Review – Wicked Wonders

Posted 10 April, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Wicked Wonders by Ellen KlagesWicked Wonders, Ellen Klages

Received to review via Tachyon

I was really interested to read more of Klages’ work after reading Passing Strange. I think I’ve read one or two short stories before — one of the stories in here was definitely familiar — but I hadn’t consciously connected the author to them, if that makes any sense. Klages is a careful writer, as her afterword shows: she moves the words around until they’re just right, pays attention to pace and rhythm and all of that. It works: her stories are all readable and all seem to fit perfectly within the form.

There’s something eerie and wistful and tender in almost all of these stories, bar one or two that are more mischievous than anything. I was pleased to meet some of the characters from Passing Strange again, particularly, and get some more detail on the paper-folding magic which is alluded to there. But my favourite of the stories was probably the least speculative: ‘Woodsmoke’, which features two girls on the cusp of adolescence, at a summer camp. I won’t say too much about it, but it felt real and wistful, and the ending avoided any kind of saccharine sweetness, touching something real instead.

It’s a good collection of stories, and I also enjoy the fact that there’s a section included on where each story came from and giving more details. There were one or two bits I hadn’t noticed about the stories, which is always fun to learn.

If you enjoy short stories, this is definitely a good collection; if you enjoy Ellen Klages’ work, doubtless you know what you’re in for. Either way, Passing Strange is also worth a look…

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Britain AD

Posted 9 April, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Britain AD by Francis PryorBritain AD, Francis Pryor

From my perspective, speaking as an English Lit postgrad who concentrated heavily on Arthurian and medieval literature, Britain AD has two main weaknesses. The first is the fact that Pryor doesn’t understand or attempt to engage with the shift in language to form English. He suggests there is no reason to suspect mass migration of Angles and Saxons into the UK, regardless of accepted work by people like Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza into the way population genetics tends to show that language, identity and genetics move together.

Secondly, he doesn’t know the subjects he’s talking about nearly well enough. I’d be happy to defer to him on the archaeology of King Arthur, but when it comes to the textual history, I know my stuff — and Pryor has enormous gaps. For example, he speaks of Sir Thomas Malory introducing the ‘Holy Blood’ aspect of the Grail legends… heedless of the fact that Robert de Boron pre-empted Malory by two centuries. (And possibly the Vulgate cycle did too — I don’t have my copies handy to check and I don’t trust online sources to steer me right!) He also utterly ignores the existence of the Saint’s Lives that mention Arthur and the Welsh folk tales.

These might not be important to the way Pryor views Arthur, but I think it’s always been clear that the Arthurian legends are more fiction than fact — so if you’re going to talk about them, you really need to understand the fictional aspects and how the legends developed. Pryor simply does not, and that puts all the rest of the book on shaky footing for me.

The same applies when it comes to understanding whether or not there was an Anglo-Saxon invasion or settlement or anything of the kind. He never manages to account for the rise of the Anglo-Saxon language. He talks about the spread of ideas instead, yet if that were the case, we’d expect to see much more influence from the Celtic languages on English in names for basic, everyday things. Why do we say “bread”, then, from Germanic brood, instead of bara? Why is it a “church”, from cirice, and not eglwys?

I’m not an expert on linguistics, but Pryor’s theories don’t accommodate the way languages work at all — and to be convincing, they must.

Then there’s the fact that he picks which genetic study he proves because, and I quote, “It also supports my own theories — which is an enormous point in its favour.” This may be intended as flippant, but still, that is not the way to critique studies, especially ones which are outside your area of expertise. You can’t pick which theories you like based on which one agrees with your own theory, or it becomes horrifyingly circular.

Where he speaks about archaeology, I don’t have the tools to criticise — and he is well known and well thought of, so I’m sure he’s at least along the right lines. But where it crosses things I do understand — genetics, linguistics, and most of all literature — I find Pryor’s grounding very shaky. I enjoy his writing, but can’t give him more stars than this because his thesis is just too questionable. And it really makes me question whether Britain BC was all that, although it was more deeply grounded in archaeology.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Every Heart A Doorway

Posted 8 April, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuireEvery Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire

Reading this again, there are two main things for me. 1) Nancy, and 2) I love the idea of all these kids from portal fantasies finding a home away from home together. And what happens if you didn’t quite fit in your world, the way Kade didn’t? What happens if you want to go back forever, and what happens if you can’t? How can you cope with “real life” when you’ve spent however long learning the rules of another world? But I talked about this in my first review.

