After I finished this book I wanted to hug every single crew member of the Wayfarer (yes, even Corbin). Since that wasn't possible, I settled for theAfter I finished this book I wanted to hug every single crew member of the Wayfarer (yes, even Corbin). Since that wasn't possible, I settled for the next best thing: I hugged the book instead. I absolutely adored this book but I'm struggling to put just why into words. The plot concerns the crew of the wormhole tunnelling ship Wayfarer, recently joined by Rosemary Harper, who is running away from her past. The crew is a heterogeneous affair, captained by a Human but with several other species on board. Right from the start you realise just how integrated they are, the lizard-like Aandrisk navigator, the strange double-minded Navigator, the jovial Dr Chef (whose name encompasses his functions), not to mention the ship's AI, Lovey, as well as the human techs and algaeist who keep the ship running. Rosemary is lost at first, but soon settles into this odd crew, who are just about to get the contract of a lifetime.
The blurb on the cover of my copy uses the word 'humane' to describe the book, and I think that's a great word. There's something about it that gives you hope for Humanity and its future. One thing that I liked about it was that humans aren't top dog in this universe. They're Johnny-come-latelys to galactic society and only by accident at that. Humans messed up their own planet and had to flee, some to the solar system and others built a big fleet and sailed off into the unknown. If they hadn't been found by an alien probe, they would all have died, and this has given them a sense of humility, one entirely lacking in current society. The 'Exodans' (those descended from the exodus Fleet) are mostly pacifist and have an understanding of themselves that I hope that we can achieve without having to lose the Earth.
So yes, humane, joyous, fun. For once, the cover blurbs are entirely accurate, as far as I'm concerned. I grew to care deeply about the crew of the Wayfarer and their very disparate lives and societies, yet bound together with ties of friendship and more. I was welling up more than once while reading this book, and rarely because of sadness. The writing is absolutely lovely and had me going at the good as much as the bad. And there's certainly darkness in this universe. We see that in the "practicality" of the Galactic Commons, in the stories of Rosemary and Dr Chef and in hints at the past. But this is a galactic culture that accepts its history and looks forward as well.
I know there's a companion novel (not sequel) to this coming out, but that seems to have a different focus. I really hope that there's more stories to be told about the Wayfarer. I, for one, am going to desperately miss her crew....more
It's been a while since I've read the Sandman books, but I've just finished The Sandman: Overture and that made me want to reread these again. So muchIt's been a while since I've read the Sandman books, but I've just finished The Sandman: Overture and that made me want to reread these again. So much of my memory contains the series as a whole that you forget that the story started off relatively small-scale. The lord of dreams was captured in 1916 and held for 70-odd years before he managed to get free, went about taking revenge and recovering the tools that had been taken from him.
Coming straight out of Sandman Overture the art, while definitely attractive, feels a bit scratchy (although they had much more time for Overture, with a 6-issue series taking two years, rather than a strict monthly schedule like the original series), although Dave McKean's covers were as gorgeous then as they are now.
I said the story was small scale earlier. That's not entirely true, as Dream does go to Hell at one point, to recover his stolen helm and we have our first encounter with Lucifer Morningstar, who would go on to star in his own series. At this stage, Gaiman didn't have his own clear vision for the series, so we see ties to the wider DC universe as John Constantine, the Martian Manhunter and other elements from the wider superhero universe show up. These don't really recur once the series hits its stride but do serve to remind the reader that the Dream and the Endless are part of a shared universe.
The third-last chapter, 24 Hours, is a difficult one to read. It's pure horror as customers in a diner are made into puppets to be the plaything of John Dee, who had stolen Dream's jewel, the last, and most powerful, of his tools. Dream himself doesn't appear in this chapter until the very end and we're left seeing people being made to do terrible things to each other as the madman watches. Like I say, it's a difficult one to read, even if you suspect that he's not going to win - that's no consolation for the people who's lives are destroyed or who are killed before Dee is stopped.
The final chapter introduces us to one of the most popular (with good reason) characters in the Sandman canon: Dream's older sister, Death. This isn't the dark-robed scythe-wielder of popular myth but a cute goth girl who always has good advice and is always there for her younger brother. Bizarrely, she always brightens up the page when she appears and her presence and advice make for a great epilogue to this first volume....more
In this prelude to Gaiman's masterpiece, we learn why Dream was so weak that Roderick Burgess was able to capture him at the beginning of Preludes anIn this prelude to Gaiman's masterpiece, we learn why Dream was so weak that Roderick Burgess was able to capture him at the beginning of Preludes and Nocturnes. A star has gone mad, the result of something that Morpheus left undone a long time ago, and now he must repair the damage and stop the madness spreading and destroying the universe.
The art in the book is really lovely. The book is a stunning artwork in its own right and it has the feel of the dreamtime about it. It puts you in the right mood for the story. The story itself is suitably epic in scale and mythic in tone. The idea of sentient stars put me in mind of Stapledon's Star Maker and the meeting of the different aspects of Dream (across a stunning four-page spread) is a wonderful scene.
I would say that this is a book to definitely come back and read after having read the story proper. There are spoilers for Sandman, and lots of references that can't be appreciated unless you're familiar with the main story, as well as cameos from some of Dream's family and other characters from the Dreaming and beyond. So although you could read it before the main story, you'll get the most out of it if you read it afterwards.
