverse in a while, the relative lack of familiarity rather beat me about the head with just how keen Weber is on tall, thin female officers with 'exotic' looks. Here including a literal catwoman. And his mainstream characters do seem to be rather predominantly Western. Oh, Manticore's Queen Elizabeth (and her cousin Michelle Henke) are black, so it's not the white man's burden, but anyone of Asian background is overwhelmingly likely to get exotic hung on them (this includes Honor and her mother). I don't think we've seen an Asian-derived society in the entire series, while even the Czechs now have a star-system to call their own. The non-denominational liberation movement does have a Thai family involved. They run a Thai restaurant where the coup leaders meet, and the family patriarch goes by Thai Granpa. Seriously?!

ETA I remembered last night that the Honorverse's Andermani Empire is ethnically Asian, but culturally it's explicitly modelled on Prussia. *Headdesk*

Anno Dracula, Kim Newman

I've now read the last two books (to date) in the series, Dracula Cha Cha, Cha, and Johnny Alucard, but this is big enough already, so I'll save those for a separate update,

Up Next

Not certain, I'm tempted to re-read the entire Eric Flint/Ryk Spoor Boundary series, I'm probably 30 pages into Boundary, but might settle for just Castaway Planet, which is the next in the series after the two I've read. It's a shared setting, rather than a related plot, so the re-read is optional.

davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
 I could have done with rather more than three hours sleep, but accidentally discovering Lois McMaster Bujold has a new Penric novella out makes up for being awake at 5AM.

Penric's Mission, if you're a fan you know you need to read it. Review to follow.
davidgillon: Text: You can take a heroic last stand against the forces of darkness. Or you can not die. It's entirely up to you" (Heroic Last Stand)

Currently Reading

The Bloody Red Baron, Kim Newman

Carrying on from Anno Dracula, The Bloody Red Baron moves the story on to the Great War. It's 1918 and Dracula is now Germany's war leader as the Allies brace themselves for the German spring offensive using the troops liberated from the Eastern Front by the surrender of Russia. Something dark is brewing on the German side of the lines at Chateau Malinbois, home of Baron Von Richthofen's Flying Circus and Charles Beauregard, now one of the ruling troika of the Diogenes Club, assigns young intelligence office Edwin Winthrop to Condor Squadron to watch over their attempts to penetrate the security of the Chateau. Condor Squadron is an elite assemblage of ace pilots, ranging from Albert Ball to Biggles, each of them a vampire, as are many pilots and infantrymen in this post Anno Dracula world.

Beauregard's vampiric partner, Geneviève Dieudonné, has retired to California to raise oranges, but Kate Reed, the vampire reporter from Anno Dracula, is in France, theoretically as an ambulance driver, and determined to figure out what Charles is up to, when she isn't making a nuisance of herself by exposing incompetence in the high command. Meanwhile, in Prague, Edgar Allen Poe, also a vampire, and exiled from America after fighting for the South in the Civil War, is offered the chance to redeem his flagging literary career by ghosting an autobiography of Baron Von Richthofen.

Condor Squadron's first attempt at Chateau Malinbois sees the drained body of their pilot dumped onto their aerodrome. Winthrop joins the second attempt, made in greater numbers, and becomes its sole survivor, forced to make his way back to allied lines through No Man's Land, with a short diversion as a dinner guest, or perhaps just dinner, in a mash-up of Good Soldier Schweik and Heart of Darkness. He emerges a changed, harsher man. Meanwhile Kate Reed embarks on a peregrination towards the front that shows her the grim reality of life in the trenches, while Poe arrives at Chateau Malinbois to discover the horrific secret of the Flying Circus.

And finally the Spring Offensive launches, and Condor Squadron meets the Flying Circus head on, while Dracula watches his plans unfold from his command zeppelin, complete with Engineer Robur on the pipe organ. Kate is caught at the front, while Charles is stuck at HQ, able only to watch.

Also included with the Kindle edition is Newman's rather different reworking of the story into a film treatment for Roger Corman, and Vampire Romance, a novella set in '20s England. Geneviève Dieudonné is back in London, having fled Prohibition Era America, though Charles is off in India, putting down a rebellion. She emerges from having her hair bobbed, ready to recreate herself as a flapper, only to find Edwin Winthrop waiting for her. The Diogenes Club would appreciate a favour.

Meanwhile, in Mildew Manor in dankest, rain-swept Cumbria, vampire-obsessed schoolgirl Lydia Inchfawn is awaiting the arrival of the vampires invited by her Great Aunt, Mrs Gregson. Mrs Gregson believes that there is a power vacuum at the head of vampirekind, and proposes to annoint the new King of Cats from amongst the elders she has invited. What she gets instead are those who can be bothered to turn up, and Geneviève.

Attendees include Kah Pei Mei, High Priest of the Temple of the Golden Vampire, waited on by his nameless, sailor-suited, child-vampire bodyguard (soon rechristened Mouse); Kleopatra, with her spokesman Professor Bey; Countess Marya Zaleska, daughter of Dracula; the bluff and brutal Australian vampire Hodge, supported by former secret policeman (and antagonist of the Diogenes Club) Caleb Croft, the pair of them likely proxies for former PM Lord Ruthven, and General Karnstein and his wife, supporting their strangely familiar son Liam. And lurking in the shadows is master criminal the Crook.

No sooner have the rising waters cut off the Manor then the traditional entertainments of English Country House weekends start with the first murder. It's up to Geneviève and Winthrop, or maybe Lydia and Mouse, to find the killer, and maybe stop a revolution before it can get started.

I found the opening of this a little irritating, Lydia's vampire infatuation is laid on with a trowel, but Geneviève's sections are fine, and Lydia's soon segue into more traditional girl's boarding school stories territory. Add a couple of nicely engineered plot twists and in the end I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Once Broken Faith, Seanan McGuire

The latest outing for Toby Daye sees her dealing with the fallout from her previous escapade, which saw her unseating yet another fae monarch, while her tame alchemist Walther managed to invent a cure for being elfshot, potentially destabilising the entire political structure of faery. Forbidden to kill each other, the pureblood fae find that elfshot, which puts its victims into a century-long enchanted sleep, makes for a rather nice substitute. Add its use as a judicial punishment and a cure is not seen as a good thing.

Toby has people she needs cured, people she's equivocal about, and people who need to sleep the full hundred years. It's complicated, and gets more complicated when Arden, her Queen, turns up on her doorstep, wanting Toby's help to end-run a couple of cures past High King Aethlin's injunction against any further cures before they've held an all-Kingdoms conclave on the matter. The fallout from that gets Toby commanded to attend the conclave herself, along with Quentin her squire (aka Crown Prince Quentin).

That means Toby as the only changeling amongst a whole ballroom's worth of pure-blood fae, most of whom would look down on her for being a changeling, never mind the kingbreaking, and god forbid anyone should mention the killed one of the fae Firstborn thing. Fortunately Toby isn't entirely without allies. There's Tybalt to start with, her fiancé, and King of Cats, though enforcing his equality among the other royals means he's going to have to snub her, at least at first. And Queen Arden, though she and Toby are still negotiating a way around the pricklier edges of their personalities. Not least of Toby's allies are the High King and Queen, who owe her for raising their son in secret.

And then there's the Luidaeg, Faery's favourite scary monster, and Toby's aunt, who shows up at the Conclave with Toby's 15yo honorary niece Karen in tow. Eira Rosynwyr, the Luidaeg's even scarier sister, and creator of elfshot, isn't content to go unheard when people are debating the destruction of her most famous creation, not even when she's lying elfshot and comatose in the back of beyond, and she's found a way to make Karen her mouthpiece. And then the killings start.

So it's Toby trying to find the killer inside a locked building. We've been here before and even she admits she's not actually very good at it. But she has a clue, and that's more than the rest of Faery, the only question is whether she'll find the killer before they find someone she can't bear to lose.

It's an entertaining story, though I'm not entirely convinced by the murder gimmick. There's still character growth going on: Arden is growing into her role; Quentin into his adulthood, and Toby is still learning how to deal with being the daughter of Amandine, daughter of a Firstborn, without sacrificing all of her humanity to it. And best of all, we get the Luidaeg for almost all of the book, which hasn't been the case in recent books.

Also included is Dreams and Slumbers, a novella featuring Arden as the protagonist. It isn't as frenetic as a Toby story, revolving around Arden dealing with the slow emergence of a decades-old plot against her, but if she doesn't deal with it, it could cost her the one person she's spent her life caring for, her brother Nolan. It's mostly a story of Arden growing in to being Queen in the Mists, but there are also plot developments for Walther, and for Toby's niece Cassandra (Karen's sister), which are likely to have consequences down the line.

Up Next

Probably Dracula - Cha Cha Cha, next up in the Kim Newman Dracula books, Kate Reed flies out to 60s Rome to be with Genevieve Dieudonne and Charles Beauregard as Charles' life draws to an end, but Dracula is also in town for the society wedding of the year - his.

Web Comics

Cut Time, an unplanned new one, its banner ad on one of my regular comics caught my eye. Not very far into the story yet, it's a typical fantasy world (Legend of Zelda influenced?) which is still introducing the key characters. The core character is Rel, a young woman (girl? it's difficult to be sure of her age) with a mysterious mission. Cursed to be blind, she has a guide-falcon, and that concept had me hooked from the moment I realised what the bird was. At the moment she's haphazardly assembling an expedition, including a young noble, Solus, who is disenchanted with his gilded life and Nal, a mysterious doctor cum wizard, there's also an assassin floating about in the background who really doesn't seem overly enamoured of his choice of careers. The manga-influenced art is fine, more than competent, my only complaint is it's very difficult to determine character ages, I initially took Solus for 30-40, while it's more likely he's actually around 20, Rel could be anywhere from12 to 25, and Nal looks 16 and acts 45.

Web Fiction

Great Deeds, I read a bunch of online military AH stuff while I was stuck with no creative energy from the chest bug I had. One of those is APOD, 'A Point of Departure', a collaborative effort that spins out of the published French-Language France Fights On/La France Continue, with the point of departure being that France doesn't surrender in 1940, but evacuates to North Africa. APOD looked at alternate strategies for the British Empire, and one of those was the possibility of invading Norway before D-Day, which is where Great Deeds comes in. It's a 57k short novel, about neutralizing the German battleship Tirpitz, Bismarck's sister-ship, in its lair in the Norwegian fjords; something that occupied British thinking for a large part of the war. Great Deeds is APOD's very innovative, yet traditionally British solution. It reads as fairly traditional British military fiction in the Dambusters/Sink The Bismarck/Heroes of Telemark style. Not quite professional quality, but not bad.


davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
Whoops, two and a half months since the last of these? Well, I suppose I did lose about half of that to wall to wall Olympics, holiday and Paralympics.

I didn't actually carry on with Defying Doomsday, the anthology about disabled people in doomsday scenarios I mentioned I was reading next in the last one of these. That's not a reflection on the book, I read the Amazon kindle sampler, bought it to read while away, but didn't actually restart it - it would be doing it a disservice to say I didn't finish it, it's much more I didn't start it. I do plan to return to it when I'm in the right mood for that kind of fiction.

Anno Dracula, Kim Newman

I've been meaning to read this for years, and it was going cheap in the Amazon autumn sale.

Events did not happen as Bram Stoker imagined, Doctor Van Helsing failed, and his head decorates a pike outside Buckingham Palace, for Count Dracula's ultimate aim was no less than the seduction of Queen Victoria, and the undead now rule Victorian London, with Dracula as Lord Protector and his Carpathian Guard impaling dissidents in the streets. But a killer, Silver-Knife, is roaming the East End, gutting poor new-dead whores on Whitechapel's streets, and the newly vampiric establishment is quite clear that something must be done. That odd pillar of the establishment, the Diogenes Club, is on the case, in the person of Charles Beauregard, a man clearly cut from precisely the same bolt of cloth as Richard Hannay. 

