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).["br"]>["br"]>...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
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 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
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
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
Tiffany Aching is getting on with the job of being the witch of the Chalk, taking the responsibility for bringing people into the world, helping themTiffany Aching is getting on with the job of being the witch of the Chalk, taking the responsibility for bringing people into the world, helping them leave and all the bits in between. For a young woman it's a heavy load, so she really doesn't need an ancient malevolent spirit being awoken and coming after her.
I enjoyed this book and feel that I should really have more to say about it, but I can't really think of an awful lot. There were some small surprises for me, such as the character of the Duchess and how she evolved, along with her daughter, but I didn't really feel an awful lot of fear for Tiffany herself. She seems to have reached the same sort of stage as Granny Weatherwax, where she's pretty much indestructible so I felt sure that she'd be able to deal with the Cunning Man.
The Cunning Man, by the way, is a pretty excellent villain. His origin story is marvellously gruesome and the idea of this eyeless creature full of hate and malevolence is very evocative.
(view spoiler)[The other thing the surprised me was Preston and his story. I was sure that Pratchett was going to take Tiffany along the dutiful, lonely road, so it was a bit of a surprise (a pleasant one, mind) when he and Tiffany did actually sort of get together at the end of the book. It's nice to get a happy ending for the person who spent her own time ensuring happy endings for others. (hide spoiler)]
The humour in this book was the thoughtful, 'wry smile' variety rather than the belly laughs of Pratchett's early work, although there were still some really laugh out loud moments. These were almost all provided care of the Nac Mac Feegle, who retain all the charm of their early days for me as they enthusiastically fight, steal and generally caper through life, but always protecting their Hag o' the Hills. They're a joy to read and, I imagine, to write. I can just imagine Pratchett sitting at his keyboard, chuckling to himself as he wrote them.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I can't, in all honesty, say that I enjoyed this book, but I do think it's an important one and one that I got a lot out of. I had to read it in reasoI can't, in all honesty, say that I enjoyed this book, but I do think it's an important one and one that I got a lot out of. I had to read it in reasonably short doses because it would just make make angry. The behaviour of politicians and the media leaves a lot to be desired and Chakrabarti has no qualms about dipping into the mire for examples to illustrate her case.
The fact that people have such short memories that they actively argue that rights accorded to a person purely for being human, without fear or favour, no matter their nationality, colour or creed, are a bad idea strikes me as privilege of the worst kind. The sorts of people so secure in their own station that they lose empathy. As Chakrabarti repeats more than once, we're all foreigners sometime and somewhere.
I found this book important because it makes a clear and, to my mind, incredibly persuasive, case for universal human rights and gives me the tools to argue for those rights when I would have found it difficult to find the right words.
For full disclosure, I'm a member of Liberty, the civil liberties organisation of which Chakrabarti is director and I passionately believe in what they stand for, so me giving this book a high score is not unexpected. What I really want, and what is less likely to happen, is for those who argue that human rights shouldn't be universal to read the book. I'd like to give it to Daily Mail readers and right-wing politicians. And, more positively, I'd love to see it in school libraries and other places where young people could read it and use it to help form their opinions.
The book is also highly readable. The arguments are laid out clearly, using examples and counter-examples from her own life and work both in the Home Office and with Liberty. Chakrabarti argues with the passion of a lifelong believer in her subject and the clarity of a trained lawyer at their best. This is a subject that is important for all of us: privileged or poor, refugee or citizen, having rights that we can all call upon against the terrifying power of the state is one of the things that allows a country to call itself civilised. And Chakrabarti shows us just how thin that veneer of civilisation in the UK really is....more
I can never turn down a new collection of Ray Bradbury stories and I did enjoy these, but I felt that it was missing the sparkle of Bradbury at his bI can never turn down a new collection of Ray Bradbury stories and I did enjoy these, but I felt that it was missing the sparkle of Bradbury at his best. Despite being from 2009, the stories felt very nostalgic, perhaps to be expected from Bradbury of all people, but I would have liked to see a little more modernity to the stories. The one nod to the 21st century that I did see was that there were a couple of stories that had gay characters in them, but other than that, they could have been set in the '30s or '40s (as, indeed, some of them were).
There's not much in the way of SF in this collection. There's a Mars story and a story of the dead rising along with one or two others, but mostly this is just Bradbury writing about life, love and remembrance.
I wasn't sure if I wanted to read this book to start with because of the change to Louis Wu's circumstances at the start of the novel (he's a junkie,I wasn't sure if I wanted to read this book to start with because of the change to Louis Wu's circumstances at the start of the novel (he's a junkie, addicted to the pure pleasure of electrical stimulation of the brain). But that actually turned out to be one of the more interesting things about the book. Why would a character as obviously strong as Wu turn to the wire? That question does get answered, along with the other obvious question of what he does next. Perhaps his escape from addiction was a little too easy, but, as I've said, we know from the previous book that Louis has a very strong will.