One thing I thought worked less well was the introduction of yet another layer of mythic entities. The First Circle seems unnecessary, except as a way to provide exposition (view spoiler)[and the idea of the Endless having parents also seemed unnecessary, especially as they didn't really do very much. (hide spoiler)]
So very pretty, enjoyable but not exactly essential. It has made me want to go back and re-read Sandman though....more
Karen Memery is a working girl (a "seamstress") in a city something like San Francisco in an age where airships plough the sky, Singer have built walkKaren Memery is a working girl (a "seamstress") in a city something like San Francisco in an age where airships plough the sky, Singer have built walk-in sewing machines and mad science is licensed. One day a girl arrives at their door fleeing for her life, with her pursuer right behind her. This sets off a chain of events that include mind control, murdered street walkers and a US marshal coming to town.
There's an awful lot to enjoy in this book. The setting starts off subtle so you hardly notice when the oversized Singer and nasty electric glove show up. Karen is a great narrator, and the book is written in her vernacular, also helping envelop you into the world of the book. It's nice to see a story where LGBT characters are prominent, yet not playing to that (moreso since much of the book does place in a brothel), not to mention people of colour playing prominent roles (one major secondary character is black, another is Indian [from India, not Native American]). I think perhaps there was one capture/escape cycle too much but the book is very readable and a lot of fun....more
I'm an avid fan of Robinson's Callahan's series so when I discovered that he had written more in that universe, I snapped it up, even though it's notI'm an avid fan of Robinson's Callahan's series so when I discovered that he had written more in that universe, I snapped it up, even though it's not set in Callahan's itself. This series of four linked stories is, instead, set in Lady Sally's, a brothel run by Callahan's wife (the eponymous Lady Sally), which rather than being the usual sort of sordid place that these often are, is instead a 'house of healthy repute', where the 'artists' deal with 'clients' and everyone is happy, in the same way that people are at Callahan's.
I mostly enjoyed the stories, although I can't help worrying that Lady Sally's place feels a little like wish-fulfilment (or is that saying more about me than the author?). As for the stories themselves, the first tells how our narrator, Maureen, comes to work at Lady Sally's, after being saved from her pimp. The second demonstrates why despite their protests, a teenage boy's dearest wish is a bad idea; the third is all about control and is probably the creepiest story in the whole book for me, as control is taken away from everyone we've come to like. The final story is a bit of a heist and introduces Maureen's friend, the Professor.
We do meet some regulars from Callahan's. Mike himself pops up, as do Fast Eddie, Jake (narrator of the Callahan's stories) and Ralph von Wau Wau, but they all pretty much just have cameos. I think for me the thing that doesn't quite gel is that Lady Sally's doesn't have quite the same empathy of Callahan's place. Although the emphasis here, as well as there, is on helping people (clients mostly, in this case) it hasn't got the camaraderie of Callahan's famous pub, where everyone clubs round to help someone in need. Although Robinson does try to recreate that formula, for me, he doesn't quite manage it. (view spoiler)[Also, the whole romance thing in the last story sort of came out of nowhere and didn't entirely work for me. (hide spoiler)]
Oh, and I didn't think the puns were as good as those that get bandied around at Callahan's either....more
I enjoyed Fenn's Downside Girls, the collection of short stories set in the Hidden Empires series, of which Principles of Angels is the first. This,I enjoyed Fenn's Downside Girls, the collection of short stories set in the Hidden Empires series, of which Principles of Angels is the first. This, however, didn't grab me a huge amount. The plot follows two main characters: Taro is the adopted son of the Angel Malia, who was murdered by the man who bought his body for the night; and Elern Reen is a musician who comes to Khesh City on behalf of a group that everyone thinks died out centuries ago to kill an Angel.
I found the book very slow to get started. The two strands are almost entirely separate until close to the end, when Taro and Elern finally meet, although their stories do overlap occasionally around the edges. I really wasn't hugely interested for a good chunk of the book, not finding it bad, it just didn't grab me. It got more exciting towards the end and there's a lot of good ideas in there, but it did feel a little like everything was thrown at the wall to see what would stick: floating city; divided society; state assassins; secret hidden enemies; aliens; and more that would constitute spoilers. I'm probably not going to bother too much in searching out more of the Hidden Empire books.
I wasn't hugely enjoying this book, even before I hit the thirty missing pages in my volume. Well, not so much missing, as mis-printed. Instead of pagI wasn't hugely enjoying this book, even before I hit the thirty missing pages in my volume. Well, not so much missing, as mis-printed. Instead of pages 360-390(ish), I had two copies of pages 330-360. Although, to be honest, after I finished cursing, my second emotion was one of relief that I didn't have to wade through another 30 pages of turgid philosophy, interspersed with some moderately interesting travel stuff and more interesting father/son and self-reflection.
The book is structured as a travelogue where the main character and his son travel round bits of the US, pontificating about Quality while trying to reconcile himself to the person he used to be before a nervous breakdown and court-enforced ECT. Frankly, the latter was a lot more interesting than the former. The bits about our protagonist reflecting on his previous life, which he has abstracted out into a separate persona he calls Phaedrus, along with his strained relationship with his son, make for an interesting character-driven plot. However, the large chunks of philosophy that he throws in make for the opposite. While I can sort of see what the author was trying to say about Quality (with a capital Q), I really don't think he needed so many words to make his point.