As Charles delves into the hunt for Silver-Knife (Sherlock Holmes, like Bram Stoker, being interned in the Devil's Dyke concentration camp and therefore unavailable), he finds aid in the most curious of places, including a meeting with not one, but a whole committee of criminal genii in a Limehouse sewer. Providing him with his entreé into the seamier side of London is Geneviève Sandrine de l'Isle Dieudonné, who was a vampire when Dracula was still a babe in arms (and who Kim Newman assures us is not quite the same Geneviève Sandrine du Pointe du Lac Dieudonné as featured in Jack Yeovil's* Warhammer novels). Geneviève has been passing her time helping at the Toynbee Institute, a Victorian social initiative, though one increasingly becoming indistinguishable from a hospital as it tries to care for the newly dead, many of whom do not long survive being of Dracula's flawed bloodline (Geneviève is not, a point she's rather superior about). The Toynbee's plight is not helped by its increasingly distracted director, Jack Seward, who lives in fear of joining Van Helsing outside the Palace, while mourning his lost love, Lucy Westenra.

Meanwhile, another of Van Helsing's coterie, Art Holmwood, has done rather better for himself and as the newly-dead Lord Godalming is now gopher to the very not newly-dead Prime Minister, Lord Ruthven. When he isn't sniffing around Charles' fiancee, the oh-so-prickly Pamela.

And then the Dear Boss letter arrives, and the killer gains a new sobriquet, Jack the Ripper.

Jack the Ripper with vampires, in fact with a walk-on part for just about every literary vampire Kim Newman could think of, and he's an expert on the subject. And with plenty of non-vampires as well, from Mycroft Holmes of the Diogenes Club, to real people such as Florence Stoker and  Oscar Wilde (vampirised) and fictional ones ranging from Danny Dravot (The Man Who Would be King) to Soames Forsyte (the Forsyte Saga) and both Doctors Jekyll and Moreau. There's an extensive Afterword and Newman admits even he isn't sure how many real and fictional characters he managed to squeeze in.

It's a self-indulgent romp, but an incredibly readable one, and there's a far deeper game afoot than first appears. And the moment I finished it I downloaded The Bloody Red Baron, which picks up the tale in the Great War (Biggles as a vampire!)

*aka Kim Newman

The Peshawar Lancers, S M Stirling

This literally fell off the bookshelf into my hand (I'd bumped it) and I ended up thoroughly enjoying re-reading it. It's another one of Stirling's alternate histories where the world gets devastated, but in this case it's a fairly conventional comet strike rather than a change in the laws of physics and odd goings-on at Rhode Island. The comet strikes in the mid-1880s, triggering a nuclear winter across the Northern Hemisphere, followed by famine across the bits of it not already devastated by tsunamis. St Disraeli, warned of the reality he's facing as British PM by a coterie of scientists, oversees the evacuation of as much of British civilization to India as he can before Eurasia inevitably succumbs to cannibal hordes (Stirling does like his post-apocalyptic cannibal hordes).

Roll on a hundred and forty years or so and the Angrezi (English) Raj is the world superpower, with its airships and railways and even a few motorcars driven by Stirling-cycle engines. The British have assimilated into India as another martial caste, and high society is an odd mix of Victorian militant Christianity and high-caste Hinduism. On the borders of the Raj are it's rivals, the Caliphate, the Empire of Nippon (now including China) and the hellhole that is Russia, where the state religion is cannibalism and worship of Tchernebog, the Peacock Angel, destroyer of all - quite literally a death cult. The only other world power is French North Africa, loosely allied with the Raj by way of common enmity with the Caliphate and common European heritage.

Captain Athelstane King of the Peshawar Lancers, just back to the Punjab from a campaign in Afghanistan, is an officer in the pure Kipling mode, literally born to serve and incapable of being anything other than ruggedly heroic. Then someone tries to kill him, while at the same time another group tries to kill his physicist twin sister Cassandra serveral hundred miles away, and King finds himself, and his family, caught up in the Great Game. King is quickly brought up to speed by Warburton, a Political Officer (i.e. spy) and friend of his deceased father. It turns out the Russians have been trying to kill off Athelstane's family for several generations. Warburton doesn't have a clue why, but he does have a suspicion how they keep getting close, and he'll be branded doolally* if he tries to tell anyone. The nightmare that was survival in Russia post-holocaust produced a small bloodline of women, the True Dreamers, able to sense multiple parallel worlds, and to use that to select the actions that will lead to success. And now the Okhrana, the Russian intelligence service, who the True Dreamers serve, want to kill Athelstane, and Cassandra, and maybe they won't stop there.

So, like any manly-thewed Kiplingesque officer, Athelstane and his Havildar (sergeant) Narayan Singh, together with Ibrahim Khan, an Afghan bandit they pick up along the way, head off undercover to try and figure things out, while their mother finagles Cassandra the safest nest she can find her -- at the heart of the Imperial Court, as tutor to the tempestuously teenaged Princess Sita, currently being courted by Vicomte Henri de Vascogne on behalf of the French Dauphin, and which brings her into the orbit of the dynamically noble Crown Prince Charles. Meanwhile the dastardly Count Ignatieff, agent of the Okhrana, aided by his True Dreamer, Yasmini, is still out to kill the Kings, just like he did their father, and his ultimate aim goes much, much further, being nothing less than the extinction of the human race (like I said, death cult).

It's a great, rip-roaring, swashbuckling adventure in the Kiplingesque Kim/Gunga Din/North West Frontier sense, with desperate  fights with Thugs and with Ninja, fist fights on trains and sword-fights on top of airships, and the cavalry riding to the rescue, What impresses me most is the way Stirling has caught that upper-class Anglo-Indian sense of noblesse oblige and duty to the Raj. You could drop Athelstane King into North West Frontier (Cinemascope, 1959) in place of Kenneth More's Captain Scott and he'd be utterly at home. Of course that means it's also caught that sense of Imperial manifest destiny, and an upper class that has slotted quite comfortably into the Indian caste system, but it does do a relatively decent job of making Narayan Singh and Ibrahim Khan just as much heroes as is Athelstane King.

*from Deolali, the asylum for people of quality in the original Raj

Throne of Jade, Naomi Novik

I initially read this when it was released, but idly picked it up off the shelf recently and ended up reading it from start to finish in a single sitting.

Think of Patrick O Brian's Aubrey and Maturin series, but with Stephen Maturin a dragon instead of a doctor. In the first book, Captain Jack Aubrey Will Laurence of the Reliant seized a French frigate carrying the egg of a Chinese Celestial Dragon, impressed (in the McCaffrey sense) the dragonling when it hatched, named it Temeraire and was subsequently transferred much against his will to the Aerial Corps, whence Temeraire proved decisive in defeating Napoleon's aerial invasion.

Only now the Chinese want their dragon back. And as the British don't dare push them further into the French camp, Laurence is under intense pressure to give up Temeraire, whatever he, or Temeraire, think of the matter. Ordered to China, they set sail on a massive dragon transport, effectively a sail-powered aircraft carrier for dragons. From the UK to China is a long voyage under sail and there are ongoing tensions between Temeraire's crew and the Navy (particularly as certain aspects of the Corps are a closely held secret) and between the British and the Chinese delegation, which includes a Chinese prince much inclined to stand on his precedence.

Aubrey and Maturin seems very much a concious model as the transport plods its slow way around the African coast - there are encounters with the French, encounters with sea monsters, encounters with storms, encounters with Chinese cuisine, and superstition among the crew obscuring a real conspiracy. Novik does a good job of illustrating the slow speed of nautical travel in the age of sail, and her exploration of how dragons would affect war at sea is really rather good.

And then they finally arrive in China and the politicking kicks into high gear, but that almost fades into insignificance, because the Chinese have a completely different system for managing their dragons than the Europeans, one in which the dragons are much more equal partners. And if it is surprising for Laurence, it is a stunning revelation for Temeraire.

On re-reading you can see that this was the book where Novik really started to shape Temeraire as an agent of change, after a fairly conventionally plotted first book, but it went so far off our timeline in the next volume that I never did finish the series - which is probably more a matter of my tastes than the quality of the writing.

The Moscow Option, David Downing

I know I wrote a review of this somewhere recently,  but I'm damned if I can find it! As I don't think it was here....

Early winter 1941, and as the German front nears Moscow, Hitler flies out to assess the situation, But before he can issue revised orders, which in our time line will turn the thrust north towards Leningrad, his aircraft crashes and Der Fuhrer is left in a coma, leaving the German High Command free to prosecute the war as they see fit. Papilio Acta Est

They do rather well, but are still subject to that old military saw that only an idiot invades Russia, especially in Winter. Also covered are the campaign in North Africa, and the war in the Pacific. The coverage of the Russian campaign is solid, I didn't see any obvious weaknesses, but it's not one of the areas of military history I've a deep knowledge of. The Desert Campaign - actually a dual thrust with a northern arm coming down through the Caucuses towards Persia - I wasn't quite so convinced by. The book does a really good job of showing how knife-edge balanced the entire campaign was, with victory dependent on supply, but Rommel's initial triumph seems a little too easy. The campaign in the Pacific I have real problems with, the reasoning that sees the Japanese realise their codes have been broken and avoid the Battle of Midway is sound, but the option they come up with to replace it is, well, absurd. The Imperial Japanese Navy under Admiral Yamamoto was bold, but it was not so ludicruously self confident as to commit both the battle AND carrier fleets to a battle off Panama. There's either a deliberate ignoring of Japanese doctrine here, or a failure to understand it.

Despite the criticism it's a good read, but an annoying one. This actually first appeared in the 1990s when the military alternate history genre had its peak, with The Hitler Options, Disaster at D-Day and so on. I didn't notice it back then, but this is a recent reprint in e-book form, and it's patently obvious it was produced from an OCR scan of the original edition. I can understand why that might be done, but if you do it that way it's pretty important you have someone who knows the subject, or at least has a copy of the original, doing a line-editing pass to correct the OCR. I'm fairly confident Hitler did not have a general called Jodi (Jodl), nor did the Luftwaffe have an aircraft called the Mel-10 (Me 110, and should actually be Bf 110). There are OCR errors on almost literally every page, which made for a teeth-grinding read. At least I got it cheap.

The British Battleship, Norman Friedman

Technically I haven't finished this yet, I'm about 75% of the way through. It's a design history of the British battleship since the launch of HMS Dreadnought in 1906, it's 400+ pages of A4 small print and I've been reading it since early September. It is incredibly information dense and I keep having to put it aside when my head starts swimming. But if the Royal Navy is your thing then this is essential reading, Friedman having dug deep into the archives to write this. I already have his volume on Cruisers and the second one on Destroyers, and annoyingly his footnote habit has gotten out of control again. I thought he'd tamed it, but we're back to up to 8 pages of footnotes on a chapter, at the back of the book, and they're even more information dense than the main body of text. 120 footnotes in a chapter? Seriously? It makes the book physically a pain to read.

But for all the complaints, it's invaluable, I've found myself reforming my opinions of much accepted wisdom. It points out Dreadnought was even more revolutionary for her engines than her guns, puts the final nail in Beatty's "there's something wrong with our bloody ships today" line at Jutland (more like "there's something wrong with my fleet orders that have made my captains discard every safety precaution built into their magazines, and after the war I'm going to use my position as First Sea Lord to make sure that stays buried"), and the famed loss of HMS Hood to 'weak' battecruiser armour at the Battle of the Denmark Strait turns out to be the loss of the best, indeed most revolutionary, armoured ship in the world in 1920, and still better armoured than most of our battleships in 1940).

