Creative Selection by Ken Kocienda (Books 2018, 31)

Hey, I made it to 31, by reading the last chapter of this on the last day of the year.

This book, subtitled “Inside Apple’s Design Process During the Golden Age of Steve Jobs,” is written by the software engineer who worked on the original version of the iPhone’s software keyboard. It’s an interesting view into how things were for someone working at Apple at the time.

That’s not something we often get, with the company’s noted dedication to secrecy, so it’s good for that. But while I did get a sense of what it was like, I feel that there’s an awful lot more he could tell, especially about the people. We do get a sense of some of them, but not much insight. And especially not about he author himself. We learn next to nothing about him outside of his work.

Maybe that’s the way you have to be when you work at somewhere as high-pressure as Apple. Worth a read if you’re interested in Apple and their products.


Stormwatch by Warren Ellis, Tom Raney and Bryan Hitch (Books 2018, 30)

I don’t always include all comic-type things here. No particular reason why, except maybe that they sometimes feel too short and not substantial enough. I probably wouldn’t have included this, except that it conveniently gets my total for the year to thirty.

It’s a post-Watchmen story of superheroes handled in a vaguely realist fashion. At least in the sense that there’s some consideration of politics. Stormwatch is a UN body, an emergency response team. It has its base in a satellite, and superhuman beings who are tasked with dealing with incursions from other worlds, or other, nefarious, super-powered beings. The US is usually antagonistic to it, because of its UN status.

It’s not bad, but honestly not much to write home about.


The Drifters by James A Michener (Books 2018, 29)

I think I’ve read this more times than any other book except Illuminatus!, and maybe The Lord of the Rings. Which may be only three or four times. A friend got into Michener when we were teenagers. None of his books much interested me, until I looked at this.

It’s a tale of hippies and others in 1969. Six young people from various countries meet each other in Torremolinos, and drift around the Iberian Peninsula and parts of Africa. The narrator, seemingly detached third-person at first, turns out to be an older man who knows some of the young people, and arranges business trips so that he can hang out with them from time to time.

It’s about what was going on in the world — Vietnam, the Arab/Israeli conflict, drugs, music — and about the characters. They aren’t that well developed — indeed, he largely abandons character development after the first six chapters where he introduces each one — but those introductions are enough to see us through.

Actually, thinking about it now, I wish he had written more about some of them. A sequel would have been in order.

It’s partly, I suspect, Michener’s own struggle to come to terms with the way society is changing — he was born in 1907, so he’d have been 62 at the time this is set. It was published in 71, so maybe a tad older when he wrote it. The narrator, George Fairbanks, is younger than that, I think — probably in his fifties, maybe even forties, but people seemed to become old at a younger age back then.

Well worth a read.


Only Forward by Michael Marshall Smith (Books 2018, 28)

I think I’ve read this twice before, but as ever, my memories of it are not strong enough to support that thought. Doesn’t really matter. I read it years back and loved it. When I started it this time, at first I wasn’t so sure. It felt like it wasn’t living up to my memories. Maybe I was reading it for the wrong reasons.

But there can be no wrong reason to read a book. Just sometimes you’ve got to be in the right mood for a particular one; or it needs to be the right book for you at that time.

Luckily reading changes us. So we might be in the wrong mood at first, but the book brings us around. That’s what happened this time.

I wish MMS would go back to writing SF. I suppose his crime/horror fiction as Michael Marshall (the second-most transparent pseudonym in literary history) is more lucrative — and to be fair, maybe he enjoys it more, or just as much. But god, it feels like a loss to SF.

Anyway, this was a mighty debut, but thinking about it now, it’s actually more like magical realism than SF. There’s no attempt to explain Jeamland or how the narrator and others get to it.

“I can send you a postcard, but you can’t come to stay.”

“Everything you’ve done, everything you’ve seen, everything you’ve become, remains. You never can go back, only forward, and if you don’t bring the whole of yourself with you, you’ll never see the sun again.”


Promethea by Alan Moore, JH Williams III, Mick Gray & Todd Klein (Books 2018, 27)

This is five volumes of graphic novel that I read over a period of about a month or so, and — OK, you know how we all thought that Watchmen is Moore’s magnum opus, at least in comic terms?1

We were wrong. Promethea is the best thing Moore has done, by some margin.

In my humble opinion, of course.

The character Promethea is sort of a personification of the human imagination. She has manifested through various women in history, called from the immateria into the “real” world by an artist — usually unknowingly, at least at first — when she is needed.