Maybe the missing thirty pages would have made all the difference. Maybe I'd have been thunderstruck and be pontificating that this was the greatest book ever written, but somehow I doubt it. Now I'm in a quandary: I certainly have no intention of keeping this volume, but how can I donate it or give it away to someone in the full knowledge that there is a chunk missing. Am I going to have to *gulp*throw it away?? It goes against all my bibliophile instincts, but then so does giving it away, knowing it's incomplete. Either way, its stay on my shelves will only be temporary....more
Through an unlikely series of events, astronaut Mark Watney, a member of the third manned mission to Mars, is abandoned alone, but alive, when his creThrough an unlikely series of events, astronaut Mark Watney, a member of the third manned mission to Mars, is abandoned alone, but alive, when his crew evacuates. He has to figure out how to stay alive, and how to contact Earth, long enough for any hope of rescue.
The first thing that struck me about this book is how funny it was. This is a very serious situation, and some authors might have played it such, but Weir gives Watney an upbeat, optimistic voice that doesn't let him get down, even when the odds are utterly against him. He's an extremely likeable protagonist, and you can't complain that he's uber-competent because he's a bloomin' astronaut. If you can't expect an astronaut to be just as competent at growing potatoes from scratch as rewiring the local oxygen reclaimer then who can you ask?
The whole book is incredibly readable. The writing is kept at a nice level and although the scientific explanations come thick and fast, they never break the flow of the book. And, peering back through to my GCSE and A-level chemistry and physics respectively, it seems that the major science is correct; at least nothing jumped out at my level of understanding as being an utter howler. That's very impressive. The whole book is very impressive and the only reason it didn't get 5 stars is because of the Taiyang Shen plotline, which sort of fizzled out. (view spoiler)[This confused me. Why was there only one possible booster that could do what they needed? Why couldn't a commercial launch from a Soyuz or Arianne be used? And even if the Taiyang Shen was required, I don't get the conviction that only booster of that design would ever be built. After spending so much money on the design of a booster, who the hell only uses it once?? Surely you want to build and use as many as you can to get maximum use from the design. And even if the Chinese wouldn't build another, then why couldn't the original probe be carried on a future American/Soyuz/Arianne booster. (hide spoiler)] This whole plotline fizzled out for me.
But apart from that, I loved this book from beginning to end. Highly readable, very exciting and with a really likeable protagonist to get behind. Definitely worth reading just to remind yourself how good the people we send into space, and the teams backing them up here on Earth, are....more
These are stories written by Pratchett when he was a young man, working for his local paper. The Young Pratchett wrote a children's story for them eveThese are stories written by Pratchett when he was a young man, working for his local paper. The Young Pratchett wrote a children's story for them every week, which is what makes up this collection, and is, according to the foreword, mostly unaltered from that time. They're very definitely written by an author still finding his way and don't have the polish of later Pratchett. We do get a couple of stories set on the Carpet, which would go on to become The Carpet People (which I've read, but so long ago I don't remember anything about it and was BG [Before GoodReads]) and some fun stories (my favourite being the one about the time-travelling bus), but I didn't really get an awful lot out of this one. I think this may be passed to my sister as bedtime story material for my nephlings....more
And so the great Questionable Content binge comes to an end. The fifth volume of QC shows an artist who continues to mature in his storytelling as welAnd so the great Questionable Content binge comes to an end. The fifth volume of QC shows an artist who continues to mature in his storytelling as well as introducing some new characters (Cosette, although not by name, and Marigold). Sven gets an intern/conscience and Faye starts to open up some more. There are several laugh out loud moments, including the last comic in the collection, featuring Pintsize and Momo.
The themes that I know will be coming up are still being explored, including Marten and Dora's relationship and Faye's drinking. And here's me thinking that webcomic writers just made stuff up on the day ;-). There are seeds being sown that will be reaped hundreds, if not thousands, of comics down the line. It'll be a while before I get to binge on paper again since, as of the time of writing, volume 5 is the latest paper collection available (and also, I know what to expect at the end of volume 6, so I may well wait until the one after before buying more).
But for now, I was trying to persuade myself that I have many real books to read, but who am I kidding, I'm going to go online and pick up from where this leaves off....more
Volume 4 of the esteemed Questionable Content has an immediate difference over its predecessors: it's a completely different format. Rather than a larVolume 4 of the esteemed Questionable Content has an immediate difference over its predecessors: it's a completely different format. Rather than a large square book, with two comics to a page, it's a much smaller but thicker book, putting a single comic over each two-page spread. This undeniably makes it easier to read (with less squinting over the text), but it does mean that the books will look different on my shelves, something I detest (I'm looking at you, Laundry Files and SF Masterworks).
As for content, this volume collects comics #900-1200 and both the storytelling and art continue to mature. We see Hannelore's mother for the first time, and while we don't see her father, he's definitely involved. Marten and Dora's relationship matures, as do Dora's insecurities. Speaking of insecurities, we also get to see a different side to Steve as he worries about his relationship with Meena. Faye's drinking gets spotlighted as well, but it's not all doom and gloom. There are a lot of laughs, especially where Pintsize and Wimslow are involved.