Rebuilding the Royal Navy: Warship Design Since 1945, David K Brown and George Moore

Fascinating, and arguably essential reading if the post-WWII Royal Navy is one of your interests. Full of the background detail that allows you to understand why the ships of the RN were designed and built the way they were. And this is the period where DKB was one of our senior Naval Architects, so we are in many cases privileged to hear the view of the man on the inside, who was actually there when the decisions were taken, or making them himself. It was amusing to read about his two decade fight to get even an experimental installation of a transom flap on a frigate (basically a hydrodynamic trick to make ships go faster - though no one understands how it works), simultaneously with finding out from other sources that a transom-flap is now going to be part of the mid-life update on the Type 23 frigates. The inexorable progression of technological development, and the need to keep pace, or fight to keep pace, is rather a theme here.

The authors divided the chapters between themselves, and for some reason I preferred the chapters where DKB was the primary author, rather than those were George Moore was, never mind that Moore gets to cover the immediate post-war period I'm most interested in. I can't actually pin down why that is, and they note that they each reworked the other's chapters, but I definitely found that I didn't feel George Moore's chapters quite matched what I expected from reading DKB's 'Warrior to Dreadnought', 'Grand Fleet' and 'Nelson to Vanguard', while DKB's did. It may be simply a matter of style, and the bulk of the book is DKB's work, but there was just that little niggle.


Up Next

The Bloody Red Baron, Kim Newman

Web Comics

A couple I've picked up recently: Storm and Desire, which is roughly a first contact situation involving some interesting characters in a far future setting - I've not quite worked out where this is going yet, but it's interesting enough to stick with, and White Noise, which is a post-apocaplyptic tale with a teenaged experimental subject (with large, white, fluffy tail) fleeing from the secret wilderness experimental site where he grew up/woke up moments ahead of the terrorists who killed everyone he'd ever known and forced to seek shelter in the big city, where mutants like him are shot on sight (definite manga influence here, one of the characters wears a top saying "I Glomp Bishonen" - and does). Meanwhile Strong Female Protagonist has been quite stunning in recent months, and Wilde Life has been almost equally good - incidentally both have strong fandoms on their respective fora. In other comics I follow, Footloose has put itself on hiatus, but the authors have picked straight up with the related Black Market Magic, and Spinnerette is doing the same, picking up with White Heron, possibly the first ever South Korean set superhero web comic (spun out of the origin story of Spinnerette's Mecha Maid).

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Recently Read:

Velveteen vs The Seasons, Seanan McGuire

Surviving the previous two Velveteen books has left Velma Martinez, aka superhero Velveteen, seriously indebted to the anthropomorphic personifications of Winter, Spring, and Autumn, and it's time to pay up. Vel is committed to spend one season in the Seasonal Lands with each of the three seasons, and at the end choose whether to move to one permanently, becoming one of its personifications, or return to the Calendar lands (aka Earth).

Being in debt to Santa Claus may not sound too harsh, after all it's Santa, and one of Vel's best friends is his daughter Jackie. But the big man isn't the only power in Winter, there's Jack Frost and the Snow Queen, Jackie's true parents, and there are powers yet un-named, and the seasons have been putting on their best faces for Vel when she visits, Being tested by the seasons is an altogether harsher process. One she isn't guaranteed to survive.And if Vel makes it out of Winter, there's still Spring, the season of destructive rebirth, and Autumn, the season of Halloween, to face

Like McGuire's Indexing series, the Velveteen series is structured as a chain of linked short stories, each entitled 'Velveteen vs'. Threats this time include "Hypothermia", "Santa Claus", "Spring Cleaning", and "The Consequences of Her Actions" amongst others. Scattered in among them are a handful of "Velveteen Presents" chapters as the friends Vel left behind deal with the aftermath of bringing down The Super Patriots Inc.

The theme here really is the consequences of her actions, for both Vel and her friends. The Velveteen books have always been darker than they sound, but this time the gloves are off, and not everyone will make it to the end of the story.

Velveteen vs the Seasons has what looks like a rather gaudy cover at first, but it's worth a second look when you're done. I didn't realise it at first, but all four women are actually Vel.

Definitely one to pick up from the earlier books if you haven't read them, with the stories from Book 1, Velveteen Vs the Junior Super Patriots Inc available on Seanan's site. There's a note there saying the ebook versions of both it and Velveteen vs the Multiverse are out of print for contractual reasons :(

A Red Rose Chain, Seanan McGuire

The ninth Toby Day book opens with Toby reporting her latest bit of heroing to Good Queen Arden, newly restored to the throne of San Francisco's fae Kingdom of the Mists, only to be interrupted by having the body of Arden's chancellor, Madden, dumped on them. This isn't an assassination, Madden isn't dead, he's been elf-shot to sleep for 100 years, it's a declaration of war. A century ago, Mists, under the usurper queen Toby recently deposed, fought a war against the neighbouring Kingdom of Silences, won and installed a puppet monarch, Rhys. Now Rhys wants Mists restored to it's 'rightful' queen, or it's war.

Dealing with Arden's initial panic requires Toby to get a little physical with her monarch, so when Arden needs a 'volunteer' for Ambassador to try and stop all this happening, guess who is first in line. Of course Toby isn't known for her diplomacy, she's much happier hitting things.

So it's Toby, her fiance Tybalt, King of Cats, her squire Quentin and her wierd sister May off to Silences. But with Silences slinging elf shot about, she needs an alchemist for her team, so poor chemistry professor Walter gets dragged out of his lab again. Only poor Walter turns out have been hiding things, such as being from Silences. He's not quite a hidden prince, but he's close.

Silences is a nightmare. Rhys isn't just a puppet of the usurper, he's a pure blood fanatic, and Toby isn't pure blood. She might be more fae than she started out, but she's still a part human changeling, with changeling vulnerabilities. Rhys's game isn't kill the ambassador, but nothing else is off the table (and in fact most of the attacks take place at table). And if the situation is bad for Toby, it's far worse for the changelings stuck permanently in Rhys's court.

There's no hope of bringing Rhys round, not when he's both fanatic and a puppet of the usurper, but Toby tries to stay on the diplomatic path, at least while the threats are directed solely at her. But when they stray to her friends and family the gloves come off, and this is a woman who has already brought one monarchy tumbling down. Her friends just wish she wouldn't bleed quite so much while she's doing it.

This is another solid entry in the series, there's not really any sense of where the series as a whole is going, but Toby is continuing to grow into her power, and there's a sense of every ball that's been tossed in the air still continuing on its arc. About the only thing missing this time is the Luidaeg, Toby's scary monster of an aunt, who only appears offscreen via a couple of telephone calls. But one thing is certain, the consequences of what happened in Silences are going to rattle through Mists too, and probably all of the fae kingdoms.

Red Rose Chain also has a cover that repays another look once finished. It's very subdued, but there's a wonderful amount of referencing to key elements of the story.

Up Next

Defying Doomsday, ed Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench

An anthology of stories of disabled and chronically ill folk surviving doomsday. I've started with Corinne Duyvis' "And the Rest of Us Wait," with a teenaged Latvian one-time pop-idol and her family waiting out a comet impact in a Dutch public bunker, a situation complicated by her spina bifida. I love Iveta's voice, and Duyvis (who is autistic rather than physically disabled) seems to have done a good job of her research. Iveta and I seem to have roughly equivalent levels of mobility and it seems very well done to me.

Currently Playing

The Amazing Adventures of Van Helsing

Picked up in the Steam sale for £5.20, including all three DLC sets. I'd call this a Rogue-Like, I've also seen it called a Diablo-like, but I've never played Diablo. It's a RPG/shoot-em-up in which Van Helsing and his faithful companion Kristina (who's a ghost) are called to Borgovia, home of things that go bump in the night, which is suffering an outbreak of steampunk. The objective is basically kill anything that moves, while fulfilling various missions. Presentation is basically 3d isometric, but the 3d is somewhat wasted as you can't really see the detail that's there if you zoom in. It might be better on a large screen, I'm playing on my laptop at the minute, but there tends to be a lot on screen.

It's very frenetic, but if I can manage it with my dyspraxic coordination it should be accessible to most people. About the only problem with the game is that Katrina is very cliched. Expect to be annoyed.

If you're playing in Win 10 you need to kill one of the minor Windows services or it will crash after 15 minutes (you can google that on the Steam forums), but apart from that it seems pretty reliable.

I wouldn't have paid full price for it, but for a fiver it's good value.

ETA: Webcomics

I don't think I mentioned starting to follow Shattered Starlight, which is a new comic from Nicole Chartrand, who writes and draws Fey Winds, one of my favourite comics. Set in Montreal, it's only just taking shape, with a protagonist, Farah, who is a former magical girl, now all grown up (she's 28) and out of the defender of the earth thing. Unfortunately she has a temper, and her powers, and blasting her boss through a wall and four cubicles just got her reassigned to work at Cafe Le Dead End, which is as far as the story has gotten so far. The artwork is a real contrast to Fey Winds, which is full colour typical cartoon style, while Shattered Starlight is a detailed black and white style, though with occasional highlight tinting (mostly Farah's pink hair).

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Recently Read:

New Amsterdam, (New Amsterdam #1),
Elizabeth Bear

He’s a wampyr, she’s a Lady, they fight crime!

Lady Abigail Irene Garret, Th.D, Detective Crown Investigator, forensic sorcerer, with a scandalous reputation, a once noted beauty, and connections in the highest places. Now one of only three DCIs in Britain’s New Netherlands colonies, and the only one who is actually competent.

Lucifugous, Over the Atlantic, March 1899

Don Sebastien de Ulloa, renowned Great Detective, less well known as a wampyr, is fleeing Europe and its memories in the company of his protégé Jack Priest by airship, when a passenger goes missing.

Wax, New Amsterdam, April 1901

A disturbed night and a body in the street leads to the discovery of an entire household vanished leads to a case for Detective Crown Investigator Lady Abigail Irene Garret, soon joined to her evident annoyance, by Don Sebastien de Ulloa. But with the case setting her between the Lord Mayor of New Amsterdam, and her lover, the Duke of New Amsterdam, Abby Irene is soon grateful for the help.

Wane, New Amsterdam, March 1902

Abby Irene receives an invitation from an old lover, Prince Henry, the heir to the throne. But there is murder at the ball, a royal reputation to protect, and once more Abby Irene finds herself caugtht between the Lord Mayor and the Duke.

Limerent, New Amsterdam, October 1902

A wealthy Fenian is found dead inside a locked room, a pistol in one hand, a Rosary bead clutched in the other. But if he knew he was in danger, how did they get to him? And then there is the bigger, political, question, is his business partner, pro-independence Lord Mayor Peter Elliot, involved? And will his political opponent, Abby Irene’s patron, boss, and lover, Richard, Duke of New Amsterdam, accept any answer bar guilty?

Chatoyant, Boston, December 1902

Someone is killing high class male courtesans, and if Sebastien can’t investigate, then Abby Irene, newly fled from New Amsterdam, can. And then a figure from Sebastian’s past arrives. And war breaks out.

Lumiere, Paris, December 1902, January 1903

Sebastien and his court have travelled to Paris, the city of Light, city of Tesla’s marvellous broadcast electricity, to seek French aid for the rebels in the American colonies. But aid comes at a price. Ghostly wolves are invading Paris during its harsh winter, and someone needs to hunt them down.