There are, of course, forces ranged against her, from demons to the FBI. The Earthbound part of the action takes place in a sort of alternative comic-book New York, where there are “science heroes” like the Five Swell Guys.2

University student Sophie Bangs is writing a term paper on the recurrence of the character of Promethea through myth and literature and comics, when she is attacked by a mysterious shadowy entity. A version of Promethea turns up to help her, and… well, read it and see.

And as well as the storytelling, the art is incredible, with some wildly challenging layouts; but it never gets in the way of the story. It is magnificent, spanning all of fiction and myth and religion and magic, and reminding us that those are all the same thing. Looked at one way, anyhow.


  1. Jerusalem is even more magnum, obviously. ↩︎

  2. There aren’t four of them, and they aren’t fantastic, but you get the idea. ↩︎


Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (Books 2018, 26)

JK Rowling does it again: Robin and Strike are back, and the pages turn like lighting, as I’ve said before. Too fast, really. A week or so after finishing this, it’s already faded quite far from my mind.

But, as you’d expect, mysteries are solved, Doom Bar is drunk, and Strike doesn’t take proper care of his leg. And — it’s maybe a spoiler to say this, but not much of one — a scene happens that I’ve been waiting for since the first book.

If you’re a fan you’re already on board, and if not, never mind.


Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (Books 2018, 25)

I didn’t really know what to expect with this. I knew it was about, or set around, a party — in part because I’ve seen The Hours.

But it’s about so much more; and not really about the party very much at all. It’s an intriguing look at the mental lives of a range of people in London on a day in the 1920s. Not a very wide range of people, in that they’re all very much upper-middle to upper class. There are a few people from what would have been called the lower classes, but they’re just passersby, background colour. There is, however, a sympathy towards all people — from at least some of the characters.

Given the limited range of types of people, we get a remarkably effective insight into their mental lives. And it’s all done with reported thought. There is some actual dialogue, but very little. And we jump around from head to head promiscuously, but incredibly smoothly. There’s usually some handoff: the current viewpoint character sees someone, and then we’re in that person’s head. Or they might just think about someone, and now we hear the other person’s thoughts.

I guess this, along with Joyce, is one of the originators of the stream of consciousness as a literary device. An interesting thing to me is how it reminded me of other, later, works; which of course shows its influence. Most noticeable: Illuminatus! Now Robert Anton Wilson was a Joyce scholar, so he was probably coming more from that direction, but there are definitely some similarities of style, or at least echoes.

And — also from this year’s rereading — Walking On Glass. Especially in the contrast between the thoughts of people who are or are not “sane.”

It can be surprisingly confusing at times, such as when someone suddenly thinks of a person or an idea that hasn’t been mentioned before. But that just simulates the way our minds work. Our thoughts jump from topic to topic without an introductory paragraph, after all.

So it’s psychology, feminism, and a critique of (parts of) the British class system. Oh, and it’s also partly a love-letter to London. I thoroughly enjoyed it.


This Is Memorial Device by David Keenan (Books 2018, 24)

I don’t know where I learned about this. It’s been sitting on my Kindle for a while. I have a feeling that a friend recommended it on Facebook. It’s subtitled “An Hallucinated Oral History of the Post-Punk Scene in Airdrie, Coatbridge and Environs 1978–1986,” which annoys me, but only because of that “An Hallucinated.” Not because it’s a subtitle. I like subtitles.

And this subtitle describes its book extremely well, especially with respect to that incorrectly-articled vision. It’s the fictionalised biography of a band called Memorial Device. Or at least that’s partly what it is. It verges on magic realism at times. It’s presented as a series of interviews and parts written by other contributors (as opposed to the supposed author, “Ross Raymond”). The actual author does a fine job of presenting those different voices and making them sound different. The whole thing reads like an actual music biography where the author has drawn on the experiences of a range of people as well as their own experience.

The hallucinatory part comes from the way some of those people speak, or write. They are variously damaged or otherwise otherworldly, and their mental strangeness comes across well — or is it the world that’s strange?

Airdrie is in the west of Scotland, not far from Glasgow, so it’s very much the same part of the world I grew up in. This feels very realistic: there was a similar swathe of bands inspired by punk and the post-punk/new wave/new romantic scene around Dumbarton and environs. None of the characters were as much larger-than-life as some of the members of Memorial Device — or at least not that I knew — but that’s why this is fictional, I guess.

Not the best thing I’ve read this, year, but not bad.


