Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (Books 2018, 11)

Gaiman takes on Thor, Loki, Odin, and the rest. Most of my knowledge of the Norse gods comes from Marvel Comics, with a bit of general cultural osmosis (for example, everyone has heard of Yggdrasil the World Tree, right?)1

I enjoyed it, but it feels like a slight work. That’s a shame, because these are mighty tales, or should be. I guess it’s a book meant at least partly for children, but it’s not marketed that way. And even if It’s meant for kids, the telling should be strong.

I suspect that if you already know the tales, this won’t offer much new to you. And that’s where the problem lies, I think. Instead of turning them into real narratives with proper characters, each story is not much more than a summary of the events. So he’s telling us the story of the story, rather than really telling (showing) the story. It’s a shame, because I know Gaiman could have done something much more interesting with these.

I’m probably being too harsh, though. It’s not like it’s bad. I enjoyed reading it.


  1. In searching for the link to put in there, I discovered the existence of Explain XKCD (or just possibly, rediscovered it, as it does seem a little familiar). Which is cool. Some people put a lot of time into contributing to things online, to the benefit of us all, and I salute them. []
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (Books 2018, 11)

Complicity and The Business by Iain Banks (Books 2016 16 & 17)

The big Banksie reread finally gets under way again. There’s no particular connection between these two except that I read them back-to-back over two three days, partly when I was off work sick.

Complicity is just as brutal as I remembered, though I didn’t remember all the details, which was good. It feels dated now, but that’s partly just because it’s of its time, and partly, I suppose, because I remember reading it back in 1993.

The Business I remembered even less of — I know I’ve only read it once before, while I think I’ve read Complicity twice. It’s written from a woman’s PoV, and I’m sure some would say it isn’t convincing as such. Hard for me to judge that, but I liked being in the company of the narrator. Probably more so than in the former book.

It’s also Banksie’s first — but not last — to posit a secret (or secretish) organisation with its fingers into everything, that is not an evil conspiracy. Or his first non-SF to do so, at least. The Culture could be described in those terms.

Its major flaw is that there is no real sense that she’s ever in any danger. Even if things don’t turn out quite the way she’d like, the worst that could happen is that her stellar advancement in the titular organisation might be slowed, and maybe she won’t get the married man she’s kind of in love with.

All good fun, though. And they do have one thing in common: they’re both so dated that they spell laptop “lap-top”! Must be a publisher’s quirk, because I don’t think anyone in the real world ever spelt it that way.

Complicity and The Business by Iain Banks (Books 2016 16 & 17)

Screwjack by Hunter S Thompson (Books 2016, 15)

Long-time HST readers like me will be familiar with this title. It always appeared on the dust jacket or inside the book in the list of other books by the author. But you never saw it anywhere. Back before Amazon, when bookshops were still a common haunt (and dinosaurs roamed the Earth), you used to look all over the shop for Thompson’s work, because it was rarely consistently filed. That is, not every bookshop put it in the right section. After all, what is the right section? History? Sociology? Politics?

Really, the right section is probably “Journalism,” but most bookshops don’t (or didn’t) have such a section.

Anyway, it turns out that Screwjack wasn’t journalism, but fiction, and in any case was a limited-edition release of only a few hundred or so, and when the web and eBay came along, copies used to go for hundreds of pounds or dollars.

Sometime after he died it got a proper release, and I finally got round to buying it. It’s a slim, small-format hardback, containing three stories. And I’ve got to say that just a few weeks after reading them, they’re almost totally unmemorable. So maybe there was a good reason for not releasing them properly all those years.

Oh well. One for the completists.

Screwjack by Hunter S Thompson (Books 2016, 15)

Never Mind the Bollocks: Women Rewrite Rock by Amy Raphael (Books 2016, 14)

Been reading this over a period of a year or so, on and off, so it’s not really this year’s book. But that’s no reason not to write about it. It was published in 1994 and consists of interviews with a selection of the women who were relatively newly on the scene, or were established but getting some more visibility, around that time. It was the time of Riot Grrrl, among other movements.

So among the interviewees are Courtney Love, Huggy Bear, Liz Phair, Tanya Donnelly, Kristin Hersh, Kim Gordon… even Bjork. But there’s someone missing from the book. Nearly all of the interviewees, when talking about their influences or other women who were doing something interesting at the time, mention PJ Harvey. And she is not interviewed. Which is a shame. I would have loved to have read her thoughts on making music back then (or now, for that matter). And I’m sure Amy Raphael would have loved to interview her, so I’m guessing she didn’t want to do it.

But aside from that, it’s an interesting work. Very much a document of its time, though no doubt the problems and challenges that these women faced have not changed that much. A similar book today, though, would have a very different complement of interviewees; and indeed would need a different subtitle: women musicians are much more prominent in pop and R&B today, from Beyoncé on down. But maybe not so much in rock, unfortunately.

Well worth a read, though.

Never Mind the Bollocks: Women Rewrite Rock by Amy Raphael (Books 2016, 14)

Reamde By Neal Stephenson (Books 2016, 13)

It’s a page-turner, an engrossing thriller. I got through the 1040 pages in about a week of being on holiday in Greece (it would have taken me a lot longer at home, especially if I had been working).

