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July 2018

Book in April, May and June 2018

This has been a busy few months so here’s an amalgamated set of books that I’ve read. I’ve also included a couple of audiobooks which I’ve enjoyed.

Reservoir 13 (Jon McGregor)
This effectively picks up where The Reservoir Tapes – which I read last month – finishes. It’s a very different book; the former comprised fifteen different points of view about the disappearance of Becky Shaw, a 13 year old girl, with the conceit that they were all stories told to a reporter in the immediate aftermath of her disappearance. There is no denouement; instead, you have to piece together connections to try and work out what was going on. This book takes a different form; it is a tale of the years for the village that the girl was staying at when she disappears. We are voyeurs who see the changes and ripples of the event going forward as the seasons remorselessly change. The people of the village are transient compared to the reservoirs and hills of landscape.

Structurally, the book has no chapters as such. Text runs together over periods of time, like a series of notes. It’s not stream of consciousness, but rather a stream of events. We can pick up on an individual for a line, a number of sentences or even a page, but then the text - rejecting conventional paragraphs - just flows into the next event. When you reach a break, it’s always at some natural pause. The structure draws you through and I found it very effective. You also feel the rhythm of the seasons, with the repeated events and the changes that come through as people grow old, move away, fall in and out of love, or die. It’s all set in the context of Bex, or Becky or Rebecca Shaw’s disappearance and the impact that it has on the lives of everyone in the village.

I really enjoyed this book; you are drawn into the lives of the people in it, a passive voyeur, all the while hoping, just hoping, that some kind of conclusion will be found. But eventually, whether or not it is ceases to be a real concern as you find yourself caring more for the lives of the people left behind as they live on set against the slow time of landscape.

Delta Green Handler’s Guide (Dennis Detwiller)
I printed out a copy of the Handler’s Guide to read as part of my preparation for North Star. I’m really impressed with the quality of the book; it’s very usable, well written and beautifully laid out. This is in effect the setting book for Delta Green.

Stranger Things - The Ultimate Guide (Stephen Smith)
Reading in preparation for North Star. This was a very usable reference while I was preparing the game to run.

Delta Green - The Way it Went Down (Dennis Detwiller)
Flash fiction set in the Delta Green universe, much of it culled from mood pieces in the game material. Lots of flavour that leaves you wanting more.

Delta Green Agent’s Handbook (Dennis Detailer)
I re-read the player’s book (which contains much of the rules) for Delta Green just before North Star. Very well done.

The Trinity Six (Charles Cumming)
The story tells about an academic who has stumbled into evidence that there may well have been a sixth agent in the Cambridge Spy Ring, one who has been protected by the UK Government. The discover places him at risk as he searches to discover the truth. I found this an enjoyable read; Cumming definitely has a claim to be trying to be a successor to le Carré.

The Forbidden Lands Player’s Guide (Beta)
This is the retro-styled fantasy heartbreaker from Fria Ligan. I’m impressed with what I’ve read; it definitely lifts from other sources such as the resources dice in the Black Hack along with shades of Dungeon World’s play agendas. It may be a little on the lethal side; I need to explore this a bit more and maybe play it.

The Letter for the King (Tonke Dragt)
This is a Danish Young Adult classic. A young squire is called to adventure the night that he should be completing his vigil to become a knight. It’s a simple story, told well, one that I would have appreciated more when I was younger.

Dogs of War (Adrian Tchaikovsky)
Rex is a Good Dog, a bioengineered corporate soldier who leads a team with a bioengineered crocodile (‘Dragon&rsquoWinking, bear (‘Honey&rsquoWinking and Bee Swarm (‘Bees&rsquoWinking. Master is a corporate troubleshooter, deployed to fight a war in Mexico against insurgents. Atrocities have been committed and Rex and his team have to deal with the conflict between morality, feedback chips and the fact that although they are sentient yet property. I enjoyed this.

Rupture (Dark Iceland #4) (Ragnar Jónasson)
I had an urge for some more Icelandic noir for the minimalist difference so I decided to read the Ragnar Jónasson books that are sitting on my Kindle waiting for the right mood. The fourth of the books with Ari Thór in, this sees Siglufjördour isolated and quarantined because of a dangerous ‘flu case. Thór spends part of the time digging into a closed case from the 1950s when new evidence is brought to him. In the mean time, a reporter contact in Reykjavik helps him out by checking details, and also gets drawn into a separate, brutal investigation. Again, enjoyable, but perhaps failing to land the feel of the quarantine’s isolation and the fear of disease fully.

Whiteout (Dark Iceland #5) (Ragnar Jónasson)
There’s a shift in the style of the series with this book, as it spends more time at the start in the set up to the story without the protagonists. Ari Thór is called in to support his former boss investigating a suicide with suspicious circumstances just before Christmas. Set on an isolated headland with a lighthouse, a farm and a well-to-do family home, you can really feel the remoteness of the place. I really enjoyed this one; the atmosphere builds well.

Noumenon (Marina J. Lostetter)
A SF novel about the journey to another star which has shown anomalous readings to astronomers. Is it an unusual Oort Cloud, an alien mega-structure or something else? Earth is sending of multiple missions into space to explore the galaxy, and this is one of them. It starts with the pitch for a slot in the mission rosters and ends thousands of years later. This is a generation ship tale with a twist; it follows the mission from its inception to its arrival at the target star, but then goes further to explore the changes in society that two thousand observed years of travel brings to both on the ship and Earth itself. Another slight variation to the genre is that, although this is a generation ship, each new generation is born artificially from clones of the first generation. I really enjoyed this; it reminded me of some of the great thought experiments and extrapolations of early SF.

Lifeboat (Marina J. Lostetter)
A collection of three short stories from the author of Noumenon. I enjoyed them, but not as much as the main novel.

The Cthulhu Hack (Paul Baldowski)
Sixth revision printing of the Cthulhu Hack, which features a significantly improved layout with a new font that makes it far more readable with a cleaner look. I think that this is one of the cleverest evolutions of The Black Hack and well worth the time. I need to get this to the table.

The Dark Brood (Paul Baldowski)
A new supplement for the Cthulhu Hack, focussing around the mythos of Shub Niggurath. This gives plenty of interesting material, plot ideas and options for you game. It would be usable with other Cthulhu games and more Lovecraftian D&D. It does link back to an earlier book, From Unformed Realms.

Lyonesse 1: Suldrun’s Garden (Jack Vance)
Lyonesse 2: The Green Pearl) (Jack Vance)
Lyonesse 3: Madouc (Jack Vance)
I spent the best part of two months listening to the audiobook versions of the Lyonesse trilogy by Jack Vance as published by Audible. These are really well done (although the narrator does have some affectation in how he says a few of the words) and listening to the whole - unabridged - work in one fell swoop as definitely worth it. Recommended