Thursday, March 07, 2013

Books for Jan/Feb 2013

Who is the Doctor, Graeme Burk & Robert Smith?
Reference/critical book that covers the 21st century series of Doctor Who, from the 2005 relaunch all the way up to the end of the 2011 series.  I'd say these guys have got the drop on Mad Norwegian Press' About Time series (tardy, Mad Norwegian, very tardy), but in truth the analysis here isn't nearly as deep as I'm hoping it will be in the very long-awaited AT volume 7.  No thought-provoking side essays, for a start.  Certainly enjoyable and well-argued - I even found myself agreeing with a lot of it.

The Quantum Thief, Hannu Rajaniemi
Highly acclaimed SF debut that I completely failed to get along with.  Several write-ups have pointed out that the book doesn't compromise on info-dumping and expects the reader to work out for themselves much of what's going on - this is true, and it's not at all the problem I have with the book.  It's purely a character thing.  Bluntly, I like novels to have them.  Got 100 pages in, didn't feel that I knew or cared who anyone was or why they were carrying out their post-human space-opera heist, gave up.

The Aviator, Gareth Renowden
NZ publication, apparently self-published, borrowed and read because it was SJV Award nominable.  Damnedest thing, I got 100 pages in and gave up again.  The protagonist is a zeppelin chauffeur and housekeeper for a multinational capitalist; in the wake of global eco-collapse and his boss' disappearance, he's also heir apparent to the zeppelin, the NZ bolthole, and the rest of the whizzy AI-governed empire.  He globe-trots in search of his master before giving him up as lost and taking up a new job running trade between isolated pockets of civilisation.  There were some ideas in here, some of them interesting, but no sense of any kind of peril.  Stuff would happen, stuff would un-happen, the protagonist would continue on his way, tra-la-la.  The author seemed more interested in presenting a travelogue of his post-crisis world than in telling a story within it.  Life's too short to finish reading books like this.

Channel Sk1n, Jeff Noon
New and extremely long-awaited novel from one of my favourite authors.  I love Noon's zingy, poetic prose and his quirky ideas, which made reading this book a really disheartening experience.  Forced myself not to give up on a third book in succession, especially with it being a Jeff Noon and all.  Gone is the poetry, and I saw near enough the same ideas handled better ten years ago in a Doctor Who spin-off novel.  It's basically a sceptical examination of celebrity culture; that's far too basic a premise for a novel by the author of Vurt and Automated Alice.  I don't know what's happened to the mighty Jeff.  All the va-va-voom seems to have gone out of him.


Future Lovecraft, ed Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Paula R Stiles
Collection of short stories and poems that combine Lovecraftian horror with contemporary and SF sensibilities.  A mixed bag of course, but several very good pieces here.

Anno Dracula: The Bloody Red Baron, Kim Newman
Literary team-up novel with vampires and set in World War I.  Dracula, in exile from what was recently his British Empire following the events of the original Anno Dracula, has hooked up with Kaiser Bill and established a new base of operations on the European mainland; Biggles and chums, the secret agents of the Diogenes Club and sundry others must uncover and defeat Dracula's pet project, a cadre of super-vampires based at Schloss Adler and led by Baron von Richthoven.  These aces need no aircraft - they simply transform into flying monsters that you can hang machine guns on.  A highly entertaining adventure ensues.

Queen of Iron Years, Lyn McConchie & Sharman Horwood
Another novel borrowed and read because of its SJV nominability.  A pre-op trans woman travels back in time to Celtic Britain in order to help the Iceni chieftainess Boudicca defeat the Romans in battle, a change to the timelines that will apparently cause the premature collapse of the Roman Empire and make the modern world a better place for the transgendered in some vaguely suggested way.  It's not as good as I'm making it sound.
There are two sets of chapters, one near-future and one in the early 60s AD; I'm assuming that each writer was responsible for one of these sets, and I'm further assuming that McConchie was responsible for the latter set because a) that was the readable set, and she has a good reputation as an author, and b) the Celtic past setting isn't far removed from the kind of rustic fantasy setting in which she has past form.  But even there, it's not good news: the protagonist is an outrageous Mary-Sue, a computer programmer who somehow has learned to speak fluent Britonnic Celtic, a language for which there is no extant source text, as well as a passable Roman Latin; knows enough medicine to become understudy to the Iceni's tribal healer in no time; and is able to give Boudicca the lessons in military strategy that she needs to trounce the Roman governor's army.
The misconceptions and factual errors about Imperial Roman society don't help, although they're a relatively small part of the book.  One item repeated several times is the claim that Roman women were barred from inheriting or owning property, which certainly wasn't true in 60 AD and hadn't been for a few centuries - I can't help wondering if one or both authors had some sort of agenda that required them to dress Rome up in misogynist clothing.  It's difficult to talk about errors in the portrayal of the Iceni and their campaign of destruction and indiscriminate slaughter across Roman Britain, since we only have one source for that - Tacitus' Annals, and naturally he had an agenda - but I'm extremely sceptical of the version given here.  In brief, this is a bad book.
Edit: I'm baffled to announce that it's now been shortlisted for the SJVs in the Best Novel category.  Another of life's little mysteries.

The Man from the Diogenes Club, Kim Newman
Short stories based around the activities of the Diogenes Club, mentioned in a couple of Sherlock Holmes stories and presumed to be a branch of British Intelligence, but here transplanted to the 1970s.  It's a lot like The Avengers (Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg, not Captain America and co).  A mixture of supernatural, comedic and horror stories - highly enjoyable.

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