This time, I focused on Nancy. The fact that she’s asexual, and the fact that it avoids the usual stupid pitfalls. She cares about people, for one thing. And though you might think that it’s a bit of a cliche, having a girl who went to an underworld be asexual — of course they’re not sexual, they’re dead — it actually makes a point of mentioning that it isn’t true at all. She’s still different in her underworld; her asexuality isn’t a plot point in the sense that it proves she belongs in some other world. It’s just a part of her, and her world suits her for other reasons. The fact that she’s asexual — and for that matter, that Kade is trans — feels organic.

I love the diversity, sure, but I also love the fact that it’s matter of fact and part of a world I love for other reasons too.

Rating: 5/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 8 April, 2017 by Nikki in General / 34 Comments

Good morning! It’s the weekend! Whew. I’ve set myself up a deadly study timetable, so I’m just glad to reach a breathing space. I did get some reading done too, though; good thing, or I’d go bonkers, I think. (More bonkers.)

Received to review

Cover of All Good Things by Emma Newman Cover of Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell Cover of The Dispatcher by John Scalzi Cover of The Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Cover of The Innkeeper Chronicles, by Ilona Andrews Cover of Mightier than the Sword by K.J. Parker Cover of The Furthest Station by Ben Aaronovitch Cover of Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee

A nice little haul, as you can see! I’m pretty excited about all of these, honestly.

Books finished this week:

Cover of After Atlas by Emma Newman Cover of Britain After Rome Cover of The Vital Question by Nick Lane

I swear, I’m trying to read more fiction again!

Sneak peek at ratings:
Four stars to… After Atlas, Britain After Rome and The Vital Question.

Reviews posted this week:

Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman. I think this might be most appealing to those who don’t know the Eddas well in the first place. As it is, while I could appreciate the clever takes on the old stories, I knew what was going on a little too well. And some of the cleverness is not Gaiman himself, but straight from pre-Christian Norse tradition. 3/5 stars
Deadly Companions, by Dorothy H. Crawford. A great survey of how disease has shaped human society. Not very in-depth, though. 3/5 stars
Britain BC, by Francis Pryor. I have some issues with some of Pryor’s theories, based on my understanding of genetics, linguistics and literature, but the archaeological evidence discussed is fascinating. 4/5 stars
Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, by Richard Wrangham. Solid theory, and really engagingly written. 4/5 stars
Ruddy Gore, by Kerry Greenwood. A reread, and still fun, though there are aspects of Phryne’s character/treatment and understanding of others I’m a little tired of. 3/5 stars
Proof of Concept, by Gwyneth Jones. This took a while to come together for me, but there were aspects I enjoyed. 3/5 stars
Brisk Money, by Adam Christopher. More fun with Christopher’s noir robot PI world. 4/5 stars

Other posts:

Top Ten Tuesday: Comics I Follow. The theme was fandom, and I went with comics!
What are you reading Wednesday. My weekly update.

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Review – Brisk Money

Posted 7 April, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Brisk Money by Adam ChristopherBrisk Money, Adam Christopher

I’ve gone about things a bit backwards, because I only read Brisk Money after already having read Made to Kill (and Standard Hollywood Depravity, too). So the twist in this tale was one I already knew. It’s still a fun short story; good set up for the later stories, and a good pastiche of Chandler’s general style — if not quite his flair at coining a phrase. It doesn’t take itself too seriously: honestly, all through it you can feel that the author is having fun. It’s Chandler-esque sci-fi, where Chandler called sci-fi fiction crap, and Christopher takes obvious joy in using the noir setting and bending it to take account of a robot detective.

I can’t promise it’ll blow your mind, but if a noir detective robot story appeals, then I can pretty much guarantee you’re going to have fun. It’s well-structured, too, which is also a delight to me in a short story.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Proof of Concept

Posted 6 April, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Proof of Concept by Gwyneth JonesProof of Concept, Gwyneth Jones

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 11th April 2017

I’m not sure if it’s my reading comprehension or the book at fault, but I did have some trouble understanding the technology and political background to this. There’s stuff which is obvious (overcrowding has forced people into hive-like cities, people want to go to nearby habitable planets) and then there’s the science and the politics of funding the venture and… whatever all that means.

However, on the personal level it worked: Kir’s connection with Margrethe, her difficult relationship with Bill, her half-a-relationship with the computer in her own head, Altair. The hothouse effect of the confined living space felt real, as did the consternation spreading through the group. The ending worked as well, though it felt a little rushed.

Overall, not the most effective of the Tor.com novellas, but that’s a pretty high bar to try and clear. It was entertaining enough to keep me reading.

Rating: 3/5

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 5 April, 2017 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

What have you recently finished reading?

