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A collection of the various shorter pieces Jim Butcher has written in his urban fantasy series. These are quite a varied set of stories, a couple of which I’ve read before, but most of which were new to me. There are two stories written from the points of view of other characters (Thomas and Murphy) which is somewhat interesting, though I’m not sure they work as well as the Harry-viewpoint ones, probably because Butcher hasn’t had time to really develop their “voices” are narrators. There’s definitely more than a hint of unreliable narrator in the Thomas story.  It’s nice to see the background story that’s mentioned in one of the novels (what Maeve did to Billy and Georgia’s wedding). It’s also interesting to see his first story written about Harry, though as he acknowledges his writing skills at that point were much more limited. Some of these are clearly written (as he more or less admits in the introduction to them) on specific commission and not springing from his own imagination directly, so something of a mixed bag. Worthwhile for fans of the series, though. Better value than the standalone publication of Backup (the Thomas story) that was well overpriced.


Current Mood: (accomplished) accomplished
Current Music: None


Originally published at blog.a-cubed.info

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The umpteenth Harry Dresden novel by Jim Butcher follows up on the previous one titled “Changes” by exploring that changes made in the universe in the last installment. Harry’s back, but after being assassinated he’s back as a ghost, with the task of solving his own murder as well as helping his friends with the fallout from his previous apocalypse. Things have got darker in Chicago in his absence, and his friends are not faring so well in this not-so-brave new world. Meanwhile, most of them can’t see Harry and even if and when they can, they don’t all believe in his identity and/or good intentions. I’ve seen some criticism of this from people who feel the series has jumped the shark but I think he’s dealing well with the inevitable levelling up that Harry’s been going through n the previous books, setting new challenges, all tied in to earlier plot threads that he’s dropped along the way.


Current Mood: (accomplished) accomplished
Current Music: None


Originally published at blog.a-cubed.info

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A one-off collaboration between Steven Brust and Megan Lindholm. A mixture of police procedural in Lakota, Ohio and Gypsy/Celtic mythology. Written well before the modern trend for urban fantasy, though after De Lint’s Jack the Giant Killer and Drink Down the Moon. An interesting set of authorial voices (a both Burst and Linholm tend to create) combine with a deep twisting of European folklore in a lovely little tale of murder, good, evil, temptation and redemption.


This is one of those books that’s sat on my shelf unread for many years and I’m glad I finally got round to it.


Current Mood: (accomplished) accomplished
Current Music: None


Originally published at blog.a-cubed.info

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A recent (very) occasional strip published in 2000AD comic, the two so far are collected in this somewhat overpriced Graphic Novel (GBP12 for around forty pages). The title of the volume is that of the first of the two stories. This is a Cthulhu-mythos-inspired tale of an upper class gentleman and his servant (a bit of Lord Peter Whimsey and a bit of Bertie Wooster) who go around investigating and fighting incursions into our reality by elder things. There’s a shadowy government conspiracy lurking in the background but no real details on that given in these two tales, just its introduction. A fun little read if you like the Mythos, reasonably well-done and the characterisations aren’t derivative per se, though it’s difficult in such a short selection to really distinguish them from so many other 20s/30s pairings of post-war upper and lower-class former soldiers. Decently drawn to reflect the settings and action.


Current Mood: (calm) calm
Current Music: Doctor Who Season Four OST


Originally published at blog.a-cubed.info

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Another Simon R. Green romp, this time the latest in his Bond-ish (in title at least) urban fantasy about the Droods,  the secret agents with sufficiently advanced technology (strange matter) help that they look like magical creatures. The titles are drawn from Bond but are sometimes little really to do with the actual subject matter. This latest one sees Eddie Drood recoving from being dead (hmm, shades of Butcher’s Ghost Story, there – pun intended) and taking on a cthulhish cult. More excellent modern urban pulp fantasy churned out by the bucketload by Green who hit his stride with Something from the Nightside and has been running along nicely since.


Current Mood: (refreshed) refreshed
Current Music: None


Originally published at blog.a-cubed.info

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Simon R. Green channels P. J. Hammond in this third installment of adventures with the ghostfinders of the Carnacki Institute. This is a fun little romp of a Sapphire and Steel plot but with Green’s wisecracking reference-filled style laid on top. There’s some good progress on the ongoing plot arc of the series together with a neat little closed-world plot that chunters along steadily, with chills and spills along the way. Modern pulp urban fantasy at its best.