Some of the author commentary is quite interesting as well, especially where says that he wouldn't do a joke like that again (often to do with trans issues) or where he disagrees with his characters. I've been binging on QC as I got the whole lot of paper collections in one go. So I've got one more paper collection to go, and then it's back to just one strip a day :-/....more
My Great Questionable Content Binge continues with the third collection of the slice-of-life webcomic. So Marten and Dora have become a couple, but itMy Great Questionable Content Binge continues with the third collection of the slice-of-life webcomic. So Marten and Dora have become a couple, but it's interesting to see just how early that Dora's insecurity over the situation raised its head. I had forgotten about that, from when I was reading it online. (view spoiler)[I had to skip ahead on the webcomic to find out when they broke up, and it's not until about #1800 or so, so there's a good couple of more volumes of Marten/Dora coupledom to come, but if he sticks with the 300 or so comics to the collection, volume 6 will end on a downer :(. (hide spoiler)] It's also interesting to see how early the seeds of Faye's hard-drinking and her friends' worrying about it were sown. That's something that will get reaped 2000 or so strip down the line. Blimey, that's some forward planning, going on there!
The enlargement of the cast continues with Penelope (or is that Pizza Girl?) joining the Coffee of Doom crew as well as Tai and Angus making their débuts. QC has turned from a will they/won't they romance into, effectively, a humorous soap opera, albeit a soap opera with murderous scooters, mischievous PCs and semi-feral roombas. It's a lot of fun to read, and so much quicker on paper than on-screen (those waits between page loads cumulatively add up)....more
The second three hundred strips of the excellent Questionable Content see the format shift. We finally get a resolution to the will they/won't they thThe second three hundred strips of the excellent Questionable Content see the format shift. We finally get a resolution to the will they/won't they thing between Faye and Marten and the introduction of the rather awesome Hannelore. The art starts to mature as well and by the end of this volume we start to see the characters as we know and love them today. The cast also starts to expand as not only Hannelore appears, but we start seeing the family of our already established cast, with Marten's mum, Dora's brother and Faye's mum and sister. This starts to make our cast start to feel like rounded people with real lives that we care about (especially after we find out about Faye's history) and this is something that Jacques has been very good at maintaining to this day. So still early days but evolving rapidly....more
This is an interesting collection of science fiction short stories, all written by women around the dawn of the genre: the tail end of the 19th and eaThis is an interesting collection of science fiction short stories, all written by women around the dawn of the genre: the tail end of the 19th and early decades of the 20th centuries. I must confess to being completely unfamiliar with any of the authors, except Edith Nesbit, of Five Children and It fame, but it was interesting to see that women were writing in what is usually regarded as a very male-dominated genre and era right from the start. Some of these stories were published in the big magazines of the era (Amazing Stories, Astounding etc), others were published in mainstream publications and still others were published in author anthologies: the same routes to publication as we see today (plus ça change and all that). As the editor says in his introduction, these women were pioneers in the field, tackling themes that are still common in the genre today: time travel, alternative universes, cybernetics, robots and more.
The stories are as varied as you'd expect, ranging from grim stories of genocide (Via the Hewitt Ray) through whimsical stories about strange islands (Friend Island) to humorous stories of unhelpful household aids (Ely's Automatic Housemaid). Nothing particularly jumped out at me as a wonderful story that I must keep forever, but there were no real clunkers either, although you do have to remember that these are period stories and have to be read as such. Very interesting for the historical context but also enjoyable in itself....more
I've been reading Questionable Content for several years now and have read it start to end online a couple of times since then, but I've decided to spI've been reading Questionable Content for several years now and have read it start to end online a couple of times since then, but I've decided to splurge on paper copies. The book is physically attractive, being a good size, although I was disappointed by the size of the comics within, with the text sometimes making me squint a bit (especially in some of the wordier ones). But QC is a vertical strip, so having two strips side by side like that on a page seems like the best way to make it work. The art is a bit wobbly in this volume, a long way from Jacques' later work (as seen on the cover and some of the early strips here, where the originals weren't of good enough quality to print, so he redrew them) but something I always like about webcomics is the way that we can literally see the artist getting better in front of our eyes.
The plot concerns indie kid Marten and his pals (including sociopathic AI pal Pintsize) just trying to get on in life, find love, a job that they don't hate and talk a load of crap about music. I'd forgotten just how much time the early comic spends talking about music and bands that I've never heard of. Thankfully, this fades away later on, but if that's not your geekdom, those strips are skippable. I'd also forgotten just how small the cast is at this stage. QC's cast grows arms and legs over the years, but here, it's pretty much just entirely Marten, his flatmate Faye and her boss Dora forming the core love-triangle cast, with Marten's friend Steve and Pintsize as the supporting cast.
The book is funny, interesting and shows flashes of the greatness to come, but it's still definitely worth reading on its own merits....more
This is Neil Gaiman's third collection of short stories. He addresses the controversial title in his introduction but since I don't feel that I haveThis is Neil Gaiman's third collection of short stories. He addresses the controversial title in his introduction but since I don't feel that I have the appropriate background for this, I'm not going to comment, one way or the other on that. The collection did seem skewed towards the dark and the macabre, with especially the first few stories being a bit grim, but there are enough points of light in there to not make reading it a slog for someone like me, who likes their fiction a bit fluffier.