Overall it’s a rock-solid collection. The political aspect took me by surprise, but the forensic sorcery aspects were everything I had hoped for, with a well thought out magic system. And each story stands as a competent mystery in its own rights, while simultaneously contributing to the overall arc.

Garret Investigates, (New Amsterdam #5), Elizabeth Bear

Five more stories from Bear’s New Amsterdam sequence. I actually read this straight after New Amsterdam as I wanted more of Abby Irene

The Tricks of London: London, April 1879

Told from the PoV of a young detective sergeant, London faces the return of an old threat, and a young Lady Abigail Irene is the Detective Crown Investigator charged with hunting it down

The Body of the Nation: New Netherlands, April 1897

A locked room mystery, on a river steamer, with a dead Bavarian princess, and bonus Sam Clemens.

Almost True: New Netherlands, 1900

The first Abby Irene story written, this sees her caught up by an attempt to assassinate her lover, the Duke of New Amsterdam. She’s a rather more physical force in this than in the other stories.

Underground: Paris, April 1941

Despite the collection’s title, this one doesn’t actually involve Abby Irene, the focus here is her former housekeeper, Mary Ballard, now working for the Resistance against Paris’ Prussian occupiers, and charged with getting someone hunted by every side out of the city.

Twilight: London, 1941

The last Abby Irene story. She’s an old woman now, but preserved by her sorcery, and she and Sebastien have not sat out the Prussian occupation. But now the Prussians are fled, the King is back, and the intention seems to be to pension off not just her, but the entire Crown Investigator service. But not before one final case that draws in all Sebastien’s surviving court.

The collection is a little varied, but well worth reading if New Amsterdam left you wanting more of Abigail Irene.

The White City (New Amsterdam #3), Elizabeth Bear

In this double-stranded addition to Bear's New Amsterdam tales, the wampyr Don Sebastien de Ulloa takes his court to Moscow both before and after the events in New Amsterdam and Paris, and both visits are marked by murder. (If the order I'm reading these seems odd, I'm trying to read them in chronological order rather than publication order).

The stories are interwoven, and the second finds his court marked by grief, so this may not be the best place to start (try 'New Amsterdam' for that), but if you like the structure it's well worth the time. Unlike the other books I've read in the New Amsterdam sequence, this is a single short novel (182 pages), rather than a collection of short stories.

In the earlier thread, Sebastien's protege Jack continues his habit of running with the revolutionary crowd, seduced by the artist Irina, and introduced to someone who may have the potential to be this universe's Lenin (Ilya Ilych Ulyanov? - that patronymic and surname combination is too big a coincidence), only for Irina to find herself framed for murder, allowing Sebastien to roll out his Great Detective persona.

The later thread again revolves around Irina and her acquaintances, as Sebastien stumbles on a body in her studio, and into the orbit of the Russian investigator Dyachenko, which allows Lady Abigail Irene to dust off her forensic sorcery skills. There's an interesting contrast in this one as the Russians have done away with forensic sorcery, and invented conventional forensics, so Abigail Irene and Dyachenko get to play 'let me impress you', to the amusement of Sebastien.

And lurking in the background to both stories is the enigmatic wampyr Starkad.

I really liked this, and Bear's prose continues to be gorgeous, but the resolution jarred a little - it makes sense, but there's a sequence that goes 'Ah, it was about A. Oh, it was really about B. Ah, so it was actually about C' that left me a little whiplashed

Penric and the Shaman, Lois McMaster Bujold

Four years on from Penric and the Demon, Penric is a fully qualified sorcerer-divine of the Bastard's Order, once more living in Martenbridge in the court of the Princess-Archdivine and spending his time trying to spread the medical knowledge of Learned Ruchia, the previous host of his demon, Desdemona, through a rather clever spell.

And then, just as winter sets in, there arrives Oswyl, a Locator in the Father's Order, hot on the heels of Inglis, a Royal Shaman, who is suspected of murder. Oswyl is very, ahem, dedicated to his work and the rest of his team have headed off in the opposite direction, convinced they know better than he does which way Inglis will have gone. Penric isn't exactly enthused by the prospect of a trip into the high mountains in winter, but being a sorceror-divine of the Bastard, the god of everything else, means his job is whatever comes his way.

Meanwhile, up in the mountains, Inglis has gotten himself into a bit of a pickle.

Oswyl, and most everyone else, start off dismissing Penric because of his youth (he's 23 in this story), but Penric has matured into his role, and he's actually far more at home in the outdoors than any of the other protagonists. It's also not the first time he's gotten caught up in the affairs of gods, and their habit of tugging the strings of their pieces on the board is one he's a lot better placed to recognise than most.

If you like the world of the Five Gods, this is another solid entry. It's written as rotating third person limited point of view, but once or twice I found myself having to page back to check whose PoV we were in. It's mostly not a problem, and the story works better for it (and maybe I was just tired), but worth your while to pay attention to PoV shifts at the chapter starts. About my only other criticism is we don't see enough of Desdemona. She has her moments, but this isn't a tale that requires overt sorcery, nor much reference to her well-travelled background. If you're new to the world of the Five Gods, this works more than well enough as a standalone, but you'll get more out of it if you've read both the first Penric novella and, especially, The Hallowed Hunt, which establishes the background of the shamen in Wealds society. Marketed as a novella, but at 160 pages it's definitely pushing into short novel territory.

Up Next

Probably Seanan McGuire's Velveteen vs the Seasons if it's out in the UK, S L Huang's Plastic Smile, the new Cas Russell book, if it isn't.

Forgot to mention I've started following another couple of webcomics: How to Be a Werewolf, and Kismet, which has one completed long story, Hunter's Moon, and another, Suncutter, in progress.

How to Be a Werewolf is contemporary set fantasy, the protagonist, Malaya, is a 20-something Filipina-American barista who was bitten by a werewolf when she was five, but has never had contact with a pack to learn how to be a werewolf, and has led a deliberately sheltered life. Now someone has found out about her and she's in trouble, but she turns out to have more allies than she realized. Several great gay characters and a core mixed race family.

The Kismet stories revolve around the eponymous moon, home to a small colony basically run by crime families, which makes it pretty idosyncratic. Hunter's Moon is about the local offworld militarists running a particularly nasty plot to take out an old terrorist threat. People die. Lots of people die. Suncutter is a separate tale running partly in parallel, about a bootleg spacedrive development programme also being run on Kismet by those same militarists, with some deep family linkages between the two stories, but only limited crossover characters. Despite that I'd definitely read Hunter's Moon first.

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I've started in on reviews for all of Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series, but it's impossible to review the later books without a major spoiler for book 1, so I'm posting that first and padding it out with a review of the first Rivers of London comic book

Rivers of London, Ben Aaronovitch

Peter Grant is your standard London beat cop (give or take his Sierra Leonean heritage); or he will be if he can finish his probationary year without being assigned to do paperwork for people who better fit the traditional mould of a real copper, people like his friend and fellow probationer Lesley. Then a man is found murdered in Covent Garden, attacked so brutally he was decapitated. The murder squad move in, do their job, and leave Peter and Lesley to watch the scene overnight, which is when Peter meets the ghost.

Everything he knows about the Met screams at him not to mention the ghost, and everything he knows about policing tells him he can’t ignore a witness, especially not one whose evidence turns out to match the video footage. With paperwork looming, and Lesley getting an unheard of assignment direct to the murder squad, there’s only one thing for a copper to do - investigate it himself. Which is when Peter runs into DCI Thomas Nightingale, who is older than he looks, and the only wizard on the staff of the Metropolitan Police.

Peter might not have what the real coppers are looking for, but he has what Nightingale’s looking for, and paperwork is averted as he finds himself transferred into Nightingale’s one-man division, 'the Folly', operating out of the eponymous building, which looks remarkably like a one-time Gentleman’s Club that hasn't been updated since WWII, and fed and cared for by the silent Molly, who appears to be rather less than human.

And so begins Peter’s introduction to the world of magical London, where fire investigators can turn out to be ex-paras with a handy supply of thermite grenades, where Scottish gastroenterologist Abdul Haqq Walid is the leading expert on cryptopathology, aka the forensics of the weird, and where there’s a power struggle ongoing between the upper and lower reaches of the Thames, as represented by the upriver sons of Old Man Thames, and the downriver daughters of Mother Thames (who 60 years ago was a suicidal Nigerian nursing student, until the river made her an offer). Nightingale sets Peter to solve that conflict as a training exercise, while warning him to tread carefully among the Rivers, which would be easier if Beverly Brook wasn’t quite so attractive, and demanding.

And all the while brutal murders keep happening.

Rivers of London is that rare thing, a crossover between urban fantasy and police procedural, and it hits exactly the right note for both. The police culture appears absolutely flawless, while magical London slips easily into its shadows. This could have been another run of the mill urban fantasy, but Aaronovitch lifted it well beyond that.

(Apparently the US title is 'Midnight Riot', for who knows what marketing reason.)

Content warning: Not a book to read if violence towards infants upsets you

Rivers of London: Body Work, Chapter 1: Making Other Plans
Ben Aaronovitch et al
Rivers of London makes the jump to comic book in this story (set between Book 4 Broken Homes and Book 5 Foxglove Summer) as a car crashes into the Thames and a certain young River goddess tips detective constable and apprentice wizard Peter Grant the wink that he’ll want to take a look, to the horror of DI Miriam Stephanopoulos, who hoped she had a nice simple drowning. There’s no way she’s letting Peter run off on his own, though, so he and DC Sahra Guleed find themselves heading off to trace down a bunch of leads, and an encounter that will forever change their feelings about nice cars.

With Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel, one of his old Dr Who scriptwriting partners, handling the writing the story merges perfectly with the main series, but I was delighted by how well the characters have been transformed to the visual medium. Peter, Beverly Brook, DI Stephanopoulos, DC Guleed, and Nightingale are all perfect for their parts. Even Peter’s car is spot on – check the number plate. Stylistically the art is on the realistic end of the comic spectrum – recognisable cars, maps, driving licenses, passports, and so on, and I really like the way the artist, Lee Sullivan, handles facial expressions and posture.

Chapter 1 is pretty short at 22 pages, but does squeeze a properly structured tale into that. There are four more chapters I’ll definitely get around to at some point. Also included for your money are a one-page story involving Beverly and a couple of drunks, a 2-page guide to Peter’s London, in this case Putney, home to a certain Ms Brook, and 2-pages on BMWs (there is a story link to this, though a fairly tenuous one).

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Just noting I've started adding my book reviews to Goodreads, see them here. The recent batch are up, I'll go through and add the older ones eventually.

I still plan on posting them here, so it won't make any difference, but if you have a goodreads account they're now there as well.

(Some of my fellow Pitchwars types have had suggestions it's a preferred form of web-presence when agents/publishers are evaluating new clients, so I've been meaning to do it for a while).

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I'm trying to get caught up on reviewing some of the books I've read in recent months.

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, Lois McMaster Bujold

The latest in Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga revolves around the two titular characters, Admiral Oliver Jole, commander of the Barrayaran forces on Sergyar, and Vicereine Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan, the planetary governor. Three years have passed since the death of Aral Vorkosigan, and Cordelia has a plan for rebooting her life. Reproductive technology has been a consistent theme of the Vorkosigan books, yet Cordelia and Aral only ever had one child, Miles (at least directly and intentionally). But now Miles is Count Vorkosigan in his own right, an Imperial Auditor, with a beautiful and talented wife, and a growing brood of children, and he survived, eventually, the appearance of his clone-brother Mark. Galactic lifespans mean Cordelia still has time to raise a family, 76 is no age at all, and she and Aral had put by eggs and sperm in case of need.