Gilded Cage, Tarnished City, and Bright Ruin by Vic James (Books 2018, 21, 22, 23)

Also known as the Dark Gifts trilogy. I bought the first while at the recent BSFA meeting where Vic James and Lucy Hounsom, another fantasy author, interviewed each other. I enjoyed their conversation so much that I bought the first book in each of their trilogies.

I don’t read fantasy much, and I don’t really care for dystopias in SF, as I’ve mentioned before. So this being a fantasy dystopia, it shouldn’t really appeal to me.

But it turns out it’s great.

Apparently it was pitched in jest as ‘Downton Abbey meets Game of Thrones in a world where Voldemort won.’ And… yeah, I guess. I haven’t read or seen Game of Thrones, and the time period is more-or-less present day. And none of the magical people (or Skilled ‘Equals’) is as out-and-out evil as Voldemort. But it’s not a bad description of the setup.

The idea is that there are people with magical abilities — referred to as ‘Skill’ — and they are the aristocracy and rule the country. Or at least they have been since Charles the First and Last was killed by one of the Skilled, and they — also known as ‘Equals,’ ironically — took over running the country. Britain is an ‘Equal Republic.’ One thing that annoyed me at first is that there is no mention of what happened to Scotland. It appears to be part of Britain in the present day, but Charles the First (in our reality) was before the Acts of Union. Although not before the Union of the Crowns, so I suppose the Equals just took over Scotland too, by getting rid of the monarchy.1

Anyway, the worst part about the rule of these magical Equals is ‘Slavedays,’ wherein everyone is required to spend ten years of their lives as slaves. They get some choice in when they do it, but while you’re doing it you’re a slave, with everything that implies.

I found it hard to cope with the idea that people would just quietly accept this state of affairs. But I suppose if it’s been that way all your life, and it’s the law of the land… But I couldn’t help but think, wouldn’t people revolt against it?

Not surprisingly, of course, a trilogy like this is not about the maintenance of the status quo.

It’s really good. Well worth a read.


  1. Something of which under normal circumstances I would heartily approve, of course. But not the way it’s described here. ↩︎


Dreams Before the Start of Time, by Anne Charnock (Books 2018, 20)

I posted about Anne Charnock’s Clarke win a few weeks back, and I’m pleased for her. But when I was about a third through this, I had a dawning realisation: this appeared not to be science fiction. The Clarke Award being for the best SF novel of the year, of course.

At that point there were, to my reckoning, two things that don’t quite exist in the real world today: a self-driving car, and a kind of personal health sensor that can tell how much you drank last night, and if you’re pregnant. Neither is key to the plot or anything else, though.

There was also a hint that global warming has taken a turn for the worse. But it could just be a year with a bad crop, and anyway, that’s hardly fiction, never mind SF.

But then I hit part two, and it jumped forward 50 years, with corresponding technological advances. Part three takes us forward another fifty or so years.

So what we have is a series of vignettes about the experiences of several interlinked families, over a hundred or so years. It’s interesting enough, but it’s limited. It’s about families and the future of how humans conceive, bear (or not), and raise children. Which is fine. But there’s very little about what else is going on in the world, in society. Or even much about the societal effects of the technologies we are looking at. Yes, by the end there are reports of a visibly-pregnant woman being abused in public for giving her baby a bad start in life (by not using the artificial uterus technology and associated genetic cleansing). But that’s it.

It’s interesting enough, as far as it goes, but I’ve got to admit I’m surprised the judges considered it the best SF novel published in Britain in 2017.


The Algebraist, by Iain M Banks (Books 2018, 19)

Funny what you remember. Almost all I could recall about this one was the monstrous figure of the Archimandrite Luseferous: a hellish tyrant of the worst sort imaginable. As the narration describes him: “that most deplorable of beings, a psychopathic sadist with a fertile imagination.”

And I remembered it was about gas giants, and wormholes. And an important Secret. I remembered the Secret. Oh, and of course the fact that — in a massive difference from the Culture novels — it describes a galactic civilisation which proscribes AIs; mercilessly hunts down and destroys any hint of machines gaining sentience.

But not really anything else to speak of. So it was really great to read it again.

Highly recommended if you haven’t read it before. Or even if you have.


Walking on Glass by Iain Banks (Books 2018, 18)

A novel of three parts. Two of them are — probably — tightly linked. By some interpretations, anyway. The third — which is the first as presented — brushes up against one of those two, and is to a small extent influenced by it. But in no way that I can discern is it really linked to the others. Which kind of makes me wonder what it’s for.