The return to the Ringworld itself is interesting if not novel. The quest that Louis and his alien companions find themselves on is, eventually, to deal with the instability of the Ring and save its trillions of inhabitants from doom as it crashes into its star.
The one moment of pure 'sensawunda' in the book, for me equivalent to learning about the Fleet of Worlds from Ringworld, is when we learn how the Ringworld's meteor defence system works. That left me giggling to myself in awe for quite a while.
This sequel is, in no way, essential. Ringworld stood on its own perfectly well. The only reason I picked it up was because it was very cheap at a book sale and I needed another book to get the four-for-a-pound deal. I don't regret having read it, but I doubt it'll leave much of a mental impact....more
It took a while but I really warmed to this story of the Western Isles and how the locals deal with officious mainlanders. The whole whisky thing is aIt took a while but I really warmed to this story of the Western Isles and how the locals deal with officious mainlanders. The whole whisky thing is almost an aside. There are several threads to the plot: the marriages of Sergeant Odd and George Campbell; the attempts of Captain Waggett to instil discipline into his Home Guard troops; and, of course, the sinking of the S. S. Cabinet Minister carrying 50,000 cases of whisky.
It took a while to settle into the flow of the book. I wasn't really sure where it was coming from, but once I let it go at its own pace, the gentle pace of island life, if you will, I began to thoroughly enjoy it. I started off being indignantly angry with the officious Captain Waggett and the other officials trying to meddle while insisting that there's a war on, but I soon realised what fun that Mackenzie was having at their expense. I enjoyed the subtle jibes at that sort of thinking.
The book is very easy to read (although it was easier after I discovered, about half way through, that there was a Gaelic glossary at the end!) and left me with a smile on my face at the end. Not to mention, a desire to go and visit some of the Western Isles.
It's different from the film and doesn't have the focus that the film does on the whisky plot, but then an 80-minute film has to be narrower in scope than a 300-page book. Take it for what it is without comparing too much to the film and there's an awful lot to enjoy from this book....more
Writing reviews of Saga is starting to get a little dull, really. Each volume is brilliant and moves the story in new directions that throw me off-balWriting reviews of Saga is starting to get a little dull, really. Each volume is brilliant and moves the story in new directions that throw me off-balance but never to a degree that I stop enjoying the story or caring for the characters. Fiona Staples' art also continues to be gorgeous, bringing the characters to life in their weird, sexy, horrific glory.
Alana and Marco have been separated by the wannabe revolutionary, Dengo, of the Robot people and while Alana tries to deal with him to recover Hazel, Marco has to team up with his enemy, Prince Robot IV whose child Dengo has also kidnapped.
This all happens in parallel with Gwendolyn and Sophie's quest to find something that can save The Will, and doesn't that storyline come with a kick to the gut!
I basically like all of these people and just want them to all talk over their problems, work them out and all live happily in a Friends-style apartment block where they'd be in and out of each others' homes all the time. Yeah, I know. A guy can daydream though!
I don't know how much Saga there is to come, but I look forward to the time when I can basically sit down with a bit pile of graphic novels next to my chair and just work through the whole story in one sitting. ...more
Picking up pretty much directly from where Ancilliary Sword left off, the conclusion to Breq's trilogy again changes the direction of the series a biPicking up pretty much directly from where Ancilliary Sword left off, the conclusion to Breq's trilogy again changes the direction of the series a bit, with things that have been rumbling a little in the background coming more to the fore. Breq is now publicly known as the last remaining piece of Justice of Toren and she must move quickly to protect Athoek system from the inevitable attack by Anaander Mianaai.
There's a lot to love in this book and I pretty much want to just pick up the first book again and read the whole trilogy in one go, although I think I'm going to resist doing that until I make more of a dent in my to-read pile.
I think this book brings Breq's involvement in the wider story of the Radch to an end. There's lots more that she could do, of course, but I suspect that she'll be quite tied up in the aftermath of what happened in Atheok, and its fallout, to take any further part in wider events. And I can't imagine that there won't be further events. The story of the Radch and its ruler at war with herself is rich pickings for further storytelling and I look forward to reading it.
As for this one, it was a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. Not just Breq, but those around her got decent character development and all got a chance to do something cool....more
I'm not really sure what to write about this collection. The stories are wrapped in a meta-story of being told to an unborn child by its parents who hI'm not really sure what to write about this collection. The stories are wrapped in a meta-story of being told to an unborn child by its parents who hide their storytelling from each other because they had agreed to "only tell the child the truth". This is a bit ridiculous to start with, but okay, let's go with that for the moment.