Current Mood: (refreshed) refreshed
Current Music: None


Originally published at blog.a-cubed.info

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The front cover has a quote from “The Denver Post” (that well-known literary reviewing journal) that this “succeds on making cyberpunk fun again.” I wasn’t aware that it had stopped being fun when it was well done. Unfortunately, for me at least, this one isn’t well done. It read very much like a first novel, althoughit’s the author’s sixth published novel. There’s a decent plotline underlying it with an interesting idea, though i’m not sure it’s really cyberpunk. It seems to teeter on the edge of being parody/humour without reaching into being funny, but with the bizarre edge ruining thenormal suspension of disbelief. For me, humour like Surfing Samurai Robots or Aprin’s Phule series (review to come soon, I read them this year but haven’t reviewed them yet) allows for a greater suspension of disbelief since things are meant to be absurd. When you approach this line without being funny, the absurdity breaks the disbelief.


It isn’t the main plot that’s the problem for me, but the characters. They all seem like they’re out of central casting, with their requisite background of craziness. ex-cop, former mental patient, spritualist, antiques thief with Asperger’s Syndrome, abusive criminal boyfriend, conspiracy theorist waiter and on and on. The constant sexual undertones of the main character’s interactions with the females in the book would be spot on in a hard bioled detective parody, but this isn’t such a pardoy, or if it is, it doesn’t parody hard enough.


Current Mood: (cynical) cynical
Current Music: Battlestar Galactica (2003) Season Four Soundtrack


Originally published at blog.a-cubed.info

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The HP Lovecraft Historical Society seems to have missed this one, so I’ve filled it in for them.


Great Cthulhu’s Coming to Town (lyrics)


You better watch out

You better keep an eye

Better not doubt

I’m telling you why

Great Cthulhu’s coming to town

Great Cthulhu’s is coming to town

Great Cthulhu’s coming to town


He’s making no list

I’ve checked this out twice;

Gonna find out Who’s tasty and nice

Great Cthulhu’s coming to town

Great Cthulhu’s coming to town

Great Cthulhu’s coming to town


He sees you in your safe place

He knows if you’re alive

He doesn’t care if you’ve been bad or good

Just to stay sane you must strive!

O! You better watch out

You better keep an eye

Better not doubt

I’m telling you why

Great Cthulhu’s coming to town

Great Cthulhu’s coming to town

Great Cthulhu’s coming to town


Creative Commons Licence

Great Cthulhu’s Coming to Town (Lyrics) by Andrew Alexander Adams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Based on a work at http://blog.a-cubed.info/?p=637.


Current Mood: (amused) amused
Current Music: Star Wars Episode III OST


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Last one today, I promise (for those whose friends-list is filling up with my book blogging). I’m determined to catch up on a Cherryh kick I went through a few months ago but didn’t get around to blogging.


Yet another of her Alliance/Union books, this is one of the Merchanter-based ones, though it also includes the Fleet. It’s a fairly late on in the post-Company Wars era, so still directly linked to the events of Downbelow Station rather than much further down the timeline.


This is the coming-of-age story of a young man whose upbringing has been screwed up royally by his screwed up mother and her complacent self-satisfied family, on a classic Merchanter family trading ship. Conceived in a rape but as we eventually find out one which while the victim didn’t deserve (no one ever does) the victim was hardly a sensible and sane woman to start with.


We get Cherryh’s over-the-shoulder third person trademark on multiple characters in this story and as with a number of her other books she remarkably manageds to make some really screwed up and nasty people really work as main characters. It helps that the main character Joh Bowe Hawkins is as sane and positive a character as he can be given his background. His coming-of-age is the main point of the book, behind which is an explanation of some of what happened to the Earth Company Fleet after Downbelow Station. Wonderfully ethically-grey as much of Cherryh’s writing is, this explores some of the darker sides of the human character and comes out with a message that even the most screwed around can posibly find somewhere to fit in.


A nice addition to the Merchanter set and one of my favourites of that subsqeuence, along with Rimrunners.


Current Mood: (calm) calm
Current Music: Star Wars Episode II OST


Originally published at blog.a-cubed.info

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The long-awaited (approximately two decades) sequel to Cyteen. This picks up mere months after the events in Cyteen and all takes place over a few months time. Compared to the timescale of Cyteen which follows the death of the first Ariane Emory and the growth to early adulthood of her clone, this is a breakneck pace. There are some retcons in here, such as the xeplanation of the inconsistent numbering of some of the Azi in Cyteen, and the introduction of a few Azi who didn’t appear in the first, giving all the Reseune natural born senior people at least one Azi companion. There’s also an attempt to deal with the outdated computer terminology and the introduction of more advanced computing systems. Other than that the basic set-up remains the same and the storyline continues on where Cyteen left off in both personal and political terms. The mystery of what really happened to Ariane Emory I is revealed, though it’s a little bit of a violation of the law of Chekov’s gun. This is a nice read, but sadly not up to the masterpiece qualities of Cyteen. Then again that was always going to be a hard act to follow and twenty years on even more so. It’s clearly written with scope for another sequel, but whether it will get one is, I think, doubtful. It’s less demanding of one than Cyteen, possibly because  Cherryh has an honesty towards her fans and so leaves things open enough for an interesting further installment without leaving so many juggling balls up in the air it leaves one slightly unsatisfied (as the slightly abrupt ending of Cyteen did for me, being it’s only major flaw, I think) given how long this took to get commissioned. Definitely worth reading if you like Cyteen.