Its biggest flaw is exactly how much of a well-oiled machine it is, how beautifully, unreasonably jigsaw-like the pieces all fit together, so that all the players end up together at he right place at the right time for the denouement (which event itself takes up probably close to 200 pages). It’s a bit — no, extremely unlikely that all of the disparate characters could have come together just as they do.

But by the time it’s clear they’re going to, we’re so engaged with them all that we want it to happen just like it does. It’s only when standing back afterwards (or to be fair, during breaks when in the course of reading) that you we think, “This is actually kind of preposterous.”

But still, preposterous fun.

Reamde By Neal Stephenson (Books 2016, 13)

The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross (Books 2016, 8)

The latest of Charlie’s Laundry Files series, and Bob Howard is being considered for promotion. To management. He has to go on a course.

As you can imagine, he doesn’t stay on it for long. And soon things are looking pretty bleak.

It’s the usual Laundry fare: magic manipulated by technology, horrors from beyond the stars, intrigue, form-filling.

It’s great stuff, as always.

The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross (Books 2016, 8)

Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? by Paul Cornell (Books 2016, 7

Some books take weeks or even months to read. Others slip down in just a few days. This was the latter kind.

Paul Cornell’s Shadow Police series is part of a thriving subgenre now. He and Ben Aaronovitch started out at a similar time, I guess, and they’re friends, so I don’t know if they came up with the idea together, or what. Maybe it was just steam-train time. But London cops who deal with the magical, occult side of the city’s problems are very much of today.1

This latest volume picks up not long after The Severed Streets finished, and our characters are in some dark places personally and professionally. But then the ghost of Sherlock Holmes is found murdered at the Holmes museum, and a serial killer starts murdering people in ways inspired by the Holmes stories. The game is afoot, obviously, and our heroes must take part.

This is really, really, good, and highly recommended. Though if you haven’t read them yet, start at the beginning with London Falling.


  1. Though I can’t help but wonder if Charlie Stross started it all. His Laundry Files series is about secret agents with occult dealings, rather than police, but there are obvious similarities. []
Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? by Paul Cornell (Books 2016, 7

The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi (Books 2016, 6)

I enjoyed it, but I didn’t really understand it.

I’m sure I should have more to say about it than that, but really, that sums it up quite neatly.

But to try to go a bit deeper… The solar system is populated by various species or clans of posthumans, transhumans, AIs, uploaded minds, whatever. Earth is unrecognisable, though some people — seemingly fairly close to basic-human, though it’s hard to judge, with so many strangenesses — still live there.

In some ways the biggest problems with this book, and its predecessor The Quantum Thief, which I read a few years ago, is the sheer number of new or repurposed words. None of these is ever explained: you have to gain an understanding of them from context, working it out as you go along. This is a perfectly fine and valid method of storytelling, but here it all just gets a bit too much.

Maybe it’s my fault for the way I read the book: in disjointed fragments and sections, over weeks. Perhaps if I had read it in a more concentrated fashion, its meanings would have unwrapped themselves for me more easily, more thoroughly.

But at the same time, it’s the storyteller’s job to tell their story in a way that allows the reader to grasp it, to understand it. If he reader has difficulty with that, then it’s not the reader’s fault. It’s the storyteller’s.

And yet, and yet, I enjoyed it, I finished it, I think i’l probably read the third in the trilogy, which I believe is a thing. Eventually, after some time has passed on this one,

And I’ll probably have just as much trouble with that one when the time comes.

The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi (Books 2016, 6)

Patience by Daniel Clowes (Books 2016, 5)

As I said, I ordered this right off the back of reading the review. I read it almost as soon as it arrived, and then read it again. It’s a fast read, being a graphic novel, and being a timey-wimey story you want to read it again to see how it twists.

It’s really good. Every bit as good as the review suggested — if not quite as good as the blurb suggested.

I’m not going to say much more about it, as almost anything would be spoilers. A time-travel love story. Totes excellent.

ETA: It would help if I could actually spell the title!

Patience by Daniel Clowes (Books 2016, 5)

Mind of My Mind by Octavia E Butler (Books 2015, 7)

The next book in the Patternist series after Wild Seed, which I wrote about before. I would describe it as the sequel to the other one, except that it turns out that they were written out of sequence.

This perhaps explains why the character of Anyanwu, who, as you’ll recall, I felt was slightly disappointing in the first book, is completely sidelined and, indeed, thrown away, in this one.

The other reason is that the focus has moved on to a new generation of Doro’s descendants. We are in mid to late 20th-century America, and his breeding programme is finally beginning to pay off. More spectacularly than he had ever imagined, it seems, as some of his telepaths — who up until now have not been able to bear being near each other — form a kind of group or meld they call the Pattern.

This makes them able to both work and live together, and increases their power and effectiveness enormously.

Things ensue. It’s good, but still feels kind of weak to me. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t that compelling.

Also I thought I had read this one, years ago, but none of it was even the slightest bit familiar to me, so I guess not.

Mind of My Mind by Octavia E Butler (Books 2015, 7)