Books in April, May & June 2017

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The Enclave (Ann Charnock)

This was incredibly hard work to read for me. The story is well written, but the plot and the characters just didn't engage with me. Set in a future were refugees live in enclaves out side cities in Britain, the story focuses upon a young boy - Caleb - and his employer in alternating point of view chapters. He works in the rag trade, fed food and board for his work, and is promoted to become the supervisor in a world he doesn’t really understand.

Snowblind (Ragnar Jónasson)

Set in the north of Iceland in an isolated former fishing town, the story tells the tale of a just graduated police officer as he takes up his post four hundred miles away from his girlfriend back in Reykjavik. As the snows of winter close in, a woman is found bleeding and half naked in the snow, and an elderly famous writer falls to his death. I liked this - it was quite terse and claustrophobic in parts, but a good whodunnit.

The Memoirist (Neil Williamson)

Fourth of the NewCon Press Novella sequence, I approached this with trepidation after the difficulties that I had with The Enclave. Fortunately, this one engaged me very quickly. It’s set in the near future, in a world with near pervasive surveillance. It explores the idea of the Panopticon[1] through the impact of the complete loss of privacy by the lead character. I found it interesting and engaging.

Jesus Christ, Reanimator (Ken MacLeod)

A couple of short stories by Ken MacLeod, including speculation on what would happen if Christ returned in our modern world. A short read, but excellent as ever.

The Last Wish (Andrzej Sapkowski)

I’d been vaguely aware of the video game The Witcher, but didn’t realise that it was based upon a series of novels. Someone posted the cinematic trailers for the next instalment of the video game, and I was intrigued enough to follow it up on Wikipedia, which led me to the book. Set in a mid-late middle ages type world, Gerald is a Witcher, a hunter of Monsters. Taken as a child and genetically modified, he travels across the lands taking payment for ridding the countryside of evil through a combination of combat prowess, magic and wits. The author is Polish, so the feel of the book has that Mittel-European vibe that I associate with the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying game, and a distant flavour that is recognisable and different. The book is really a collection of short stories with a carefully constructed narrative link, and it manages to avoid repetition and predictability. I look forward to reading the other books.

The Man from Berlin (Luke McCain)

This was an impulse buy; I suspect Amazon showed it to me following the various ‘Station’ novels that I read last year. The novel is set during the Second World  War, and the protagonist is a German officer serving in the Balkans as an investigator. He is a former police officer, and is conflicted with the abuse of due process. He has also lost his wife, and most likely his sone. He’s assigned to investigate the murder of a Serbian fascist film star, partly as one of his unit was also a victim. The plot twists and turns with the tensions between the Germans and the local authorities and the ongoing in-fighting for position between the German forces. In the background, there are hints of the German resistance and a growing conflict with the partizans. I enjoyed this and will return to read the next of the sequence.

Troll Bridge (Neil Gaiman)

I can be a sucker for Neil Gaiman stories; this one looked intriguing, and nicely illustrated. A young boy meets a troll, who is going to eat him. Instead, he strikes a bargain that he has no intention of keeping.

The Travelling Bag: And Other Ghostly Stories (Susan Hill)

A collection of Susan Hill ghost stories; enjoyed this, but none of them have stuck in my mind as well as collection with the Woman in Black did. Would happily read it again though as they are well written and darkly evocative.

Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire (Neil Gaiman)

Amusing story about genre writing from Neil Gaiman. Very different illustrative style to the first book.

Veins of the Earth (Patrick Stuart & Scrap Princess)

This one is a gaming book; nominally for Lamentations of the Flame Princess, it is usable with pretty much any D&D clone. It’s all about underground adventures, fitting into the same niche as the old AD&D Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide but it’s so much more. It feels more like an art project the way that the writing and the illustrations come together. There are huge numbers of ideas here that could easily enrich a gaming campaign.