Cordelia plans to have only daughters, to avoid any complications in respect to Miles’ title, but there are a handful of eggs that have been adjudged non-viable, for the production of Cordelia’s children at least. Those eggs could still host a fused nucleus, and Cordelia knows exactly the two parents she has in mind. Aral, and Oliver. We’ve known Aral was bisexual from the start of the series, but now we find out he actively engaged in an affair, with a certain Lieutenant Oliver Jole, with the full knowledge of Cordelia, ultimately evolving into a polyamorous relationship between the three of them. The relationship splintered with the death of Aral, but now Cordelia has a proposition for Oliver.

Oliver is poleaxed by Cordelia’s plan, a fairly typical reaction to any Naismith Vorkosigan plan, but the potential starts to grow on him, and as it does, it rekindles his feelings for a certain Vicereine. (All of this is on the table within the first chapter, when Cordelia has a plan she doesn’t hang about)

And so GJatRQ becomes a comedy of manners, as Oliver and Cordelia slowly romance each other. And the comedy element is completed when Miles arrives, hotfoot from Barrayar, with his entire brood in tow, because he’s finally found out what his mother has planned for the eggs.

This is Bujold in romance mode, Miles isn’t required to shoot anyone, and the deadliest threat to the core characters is a job offer. There are a handful of sub-plots, Oliver’s aide is being wooed by a rather ineffective Cetagandan attache, a ceramcrete company is trying to play the military for fools, and the plans for Oliver’s 50th birthday party keep getting more and more out of hand, but mostly it’s Oliver and Cordelia exploring each other, or trying to explore each other if their damned jobs wouldn’t keep getting in the way.

If only Miles in manic berserker mode works for you, then you should probably pass on this one, but if you liked A Civil Campaign, then put this on the list.

Gemini Cell, Myke Cole

US Navy SEAL Jim Schweitzer gets home from a mission on which weird shit tm happened, only to have a hit team kick in his door in the middle of the night. He kills a bunch of them before they kill him, but not before seeing his wife and son hit.

Then he wakes up, in a secret facility, with something sharing his head on the inside and spooks on the outside. After telling Jim his family was killed, the senior spook explains to him that magic is returning, and the Special Operations community have caught themselves an Afghani who knows how to stick djinn in dead people’s heads. The djinn gives Jim effective superpowers – he can now jump out of helicopters without bothering with a rappelling rope, manifest spikes and blades from his body and so on, which is ideal for the programme, which wants to use him as a killing machine against magical threats. And if he’s really good they might let him get revenge on the people who killed his family. As Jim gets used to being an undead weapon, he starts trying to talk to the djinn, who turns out to be the soul of a warrior king from somewhere around the Babylonian period, and after three millennia stuck in Limbo he doesn’t have much time for the niceties of warfare. Or for sharing control of the body. So with occasional intermissions Jim’s story becomes constant warfare between the two of them for control of his body.

Meanwhile his wife wakes up in the hospital with minor injuries, as does their son. She’s told Jim was killed, and Oh, by the way, we cremated him for you, here’s the ashes. Needless to say she isn’t happy, and attempts by Jim’s injured buddy to take his place don’t entirely help.

Then both Jim and his wife become convinced the other is alive, and things escalate.

Which is the point I stopped reading, there’s a place for tension in a story, but this seemed to be nothing but, continually ramping up the threat level. The writing is fine, Cole knows his way around the military and at another time I might have finished it, but when the option to switch to another book appeared, I took it.

Atlanta Burns, Chuck Wendig

Described as 'Veronica Mars on Adderall' I think this suffered from being on the go at the same time as Gemini Cell; two stories dependent on ramping up the threat level towards their protagonists at once isn't a good combination. But the dedication, To the bullied, shows that the intent is very different here and Wendig does a fantastic job with Atlanta's voice. According to the copyright text it's a fix-up of a novella, Shotgun Gravy, and a novel, Bait Dog, both of which were originally self-published, which explains the slightly odd plot structure.

Set in a run-down Pennsylvania town, by the time the story opens our eponymous high school heroine has already defended herself from attempted rape by her mother’s boyfriend using a shotgun to the groin. This gives her a certain reputation, and when she saves a Latino kid from the school bullies he enlists her to protect his gay friend, and a cycle of escalation starts. Before Atlanta quite knows what’s happening people are dead, she’s realised the whole town is run behind the scenes by a collection of closet Nazis, and she’s quite deliberately pissed off their boss.

With that plotline seemingly exhausted (i.e. it's the end of Shotgun Gravy and start of Bait Dog) she gets herself hired to take down a dog-fighting ring, and you know you’re in deep when your only source of adult advice is your Adderall dealer. That's the point at which I stopped, with Atlanta on the way to sneak into the dog fights, but unlike Gemini Cell it's a book I dislike not having finished and I'll probably go back to it at some point.

davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)

Hmm, the last of these was back at the end of January, and was supposed to be part one of two. Whoops!

Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee

The Hexarchate is an interstellar empire, in a universe where physics bends to the will of the state’s calendar. Celebrate a historic massacre on the right day and you reinforce the physical rules that let your weapons and spaceships work. Don’t celebrate it, or let some heretic celebrate a different feast, and the physical rules may shift to allow your enemy’s calendrical technologies to work instead.

Kel Cheris is a lowly infantry captain in the forces of the Kel, the Hexarchate’s military faction, but Cheris is also a mathematician, and talented enough no one quite understands why she turned down suggestions she join the Nirai, the science faction, instead. Caught in an impossible fight against heretics, she uses her mathematical insight to organise her troops into formations that verge on heretical, and emerges triumphant. But in a brutal example of the reward for competence being a greater challenge, she immediately finds herself drafted to deal with a threat that could destroy the Hexarchate.

The Fortress of Scattered Needles, the Hexarchate’s greatest stellar fortress, has risen in revolt and raised the standard of heresy. The Hexarchate needs it taken down, fast, before its enemies can take advantage, but the fortresses’ shields may be unbreachable. With precisely zero experience of space combat Cheris is handed the job and breveted all the way up to general. For reasons she doesn’t understand she has become the chosen pawn of the Shuos faction, the hexarchate’s spymasters, assassins and gameplayers, but she is certain that to win the siege she needs the Hexarchate’s greatest general, the unbeaten Shuos Jedao. Just one problem, Jedao has been dead for several hundred years, since winning his last battle by destroying, to the last man, both the enemy’s army and his own, including personally hunting down and executing his own command staff with his pistol.  Nowadays Jedao is kept on cybernetic ice, the ultimate weapon, to be wheeled out in time of need.

Allowed to requisition Jedao, Cheris finds out rather too late that the gothic technology that sustains him can only manifest him as her shadow, with a voice only she can hear. Which leaves her unproven and jumped far beyond her rank and competencies, on the command deck of one of the Hexarchate’s greatest battleships, a fleet clustered around it, and having conversations with a voice that no one else can hear. And Shuos Jedao is not a voice she can ignore. The Kel are nicknamed the Suicide Hawks, because their loyalty can extend to tactical formations that manifest calendrical weapons, while simultaneously wiping out the entire formation, but the Shuos are the Ninefoxes, gameplayers and tricksters, and Jedao was the Immolation Fox, the perfect Shuos, bringer of the ultimate in Pyrrhic victories, playing a game no one has yet understood.

Cheris finds herself fighting on two fronts: on the outer, to take the fortress, a war that requires both her mathematics and Jedao’s wiles; but on the inside she is alone in her mind with Jedao, the arch-manipulator, the gameplayer, the Immolation Fox. And as they progress on the outer front, so Cheris progresses on the inner, gaining a fraction of insight into Jedao’s game, and into why the Hexarchate considers him both their most dangerous weapon, and their most terrifying potential foe.

What a review like this can’t show is how gorgeous Yoon’s prose is:

It was not the formal roll call. They had no drum, no fire, no flute. She would have included those things if she could. But even the servitors had heard her. They stopped what they were doing and arranged themselves in a listening posture. She nodded at them.

They started with the most junior soldier – Kel Nirio, now that Derken was dead – and ascended the ladder of rank. Nobody ate during the recital. Cheris was hungry, but hunger could wait. She didn’t need to commit the names to memory, as she had done that long ago, but she wanted to remember what every intent face looked like, what every rough voice sounded like, so she could warm herself by them in the days to come.

(Full disclosure, Yoon’s in my DW circle)

An Ancient Peace, Tanya Huff

This is the latest in Huff’s Valor series, which has apparently switched the series title to Peacekeepers given series protagonist Torin Kerr is now out of the Marines and running a contracted special operations team for the Wardens, the Confederation’s interstellar police force. Of course a minor thing like being out of the Marines doesn’t stop Torin’s people from calling her Gunny, or acting like they’re all still marines, which Is somewhat irritating for Craig, Torin’s very unmilitary lover, and confusing for Alamber, the semi-abused and criminally inclined di’Taykan they picked up in the previous story.

But it isn’t the Wardens who turn up with a mission, it’s Military Intelligence. Artefacts, grave goods, are turning up from the H’san, the Confederation’s founders, and though the Elder races are all now avowedly pacifistic (but not so pacifistic as to not bring in the Younger Races, the Humans, Krai and di’Taykan, to fight for them during the War with the Others, before Torin stopped it), the H’san have a brutal past that involved wiping their own colony world clear of life, a colony world they eventually used to bury both the victims of their war, and their weapons, before erasing it from the star charts. If someone is circulating grave goods from that world, then someone else is there and digging, and the consequences of someone actually getting hold of H’san weapons and using them could be the Elder Races deciding the Younger Races aren’t safe to let out on their own. So MI’s instructions are find the world, find the diggers, no survivors.

Of course if you’re going to seal up a planet’s worth of weapons of mass destruction as grave goods, then you probably aren’t going to leave them unguarded, so the story plays out as Torin does Tomb Raider, and those no survivors orders inevitably become a problem for Torin’s no man left behind ethos.

I find the series a little formulaic, but it’s a very competent formulaic that makes for an enjoyable, if unchallenging, read.

Digital Divide, Maker Space, State Machine, The Russians Came Knocking, KB Spangler

Re-reads of Spangler’s Rachel Peng technothrillers, and the one Josh Glassman novella, which is technically a technothriller, but played for laughs, with added squirrels.

Bone and Jewel Creatures, Elizabeth Bear

In Messaline, the city of Jackals, Brazen the Enchanter brings Bijou the Wizard an injured feral child, and as Bijou and the constructs she builds of bone and jewel examine the child, she realises it is the first move in a war against her and Brazen by Kaulas the Necromancer, the three of them bound by old ties of family.

As Kaulas’ plan plays out and death walks Messaline, Bijou fights corruption with artifice, replacing diseased flesh with bone and jewel, and Brazen joins her, adding his skill with pistons and levers. And all the while the child, the Cub as it thinks of itself, watches and tries to understand.

I love Bear’s writing, and this is a novella to read for the prose as much as the plot. Point of view wanders between the aging Bijou – how many stories feature a 96yo heroine? – and the Cub, showing us two sides of the story, one full of wisdom, the other struggling to understand the war into which it has been drafted, but able to see opportunity and hope for the pack it left behind.

It’s a very unusual story, a very unusual setting, but a marvellous one.

davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
It's been a while since the last of these, Pitchhwars left me with very little time for reading when it kicked off in September, and I haven't really gotten fully back into the fiction mode since. On the other hands there's still three months worth of books to cover, so this may take a while - in fact it's taking me so long to get through them all I've decided to split the post in two, look for the rest of it later this weekend.


