I have opinions again!
Regular readers (ha!) will have noticed that this web-site first went stale, then went away entirely... Well, I've now moved back from London to Belfast for an exciting new job, and although I've less free time now, I feel energised enough to try resuming The Review Experiment. Watch this space for more badly written but enthusiastic reviews.
Fri - August 6, 2004
City of Pearl - Karen Travis
Now and again you have to break out of your normal reading and try something new at random - usually this results in reading crap so that you can justify sticking to recommendations from tried and test sources, but now and again you get a treat like this. A solid character driven standalone SF adventure. Aliens, marines with big guns, aliens with bigger guns, religious fundamentalism, more aliens, stupid scientists, evuuul corporations. And a cop. Trust me, better than it sounds.
Thu - August 5, 2004
Blood Follows - Steven Erikson
A limited edition novella from a small press, by one of Commercial Fantasy's most bankable authors. Cost per printed page to me? Far too high!
Sun - August 1, 2004
The Atrocity Archives - Charles Stross
Fantastic, another one for my Top 5 Novels of 2004. In the author's words, this is "a British spy thriller in the tradition of Len Deighton [...] that Neal Stephenson might have written to an outline by H. P. Lovecraft." If you liked Tim Power's Declare and understand why departmental software licensing audits are usually ridiculous, then this will be right up your street.
Fri - July 30, 2004
The Japanese Sword - Gregory Irvine
Guess what this is about? Lavishly illustrated, this book from the Victoria & Albert Museum reminds me that I've not been there for years, but that maybe I'll get a lot more out of certain exhibits on my next visit.
Tue - July 20, 2004
Ten Monkeys, Ten Minutes - Peter Watts
I am an idiot. About a year ago I got sun-burnt really badly because I made the mistake of opening Watts' Starfish "for a few pages" while sitting outside on a sunny day. I couldn't put it down. Then I read Maelstrom, another superb novel. So why did I wait so long before ordering a copy of this stunning short story collection?
Sun - July 18, 2004
Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee - Robert Van Gulik
I felt like I'd been reading too many genre mysteries lately, and fancied a change. Obviously I thought to myself, "What I need is a reprint of a 1949 translation of a C18th Chinese novel based on the cases of a real-life C7th district magistrate. Oh, here's one."
Sat - July 17, 2004
The Ghosts of Glevum - Rosemary Rowe
The sixth in a detective series set in Roman Britain. Nothing I like more than a murder where the detective is in a toga. The Ghosts of Glevum is Rowe's first hardback release, and it's deserved, with the plot showing a marked improvement over her earlier enjoyable-but-very-formulaic novels. I'll look forward to the next one in its own right, and not just as a stand-in for, say, a Lindsey Davis novel.
Thu - July 15, 2004
The Greek Myths: 1 - Robert Graves
What an interesting book. This is a meticulously researched compendium of Greek myths, in fairly dry summarised form, which accompanies each myth with an analysis attempting to present an explanation of the story in terms of it being an encoding of the social, political and religious history of the region. I admire the scholarship, but feel that the constant insistence on most stories being explicable in terms of, say, a sacred king, his tanist and their Moon-queen started to feel like the work of an author with a pet theory.
Mon - June 14, 2004
To my surprise, I've had a couple of emails asking why the book reviews have dried up. Am I dead? Nope, just been very busy at work and too lazy when at home. I've posted a few hastily written updates tonight, which leaves only (!) thirteen (Update: twenty) recently read titles to get through before I'm back up to date. Watch this space, or better yet, go read one of the good review sites out there! I like Infinity Plus, The SF Site, The Agony Column, or Emerald City. Or better yet, go read rec.arts.sf.written.
Thu - June 10, 2004
The Samurai - Stephen Turnbull
I've read several of Turnbull's excellent histories now, so I thought I'd tackle his 1977 classic, which was once regarded as a authoritative reference. It reads very much like a condensed summary of his later work, providing a terse but colourful overview of Japan's fascinating history from 500BC through to the Meiji Restoration.
Sat - June 5, 2004
Rashomon and other stories - Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
This is very short collection of very short stories, but the writing is elegant and there isn't a single word wasted by this classic Japanese author.
The Aeneid - Virgil (Translated by David West)
I really enjoyed The Odyssey but I still wanted to see where the long form of the Trojan Horse story came from, so onto Virgil. Funnily enough two thousand years of readers weren't wrong; The Aeneid is a good read.
Sun - May 23, 2004
The Odyssey - Homer (Translated by E. V. Rieu)
I had a mixed reaction to the first appearance of the tragic Muse in western literature, The Iliad, but I wasn't going to content until I'd read the original version of the Trojan Horse. With the power of the The Iliad's themes perversely growing with distance from the turgid middle books, I've decided to read The Odyssey and The Aeneid. I know I'm repeating countless generations when I say that The Odyssey is a superb, lively read.