Prisoners of Geography (Tim Marshall)

I bought this on a whim from WH Smiths on the last train journey that I did before I left Unilever, and I’m glad that I did. The book takes and runs with the impact that geography has upon the growth of states and that there is a certain inevitability to how the various continents have developed. I found the European, North American and Asian parts the most interesting, probably as there is much more recorded history in Europe and Asia, while the North American entry documents the growth of the USA. Overall, there are parts where I think the author tries too hard to make the connection but it’s an interesting and coherent read that gives great hints into geopolitics.

Saga Vol 2 (Brian K Vaughan)

The second part of the future SF story of two soldiers from opposing sides falling in love. This one deals with a visit from the in-laws. This is clever and strangely enticing work.

The Coldest Winter (Antony Johnston)

Prequel to The Coldest City, which I read some years ago and has now been filmed as Atomic Blonde. An operation goes wrong in Cold War Berlin and SIS tries to resolve it. This is the backstory for one of the key characters in the later book. The book is illustrated in stark black and white style which is very  thematic. I enjoyed the story but I’m not certain that the graphic novel format adds a lot extra over text.

Ghost in the Shell Vol 1 (Masamune Shirow)

I stumbled on this at Destination Venus in Harrogate. It is a reissue of Shirow’s classic manga. Hardcover, with some extra colour, this one runs right-to-left back-to-front as it was originally published. Reading it made me realise just how unfair some of the criticism for the live action movie was.

Ghost in the Shell Vol 1.5 (Masamune Shirow)

This one wasn’t from Destination Venus as they didn’t have it. I bought it from Amazon, and enjoyed a selection of tales about Section 9 after the Major leaves.

Ghost in the Shell Vol 2 (Masamune Shirow)

The other book I picked up at Destination Venus; it has to be said that the gentleman selling the books to me was relieved i bought them as it kept him out of being in trouble with his wife. Enjoyable, but very mixed up, complex and at time nearly impenetrable.

The Coldest City (Antony Johnston)

The follow up to The Coldest Winter chronologically, but the first book published. A female British SIS agent is sent to recover a list with critical information that could be lost if the Soviets or East Germans obtain it, after the agent who had it was killed. Events ensue over a backdrop of late Cold War Berlin. Once again, it is beautifully illustrated.

Beacon 23: The Complete Novel (Hugh Howey)

I’ve had a soft spot for Hugh Howey since I read Wool but this one failed to hit the mark. An injured soldier who was part of a key battle against aliens retires to man a lighthouse, a remote station that generates gravity waves to warn off and manage shipping around dangerous locations in space. The story is interesting but it never really hit the mark for me and it felt like Howey was trying too hard to get a message across.

Lyonnesse: The Green Pearl (Jack Vance)

The second of the Lyonesse books. I can’t read these quickly due to the beautiful richness of the prose. These books are superb, and the style is still recognisably that of the author of the Dying Earth. I still can’t believe that I missed these when they came out. Anyway, I recommend this wholeheartedly.

The Watcher in the Shadows (Carlos Ruiz Záfon)

One of Záfon’s young adult stories, but none-the-worse for that. Some years before the Second World War, a family moves from Paris to the Atlantic Coast to so the mother can take up a role as a housekeeper after her husband passes away with debts. The family settle into the seaside village, and encounter the fascinating automata that Lazarus Jann, the mother’s employer, has created once he retired from toy manufacturing. But there is a darkness to this place that soon becomes apparent against the blossoming of new love. I really enjoyed this; it’s not quite at the same level as the three Barcelona books but it’s very good.

Elidor (Alan Garner)

As I’d just finished one young adult novel, I decided to try another that I originally read at school. I guess that the would be classified as ‘urban fantasy’ now, but at the time it really felt far more unique than that. Set in Manchester, a group of siblings stumble upon a fantastic world. Less overt than stories like CS Lewis’ Narnia books, the children fleetingly become involved in a conflict against evil, then return home and try to forget that Elidor ever existed until it forces itself back into their lives. I’ve read better, but the wistful, light and deft touch that Garner brings to his stories remains a favourite of mine.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panopticon#Criticism_and_use_as_metaphor

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