Highlights include The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains... about a small man on a quest and the companion he takes with him; The Case of Death and Honey, Gaiman's 'Sherlock Holmes' story which is a lot of fun; 'And Weep, Like Alexander', a story from a 'shaggy dog' anthology of the Tales from the White Hart mould; and The Sleeper and the Spindle, which mashes together some well-known fairy tales in a new and interesting way. There was also the unexpected pleasure of another 'Shadow' story (the protagonist of American Gods). Since the last one (in Fragile Things) he's moved on from Scotland to Yorkshire, where he has another 'unusual' encounter. In the introduction to the story Gaiman says that he thinks there will be one more Shadow short, probably set in London, before he gets packed off back to America and another novel, which would be good.
I think A Calendar of Tales merits more discussion than just a one-liner as it's a very interesting project in its own right: 12 flash fiction stories based on the answers to questions about the calendar that Gaiman asked on Twitter. The website is great, but I would definitely pay money to hold this in my hands, with dedicated artwork (something that's already been done for The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains... and The Sleeper and the Spindle).
I liked this collection a lot. It's not as good, in my mind, as Smoke and Mirrors, but it's definitely better than Fragile Things. It's classic Gaiman and is both a good introduction for newbies to Gaiman's writing and for established fans. Oh, and it also continues his tradition of hiding stories in the book's introduction....more
This is a small collection of four short stories set in Fenn's 'Hidden Empire' universe. The first three stories all directly involve Angels, the offiThis is a small collection of four short stories set in Fenn's 'Hidden Empire' universe. The first three stories all directly involve Angels, the official assassins of the City, while the last focuses on a musician and only references them indirectly. I've not actually read anything else by Fenn, but she's going to be a Guest of Honour at Satellite 5 so I thought I should read something that she's written before the con and I enjoyed the collection quite a lot.
Fenn is excellent at both storytelling and worldbuilding without exposition. Despite it never really being mentioned, I picked up a fair bit about the City that the stories are set in, and I enjoyed reading about this city whose elected officials all have a Sword of Damocles hanging over them. If they fail to do what is expected of them, the Angels carry out "the will of the people" and "remove" them from public life. Permanently. The three linked stories see a few characters recurring, from the newly appointed Angel, Malia, to the shadowy Minister, the master of the Angels.
Collateral Damage starts with a newly appointed Angel and an accidental friendship that she strikes up with a woman in a bar and deals with love and betrayal. Death on Elsewhere Street has a downsider getting accidentally involved with a "removal" and the repercussions that she has to deal with following it. The final linked story, Angel Dust sees a young downsider have to complete a mission for a wounded Angel to the Minister himself. This is probably the widest in scope of the three stories, the one that gives us more than a very narrow view of the City and whets the appetite the most.
The fourth story, The Three Temptations of Larnier Mier shows us a musician who was injured while witnessing a removal and who must decide between her career and her faith. I found this one somewhat less interesting than the Angel stories. Perhaps I was hoping for a different outcome, but you can never entirely win with religion.
I enjoyed the collection a lot, and I'm intrigued now to read Principles of Angels, the book from which these stories are spun off. However, I'm somewhat put off after discovering that that is the first in a series that currently spans five books, and it's not clear if it's finished or not. I don't know if I want to commit to yet another ongoing series, but that's a question that I can perhaps put to Fenn at the con :).
Oh, and I'm still not entirely sure if the cover art is fantastic or awful....more
The Rat Queens are a group of four female adventurers trying to make a living (read killing things and taking their stuff) in a medieval fantasy worldThe Rat Queens are a group of four female adventurers trying to make a living (read killing things and taking their stuff) in a medieval fantasy world. It's all a bit D&D but this was recommended to me by a friend with good taste in books, and dear goodness but it's good.
It's the characters that make it. The four Rat Queens are all very individual characters, with their own flaws, secrets and desires. Violet is a dwarf fighter who shaved her beard before it was cool; Hannah is an elf mage with attitude problems; Dee is a human former cultist who walked away and became an atheist (but can still use divine magic); and Betty. Betty is the sweetest smidgen (halfling) you could imagine, who loves candy and booze and ripping out monsters' eyeballs (I may be a fan of Betty [although Orc Dave and his bluebirds of healing comes a close second]).
As the story develops, these characters all evolve and we see their history, what led them to where they are, as well as that of the people around them. The other adventuring parties in the town, the town guard, and the local merchants. They all weave together a compelling story that's a joy to read. And there's so much humour throughout. Even with all the violence (and dear goodness, there's a lot of violence), the humour is the standout thing about this series.
A word needs to go to the book itself. This deluxe hardback collects the first two trade paperbacks, covering the first arc of the story, and is a very beautiful thing in its own right. It looks absolutely lovely, from the silver-on-black foil cover to the vividness of the colours within. The art is fantastic, conveying both the tender, character moments, and the manic rush of the fighting, and certainly not sparing any feelings over the dismembered limbs and blood.
It's lovely to see a book focusing on female characters the way that this one does. The Rat Queens, and so many of the women around them, are strong, independent and take no crap from anybody. But they're not one-dimensional, they each have their own weaknesses and vulnerabilities; they're individuals and are treated as such. It seems that comics like this, Ms Marvel and Saga are the place to go for good female characters at the moment.