Current Mood: (calm) calm
Current Music: Star Wars Episode II OST


Originally published at blog.a-cubed.info

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What to say about this Hugo Award Winner? It was a masterpiece at the time and remains a classic of the genre. Some elements of it have not dated well, unfortunately, in particular the terminology surrounding the compters. The constant mention of Tapes is slightly dated even for 1989 and the lack of graphical interfaces likewise. These niggles aside, though the strengths of the book in protraying  a monstrous main character as sympathetic, in two “incarnations” while weaving politics, psychgology, sociology, economics and personal vendettas together is absolutely wonderful. Her trademark alienation is more overt in some ways here as she explains Union’s “Specials” as people with a vision of something int he universe that only they can see, but that is important to humanity for them to articulate in a way that will eventually allow others to comprehend their vision and assimilate it fully. Perhaps even more relevant today as the pace of technological change continues to increase while the social fabric struggles to cope with those changes.


I remember being in one of Cherryh’s GoH programme items at Bucconeer where she was asked about if and when she’d write the sequel to Cyteen (it was clearly crying out for a sequel and written with one in mind). Her response was that she’d write it as soon s a publisher was willing to pay her for it to be written (as a pro, she wrote to contract and it was on offer but no one was picking it up, at least not for what she was willing to accept for it [my subtext]). I found this bizarre at the time that no publisher would pick up the contract for the sequel to a Hugo Winner (by a multiple winner of the Hugo for best novel). Luckily, eventually someone did pick it up.


If you haven’t read this and have even a vague liking for science fiction, go read it now!


Current Mood: (calm) calm
Current Music: Star Wars Episode II OST


Originally published at blog.a-cubed.info

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Sorry for the flood of posts. I’m trying to catch up on my book blogging for the year as work winds down a bit, so I can try and manage the task I set myself at the start of reviewing all the books I’ve read.


This is the sequel to Heavy Time and features many of the same characters. It follows them as they reform their group, brought together to try and fly the prototype of the advanced attack ships carried by the carriers of the Earth Fleet. A familiar name from earlier written later-in-internal-chronology book Downbelow Station turns up: Jurgen Graff. The main storyline is just as engaging for me as Heavy Time, with a(n attempted) murder mystery, political shenanigans, interpersonal relationship conflicts and philosophy of sociology all joining the mix. The only weakness to my mind is that there are some continuity issues with the Fleet information from Downbelow Station with regards to Mallory’s status as third-most-senior of the Fleet Captains, despite Keu and Kreshov being listed here as senior in the nascent fleet and still in command at the time of Downbelow Station.


This neepery aside, this is another cracking book, with brilliant pacing and excellent characterisation and plotting.


Current Mood: (calm) calm
Current Music: Star Wars Episode II OST


Originally published at blog.a-cubed.info

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This is the earliest book (in internal chronology) so far that Cherryh has written in her Alliance/Union (aka Merchanter) future history. Together with its immediate sequel (post to come soon as this is a catch-up post) it’s also the primary “Earth” sub-sequence. This one is set in the asteroid belt where independent miners compete with corporation-run (i.e. corporation-screwed) miners and others to identify rocks worth mining for their metal content. The demand for the contents at this point is principally to provide the raw materials for the carrier fleet which plays such a crucial part in events yet to come, but which those familiar with this universe of course know about. This is an interesting explication of a political situation which has been described from afar (both in time and space) in her earlier books. It’s also about her trademark alienated character coming to terms with their alien surroundings. In this case it’s the character of Decker coming to terms with the loss of his partner, the utter injustice of the situation (he knew it was unjust, he just didn’t realise quite how blatant it was) and his own mental imbalance brought on by the loss of his original partner. It’s a really nice near-space piece, that explores the possible consequences of a solar system partially settled by heavy corporate interests, who’ve gradually chipped away at human rights, to the extent that even paper is banned.