I mean, sure, maybe he just wanted to tell that story, with no more reason than that. That would be fine. But since the three are presented under one common title, I’ve got to assume that they share more than just a passing brush with simultaneous walks and some sugar in a tank.

The title itself is interesting. The only people who are literally walking on glass at any point are the two exiles from a galactic war in the far future (if that’s really what they are). But glass suggests fragility, slipperiness: maybe everyone is walking on glass, as everything could collapse under them at any moment.

It also suggests transparency: maybe everyone can be seen at any time. If you walk on a sheet of glass, you can be viewed from below. Which sounds not unlike the crosstime telepathic viewing that people in the castle are apparently doing of people in Earth’s past.

All of which leads me to the conclusion — which I didn’t actually expect when I started writing this — that my long-preferred interpretation is the correct one: that Quiss and Ajayi really are former warriors who have been banished to the castle as a punishment for misdeeds. The castle has the technology to let people live vicariously in the minds of humans from its past. At one point Quiss probably touches Grout’s mind and partly causes the road accident.

Is Grout really an exile from the same war, or a similar one? Probably not, but maybe. Maybe someone like Quiss or Aliya touched his mind at some earlier, vulnerable time, and something of their experience passed in to Grout.

But again, what of Graham’s story, and Sara’s betrayal? What does that have to do with the bigger stories?

I remain unsure.


The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks (Books 2018, 17)

Back where it all began, then: Banksie’s debut. It’s a bit dated, of course. Do you remember pay phones having pips? And “I must convince dad to get a VTR.” Who ever called it a VTR, rather than VCR? Outside of TV companies, at least.

Still a great, crazy story with an ending that, now, seems less believable than it ever did. Well, the whole setup, really: the idea that you could have a child and not register them, and keep them away from all need for interaction with the authorities. Even if you lived on a private island, that’s hard to imagine nowadays.

And I had forgotten what a misogynistic character the narrator, Frank, is. Which is, frankly, ironic.

I recall reading a theory once that Eric, the crazy, dog-burning brother, doesn’t actually exist, that he was all a figment of Frank’s supercharged imagination. I was keeping that at the back of my mind as I read this time, and I don’t think there’s much evidence of it. But I’ll see if I can track down the actual theory.

Here we go: “The Weaponry of Deceit: Speculations on Reality in The Wasp Factory” by Kev McVeigh. Originally published in the BSFA’s Vector magazine.

Reading it again now, McVeigh has a point: Eric can be seen as a metaphor for Frank’s masculinity. But I prefer to take it at face value: sometimes a crazy family is just a crazy family.

The difficulty in searching for anything to do with this novel nowadays is that it’s on the English Literature curricula of both the English A-Levels and the Scottish Highers. So there are lots (and lots and lots) of sites offering analyses of it for students to plagiarise learn from. As well as all the Goodreads entries and blog posts you would expect.

And, oops! I’ve just added to the pile.


Matter by Iain M Banks (Books 2018, 16)

Closer to the Cultural action again, though a lot of this happens on a shellworld, one of thousands of weird, ancient, constructed worlds scattered through the galaxy. They are an incredible image, but in a sense they don’t matter.1 Most of the events that happen on the shellworld don’t have to be on it. Except maybe in this way: it allows Banks to tell a story that includes civilisations both at the musket stage, and at the godlike AI stage.

Civilisations on the various levels of shellworld are allowed to develop at their own pace, unhindered and unhelped by the more advance “involved” groupings in the teeming galaxy (at least in theory). And yet they know of the existence of the advanced, spacefaring races. I can’t help but think that that very knowledge would have a profoundly debilitating effect on any society. Imagine knowing the Culture existed, but that you were excluded from it.

This is exactly why the Culture generally doesn’t make less advanced societies aware of its existence. It’s the reason for Star Trek’s Prime Directive. Yet somehow this story works even with some of its protagonists having that knowledge.

I wrote about it a decade ago, when I first read it. I seem to have enjoyed it more this time. I didn’t notice the linguistic foibles, and while I was aware of the weird shadow-wrongness of the cover, I’m used to it, so it didn’t trouble me.


  1. See what I did there? ↩︎


Inversions by Iain M Banks (Books 2018, 15)

Ah, the Culture novel that some still think isn’t. I feel sorry for anyone who ever read this without knowing about the Culture first. The denouement must be completely mystifying.