All in all, a fantastic book and a fantastic series. I can't wait for more....more
In the fourteenth (fourteenth!) volume of the Foglio's epic Girl Genius series, our heroine, Agatha Heterodyne, has escaped from the time-locked MechaIn the fourteenth (fourteenth!) volume of the Foglio's epic Girl Genius series, our heroine, Agatha Heterodyne, has escaped from the time-locked Mechanicberg and is trying to get to Paris, where she hopes to learn enough to free her city. The logical way to get there is by train, but these aren't just any trains. They're run by a monastic order, who have their own views about the sanctity of the timetable, and have the firepower to back them up.
The introduction to this volume says that it would make a good jumping on point for new readers, but I think that's crazy talk. We're thirteen volumes into an ongoing story with well-established characters and a pretty damn complex plot (besides, the whole thing can be read for free online).
The story is as fun as ever, as we rejoin Agatha, Gil, Martellus and the rest of the cast, each with their own, complex stories, motives and machinations. There's not nearly enough Jägers in it for my taste, but then I've always had a soft spot for the Jägermonsters. Now, roll on the next volume! (You see what I did there...? 'Cos they're on a train...? I'll get me coat...)...more
This is an odd book. It's a steampunk alt history set in a pocket universe concerning the imagining of what Ada, Countess of Lovelace, and Charles BabThis is an odd book. It's a steampunk alt history set in a pocket universe concerning the imagining of what Ada, Countess of Lovelace, and Charles Babbage might have got up to if the former hadn't died young and the latter had completed his analytical engine, aka the first computer.
There are several short stories featuring a pipe-smoking Lovelace and organ-hating Babbage, ranging from preventing Samuel Taylor Coleridge from completing his poetic masterpiece Kubla Khan to having to stop a runaway economic model. The stories, plus a longer piece involving organised crime, are all available on the author's website, but it's nice to have a collection.
I said that this is an odd book. The comic stories themselves only make up a relatively short portion of the book. The rest is dedicated to footnotes and endnotes, not to mention some rather extensive appendices about Lovelace, Babbage and the difference and analytical engines. Another review here points out that the book has the same sort of structure as Lovelace's only major publication, a translation of Luigi Menabrea's article about the analytical engine, complete with her own extensive notes, which far outstrip the work being translated. This is something that I hadn't considered while reading the book and does shed new light on the structure. I still found it a difficult thing to read, though. In the end, I started parsing the stories multiple times. Firstly reading the stories themselves, without interruption, then going back and re-reading them with the footnotes and the endnotes.
In the end, the work feels very slight, but there's enough historical context to be interesting, and it's great fun to see various other Victorian figures show up, including Charles Dickens and George Eliot, as well as the recurring figure of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. And for those of an academic bent, the footnotes, endnotes and primary sources included are a treasure trove to be pored over in a leisurely fashion. Personally, that's not my cup of tea, but I still enjoyed the energy and fun of the stories themselves....more
Doing exactly what it says on the tin, this book has a carefully curated range of maps of Glasgow, selected to show interesting developments in the ciDoing exactly what it says on the tin, this book has a carefully curated range of maps of Glasgow, selected to show interesting developments in the city, from the tapping of the Molendinar Burn, through the heyday of shipping on the Clyde to the Glasgow Garden Festival. The range of maps shows changes in the physical shape of the city, as it grows and expands, especially to the south and west; and changes to the social make up of the city too, charting policemen's beats, the spread of disease and the locations of post offices. The range of maps is immense, covering the city's history from myriad angles.
The text that goes along with the maps is clear and well-researched. Moore usually provides some information on the map makers as well as details of what is being shown and, where he can, providing wider social context.
This is an absolutely gorgeous book (albeit one that's too big to comfortably hold easily) with high-resolution reproductions of the maps on good quality, glossy paper. Generally each map is accorded four pages: a full-page close up of some detail on the map, and then the text over the next three pages, with the full-size map and often other close ups as well. More than once, I wished that I had a magnifying glass so that I could zoom into the detail.
It seems that mapping of Glasgow started comparatively late. Despite a blurry manuscript dating from 1596, and several naval charts of the Clyde, the first plan map of the city in the book is dated as late as 1764. The bulk of the book is taken up with maps from the 19th century, as the city of Glasgow exploded in size during the industrial revolution, with comparatively few in the 20th, although the ones that were there were fascinating, especially the post WW1 plan for "homes for heroes", the German map that could have been used in a land invasion of Britain and the radical post-war plan that would have completely reshaped the city, if it had ever been implemented.
For anyone interested in Glasgow's history and development, this is a fascinating book to browse through. I've come to love Glasgow over the years that I've lived here, and this book is a wonderful way to experience its history in a very visual way....more
The third volume of Lady Trent's memoir sees her documenting her time on the Royal Survey Ship Basilisk on an expedition searching for sea serpents. SThe third volume of Lady Trent's memoir sees her documenting her time on the Royal Survey Ship Basilisk on an expedition searching for sea serpents. She finds these in abundance, and much more besides.
The third of Brennan's Lady Trent books is the most assured yet. It's lovely to see the character of Isabella Camhurst develop over the books and something that I think is quite clever in the writing is that the younger Isabella is, as she ages, starting to sound more like the elder Lady Trent. She's maturing, gaining experience and wisdom and it's lovely to see how Brennan conveys that in the writing.
