Author: Nikki

WWW Wednesday

Posted October 2, 2019 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.

Cover of Making the Monster by Kathryn HarkupWhat are you currently reading?

I’m most actively reading Making the Monster by Kathryn Harkup. So far it’s more a biography of Mary Shelley and the writing of the book than really being about the science behind it, but it’s starting to get into the background a little more. I loved Harkup’s book about Agatha Christie’s use of poisons in her fiction — it gave me a whole new appreciation, actually — so I’m hoping this will be the same!

Cover of The October Man by Ben AaronovitchWhat have you recently finished reading?

Oof, I’m not sure — it’s been a couple of days. The October Man, I think? Which was okay, but the voice was so similar to that of the main series, it kind of dampened my enthusiasm. My review is up for that, anyway, so you can read all my thoughts here.

Cover of The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia WaiteWhat will you be reading next?

Who knows? But I’m sort of tempted to dig into Olivia Waite’s  The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics. Romance and classic crime fiction seem to suit my mood at the moment, because you know that typically they will set the world to rights by the end, and there’ll be a happily ever after in the case of romance (and often in crime fiction as well, really).

I think we can really use the world being set to rights. Oof.

What are you reading?

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Review – The October Man

Posted September 30, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The October Man by Ben AaronovitchThe October Man, Ben Aaronovitch

This is a novella set in the world of Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant novels, but taking place in Germany. Tobias Winter is Peter Grant’s equivalent in Germany, apprentice to their one remaining practitioner in much the same way as Peter is Nightingale’s apprentice. The story rumbles along with much the same formula: mysterious death, Tobias is sent in, has a local sidekick/liaison who does not really freak out about magic, and slowly they pick apart the weirdness and unravel what’s going on. Lots of the elements are clear enough if you’ve read the main series: sequestration, genii loci, etc.

It’s not that it wasn’t a fun enough read, but the voice was so similar to Peter Grant’s that it leaves me wondering whether Aaronovitch can do any other characters, really. It was solid in itself and yet weirdly disappointing because it doesn’t bode well for me to keep enjoying the books — it felt predictable, not just in plot but on a line-by-line basis.

I enjoyed Tobias’ competence as a cop, and Vanessa isn’t a bad character either. But… I don’t know, it mostly left me cold.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Lost Languages

Posted September 30, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Lost Languages by Andrew RobinsonLost Languages: The Enigma of the World’s Undeciphered Scripts, Andrew Robinson

This is a bit of a whistlestop tour of, well, the world’s undeciphered scripts. It starts off by exploring some scripts which have been deciphered — Mayan, Egyptian hieroglyphs, Linear B — and discussing how those decipherments were accomplished, and what if anything might be relevant in the study of other languages. After that, it introduces a few different undeciphered languages, including Linear A, Rongorongo and the Phaistos disc, discussing what we know and what we don’t, giving a little of the context, and figuring out to what extent any claimed modern decipherments are real.

It’s an interesting read, and reproduces a lot of photographs, sketches and diagrams showing these scripts and ways of deciphering them. Those images are probably really useful if you think in a very visual way, but they were somewhat limited for someone like me with no visual memory or imagination! It got a bit technical at times, but if that’s your interest then I’ve no doubt it’s useful and quite probably inspiring (in the sense of making you want to dig into these mysteries yourself).

I think Robinson’s attitude toward claimed decipherments is fairly cautious and conservative, but he takes the time to explain what his reservations are and what the field as a whole thinks of the ideas. It’s not always a riveting read, but it was overall pretty interesting and easy to absorb information from. Probably even better if you are, like I said, a visual sort of thinker/learner.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Rat-Catcher’s Daughter

Posted September 29, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Rat-Catcher's Daughter by K.J. CharlesThe Rat-Catcher’s Daughter, K.J. Charles

This short story features something just alluded to in Any Old Diamonds (which is in my review backlog, oops): the backstory of Stan Kamarzyn and Christiana Morrow. Christiana is trans, working as a female impersonator, and Stan admires her from afar — until he hears that she’s being threatened by a certain would-be crime lord who wants to ruin her to make an example. He’s the fence for the notorious pair of thieves, the Lilywhite Boys, and it turns out they’re more than willing to roll in and help him out. He’s family, after all.