The Special Circumstances game applies here, but of course we have absolutely no way of knowing what they’re up to. A Culture agent, alone on a backwards planet (technology at the level of muskets), acting as doctor to a king who’s maybe not quite as bad as some of the other rulers on the planet (or maybe, let’s face it, just as bad).

It’s unusual not to get even the slightest hint of the galaxy-spanning machinations that must be going on behind the scenes, but of course the narrator is a native of the planet and knows nothing about even the existence of other planets.

In some ways it feels like something of an exercise for the author — stunt writing, as Charlie Stross calls it — but luckily the characters are engaging and the stories (there are two running in parallel) are very well told.


Against A Dark Background by Iain M Banks (Books 2018, 13)

Back to the great reread. Some thoughts here. This book is 25 years old. Twenty-five! I think I’ve read it twice before, but (and you won’t be surprised here if you’ve been following along) I don’t remember much about it.

I didn’t recall, for example, that Sharrow, the protagonist, was a noble; or that it’s set as we approach the decamillenium on and around what I at first assumed to be an Earth colony, although one that is long detached from Earth. And it’s in a similar state to the last one I read, Feersum Endjinn, in that we’re in a decadent stage, where technology was more advanced in the past, but things have been lost or forgotten.

The most notable example of that, of course, is the Lazy Gun, the big maguffin at the heart of the story. I had thought it was semi-mystical, or at least alien in origin. But now I think maybe not, it’s just from the more advanced past.

Turns out it’s not anything to do with Earth, of course. Golter is a planet round an extra-galactic star. The million-light-year distance to any other star seems to be the “dark background” of the title. Though I still don’t really get why it’s called that.

Anyway, I still loved it. And strangely the ending felt less bleak than I had remembered. Though it’s still pretty dark. And it turns out he published an epilogue online. Which doesn’t change anything, but it was nice to read.


The Book of Dust vol 1: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman (Books 2018, 12)

The first volume in Pullman’s “equel” trilogy: part prequel, part sequel, to His Dark Materials. This one is pure prequel, about trying to protect baby Lyra from the forces of the Magisterium.

If you’re already a fan, you’ll want to read this. It’s a real page-turner. If you’re not already a fan, don’t start here, obviously. You’re looking for Northern Lights.

Which I might be just about to start rereading, because that’s what finishing this one makes me want to do.


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. ↩︎


Injection Vols 1-3 by Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellaire (Books 2018, 10)

This is a great story about how some people have to fix things in the aftermath of something they did that may change the world fundamentally, if not destroy it. With that description it sounds very similar to Ellis’s earlier webcomic (with Paul Duffield), Freak Angels.

Which is a fair enough assessment, though the triggering event in this case is a combination of AI, the internet, and old magic; as opposed to the psychic powers in the older work. Ellis has deeply embedded the “start late” advice often given to aspiring authors. Both of the works under discussion, and some of his others, start long after the events that set their plots in motion.

It can be a very effective device. We get to know characters who already know each other, and the past events are revealed gradually, through conversation and flashbacks. And the fact that the protagonists don’t at first fully understand what they did means that we learn along with them.

This is great, but the only frustrating thing is that these three volumes — comprising fifteen issues of the comic — are to date all that there is. I don’t know if they plan to continue it, but the last issue came out in November, and the story is far from over. Googling has not so far revealed the answer to this.

Recommended, though.


Bizarre Romance by Audrey Niffenegger and Eddie Campbell (Books 2018, 9)

The book that I got at the British Library event last week. It’s short stories by Niffenegger, illustrated and/or converted into comics by Campbell. Some of them very good, and the collection as a whole is well worth a look.

Themes include cats, angels, fairies, and more. Worth a look.


Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff (Books 2018, 8)

I read this reviewed in The Guardian, and immediately bought the Kindle book. Sometimes a review is like that.

And it lived up to the praise. But here’s the thing: the horror, the weirdness in it: they’re not really what we’d think of as Lovecraftian.

There’s nothing wrong with that, and part of the reason for the title is that a couple of the main characters are fans of Lovecraft’s work, and they refer to parts of New England as “Lovecraft country.” But as the review makes clear, the real horror here is much more down to Earth: the racism of 50s America.

My Kindle edition was slightly oddly titled: Lovecraft Country: TV Tie-In. You expect that on a physical book to some degree. But putting it right in the title is new to me. A page on the author’s site confirms that it is going to be made as a series by HBO (which is annoying, because that means it’ll be on Sky Atlantic over here). JJ Abrams1 and Jordan Peele are both involved.

