Sunday, April 28, 2013

Books for March/April

Time for another bi-monthly book round-up.  Since the last update, the shortlist for the Sir Julius Vogel Awards has been released; reading as much of the shortlisted work as possible before the convention in mid-July now becomes a priority, or at least, it did as of mid-April.

The Secret Files of the Diogenes Club, Kim Newman
Characters familiar from The Man from the Diogenes Club and from Newman's Anno Dracula books pop up in this collection of loosely-linked stories that start in the Victorian era and run through to the 1970s setting familiar from the previous volume.  As usual with Newman, much entertainment ensues.

The Mammoth Book of Steampunk, ed Sean Wallace
Now available in a conveniently un-mammoth pocket paperback format.  A large, varied and extremely good collection of reprinted short stories that could arguably be called steampunk.  A couple I'd seen before, a pleasing and surprisingly large number written by authors I hadn't tried before and whose work I ought to investigate further.  Sadly, not many of those have had books published, which would make it easier to follow them up.  Catherynne M Valente is one I probably should have checked out before now.  Aliette de Bodard's Aztec detective novels were an obvious purchase, and they're first on the to-read list as soon as I get past review books, SJV nominees and borrowed items.  Margo Lanagan has had several anthologies published, but it looks as though further research is needed before I can decide which of them to start with.

Majestrum, Matthew Hughes
Borrowed on recommendation.  Hard to sum up briefly: it's set in the very far future, at a time when the universe is about to make one of its many cyclical transitions from physical laws to magical laws; the protagonist, Henghis Hapthorn, is the known cosmos' most famous detective, but he's had an early and life-complicating taste of the magical age to come thanks to a previous case that involved him being pulled through a dimensional portal, as a result of which his intuitive side has become a distinct persona inside his head and his personal organiser has been transformed from a machine to an ape-cat-hybrid familiar creature with an addiction to expensive fruits; he's hired by the Archon, the ultimate ruler of all humanity, to investigate the theft of several museum pieces that date from an earlier age of magic and whose disappearance may signal the return of a powerful tyrant.  It's very, very good, and two follow-up novels have been borrowed and are in the stack.

So hooray, an entire month of really good books!


Warrior: The Amazing Story of a Real War Horse, General Jack Seely
Birthday present.  An interesting item - actually a recent reprint of a book originally published in the 1930s, all about a horse that survived four years of action in the First World War, went on to win races and generally lived a life other horses can only envy.  The title should probably have been Spawny Get: The Jammy Story of the Luckiest Horse Ever; Warrior charges to glory in some of the thickest battles of WWI, storming German machine-gun emplacements and receiving nary a scratch, yet with uncanny foresight he manages to get sent back to HQ with a turned ankle the day before anything really unavoidable goes wrong.  "Gosh," thinks Gen Seely as another horse is blown up underneath him, "what a lucky thing dear old Warrior stumbled over that flint yesterday."  The book is littered with such instances.  Overall a good read, and although the writer of the foreword to the current edition felt the need to apologise in advance for outdated material, no such apology was really needed.

Empire State, Adam Christopher
SJV nominee.  A tale of detectives and superheroes in a strange parallel version of Prohibition-era New York.  This one was serviceable but not spectacular, a passable first novel.  Certainly the front runner of the Best Novel nominees I've read so far.

Tropic of Skorpeo, Michael Morrissey
SJV nominee.  Gonzo pulp stuff.  I got 80 pages in, just over a third of the way through, and had to give up.  The first few chapters were kind of enjoyable, then it all got bogged down in prurient scenes of fantasy erotica that just got too damn wearing.  Was this written by a schoolboy or what?  And yet I'd still probably rate it above Queen of Iron Years.

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