This is one of my favourites of Cherryh’s, mostly due to the wonderful characterisations. The speech patterns of each character is built up with great precision and, along with another of her trademarks (the over-the-shoulder third person view) one really gets to know and care about these characters. The eight deadly words are nowhere in sight here, for me at least.


Current Mood: (calm) calm
Current Music: Star Wars Episode II OST


Originally published at blog.a-cubed.info

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The third and so far as I know final Zoot Marlowe book starts once more with his return to his home planet. THis time his grandfather persuades him to bring him along for the ride, giving him an even harder time explaining their physical form. But this being a timeless California 80s, the only people who really look deeply into it don’t take it any further. In this installment we meet Whipper Will’s father Iron (middle name Duke), his landlord Max Toodemax and re-encounter Mr Knighten Daise (transformed from his lobster incarnation to a camel this time).


Whipper’s father’s android business, currently producing Melt-O-Mobiles which get extruded by a dispenser and dissolve into smoke instead of requiring to be parked, has some difficulty with their superhero Androids going stale and he wants Whipper back working for him. Connected or not, someone kidnaps Whipper and Zoot’s surfer friends, Whipper’s girlfriend and Zoot’s grandfather Zamp. Zoot follows the trail with his hard-boiled wit and his idekick Surfing Samurai Robot duck sidekick Bill. The fun lasts all the way through the trilogy and I’d be happy if there were more to discover.


Current Mood: (tired) tired
Current Music: None


Originally published at blog.a-cubed.info

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So, as mentioned in the review of Surfing Samurai Robots, I was given this book by some friends and tracked down the first one to read in order. Returning to T’toom, Zoot Marlowe finds even his newfound fame on his home planet isn’t enough for him and that trouble being his business, he needs Earth trouble to make his life complete, so he heads bck to Malibu. His arrival coincides with the appearance on the beach of what looks to be a large top hat, following which one of his friends is turned into a stage magician with real magic tricks (indistinguishable from the science of an advanced race, as he hangs a lampshade on).


Once again running into some cracking characters with names like Medium Rare, the Surfing Samurai Robot spritualist (who has had visions of T’toom), Busy Backson and her brother Gone Out, Zoot has a wonderfully surreal adventure that tears along with wit, verve and hard boiled monologuing.


Current Mood: (tired) tired
Current Music: None


Originally published at blog.a-cubed.info

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When I lived in St Andrews, qidane and tobyaw gave me a birthday present of a pile of cheap SF. It was a fun present including various decent books (and a number not so decent) that I’d probably never have tried otherwise. One of them was the second book in a trilogy and being the way I am I tracked down number one first. I’m glad I did, and I later got the third in the series as well.


These are really fun little SF detective books. They’re very lighthearted, riffing heavily on surf culture, Raymod Chandler (and detective noir generally) with a healthy dollop of Dimension of Miracles.


Aliens on the planet T’toom pick up earth radio broadcasts and a young Toomler called Zoot becomes somewhat obsessed with the early radio adaptations of Chandler’s work and decides to head to Earth to become a PI. Landing in Malibu he is befriended by some surfers (mostly teens/twenties with one older guy).  Being basically humanoid, he manages to pass with various tales about toxic waste nose drops and too many drugs.


Meanwhile his new friends have a classic confrontation with beach bikers resulting in a bet about a surfing competition (surfing in this world is done using telepresece robots, not directly). The surfer’s bots get wrecked, all the parts and replacements are unavailable, and there are various other complications running around.


An engaging story that trips along with a cracking pace, wonderful dry wit, hard boiled dialogue. I particualrly like Mel Gilden’s wonderful in-your-face punning names for characters like Whipper Will, Knighten Daise (and his daughter Stormy) and the like.


These have dated well and exist in a sort of timeless parallel timeline with advanced robots but 80s sensibilities. Strongly recommended for comic relief from life’s vicissitudes.


Current Mood: (tired) tired
Current Music: None


Originally published at blog.a-cubed.info

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This was  re-read, after I’d read the Science in the City trilogy (Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below, Sixty Days and Counting). The first thing that struck me was the repeat of characters between this and both Escape from Kathmandu and the Science in the City trilogy. In fact, this is in some ways a dry run for the trilogy. The politics and the science fit right together, but it’s not quite like the trilogy is a sequel. It’s clear that Robinson made good use of his time at the US Antarctic base as a writer-in-residence. I don’t know all that much about extreme survival, but all the details hang together very well and it has a lot of verisimilitude at the very least. It’s a bit eco-utopian, but then that’s of course one of his ongoing themes.


He’s written better, but there’s lots worse out there.


