books 2010

    Summer Reading 2010

    I've got out of the habit of writing about everything I read, but I've had such a good run of books over the summer that I want to at least make some notes on them all.

    Anathem by Neal Stephenson

    I tweeted as follows, while I was reading this:

    I don't go in for having a 'favourite' book, but if I did, right now, it would be Neal Stephenson's _Anathem_. It made my brain sparkle.Mon Aug 02 09:45:01 via Twitter for iPhone

    And making my brain sparkle is exactly the effect reading this had on me. I absolutely loved every minute of it (except, perhaps, the long detour over the pole). And the unusual thing about is this: it made me think, “Come on, get the action out of the way, and get back to the talking and philosophy.”

    I won’t go in to any detail. There are plenty of places you can read more about it. A wonderful, wonderful book.

    The Time-Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

    As is this one. There has been a lot written about this, too. I, of course, approached it with genre in mind, and was amused from the start by the review-quotes on the cover; notably The Observer’s assertion that it is “startlingly original”.

    It’s about someone who randomly travels in time along their own timeline. I kept thinking, “Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.”. I kept thinking, “I know where I came from, but what about all you zombies?” (which quote I misremembered; it is actually “…but where did all you zombies come from?")

    I even thought, “Spoilers,” and “Hello Sweetie.”, but a quick check of the publication date informs me that it actually pre-dates new Doctor Who, so maybe Moffat was influenced by this.

    Anyway, all those touchpoints are largely irrelevant, as this is not a work of science fiction at all (it makes no attempt to explain the time-travel mechanism, though does assign it some genetic connection). It is, rather, a love story with slightly unusual constraints. And very well told, though I’m a tad unhappy with the ending.

    The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod

    As I am with the ending of this one. It’s a fine story, though, set in a future Edinburgh where global warming has been partially turned back by technology, and there are space elevators and fully-conscious robots and other AIs. It’s a crime story, with the main character being a cop.

    Edinburgh’s SF writers seem to be trying to get a bit of Iain Rankine’s territory these days.

    The Clan Corporate by Charles Stross

    Charlie being the other of those I’m alluding to there. Here, though, we’re back in his “Merchant Princes series. I’ve reviewed the first and second volumes before.

    I said before that it was hard to believe how successful Miriam Beckstein is, given the radical changes that have happened to her. In this one she is much more circumscribed, by her odd family.

    Relatively little happens here, really, but a lot is set in place for the following volumes. The main thing is that her worlds are starting to collide.

    Pandaemonium by Christopher Brookmyre

    Worlds colliding here, too.

    I haven’t read a Brookmyre since his first, Quite Ugly One Morning, which I remember thoroughly enjoying. Not enough, though, to read any intervening ones.

    This one is very different. It has soldiers, scientists, priests, demons, and schoolkids. It’s great fun.

    There is a wildly-glaring plot hole at the end. My son read the book after me, and it was the first thing he said to me about it when he’d finished. We both hope it’s deliberate, meaning that Brookmyre has a sequel planned.

    Next-Door to a Sequel

    Last night I finished Living Next-Door to the God of Love, by Justina Robson. I enjoyed much of it, but found it kind of frustrating and annoying, in ways that were hard to define. The main one, though, was that some things were insufficiently explained.

    Now, as SF readers we are used to jumping into new worlds, not quite knowing what’s going on, and picking it up as we go along. Indeed, that’s part of the toolkit for reading it (SF reading protocols at

    But here, there was something just not quite right, I felt. It was as if there was too much understanding assumed. Had the writer spent too long with her world, I wondered? So long that she could no longer tell what the reader would and wouldn’t know, since she knew it so intimately?

    When I finished it I went looking for reviews, to see whether others had the same feeling as me. And what I found proved that, in a sense, I was right about her assuming too much knowledge.

    It turns out the book is a sequel.

    Oh yes. It’s the sequel to her previous book, Natural History.

    Which is fine. But nowhere on the book itself does it tell you that. Nowhere. I’ve checked again and again: it’s not in the blurb, it’s not on the title page, it’s not in the front matter.

    Now, I don’t know about you, but I would have liked to have known this little detail before I started reading. Sure, you can pick things up as you go along; and now that I know it, I realise that she gave us the necessary backstory very well. But really, Pan MacMillan: next time, let us know, OK?