It’s a delight to see Jerry and Temp from this perspective. Someone on Twitter mentioned that Alec (from Any Old Diamonds) is like one of those people with a big angry dog on a leash going around telling everyone ‘he’s a softie, really’, only Jerry is the dog and Jerry is not a softie. He’ll do anything for the people who belong to him, but if you’re not, get out of his way.

The defenestration scene is pretty fucking epic.

They stole the stage a little bit for me, because I so recently read Any Old Diamonds — but Stan and Christiana are adorable too. I love the time they take over their relationship, the pitfalls they avoid, the fact that they end up communicating… their squishes on each other are adorable, and the “wait, you too?!” moment when they each reveal that they’re asexual is just the best. I have a couple of quibbles about the way it’s presented (I worried that there would be a sudden “But It’s Different With You” moment, due to Stan seeming to feel some degree of attraction to Christiana which allegedly he’s never felt before), but mostly it’s very sweet.

It’s more difficult to comment on how the trans aspect is handled. Christiana has a degree of freedom given the circle she frequents, but the time period is restrictive. There is some misgendering, all by non-sympathetic characters, and definite transphobia (same). There are also threats of sexual violence… again. All appropriate to the scenario as presented, really, but it’s not comfortable to read and worth avoiding if you think it will be upsetting to you. Christiana herself is positively portrayed, and Stan has a serious conversation with her at one point about how she prefers him to see her, which is nice.

Rating: 4/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted September 28, 2019 by Nikki in General / 8 Comments

Busy week! And lots of reading too, which is nice. Politics in the UK are… interesting at the moment, but for the comfort of all, let’s not discuss them here. Rugby World Cup also, but, samesies, unless you’re supporting Wales.

Here are some new books!

Acquired this week:

This week has been rather massive on the books front, so I’m splitting it into two! Next week will have this week’s fantasy/SF or other books, while this week is solely for crime/mystery books, most of them from the British Library Crime Classics series!

Cover of Death Has Deep Roots by Michael Gilbert Cover of Fell Murder by E.C.R. Lorac Cover of Surfeit of Suspects by George Bellairs Cover of Murder in the Mill-Race by E.C.R. Lorac

Cover of Death in Captivity by Michael Gilbert Cover of The Belting Inheritance by Julian Symons Cover of Calamity in Kent by John Rowland Cover of Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert

Cover of It Walks By Night by John Dickson Carr Cover of The Documents in the Case by Dorothy L. Sayers

Read this week:

Cover of The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djeli Clark Cover of Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert Cover of It Walks By Night by John Dickson Carr Cover of In the Night Wood by Dale Bailey

Cover of The Interstellar Age by Jim Bell Cover of The Documents in the Case by Dorothy L. Sayers Cover of First Contact / The Cult of Progress by David Olusoga

Reviews posted this week:

The Haunting of Tram Car 015, by P. Djèlí Clark. I didn’t love this as much as the other novella I’ve read by Clark, but the setting makes a nice change, and I’d love to know more about  the world. 3/5 stars
It Walks by Night, by John Dickson Carr. Definitely not impressed by this — I’ve tried two novels by John Dickson Carr, and I don’t get the hype. 2/5 stars
Smallbone Deceased, by Michael Gilbert. This was a much better classic crime novel! Reminded me a little of Sayers in the way that Gilbert was obviously intimately familiar with the kind of office he was writing about. 4/5 stars
In the Night Wood, by Dale Bailey. I was not impressed by the angst and woe of the protagonist who let his daughter drown in the bath while arguing on the phone with his lover, and is all upset that his wife doesn’t want to speak to him. Even in a fantasy setting, that’s old now. 2/5 stars
The Interstellar Age, by Jim Bell. Some interesting stuff here! A bit too much about Bell himself at times, and not heavy on scientific detail, but a good history of the Voyager program on a high level. 3/5 stars
The Documents in the Case, by Dorothy L. Sayers. Interesting format, and Sayers’ usual deft touch with character and dialogue. 4/5 stars
Civilisations: First Contact / The Cult of Progress, by David Olusoga. Felt unfocused and kinda perfunctory at times. Meh? 2/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW Wednesday. The usual weekly update!