I think this is also the first in the series that really features dragons to any great degree in the forefront. That's not a complaint about previous volumes (it's been great fun just following Isabella's life as she struggles to be recognised as a serious scholar while having the terrible handicap of being a woman) but it makes this one even more fun. The ongoing background plot concerning the now-dead Draconian civilisation also picks up a little in this volume and I look forward to see where that goes in future.
I was slightly concerned at the start when Isabella brings her young son with her on the voyage. I feared it might descend into one of many annoying child-related tropes, but in the event, I ended up really liking Jake and hoping that we see more of him in future, not to mention the mysterious Suhail. Isabella's constant companion on these trips, Tom Wilker, is with her through this volume as well, and I admired his dry tone and his humour as he has come to accept that he can't stop Isabella doing, er, un-ladylike things but he's always there to help, and often as enthusiastic as she is.
So all in all, I highly recommend this book to fans of the series to date. If you're new to Lady Trent, you'll certainly be able to read and enjoy this book without having read any of the others, but you'll appreciate it more if you have. As for me, I've already pre-ordered the next volume....more
Kamala Khan is just an ordinary Muslim-American teenager coping with life until she unexpectedly gets superpowers. She takes up the mantle of Ms MarveKamala Khan is just an ordinary Muslim-American teenager coping with life until she unexpectedly gets superpowers. She takes up the mantle of Ms Marvel and adds another complication to her life, now having to juggle superheroics to just being a sixteen year old girl, trying to balance the expectations and cultural baggage of her parents with that of the world around her.
This is a fun story and even if, like me, you know little of the Marvel universe beyond the MCU you'll still be able to get a lot out of it. There's as much focus on Kamala's daily life and how she balances life as an American with life as a Muslim, as well as the angst that all teenagers, no matter what their background, feel. This makes Kamala a relatable protagonist which helps cover the problem with many origin stories: that there isn't much in the way of plot. It's not too bad though, there's enough to not make me feel cheated and lots of groundwork for plot to come in future volumes.
For me the question is not 'am I going to read any more Ms Marvel', but 'do I continue with the paperbacks, or switch to the larger hardbacks'?...more
Barely has Librarian/spy Irene settled into her new role as Librarian-in-residence on Vale's world than her Dragon assistant Kai is kidnapped, and it'Barely has Librarian/spy Irene settled into her new role as Librarian-in-residence on Vale's world than her Dragon assistant Kai is kidnapped, and it's up to Irene, acting alone, and without help from the Library, to get him back, and possibly prevent a war.
The second volume in Genevieve Cogman's excellent Invisible Library series is, if possible, more self-assured and fun than the first. There's no sign of second-book nerves here. Cogman throws us into the middle of the action and then back-tracks from there; an old trick, but an effective one, and one that Cogman's writing is good enough to pull off with aplomb. It takes a while to get to Venice, the masked city of the title, but once we do, the city that the author draws for us is beautiful to behold. It's evocative, dangerous and lovely to read.
While the apparent Big Bad of the series, the disgraced former Librarian Alberich, remains off-stage for this book, the villain of the piece, the powerful Fae Lord Guantes, is just as effective and, in combination with his wife, quite the foil for Irene. Lord Silver returns as a decadent Fae aristocrat combining playing for power with playing with people in a turn that makes me sort of want to scrub myself down. He's a lovely character. The rest of the supporting cast is mostly just sketched, something which works well for the Fae, given their embrace of narrative and storytelling roles. I would like to see Vale be slightly better developed, and become more than just a Holmes-clone, though.
Still, that's just a little niggle in a series that has been, to date, a joy to read. I mean, for book-geeks like people who hang out at GoodReads, what's not to love about a kick-ass female librarian who can rewrite reality around her! Roll on volume three....more
It appears that this book has taken me exactly five months to read. Not because it's difficult, or complex, or dull, but I just have trouble with non-It appears that this book has taken me exactly five months to read. Not because it's difficult, or complex, or dull, but I just have trouble with non-fic, especially history. I tend to read a chunk, put it down, meaning to pick it up again the next day and get distracted by a graphic novel or space opera. Still, I'm very glad that I did eventually get through this book, which uses ten cities to provide a breakneck tour of the history of the British Empire, from its first phase in the Americas through its turn towards the east, and right down to its end and the impact on Britain itself.
It's an odd mix, but the architecture of the cities is only ever there in the background and never as important as you think it's going to be, but still, weaving together the history of the cities with the wider context of Empire is fascinating. I wasn't sure what to expect from Hunt, as he seems to be on the right wing of the Labour Party but his history seems balanced. He talks about how the British Empire alternated between waves of free trade imperialism and more traditional conquering imperialism, but is never flag-waving. He never shies away from the dark underbelly of the Empire, particularly the slavery that formed the basis of the West Indies economy for so long, and the racism that was evident in India (and elsewhere), compared with the 'white colonies'.