I seem to have given up the re-read of Pratchett's Watch books. I'd like to restart, but realistically have no idea when that will be.

Accessing The Future,
ed Kathryn Allan

I think I finished this, it was on the go when Pitchwars started, but I really want to go through it again and review each story as I read them, and figure out what it is I would have done differently, because I was left more unsatisfied than I expected. I suspect it's that I'm more overtly political a crip than the writers who did get through the submission process, certainly my submitted story was much more about using SF as a mirror for contemporary attitudes towards disability than most of those that did make it through.

Cold Magic, Spirit Walker Book 1, Kate Elliott

See the link above for my review of the first half of the book. The second half kicks off with the Cold Mages realising they've kidnapped and married off the wrong one of the Hassi-Barahal sisters, they should have been going for Bee, not Kat. Unfortunately a quickie divorce is out and Kat finds her new and very unwanted husband ordered to kill her. Some unexpected aid allows her to escape, but that leaves her somewhere near the French coast and needing to walk back to quasi-Portsmouth in time to warn Bee (though fortunately the ice age scenario means she doesn't need to swim the Channel). And all while being hunted by the mages, her not-so-ex and their troops. There's unexpected friends, unexpected allies, unexpected betrayals, and a completely unexpected half-brother, whose existence leads Kat to realise she's never known the truth of her own heritage. The alarums and excursions continue all the way home, and don't stop then, but now it's Kat and Bee on the run together, the Cold Mages hot on their tale, until things take another twist and a new faction emerges. The writing continues as good as I thought it was in the first half and I'll definitely be seeking out the rest of the trilogy.

Skinwalker: Jane Yellowrock Book 1: Faith Hunter
This was a recommendation from my Pitchwars mentor (i.e. homework), the why of which rapidly became obvious. Jane is a vampire hunter for hire in a world where a limited number of paranaturals are known to society, vampires being the obvious one. Jane, however, is one of the unknown species, she's a shapeshifter, and she has a secondary personality resident in her head, a big cat. This makes her a direct parallel to my werewolf cop Aleks, whose wolf also takes the form of a secondary personality (though Suka is non-verbal, where Jane's Beast isn't). The plot in this first novel in the series has Jane hired by, of all people, the Vampire Council of New Orleans. A rogue is killing tourists, cops and vampires, and the leaders of the vampire clans want them stopped (dead tourists are bad for business when you run the New Orleans whorehouses).

I wasn't an immediate fan, Jane quickly runs into a classic bad-boy on a motorcycle (she rides a chopped Harley herself) and insists on referring to him as 'The Joe', which I found plain irritating, but she slowly grew on me. I did like the attention to detail, Jane isn't restricted to one shape, though her big cat is easiest, and she doesn't always manifest at the same size, but there's a mechanism to handle that built into the worldbuilding (I just had Aleks and Suka manifest as a very big wolf). Jane's the classic tough loner, though being an ex-feral child, and probably a Cherokee skinwalker, are interesting variations on the norm. It quickly becomes obvious Jane is in for a tough fight, the rogue has abilities other vampires don't, abilities more akin to Jane's, but she isn't exactly short on weapons herself. One aspect I found interesting was the sheer number of people she befriends, ranging from the girls at 'Katie's Ladies', to Katie herself (never mind that Katie is a vampire clan leader), Katie's security/factotum Tom and his counterparts with just about every clan across the city, and a local Cherokee shaman. There are a lot of action sequences, but along the way Jane makes some unexpected discoveries about her origins and there is a completely unexpected bit of sub-plot involving a vampire priestess that links the origin of the vampires with, in some as yet unexplained fashion, the Christ story.

It's serial urban fantasy, but a pretty good example of the breed.

Greek Key: 
K B Spangler

I love Spangler's A Girl and Her Fed web-comic, and absolutely adore the spin-off Rachel Peng technothrillers. Her new novel takes Hope Blackwell, protagonist of AGAHF, and gives her a novel in which to shine. It starts with the maguffin from the latest Rachel Peng novel, a previously unknown fragment of the Antikythera Mechanism, which Rachel retrieves and Hope gets to see because her husband (the Fed) is Rachel's boss. Despite that the novel actually starts with Hope face down in her living room with a policeman's boot pressing her into the carpet. This isn't because she's being arrested, it's to protect the four thugs who made the mistake of breaking into her house to assault her. Hope's a flutter-brain at times, and physically tiny, but she's also a world-class martial artist with a violent streak (and they brought a crowbar). 

Hope's also a medium, with Ben Franklin as mentor/spirit guide (all long since explained in AGAHF - Franklin picked her as his physical proxy to keep an eye on the continued development of the US) , and when Rachel turns up with the artefact the alarms go off, because there's suddenly a possibility the Antikythera Mechanism is an artefact adrift out of time, something produced by a powerful ghost who continued working after their death - which is a problem as causality tends to shut down timeloops where that happens and stomp them into dust. There's a pretty obvious candidate, Archimedes, but ghosts can't really travel outside their home country, so Hope finds herself despatched to Greece to track down where the artefact came from.

Hope takes her two usual sidekicks with her. Mike Reilly is another medium, though in his case from a long line of mediums - who hate him for being gay (but not as much as they hate Hope for not belonging to one of the old medium families). Unlike Hope he espouses a policy of non-violence, which doesn't stop him being an even better martial artist than she is, it just means he practises Aikodo rather than Judo. And then there's Speedy. Someone decided to see how far he could get with selective breeding/genetic engineering for intelligence (similar to the Russian experiments with foxes), and koalas have a lot of room for improvement. At generation 26 he got Speedy, and who euthanized who got reversed... Speedy is 3 feet of hyperintelligent, pissed-off, sex-obsessed koala, with a talent for languages, code and patterns, so he's along to translate.

Once our heroes are in Greece, they quickly pick up a pair of guides, warring cousins who are both on the shady side of legit, if not outright tomb raiders. They also pick up Hope's usual entourage of tails and potential kidnappers - her husband's agency is really not popular. Both sets of add-ons serve mostly to provide light entertainment; threatening two top martial artists is a sure step towards getting your nose eaten by an angry koala. And then Hope acquires another artefact, a pair of beads, and the story takes an unexpected step.

The beads once belonged to Helen of Troy, but the stories have forgotten who she was first, Helen of Sparta, and a Spartan princess was no simpering beauty. Helen's tale isn't quite done, and she needs Hope to finish it.

The dual narrative is unexpected, Hope tracing clues in the present. while reliving parts of Helen's story each time she sleeps, and much as I love Hope, I think it is Helen's story which is the more compelling one.

The conclusion takes an unexpectedly dark turn, and once you've seen the cover you'll know where it ends, but it does it in a way that's true to both of the stories leading up to it. One slightly odd aspect stylistically is that the story is presented as Hope narrating it in the first person, and she isn't averse to breaking the third wall. However that's entirely in accord with her character. It's a very different story to the Rachel Peng novels, because Hope is privy to a side of the AGAHF universe that Rachel isn't, but still one I very much enjoyed and I hope there'll be more to come.

Indexing: Reflections, Seanan McGuire

Reflections picks up where the original Indexing left off, and Reflections is very much the theme of the work. Not only is glass a recurring issue, not only is this very much a reflection of what happened in the previous book, but we need to look in the mirror at various characters, and off course mirrors aren't exactly an unknown motif in faiy tales,

If you haven't read the first book, the series conceit is that fairy tales are real and are conrtinually trying to manifest themselves. Charged with stopping the mass deaths that usually entails are the agents of the ATI Management Bureau, where ATI is the the Aarne-Thompson Index of catalogued fairy tales. Henry (Henrietta) Marchen and her team of agents work for the Bureau in an unnamed East Coast city, and the best agent to stop a fairytaile is one who has already escaped one (for now). Henry is a Snow White, forever marked by her complexion, and waking each morning to the sound of bluebirds beating themselves to death against her bedroom windows in frantic attempts to reach her and love her. Her team also features a Cobbler's Elf (Jeff, her lover), a Pied Piper (the very young, but very powerful flautist Demi), and Andy, solid, reliable, just your baseline human. It's completed by Sloane, the only Evil Stepsister in the ATI, who treats incoming fairy tales as an opportunity to work out her fury with her fists and her boots.

Like the original Indexing, Reflections started as Amazon Singles, being released a chapter at a time. Each chapter is therefore structured much like a short story, with a definite beginning middle and end as yet another fairy tale manifests, but this time it's clear much earlier that there is an overall arc, and that the whole arc has been very solidly planned.

It starts with the team under investigation, as Henry's new active status (she bit an apple in Indexing) possibly leaves her too vulnerable to lead. That brings in HR's Ciara Bloomfield, a Bluebeard's Wife, who may just be roguish enough to be Henry's match. No sooner is that out of the way than the team is faced with a breakout from Childe, ATI's enchanted prison, a breakout that ultimately proves to be centred on Birdie, the ATI archivist gone bad who was their opponent in the first book, and she's taken the opportunity to build herself a little team.

Birdie's first move shows up when Henry's brother Gerry calls for help, with word of a Gingerbread House manifesting outside the school where he teaches (Gerry would have been Rose Red to his twin's Snow White, but for the minor fact of being born male in a female body - the result is someone stories keep trying to latch onto).

Benched as too vulnerable to Birdie's wiles, the team try a Hail Mary play that leaves Henry fighting a lone battle, and Ciara in charge. And all the time Birdie is moving her plan closer and closer to its ultimate target.

If anything Reflections is even better than Indexing, and I really want to reread the two of them together. Reflections is one of those rare first person stories where you can't be certain the narrator, Henry, will make it out alive, particularly as the narrative does occasionally switch POV. One definite piece of fan-service is Sloane's origin story, but it's fan-service that's absolutely essential to the plot. We knew Sloane was a hero, I'm not sure we realised how much of one. There are hints that a third volume is possible, there's a quiet tragedy working it's way out in the ATI office beneath the noses of the team, and there's one line very late in the narrative that has two possible readings - maybe I'm just being a little paranoid, maybe I just misread it, but Seanan McGuire is getting to be very good at what she does, and I don't put deliberate ambiguity beyond her.


I've actually read a few hefty non-fictional books in the last couple of month, concentrated on my interest in the engineering side of military history. I also worked my way through about 20 Kindle samples in the days before Christmas looking at naval history/naval architecture books I might want to buy in future, and in some of these books that's 50 or more pages worth - but no reviews until I read the full things!

US Secret Projects 1: Fighters and Bombers of World War 2, Tony Buttler and Alan Griffith

280 pages, A4. The Secret Projects series has been running for a good few years now, covering aircraft projects that never saw service and putting development programmes in perspective, taking advantage of the documentation now released into national archives. We're certainly into the teens in terms of volumes, but the series recently switched publisher from Ian Allan to Crecy. The '1' for this volume is a little bit of a misnomer, there have already been two previous US volumes covering post war aircraft, but it may mean a second WWII volume is projected. This is quite spectacularly good. I rate books of this type by how many aircraft they cover that I've never heard of, with anything in double figures being a good result. This has a project that's new to me on almost every page, many with either period or redrawn three-view art. There are a few minor howlers, the sketching of the overall US development and procurement plan is weak - but that's because no one can find the relevant documents in the archives, and I think they need a better line editor (me!) but definitely a good buy.