I juuust finished The Vital Question, by Nick Lane. I’d like to read some papers on this kind of thing, rather than a pop science book; he seems so certain about how life evolved and why life anywhere in the universe is probably under the same constraints! And the best bit is, this is kind of my field, so I probably can follow up on some of it. It does give me that wonder-of-science feeling.

What are you currently reading?

I just started The Furthest Station, by Ben Aaronovitch, and other than that I think Samuel R. Delany’s Nova is next on my list to finish.

What will you read next?

I haven’t really decided that yet… I have a new method which my wife taught me. I pick five books out that I’d like to read, she picks two of them, and then I pick one of those two. It seems to be working surprisingly well so far. And I should do that now, probably.

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Review – Ruddy Gore

Posted 5 April, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Ruddy Gore by Kerry GreenwoodRuddy Gore, Kerry Greenwood

I might’ve enjoyed this a bit more the second time than I did the first time, though it’s by no means one of my favourites. It does introduce Lin Chung, but I don’t really enjoy Phryne’s attitude to female characters like Leila Esperance. It’s that slightly bemusing attitude that all actors are the same, and all musicians, even to the extent that all trombonists are a pain in the neck and inclined to murder (see: The Green Mill Murder), and following that attitude, the consequent assumption that all actresses are fluttery and silly and not very smart.

Still, the puzzle comes together well, and it is the book that introduces Lin Chung and all the connections his family will bring. There’s a nice social awareness to the way Lin and Phryne are treated in society, making it more than just wishful thinking — even if Phryne herself is over-the-top liberal. Or perhaps that’s not the term for Phryne, just… “permissive”, maybe.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Catching Fire

Posted 4 April, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human by Richard WranghamCatching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, Richard Wrangham

I know I’ve been reading and reviewing a lot of non-fiction lately, but this is probably one of the more entertaining and accessible of the bunch in style. It’s a convincing idea: what caused humans to be able to evolve such big brains and short digestive tracts, compared to other species? The answer, according to Wrangham: first the ability to hunt and eat raw meat, then control of fire for cooking meat.

It’s a very readable book, making all the science and history easy to follow. For me, it was an enjoyable read, though not exactly revolutionary; I was aware of most of the ideas already, since I’m fascinated by human evolution. It pulls together various different threads of the story, bringing together evidence from different ways of understanding human evolution.

(Oh, but if you don’t believe in evolution, this… will not be the book for you. That’s definitely an assumption of the book.)

Rating: 4/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 4 April, 2017 by Nikki in General / 8 Comments

This one is a “fandom freebie”, which I’m going to spin to being about asking which comics I follow (or try to follow), because I’m not so much into fandom, especially book fandom, lately.

Cover of The Wicked + The Divine by Jamie McKelvie and Kieron Gillen Cover of Marvel's Young Avengers: Mic-Drop at the Edge of Time and Space Cover of Captain Marvel #1 Cover of Ms Marvel: No Normal by Adrian Alphona Cover of Captain America: The Red Menace

  1. The Wicked + The DivineIt’s gorgeous, for one thing. And I’m kind of hooked on the story too, even if the third volume didn’t really advance it.
  2. Young AvengersAnd any/all of the characters from that series — Hulkling, Wiccan, Speed, Ms. America, Hawkeye… I love that they’re starting to appear in the adult Avengers teams now.
  3. Captain Marvel. Because Carol’s pretty amazing and the series has had some gorgeous art. I wasn’t totally wowed by Rise of Alpha Flight, and Civil War II sounds like a nightmare of a crossover event, but I’m still here for Carol.
  4. Ms Marvel. Because Kamala Khan is badass.
  5. Captain America. Kind of… I love Cap, but mostly the MCU version.
  6. Spider-woman. Because who doesn’t love Jessica Drew and her, uh, sismance(?!) with Carol Danvers. Speaking of which, who noticed they stuck Jessica Drew’s wings on Spiderman in the trailer for the new one? Ugh.
  7. Silk. Because I love the starburst of spiderwomen we’ve had lately.
  8. Spider-Gwen. Ditto!
  9. Thor. Mostly the Jane Foster version, mind you.
  10. Avengers. Sort of. Mostly I love the MCU version, but I’m very much here for the new team-ups like A-Force in principle. I need to catch up, though…

Cover of Spider-woman: Vol 0 Cover of Silk by Robbie Thompson and Stacey Lee Cover of Spider-Gwen: Greater Power Cover of Thor: Goddess of Thunder by Jason Aaron Cover of Avengers Assemble: Science Bros

So yeah. Fandom! Ish.

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