Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Recent reading

Time to do some catching up for the last few months...

Neal Asher's Polity (Agent Cormac, Spatterjay, and others)

As one of the few SF writers whose blog I can stand to follow, I thought last summer that it was about time that I went and read some more of his books -- having read The Engineer and Gridlinked back when they were new, well before I even started this blog. So since then I've been slowly pacing myself through everything that the local Waterstone's had on its shelves, trying not to mine out this rich seam too fast. But now, alas, that particular well has run dry for the moment.

Now, why had I left this much to accumulate? After I'd read Gridlinked, I'd felt that the book had gotten close to my squick level; and the description of his next oeuvre, The Skinner made it sound like it would be way over. But another decade on the internet seems to have desensitized me enough to handle the rest, though there have still been a few places where I've thought "I get the point" and skipped to the end of the scene -- you know you're getting off lightly, for example, when someone undergoing radical surgery for an invasive alien parasite is merely described as "looking like an explosion in an abattoir".

So, provided you are OK with the level of mud, blood, body horror and psychotic villainy, and are looking for good solid action adventure SF this is a setting of a messily human, yet generally optimistic far future, without the antiseptic niceness that too often seems a genre staple, where action spans from massive interstellar war-fleets to the poor bastards who have to get up close and personal with whichever menace out of time or space is behind the machinations of the current plot.

I still have no idea how my memories of Gridlinked (before rereading it recently) managed to get confused with what I think must have been Banks' Consider Phlebas which I must have read a decade earlier.

Next up, The Owner...

The Serene Invasion by Eric Brown

And now for something completely different...

Another "golden spaceship" novel in which the human race is enslaved by alien puppet-masters who stay offstage, much like his earlier Kethani. The difference in this one is that, rather than patching up and rewriting broken humans, the aliens rewrite reality directly to prevent the expression of actions that would injure self or others -- including animals (the matter of what happened to surgeons was quietly ignored, when even boxing was rendered impossible).

Consequently there are no riots over the last remaining stocks of bacon as the human race are socially engineered back to locavore subsistence farming under a network of alien-symp soviets. Resistance, such as it is, comes in the form of Morwell, a caricature Murdoch/Maxwell (the name might have given that one away) style media baron and ex-arms manufacturer, and a cartoon alien enemy who, while being able to rewrite reality nearly as well as the S'rene, apparently still find economic use in sending lower races down mines for materials (probably because they're right wingers and do that sort of thing, along with eating babies for breakfast, as naturally as breathing).

Normally I don't hold a writer's repugnant political views against them (I actually enjoy China Miéville's F/SF writing, ffs), but this sanctimonious piece of work comes straight out of -- or, rather, dives straight into and never again emerges from -- the low information leftist/watermelon reality tunnel.

It's the third strike, and you're out, I'm afraid, Mr. Brown.

Later: And the attention to detail is so great -- while humanity is being guided to hand-knit its own lentils, nothing is said about what you do with the billions of farm animals that you can no longer eat or even castrate. Or what you do when your horse breaks a leg, or your cat has a stroke and goes mad with terror.

None of that matters when you're getting off on fantasizing that your hate figures are sexual inadequates -- that's much more important to consider after the new Year Zero.

Milkweed (Bitter Seeds et seq.) by Ian Tregillis

Mad English warlocks vs twisted Nazi psychics? Yes please!

So runs Cory Doctorow's blurb on the back cover of the first volume of this Weird War II trilogy, summing it up most concisely.

This one caught my eye from the striking cover design of the series, the blurb piqued my interest, and the teaser synopsis did the rest.

Although there are a few lapses of nuance that betray the writer as American in this trilogy set in an alternate world where the Commonwealth -- and in particular, the most secret part of British Intelligence -- stands alone against the Nazis and then, later, the Soviets and their superhumans, the whole was a gripping read.

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