Japanese Secret Projects 2: Experimental Aircraft of the IJA and IJN 1922 - 1945 Edwin M Dyer

160 pages, A4. Oh dear. What a contrast. Where US Secret Projects is utterly good, this is utterly a mess. Volume 1, with the same author, was pretty good, so I think the basic problem is they've stretched the fragmentary Japanese archives to their limits, and then gone on to try and get another volume out of it. There are a handful of aircraft new to me, but the structure is dire. It's supposedly one chapter per aircraft project, but we find ourselves bouncing back and forth between Imperial Japanese Army and Navy Projects, suddenly switching from late war to 20s projects, and throwing into the middle of it a chapter on the Japanese nuclear programmes (rather good, expands on stuff I've seen elsewhere, but not an aircraft) and another on a Japanese directed energy weapon project that is a) even more out of place, and b) far too credulous. And within the chapter you often find that 75% of the prose deals with another aircraft entirely, often a well known one that the supposed subject relates to, but on a couple of occasions just an aircraft with a similar role. Clearly there just wasn't enough data to fill the book with actual secret project stuff and they've resorted to padding it. For one aircraft it actually admits there is no direct documentation whatsoever, just a couple of indirect references to say it was built, so we get a chapter talking about the German aircraft that inspired it. Again needs a better editor, but this time to the point I think the manuscript should have been sent back for another draft, with instructions to completely restructure it.

British Destroyers and Frigates, the Second World War and After,
Norman Friedman

350 pages, A4. Coverage starts with the Tribal class on 1934 and runs all the way up to the current Type 45s. I've just finished this and I've been reading since Christmas Day, it being my present to myself. This is pretty dense and really one for the serious student of naval history/naval architecture. Friedman is American, a former naval analyst, with a score of serious books behind him, including equivalent volumes on US ship classes, and he knows all the right people and archives (I love that one of these is called 'The Brass Foundry' - it's an outstation of the National Maritime Museum)  to research his subject properly. He's written these books by going back to the origina requirements, the original design and history documents (the 'ships covers') and the original workbooks of the actual designers. He very occasionally misses a minor nuance of British politics, but far more often the story he's teling adds nuance, such as British post-war strategy being built on a belief we were definitely going to go to war with Russia, with 1957 as the 'year of maximum danger'. I was half-way through a re-read of his British Cruisers volume before Christmas, so I'll be picking that up again, and I'll probably follow it with the volume on WWI and interwar destroyers, which I'll likely get on Kindle to judge whether it's worthwhile given the heavy use of large and detailed drawings of the ships and the extensive use of footnotes. Destroyers was more readable than Cruisers as they've switched to inline footnotes, whereas all the footnotes in Cruisers were at the back of the book and often half a page or a page in length. OTOH Friedman's prose isn't always the clearest. I'm sure he knew what he meant, but sometimes there are multiple interpretations possible of the words that made it to the page. Again, needs a better editor.
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)

I was trying to avoid dealing with my line edits yesterday, and the avoidance behaviour eventually stretched out to the point of reading all seven hundred and something pages of Ursula Vernon's webcomic Digger. Despite it winning the Hugo for Best Graphic Story in 2012 (at which point it had completed its arc) I'd somehow managed to miss it before now. Actually that may not be entirely true, the first half dozen pages seemed slightly familiar, it may be I looked at it and wasn't taken by them. I should have stuck with it, because it really is some of the best web-comics writing and world development I've seen.

Our title character, Digger, or Digger of Unnecessarily Convoluted Tunnels if we're being formal, is a wombat. A five foot or so, fully intelligent wombat, from a civilization of wombats, who digs a tunnel one day (this being what wombats do) , hits some bad earth and comes out she knows not where. Well, actually she knows it's in a temple of Ganesh, the statue of the god tells her so, but where that temple is is nowhere she's ever heard of. And heading back down that tunnel is contra-indicated as there's definitely magic involved. (No decent wombat gets themself involved with either gods or magic, so this whole scenario is a problem for Digger).  So Digger's stuck trying to work out a way home, and what the magicked tunnel means, with the help of the local population. Which includes said intelligent statue of Ganesh, the local hag (19), who keeps patching her up, Murai, a teenage priest/religious warrior with a somewhat tenuous grasp on sanity after her previous mission (actually PTSD might be a better label, but it's presented as a sanity issue), and a nameless outcaste intelligent hyena. Helping or hindering as the mood takes them are Jhalm, head of the local religious warriors, and a tribe of intelligent hyena hunter-gatherers. And then there's the Shadowchild, a talking shadow that keeps approaching Digger for moral guidance, and then disappearing half-way through the explanation. Not to mention a back-up cast of soothsaying slugs, trolls, shrews and vampiric vegetables.

The individual character arcs, and the way they are developed out of the world-building and mythology are really fantastic. Digger is just utterly practical, Murai is badly broken, but desperate to do the right thing, and the nameless outcaste hyena who becomes Digger's closest friend is equally broken, utterly lonely and just trying to survive. Grim Eyes and Boneclaw Mother, two hyenas introduced later in the story, are equally as good.

If I've got a criticism, it's that the ending is very abrupt. There are reasons for the main story ending suddenly, but I'd have spent a bit more time on the epilogue.

The artwork is black and white (apart from the intermittent coloured covers for the different printed volumes) and is always at least good, while some of the black-dominated scenes, where effectively you're drawing with white, are quite spectacularly good.

Content warning for domestic violence. Well handled,  but utterly, utterly tragic.

(Oh, and I got to the line-edits eventually).

davidgillon: Text: True Love always shoots to kill (True Love Always Shoots to Kill)
I need to do a full 'Currently Reading', I haven't done one in a while, but I'll likely lose the link to this if I don't do it while I remember. [personal profile] sovay made a passing mention to one of her stories in a post and as I'd been meaning to check out her fiction writing (I already admired some poetry) I followed the link. And oh, wow, the language is gorgeous, as is the conceit (which I'll leave her to explain in her own words at the end of the story): "ζῆ καὶ βασιλεύει."

davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
Whoops, 2 months since the last of these, sort of explained by the disruptions of two holidays and the need to get Graveyard Shift ready for Pitchwars

The disruption means I haven't been doing as much reading as usual, or as planned, so there's a significant number of books on the To Be Read list as I was buying on the assumption I'd be doing more reading, not less.

Books Read

The Night Watch,
Terry Pratchett

Another of the Watch books, with Commander Vimes waiting for Sybil to deliver their child when he gets the call to go after Carcer, the murderer who has been weaving a bloody trail through Ankh-Morpork, a trail which includes two of Vimes's men. Inevitably it comes down to Vimes vs Carcer on the roof of Unseen University, in a thunderstorm, and when the lightning clears Vimes isn't where he started, or when.

He's still in Ankh-Morpork, but in the years before Lord Vetinari, with Homicidal Lord Winder on the throne, and days before the revolution of the Glorious Revolution of the 25th of May and the short-lived Republic of Treacle Mine Road, a revolution whose 30th anniversary Vimes has just been attending, in the cemetery at Small Gods. The Watch are about, including a very young, very green Sam Vimes, and Sam Vimes the literally elder finds himself forced into the role of his own mentor, the newly arrived Sergeant John Keel (also newly killed, by Carcer). Keel may have been brought in to help shape up the normal arm of the Watch, but Snapcase's watch also has another arm, a dirtier arm, the Cable Street Unmentionables, a not so secret police dedicated to stamping down on, and torturing, any opposition to Snapcase, which makes them the sort of organisation to take in Carcer with open arms. They are led by Captain Findthee Swing, who believes the nature of a man can be determined by measuring their skull. Vimes, he proclaims, has the head of a mass murderer.

Vimes quickly runs across a selection of his old acquaintances, all 30 years younger. Fred Colon is still a copper, but not yet an old soldier, Sam Vimes, is, as mentioned, an even younger copper, while Nobby is a ten year old Artful Dodger clone. CMoT Dibbler is just starting out in business with his pies, and Reg Shoe is a young and idealistic activist, not yet a zombie. He also runs into, and into the debt of, Rosie Palm, not yet Mrs Rosemary Palm, the power of the Seamstresses Guild, and her room-mate, Sandra, who, confusingly, is an actual seamstress. Never directly met, but often in the background, is the young Havelock Vetinari, the future Patrician, who is studying to be an assassin (and doing so well in his studies that no one else realises).

As Vimes establishes himself in the Watch, Carcer is digging his way into the Unmentionables, and Lord Winder is convinced that the city is about to erupt into revolution. He's right, Vetinari's aunt, Lady Roberta de Meserole, is putting together a coalition of nobles to replace him with Lord Snapcase (known in Vime's own time as Mad Lord Snapcase). And, moving in the background, are the History Monks, who promise Vimes they can get him home, if he'll just keep on playing Keel for a while longer.

Winder unleashes the Unmentionables and the military on the city, resulting in rioting and massacres, and Vimes is forced to take action, throwing up barricades to protect a small area around the Watchhouse. But first he takes the Watch to clear out the Cable Street station, killing Swing for what he finds there. While he's asleep Fred and the others extend the barricades to cordon off a quarter of the city, an area so large they have no means to defend it. Perceived as a potential threat because things are so calm, the military are sent in to reconnoitre and conclude two things, one that Vimes isn't a threat, and two that Vimes is clearly so competent they don't want him as a threat. Unfortunately Snapcase orders them in anyway, but Vimes handily defeats them by turning their own siege engine against them.

Then Vetinari makes his move, assassinating Winder unseen in a room full of people, and Snapcase's first order is to send the surviving Unmentionables, under Carcer, now Captain of the Palace Guard, to kill Vimes as a potential rival. Vimes and the Watch face off against Carcer and the Unmentionables, and all those fated to die by the original history do in fact die, including the surprisingly heroic death of Reg Shoe. When Vimes fights his way through to Carcer the History Monks make their move, transporting them both back to their proper time, and dropping in the body of the real John Keel to take Vimes's place.

I really did like Night Watch, it's Vimes at his most Vimesian, able to concentrate on being a copper, but I found it irritating for the way it handled the female characters. Lady Sibyl not so much, she's mostly going through a difficult birth, which the time loop provides a solution to, but Lady Roberta's, Rosie Palm's and Sandra's roles all feel strangely incomplete, we never do find out why Rosie and Sandra are so deeply invested in Lady Roberta's revolution, nor why Lady Roberta wants one.

The Winter Long, Seanan McGuire

Eighth book in the Toby Daye series, this is a book about finding your place. Toby has found hers, she's just been named an official hero of the Kingdom of Mists, but that is taking her farther from the friends who formed her, Sylvester, her liege and substitute father, and especially his wife Luna. And now there's a new power in town, someone capable of reducing series-scary-monster the Luidaeg to a bleeding chew-toy, and Toby is going to have to put the pieces together, because everything says this is a figure from her past, a figure capable of taking control of half the nobles in the kingdom at will, and a figure who wants what is hers back. The problem for Toby is figuring out just which one of her friends she never really knew.

As if that wasn't bad enough, someone else from her past is back, Simon Torquil, Sylvester's twin, the man who turned Toby into a fish for 14 years and sent Sylvester's daughter Rayseline half-mad, and, confusingly, Simon seems to want to be on her side (not that Toby is about to let that happen easily). So it's gather up the allies and try to gather up information on the run, and hope that there's a loophole in the information they're getting about the powerful-enough-to-scare-the-Luidaeg newcomer.

On The Go Right Now

Accessing The Future,
ed Kathryn Allan

The anthology of disability-themed SF I nearly succeeded in getting a story into. I'm most of the way through, with mixed feelings, and I need to figure those out, because I think some of them are about what I wanted from the anthology, and that doesn't seem to have been quite what the editor wanted.