My knowledge of the Empire has always been patchy, and this book has helped fill in some of those gaps, particularly the broad brush of its rise and fall across a few hundred years and its actions and behaviour in India. Indeed, the Indian chapters were amongst the most interesting for me, especially the comparison between Calcutta and Bombay (as they were then), with New Delhi being the Empire's last hurrah, despite the triumphalism that went into its building and its architecture....more
This is a small collection of three short one-act plays that Bradbury wrote in the 1970s that I was completely unaware of, although in saying that, IThis is a small collection of three short one-act plays that Bradbury wrote in the 1970s that I was completely unaware of, although in saying that, I recognise both the title play (The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit) and one other (The Veldt) as short stories. I don't know if they started off as plays and were converted, or the other way around but both still work very well as plays. I'm not so experienced at reading plays but it does feel like there's dialogue but not much in the way of stage direction.
The title play follows six young Latino immigrant workers who pool their resources and buy a single white suit that they share out amongst themselves. It's about friendship and poverty and what can be learned through sharing and is a sweet little play. The Veldt is an altogether darker affair. It has themes of parental affection, misuse of technology and the tension between work and family life. The final play, To the Chicago Abyss has elements of Fahrenheit 451, although from a different perspective.
I would love to see these performed, just to see how they'd work on stage, rather than on the page, especially the technological magic of The Veldt. Even without that, though, they're still very enjoyable to read....more
When Fat Charlie Nancy's father dies, he finds out that his father was a god and that he had a brother he didn't know about. And that makes his worldWhen Fat Charlie Nancy's father dies, he finds out that his father was a god and that he had a brother he didn't know about. And that makes his world much more interesting, and much more dangerous.
This is a much more whimsical book than American Gods, with whom it shares a universe and one character (Mr Nancy/Anansi, Charlie's father, whose death kicks off events). Whereas that was deep and brimming with mythology, this feels much lighter, more like a good old-fashioned story without as much going on underneath. There was a lot of humour in it, of a style that reminded me a lot of Good Omens, but without the lightness of touch ( Terry Pratchett's influence?) that made that book such a joy to read. It sounds like I'm being negative, but it's just that I expect great things of Gaiman and this is, IMO, just good. Fat Charlie is a decent enough character and I really felt for him when the whirlwind of his brother, Spider, came into his life. For a while, it seemed like it would just be Spider tormenting Charlie, but the tone shifts later in the book, as the events driving things start to come to the fore.
The focus here is on African folklore, in the way that it was Norse mythology that drove American Gods and while this is less familiar to me than the latter, Gaiman handles it well enough that what you need to know is explained in the text, so you don't feel like you're floundering. That the story is reasonably lightweight helps in this regard too.
So this is an entertaining read in an unfamiliar (to me) mythology and definitely lighter than some of Gaiman's other work. Worth a read, but I wouldn't put it at the top of my pile....more
Bruce Schneier started life as a security expert but his interests have been expanding over time, and this book is really a general sociology of trustBruce Schneier started life as a security expert but his interests have been expanding over time, and this book is really a general sociology of trust, and what enables large-scale societies to exist, never mind to thrive. He talks about the four different societal pressures that can be brought to bear against those thinking about "defecting" from a group: moral, reputational, institutional and security. He discusses each of these in detail and then looks at larger scale societies and how these pressures can fail against corporations and other institutions.
The book is very easy to read and Schneier lays out his case clearly and compellingly. As he says in the introduction, this isn't a comprehensive work, it's a starting point. The notes and references are extensive so there's lots more reading that can be done around the subject. But if you're looking for a good starting place on how groups enable and maintain trust, and the mechanisms by which that trust can fail, you could do much worse than starting here....more
This anthology brings together short fiction that was nominated for, and some that won, the James Tiptree Award for "science fiction or fantasy that eThis anthology brings together short fiction that was nominated for, and some that won, the James Tiptree Award for "science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender". As well as that, there are a number of essays both relating to the award itself and the wider genre. There were a number of stories here that I enjoyed a lot, and some less so.
Looking Through Lace, by Ruth Nestvold, was probably my favourite story in the collection. This is about a young xenolinguist trying to understand the complexities of an alien language while also having to overcome the prejudices of her superior. This one reminded me of some of Ursula K. Le Guin's anthropological stories and I liked the characterisation and deft worldbuilding.
I also enjoyed both the retellings of The Snow Queen (itself also included in the collection) preferring the modern Travels with the Snow Queen over the Japanese-set The Lady of the Ice Garden.
I was less keen on The Catgirl Manifesto: An Introduction by Richard Calder. This was written as an academic-style introduction to a fictional work that seemed to have a few layers of fiction to it. Perhaps I would get more out of it on a second reading, but as it stood I found it difficult to follow and somewhat incoherent.
So a good collection if you're interested in exploring gender or just want some challenging SF....more
This is a charming short book in which Raymond Briggs tells the story of his parents, the Ethel and Ernest of the title, from their first chance meetThis is a charming short book in which Raymond Briggs tells the story of his parents, the Ethel and Ernest of the title, from their first chance meeting in 1928 up to their deaths, very close to each other in 1971. It's a lovely story, without much in the way of embellishment. Ernest was a working class lad, and proud of it, while Ethel was upwardly mobile and wanted more for her family. They lived through the second world war and the upheavals of the 1950s and 1960s and we see how life changes for them over the decades.
The art is lovely. Typically Briggs and very appropriate for the story being told. This is social history told through a single family, right up to their heartbreaking, not to mention tear-jerking, final months. Definitely recommended....more