The stories themselves are beautifully written. There's no doubting Logan's skill as a wordsmith, but I fear that I'm not the target audience. I've never got on with Literature-with-a-capital-L and I'm not too fond of depressing or miserable stories. And there's a lot of both in this collection. The parents seem to want to frighten the child into never coming into the world, it seems, by the tales they tell it. The only story that really stands out to me as even maybe having something approaching a happy ending is Flinch, the story of a selkie fisherman.
Beyond that, there's some quite brutal stories here. From the one that starts us off (a metaphor for domestic violence?) to the one about starvation in a small community and the lengths they go to to survive, to the one about a couple whose children go missing and the mother's attempts to find them.
Like I said above, I can appreciate the writing in these stories. It's beautiful and all the stories are very well written (even if I don't have much time for the stupidity of the parents in the meta-story) but the contents are not for me....more
The sixth volume of Charles Stross's Laundry Files series is the first not to be told from Bob Howard's point of view, instead being narrated by his wThe sixth volume of Charles Stross's Laundry Files series is the first not to be told from Bob Howard's point of view, instead being narrated by his wife, Dr Mo O'Brien as she is tasked with establishing and leading the Home Office's new superhero team while dealing with the Pale Violin that she has carried for some years and also trying to do something about her disintegrating marriage to Bob.
There's a lot of interesting complexity in this book, particularly set as far into the series as it is. After reading it, I had a shot at the spoiler thread about it on Charlie's blog (a 'shot' at it because it's nearly 600 comments long!) which definitely helped contextualise it a bit.
One thing that I get out of it is that I don't necessarily think I like Mo. And I really like that. The fact that Stross told a good first person story and didn't make the narrator that likeable is the mark of a good storyteller. And coming with five books' worth of background helps as well. Until now we've only seen Mo from Bob's point of view, and, as Stross points out again and again, Bob is a highly unreliable narrator. But specifically this is the woman he's still in love with and has been married to for a decade so when we see her from his point of view, she's on a pedestal. From her own point of view, she's, er, less so. And this is hardly the best time to getting into her head, as the stress of trying to contain the Pale Violin (which she names Lecter) and everything she's had to do as Agent CANDID is finally getting too much for her. Just when she has to effectively build a new Home Office department from scratch and deal with the politics of that, not to mention separation from her husband, an attractive new male colleague and working with her husband's exes.
So an awful lot in there, and I look forward to seeing more from her and Bob, although that could be a while yet, as the next book in the series is to be narrated by Alex (the vampire from The Rhesus Chart) and it's only the one after that which will once again star Bob.
Mind you, I came to these books for the geek humour and spy thriller vibe, with a bit of Lovecraftian stuff going on in the background. That's obviously a bit of a false-flag. The series is very clearly tending towards horror with a bit of humour thrown in. As CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN intensifies, I don't know how much longer I'll be able to keep on reading....more
The fifth collected volume of of the utterly marvellous webcomic takes us to the end of Annie and Kat's year nine at Gunnerkrigg Court. Annie is now mThe fifth collected volume of of the utterly marvellous webcomic takes us to the end of Annie and Kat's year nine at Gunnerkrigg Court. Annie is now medium of the forest and her friend Andrew is medium of the Court. She has to balance her new duties with her education, not to mention all the ups and downs of being a teenage girl.
There are some lovely stories in this volume, especially that of Mort and how Annie helps him find peace, while at the same time finding out more about Jeanne, the ghost trapped in the Annan Water. The new romance between Kat and Paz is incredibly sweet and Annie's initial reaction to it is very believable for the girl that we've come to know over the last forty-something chapters.
The chapter that followed Renard and Hetty was beautifully told as well, with Renard's obvious pain over his past choices contrasting with the selfishness of Hetty. Renard is now one of my favourite characters in the story, which is saying something, in a story that has so many wonderful characters to choose from.
The final chapter is a suitably dramatic end to the year for the kids of the Court but it's the last couple of pages that really make it, with the revelation of the deepening of Robot's involvement in the cult that grown up around Kat.
Every time I think that Gunnerkrigg Court can't get better, it does. Siddell is growing as both a storyteller and an artist. However, now that the volume has ended, it'll be at least a year until the next one. Many webcomics work okay running a few pages a week (and Siddell has been nothing if not reliable at doing so) but I find GC impossible to read on such a schedule. I usually let a chapter or two build up and read them then, but it's really when you have a whole book in one go that you can appreciate the story properly. I don't know how much more there is to come, but I look forward to the day when I can put the entire set next to my chair and just work through them all in one giant binge. Until then, I'll keep reading one chapter, and one book, at a time....more
Of the three books in this omnibus volume, I definitely enjoyed the first the most. That one seemed to have the same sort of ethos as the Callahan's sOf the three books in this omnibus volume, I definitely enjoyed the first the most. That one seemed to have the same sort of ethos as the Callahan's stories, and the same sense of empathy. I felt that that got somewhat lost in the other two volumes and in particular, I found the protagonist of the second book somewhat annoying and difficult to relate to.