Current Mood: busy
Current Music: None


Originally published at blog.a-cubed.info

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Robin McKinley does the modern vampire in this one. Neil Gaiman describes it on the cover as “pretty much perfect”. I had this recommended somewhere a few months ago – I can’t remember where now – and since I’d liked McKinley’s Damar books, I decided I’d give it a go. It’s pretty good, but I don’t agree with Gaiman on its perfection. Certainly it’s a cut above most of this sub-genre (and I don’t just mean Twilight and other such teen wangst). In setup I was rather reminded of Kim Harrison’s Hollows. This is a non-masquerade supernatural world, where the beasties have come out if not into the daylight then at least into knowledge. There’s been war – the Voodoo Wars – and humanity has been significantly reduced in size. There are magic users, part-demons, weres (not just wolves, but all sorts of other changelings as well) and vampires. Vamps are regarded as the worst of the bad bunch and most of them, particularly the antagonist of this story, are pretty nasty pieces of work. Mostly people don’t survive an encounter with a vampire, they just tend to die.


This novel has two great things about it. The characterisations of all the major and most of the minor characters is brilliant (it’s one of McKinley’s strengths as a writer). Her take on the “good vampire” is also much better than most and works at the character level. However, the weakness of this book lies in the backdrop. It’s very detailed but it’s all two dimensional. It just doesn’t quite seem to work when one thinks about it. Characters in the defence force against supernatural wrongdoing fear that in 100 ears people will be ruled by vampires completely. There was huge attrition in the Voodoo Wars. None of this seems to really work, though, if one thinks about it a lot. This was published in 2002, so probably written a year or a couple earlier and there’s an Internet-equivalent in there with some interesting elements, though it seems quite dated and text-oriented, a bit like A Fire Upon the Deep, so maybe it was written even earlier than that. Anyway, what troubles me about this is that if many of the big cities have been de-populated, then how has advanced civilisation survived as well as it has? THe “New Arcadia” medium sized city is one of the larger ones left, we’re told, though we’re not actually told where it is, beyond it being the US. It’s somewhere with deciduous trees and real seasons including winter, not just climate, but it could be New England, Pacific NorthWest, Great Lakes. There’s a distinct lack of locality to it which distracted me rather.


I think this would have made a great few books gradually exploring this world in more detail and explaining just how it came about, and how close it went to the lights going out, how they were and are kept on and what the danger is short, medium and long term from vampires and other “Others”. But McKinley doesn’t seem to write series, only one-offs (plus the odd related book).


Still, very recommended for those who like the vampires but not the fang-fucker sub-genre. See also, Charlie Stross‘ forthcoming The Rhesus Chart for his take on vamps.


Current Mood: (tired) tired
Current Music: The Mummy OST


Originally published at blog.a-cubed.info

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So for only the second time since late August I managed to swim today. Travel, colds, Colitis and diarrhea have interfered with all my efforts to get back to swimming since Worldcon except for one day (I came down ill the following day and haven’t been up to it until today). Having been out of it for so long I took it easy and only did 30 lengths, with a break after each ten. Excluding the breaks I was just over 18 minutes for the 30 lengths, though, which is a pretty good time considering I’m still not feeling like I’m 100% and that it’s been close on four months since I last swam. I wasn’t exhausted afterwards, either, which is good. It means I didn’t overdo it.


I think I’m not going to try to get back to every day from this point, but I would like to make it three times a week for the long haul.


Current Mood: (tired) tired
Current Music: The Mummy OST


Originally published at blog.a-cubed.info

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The third Peter Grant urban fantasy detective novel by Ben Aaronovich. It’s quite good, but not quite up to the excellence of the first two (Rivers of London and Moon Over Soho). This time Peter is seconded to an almost normal murder enquiry, with just a hint of weirdness. The weirdness escalates slowly through the case, to the dismay of the murder investigation team. There’s a sub-plot following up on the ongoing story arc about illicit magicians and there’s nice character follow-on with Peter and new recruit to the team Lesley. Another of Peter’s many relatives is introduced as a probable ongoing character (a mouthy thirteen year old cousin). As the name suggests this novel dives into the London Tube system, lovingly used by many for supernatural fictive inspiration before by the likes of Neil Gaiman (Neverwhere, soon to be revamped as a radio play by BBC Radio 4/Extra). It’s a decent read but just felt slightly thin compared to the previous two. The plot plods along ((pun intended) as a more-or-less normal murder enquiry, just with added magic. It’s all a little bit mundane. Still a cut above many in this oeuvre, but I hope Aaronovich can raise his game back up to the first two in the future.


Current Mood: (tired) tired
Current Music: The Mummy OST


Originally published at blog.a-cubed.info

October 2016

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