I’m slightly surprised to see that Ruff is not black. I wonder how long before he’ll be accused of “cultural appropriation” for writing from the viewpoint of African-Americans.


  1. I mean, obviously: he’s involved in everything, right? ↩︎


The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson (Books 2018, 7)

As I said in the last books post, reading the JAMs’ Illuminatus-inspired attempt made me want to read the real thing again. Seems I read it about every four years or so, based on the fact that I wrote about it last in 2014.

It doesn’t lose any of its charm. I suppose I’d have to say, if we judge by number of rereads, that this must be my favourite book of all time.

If you haven’t read it, it’s probably because there’s a conspiracy to stop you doing so. Kick out the jams and go get it. Hail Eris!


2023: A Trilogy by The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (Books 2018, 6) 📚🎵

This book could have been written for me. Seriously, during the first part it felt like it was targeted right at me.

I am, as you probably know, a fan and repeat reader of The Illuminatus! Trilogy. As clearly are Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, or the KLF, as they used to be known. This book is — what, a spoof of, a homage to? — Illuminatus. Explicitly modelled on it, referring back to it constantly.

Plus there are lots of Beatles references, and I’ve been into them for even longer. Then among the characters are Alan Moore, who (in this corner of the multiverse) is a member — along with Cauty and Drummond — of Extreme Noise Terror. Our world’s version of that band did collaborate with the KLF, but as far as I can tell they had no connection with Moore.

So don’t expect to get too much accurate information about popular culture out of this. Plenty of references, though. Other characters include Michelle O’Bama, M’Lady Gaga, Yoko Ono (two versions), Lady Penelope, and her chauffeur/hitman Aloysius Parker.

It’s a lot of fun. The downside is that it’s not very well written, at least as far as the dialogue is concerned. Most notable is the complete absence of contractions. Which is fine for an odd thing, or maybe to give one character a particular voice, but when no-one uses them, it all gets a little strange.

The story is fun, though, and I finished it and immediately started rereading Illuminatus yet again, so there’s that.


Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier by Mark Frost (Books 2018, 5)

I watched the new series of Twin Peaks in January, but haven’t got round to writing about it yet. In part, maybe, because I knew I wanted to read this. In part, because I want to watch it all again.

The series was amazing: an incredible, beautiful, challenging piece of art. But, as always with Twin Peaks,1 there was the question at the back of my mind: is he using surrealism to raise real questions, to investigate mysteries, to raise our consciousness? Or is it just weirdness for weirdness’s sake?2

In the end I lean towards the former. Maybe the whole thing is like a zen koan: if a portal opens in Ghostwood Forest and no-one is there to see it, what will come through?

Anyway, addressing the book at hand, what we have is quite a short volume which is presented as being a report from FBI Special Agent Tamara Preston to Deputy Director Gordon Cole (played by Lynch himself in the show, of course). Its ostensible purpose is for her to summarise what she and the Bureau have learned from the events that the recent series covered, and some other offscreen investigations. It follows on from, and comments on, last year’s Secret History of Twin Peaks.

Much of it repeats what was in the series, but it does add detail and help to clarify some things. For example it’s probably not a spoiler to confirm that the girl in the 1950s in the glorious nightmare of episode 8 was, indeed, Sarah Palmer, as Warren Ellis has speculated. (It was in his newsletter, which doesn’t seem to have a public archive.)

But it also follows up on what happened to most of the characters from the the original series that we didn’t hear about in the new one, giving us much-needed closure. Or at least convincing us that the creators didn’t totally forget about Donna, for example. Along the way it does what the new series failed to do, in that it answers the question raised at the end of the original series: “How’s Annie?”

It’s worth reading, but it doesn’t remove the need for me to watch the whole new series again.


  1. And maybe with all of David Lynch’s work. ↩︎

  2. “Everybody’s wild at heart and weird on top.” ↩︎


Sourdough by Robin Sloan (Books 2018, 4)

Strange one this. I think I learned about it from Warren Ellis, via his newsletter (which is well worth reading, by the way).

A woman takes a programming job in San Francisco. Chance leads her to gain possession of a sourdough starter culture with unusual properties. She learns to bake bread, and some other things happen.

It was OK. Quite fun. And if we’re comparing novels set in San Francisco tech culture, it was better than, say, Transmission, by Hari Kunzru which I’ve read and didn’t enjoy, but didn’t blog about; much, much, much better than The Circle; but probably not as good as All the Birds in Sky.