Sat - May 15, 2004
Eastern Standard Tribe - Cory Doctorow
Didn't like Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, liked A Place So Foreign (and 8 more), so it makes sense that I thought this was both good and bad.
Fri - May 14, 2004
The Last Legion - Valerio Massimo Manfredi
The blurb says, "The Last Legion is a bewitching novel of bravery, love, myth and magic." No, no, it's not. In fact The Last Legion is an awful novel, full of bad movie cliches. Go read Allan Massie's The Evening of the World instead, same themes, very different treatment.
Thu - May 13, 2004
The Evening of the World - Allan Massie
Allan Massie is a clever boy, as he insists on showing us by writing a sweeping Romance, rich in allegorical digressions, which pretends to be modern translation of a C13th novel by the infamous Michael Scott, written to educate his young charge Frederick the Second by showing the trials and tribulations of a C5th Roman.With footnotes by a Templar and a Rosicrucian... all of which would be unbearably smart-arse if he wasn't such a good writer, and this such a good book.
Sat - May 8, 2004
Heretic - Bernard Cromwell
This was a very disappointing conclusion to a mediocre series. In particular, the ending infuriated me, with the author simply choosing to have a dirty great deus ex machina step in.
Mon - May 3, 2004
Stories Of Your Life And Others - Ted Chiang
Short stories aren't normally my thing, and I've never read anything by Chiang before, but this tremendous collection puts him on my 'Buy on sight, in any format' list.
Sun - May 2, 2004
A Hat Full Of Sky - Terry Pratchett
This is the sequel to last year's The Wee Free Men, and although it's being marketed as Young Adult, I enjoyed it as much as any other Discworld book.
Sat - May 1, 2004
The Iliad of Homer - Richard Lattimore
More brain exercise. Well, to be honest, I'm mixing a bit of cultural appreciation with SF reading. I know that sections of Simmons' Ilium were wasted on me as I'd never read anything other than very condensed forms of the Iliad, and as part two of Simmons' epic, Olympus, is out soon, I thought I'd get prepared.
Mon - April 26, 2004
The River God's Vengeance (S.P.Q.R. VIII) - John Maddox Roberts
What do you do when you read something which is as much fun as The Tribune's Curse? How about reading the sequel? (I'm not saying it's a clever plan, but it's a good one.)
Sun - April 25, 2004
The Tribune's Curse (S.P.Q.R. VII)- John Maddox Roberts
Remind me again why I used to regard the SPQR series as second rate entertainment? This was a great read!
Samurai, Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan - Karl Friday
Time to exercise my brain again. This title is, well, what it sounds like - a serious history of bushi in early medieval Japan. It's good too.
Sun - April 18, 2004
The Confusion - Neal Stephenson
The sequel to last year's Quicksilver, this huge novel is volume two of Stephenson's ambitious Baroque Cycle. It's a rich, lavish feast of a novel and I thought it was absolutely superb.
Sat - April 10, 2004
Newton's Wake - Ken MacLeod
I went right off Ken MacLeod after his last trilogy. Cosmonaut Keep disappointed and though I struggled through some of Dark Light, I just couldn't find the interest to even open Engine City. I was therefore a bit leery of buying Newton's Wake in hardback, but it turned out to be well worth my pocket money.
Fri - April 9, 2004
Cowl - Neal Asher
In which Neal Asher completes his journey from the small presses all the way to a major hardback release.
Wed - April 7, 2004
New Jeff Vandermeer web-sites
In a shocking departure from my traditional content of "What I read, and only what I read", I can't resist pointing out two new web-sites from that gifted madman Jeff Vandermeer. Worth a look just for the gorgeous artwork, but there seems to be enough cool content for me to plan a return visit or eight.
www.ambergris.org City of Saints And Madmen-centric.
King Jesus - Robert Graves
To enjoy this novel properly, to be able to separate fact from fiction, historical interpolation from sheer speculation, would require a few years in a seminary, a few more in the Rabbinical equivalent, and a side-degree or two in the classics, middle-eastern archaeology etc...
Wed - March 31, 2004
Market Forces - Richard Morgan
A change of pace for Morgan, this is a bitter, snarling satire on executive competition and the ultimate deregulated market. Unlike The Space Merchants or Jennifer Government, this is unrelieved by humour and although well written, it's hard to finish a book when you detest the, er, main character (can't call him the hero).
Sun - March 28, 2004
The First Man In Rome - Colleen McCullough
A weighty and incredibly well researched blockbuster about the careers of Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla in the late Roman Republic, let down by dull prose.