Cold Magic, Spirit Walker Book 1, Kate Elliott

This came up in conversation somewhere I was reading, intrigued me enough to look it up and I'm glad I did. This is a fantasy alternate universe in which Carthage, Qart Hadast, fought Rome to a standstill, but later fell to the Persians, but also a world in which ice rules over most of the North and trolls, clearly a form of sapient feathered dinosaur, evolved in North America, while most of Africa has fallen to an outbreak of ghouls from deep salt mines. 20 years after the defeat of a Napoleon-figure power, Europa has returned to the traditional division of power between petty princedoms and the Cold Mages, whose magic-wielding clans have the power to break princes at need and rule as despots in their own lands.

Catherine Hassi Barahal is the almost 20-year-old orphaned scion of a Carthaginian merchant clan, though actually they're more in the line of soldier-spies, taken in by her aunt and uncle and raised as near-sister to their daughter Beatrice. Cat and Bee are students at the local university in Adurnam, somewhere around our Southampton, though as it's an ice-age scenario we're probably closer to the southern edge of the Isle of White (there is a map, but Kindle's habit of opening at the first page of the text means I've only just found it). Cat's main occupation is keeping them out of the trouble Bee keeps getting them into, having been told from the moment she arrived after the death of her parents that she must protect the younger Bee (even though the difference in age is only a couple of months).

Then a mysterious Cold Mage arrives on their doorstep, arrogantly forcing his way inside, and before Cat knows quite what is happening she finds herself caught up in a bargain between her clan and the mages, a bargain that possibly predates her birth, a bargain that seems to have promised her to them if they should claim her before her majority on her twentieth birthday. With no time for anything but a reminder from her aunt that she must protect Bee, she finds herself married to the man, and dragged off across country on an unexplained journey of sabotage and flight.

I'm only half-way through this one so I'm still not sure where things are going. They are becoming clearer, but I'll leave that for when I've finished it. What this half-summary can't give is a flavour of Cat's voice, it's a first person narrative and I find her extraordinarily compelling. I'll definitely be seeking out the rest of the series.

Web Comics

I've started following several new web-comics lately:

Alice Grove

The new comic from Jeph Jacques, the author of Questionable Content, this revolves around the eponymous dungareed Alice, who is the local witch for a small, low-tech, post-apocalyptic town. It initially revolves around the (unheard of) arrival in town of two visitors from the orbital colonies, Ardent, who is blue and tailed, and mostly interested in the possibility of sex, and his sister Gavia, mostly interested in protecting Ardent/keeping Ardent out of trouble. Despite the initial comic notes there are hints this is headed in a much darker direction than QC. Having mentioned QC, I can't help noting how much Ardent and Gavia look like QC characters/protagonists Marten and Hanners, though they're fairly different characters. Line drawn and inked, updates once or twice weekly.

Our World

I stumbled over this one. It's a furry comic, but there are hints that the evolved animals are inhabiting a post-apocalyptic version of our world, and that the powers that be are covering this up. The protagonist is Jill, a dog who was washed up on a beach as a teen, with no memory of where she came from. 12 years later she's a scientist with a metallurgical firm, living with her adoptive brother Pete, a slacker hare, and his childhood friend Alex, a hyper and utterly irresponsible female cat. Then one night she's mugged, and zaps her attacker with some kind of electric shock.

Then there's the other protagonist, Trilby Dobler, a snarky mechanic with some kind of vision impairment, living in a military base, a base that experiments on people that its agents are sent out to snatch, and that kills them when they've outlived their usefulness. We haven't seen how the two storylines are going to intersect, but the hints are there. Line drawn and shaded, updates weekly(?)

Wilde Life

This one focuses on Alex Wilde, a writer who throws up his life in Chicago to move to the sticks and ends up renting a haunted house from a Miss B. Yaga, which should hint at the sort of town he's moved to. So far he's encountered a very friendly ghost, a grouchy teen who's a werewolf, less than friendly werewolves, spiders who may also be some sort of bear-spirit, and the juvenile ghostly daughter of his pregnant neighbour. Each is worked rather neatly into chapter length tales with some ongoing story development. Line drawn and inked, updates weekly.

Scurry and Cover

The one I've picked up most recently, this is about Nozomi Sasaki, a 15 year old Japanese girl moving to Tokyo for school, the difference being that she's 1/4 rat (ears, tail, sidewhiskers), and is being accompanied by her 100% rat grandfather, the back story being that the Noble forms of the animals (sort of a herd for their individual species, just as the ents were tree herds) have re-initiated contact with the humans because of concerns over pollution and are gradually integrating. So you've got a slice of life tale, with hints of discrimination, and suggestions that there is more going on than we understand, a job interview has turned into surveillance, and I don't think she's learning ninjutsu just for entertainment. I find the story intriguing and the art rather gorgeous. Lined and shaded, updates weekly.

davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
As part of getting the new laptop up and running I've been going through my huge pile of unread emails and binning stuff that's no longer relevant. The final sub-category of stuff I knew was still relevant was a bunch of Kickstarter messages for a few things I've supported in the last year, so I went through last night reading them and downloading various things I was now entitled to.

Goodies now waiting to to be read: Accessing the Future, Queers Destroy SF, Women Destroy SF, Women Destroy Fantasy, Woment Destroy Horror, and I still have a bunch of Lightspeed and Fantasy magazine credits to redeem (if anyone has any specific issue recommendations let me know,. otherwise I'll probably go for the most recent).

Goodies already read: Two linked and illustrated short stories in K B Spangler's  A Girl and Her Fed/Rachel Peng universe, both are about Shawn, one of the agents who lost their minds during the cyborg process, and relate the same incident from different perspectives, managing to go from heartbreaking to laugh out loud funny as we get to understand why Shawn ended up in a fight during a therapeutic outing to a bowling alley with Rachel.

Still to come, but now up to date: The Schlock Mercenary Roleplaying Game.
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
 If anyone has been meaning to read Emily St. John Mandel's A C Clarke Award winning 'Station 11', the Kindle edition is currently £1.79 on Amazon UK.
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
Nearly three weeks since the last one of these? How did that happen?

Ashes of Honour, Toby Daye Book 6, Seanan McGuire

There's quite an odd opening to this episode in October's progress, the first chapter is essentially set-up for book 7, giving us an info-dump on Faerie's Goblin Fruit problem, goblin fruit being a nice legal high for purebloods, but lethally addictive for changelings like Toby. Toby is trying to shut down the trade, which isn't making her popular, and there are questions about what she's truly trying to achieve. And then it doesn't come up again. The real plot crops up after the weird opening, with perfect knight Etienne, the knight she always measures herself lacking against, desperate for Toby's help - he's just found out that 16 years ago he got a mortal pregnant, and that's double trouble because 1) it means a faery half-blood has been in the possession of her mortal parent for 15 years or so without the needed camouflage and 2) someone just snatched her. So Toby has to do her only private detective in Faery thing with the police watching and a human parent who's convinced that even if they get her back Faery will steal her child the first chance they get (she's right) and that's before the complications of a political cat-fight in Toby's boything Tybalt's court, escalating problems of the China Syndrome variety in the missing kid's magic, and Duchess Riordan, the opposition to Toby's liege Sylvester, is Up To Something.

It's a good read, but I was a little disappointed with it structurally. Duchess Riordan has been built up as an off-camera threat since the start of the series, we finally meet her here, and she's everything we might have hoped for, but then there's an unexpected plot twist which makes absolute sense for Riordan to follow, but means all that build up towards an expected confrontation falls flat. The role Riordan plays could have been handed to any reasonably powerful Faery noble, leaving Riordan's threat intact, and if there's one thing Faery has no shortage of it's annoying nobles. There's also a definite retcon feel to the introduction of the widow of Countess January O'Leary as a character, which even Toby notes is a little odd as no-one mentioned January being married when she was playing a major role in book 2.

Chimes at Midnight, Toby Daye Book 7, Seanan McGuire

Chimes picks up where the opening of Ashes left off, with Toby trying to shut down the Goblin Fruit trade. When she realises just how many changelings are dying she tries to appeal to the Queen of the Mists for help, which given their daggers-drawn relationship was never going to be easy, but she certainly wasn't expecting to be banished for it. Toby might have 3 days to get out of Dodge, but neither her lover Tybalt nor her squire Quentin can follow her, so if Toby can't go, then she'll just have to overthrow the monarchy, in three days, with the Queen's guards dogging her every move. It's another fun read, and we finally get confirmation of what every reader has to have suspected about Quentin, but I was left with a deep desire to scream 'Just how stupid are you people?' There's one overlooked fact with literally the whole kingdom hanging on it that can be explained away as people choosing political convenience when faced by a larger crisis, but then there's another one, that the queen has one thing going for her, something that makes it almost impossible to move against her, and the entire set of good-guys, renowned heroes and legendary warriors and all, forget about it.

Toby suffering for her quest isn't new, this is a woman able to use 'and then I was disembowelled' _in the plural_, but the plot pushes her to new limits this time, and sitting there in the background is the Luidaeg, noting she has plans for Toby and everything to date has really just been getting her warmed up. Somewhat intimidatingly there's a comment in the author's notes that this was the first of the Toby Daye stories to be plotted - which half-way implies the six novels preceding Chimes are just the backstory for the main event.

Other Media

Spinnerette is a webcomic about a female grad student who develops superpowers after the traditional exposure to radioactive spider DNA. In her case six arms and the ability to shoot web from, well let's just say she has aiming difficulties. It's semi-anime styled, with mostly good art and writing. I say mostly because a couple of the female supers have overly large, in one case ridiculously large, breasts - and Super-MILF? Seriously? But there's enough good here to make me overlook that as they aren't primary characters. And for all the juvenilia of Super-MILF, it actually handles the romance between the two female leads (Spinny and Mecha-Maid) pretty sensitively, and so far it's managed to handle Mecha-Maid being disabled by ALS without making me cringe. OTOH you have to mark it as NSFW because of the two breast-fixated characters, one of whom crops up pretty regularly. OTGH it's positively staid in comparison to an ad that kept popping up while I was reading, which manages to combine being pornographic with being simultaneously boring and distracting. I eventually blocked it because it was irritating the hell out of me, not because of the subject matter (animated cartoon masturbation - I presume it turns someone on). If you want to check Spinnerette out, and I think it's well worth reading if you're a webcomic fan, particularly a fan of superhero webcomics, then I'd block http://hlamedia.adk2x.com/* in advance.

Other Projects

Graveyard Shift, By Me

Health issues (both mine and my dad's) have kept me from my novel-in-progress for far too long, I was hoping to be able to pick it up again around March-ish, but having to wait until May for surgery has left me distinctly behind schedule in comparison to where I wanted to be by now, not helped by having a laptop with a semi-functional keyboard (I can't write on my desktop, sitting is too uncomfortable,  I write with the laptop sitting on my chest while I lie flat on the couch). But the replacement laptop should finally be arriving in a day or two so I sat down last night to reread Graveyard Shift, and read all 134,000 words in a single sitting. That's promising. I dropped it mid-second-draft when dad had his stroke, and I seem to have gotten further into that second draft than I remember. There's some fairly minor plot surgery needed, finishing the deletion of a character who turned out not to be going anywhere - and I've already handled the most difficult scenes for that, reversing who is framing who in a sub-plot,  and renaming a character because her name turns out to completely overlap with the protagonist of an existing fantasy series, who works for exactly the same police department as my character in Graveyard Shift, and I think even out of the same precinct house. There's coincidence, and there's bloody ridiculously annoying! But what's needed most of all is a really tight line edit to pull the wordcount much closer to the recommended 120,000 words, which I think is doable. Anyway, hopefully I'm now back at it.


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David Gillon

September 2017

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