The idea of dance and art more generally was quite central (it being the Stardance books, after all) but I've never really been able to appreciate dance to a particularly high level. In particular, I've never found it particularly expressive of abstract concepts, something which is quite central to these books. I guess that's a failure of imagination on my part, though.
It was slightly uncomfortable having Chinese people be the villains across all three books. Admittedly, they were all members of the same family across time, but still, it felt a little uncomfortable to read, but it still felt a little off.
If I were to score each book individually, it would be 4 stars for Stardance, 2 stars for Starseed and 3 stars for Starmind....more
I am a huge fan of P. G. Wodehouse, having come to his oeuvre quite late, particularly the bumbling but ever-likeable Bertie Wooster and his gentlemanI am a huge fan of P. G. Wodehouse, having come to his oeuvre quite late, particularly the bumbling but ever-likeable Bertie Wooster and his gentleman's personal gentleman, the inimitable Jeeves. This volume is an entire collection of Jeeves and Wooster stories, including several that go on to be referenced elsewhere in the canon. For example, the infamous article for Milady's Boudoir is first written here and we get to see how the gastronomic artist Anatole came to work for Aunt Dahlia (the only good egg in a handbag of aunts). This volume also has a rarity: a story narrated by Jeeves himself, not Bertie. This could have been a disaster, as so much of the fun of the stories comes from Jeeves' cunning plan, but Jeeves' horror of Bertie adopting a child and his elegant solution do work and don't spoil the magic at all.
The stories aren't exactly what you might call inventive or artistic: Bertie, or one of his pals, gets into a scrape (often with an aunt) and Jeeves gets him out again, often through an unnecessarily complex plan. But they are very good fun, and Wodehouse's prose is a joy to read. Bertie's narrative voice is clear and distinctive and the whole thing just comes together.
If you've got a horror of upper class Englishmen of a certain era, then avoid like the plague, but for the rest of us, if you see this (or, indeed, any Wodehouse novel) don't hesitate to pick it up!...more
Hartright is a drawing master who gets engaged to tutor two young ladies in an out of the way part of the country. Before long he is wrapped up in theHartright is a drawing master who gets engaged to tutor two young ladies in an out of the way part of the country. Before long he is wrapped up in the mystery of the titular woman in white and must find out the secret of Sir Percival Glyde, the financeé of one of his charges, before it's too late.
I loved this book. It's a fast-paced thriller (despite being over 600 pages long, it never feels like it dawdles) with some lovely characterisation. I've been told by someone in the know that Wilkie Collins was parodying some of the more overwrought gothic romances of his time. I didn't pick up on that, but even without having the additional layers of knowledge, there's a lot to enjoy about this book.
I don't think it's a spoiler to say that Glyde, and his friend Count Fosco, are the villains of the piece. But while Glyde is merely an upper class English thug that you can can't throw a stone in Victorian literature without hitting, Fosco is something else entirely. He's a marvellous creation who exudes charm and quirkiness, with a dedication to his pets, whilst having a very intelligent, ruthless core. He's also believably flawed, and his interactions with Marian Halcombe are both delightful and flesh-crawling. That's the mark of a good writer right there!
I think that the aforementioned Miss Halcombe is probably my second-favourite character, after Count Fosco. She's intelligent, witty and not the kind of woman to go around swooning at a moment's notice (not something you can say about her half-sister, Laura, who is to be married to Sir Percival).
So a rocking thriller with some great characters and a mystery that extends throughout the book. The structure, with multiple narrators also feels very modern and I have no hesitation in recommending this to anyone who has a modicum of an attention span....more
I'm a very recent convert to Callahan and his place, but I already adore it. These stories, all centred around Callahan's Place, its weird and wonderfI'm a very recent convert to Callahan and his place, but I already adore it. These stories, all centred around Callahan's Place, its weird and wonderful regulars and how they all go out of their way to help others are a joy to read. Warm, witty and humanist, Robinson shows a depth of feeling and empathy that really resonates with me. And the puns, oh goodness, the marvellous truly awful puns! I love puns (even if I'm not very good at them myself) so seeing them celebrated here was a(nother) wonderful thing about the book.
I've read many of the stories here in another collection but this is a superset of that, containing all the stories from there and a few others. This means that I can give away the other book, to let somebody else experience the joy of finding Callahan's Place while I go on and get hold of both the Lady Sally and Mary's Place books to continue the journey.
The unofficial motto of Callahan's Place is that pain shared is lessened while joy shared is increased. I'll get a glass of something, step up to the chalk line and raise a toast to that any day....more