Out and about:

NEAT science: ‘Brain juice.‘ I explained what norepinephrine is, and how SNRI antidepressants work!

So that’s all for now! How’s your week been, folks?

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Review – Civilisations: First Contact / The Cult of Progress

Posted September 27, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of First Contact / The Cult of Progress by David OlusogaCivilisations: First Contact / The Cult of Progress, David Olusoga

There’s a lot going on in this book: it sweeps past swathes of history, touching on some of the important questions and critiques of colonialism and empire, dwelling on how they were represented by artists and how art of different cultures met and mingled. It doesn’t linger, speeding past the Benin Bronzes and cramming in the Eiffel Tower as well, and I found it a little vague and unfocused. It was unclear what the argument was meant to be until the afterword, where he mentions the idea that all human art comes from “the same imagination”.

Hmm. A little insipid, really; that’s my final conclusion on this. It’s nice to have a quick guide to some of the art and its context, but it really is the most glancing look at most of it. It’s nice to have a degree of breadth, but then I wouldn’t say it has that much by way of breadth — it’s all so lightly touched on. There are some artworks I didn’t know about, and interesting facts, like the portraits painted by Lindauer of Maori people (and the fact that they would choose to be painted in a combination of Western and traditional clothing, to show they knew how to move in both worlds).

I feel like there are several books here and this is just a not very focused amalgamation of all of them. It didn’t work for me, though perhaps people who saw the series they accompany will get more out of it.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Documents in the Case

Posted September 26, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Documents in the Case by Dorothy L. SayersThe Documents in the Case, Dorothy L. Sayers

Somehow, I’d never read this one! Well, I have now. This showcases all Sayers’ usual eloquence and flair, and also her tendency to become enamoured of a set-piece that encapsulates a character and carry it on for pages at a time. Jack Munting’s letters to his fiancée are sweet, but they could probably been edited down a smidgeon, and some of the key scenes are likewise rather over-elaborated.

It’s a fascinating format, particularly when it sticks to the letters — it’s a little disappointing when it switches to a long statement, narrative-style, as if anybody ever actually remembers dialogue in such detail. It feels like she got tired of the format and had to round it off with a good long section of narrative just to make life easier. Still, I do love the way she teases out the conclusion, and the fact that it is based on an understanding of chemistry and right/left-handed molecules. Brilliant.

I do have questions about some of the characters: mostly lots to side-eye when it comes to Agatha Milsom, whose institutionalisation is never shown to us directly. It’s hard to judge if she’s actually mentally ill to a great degree, or (more likely) mostly just inconvenient to everyone. Sayers is rather harsh on her — as is Libby Purves, who wrote an introduction to this edition — but it seems to me that she is commenting on something real in the relationship between Mr and Mrs Harrison that other people don’t see. It isn’t the whole story, but the whole idea of her developing a monomania is so very Golden Age and so very irritating as an explanation.

In any case, it’s entertaining and clever, and there are some great character studies. Worth a read, even though it’s not an absolute resounding success on all fronts — it’s pretty darn entertaining despite that.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Intersteller Age

Posted September 26, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Interstellar Age by Jim BellThe Intersteller Age, Jim Bell

This was a pretty entertaining read about the Voyager missions, with the usual kind of autobiographical detail (extra odd Bell was more a fan of the project than a part of it, though he worked on things that were tangentially related at times) and some biographical detail. Lots of fanboying about Carl Sagan, which is sweet, but not always to the point. It’s a good overview of what the Voyager program did, and there were lots of little titbits I didn’t know.

I think the favourite part for me was discussing the Golden Record, though; I think I’ll have to look up the book he mentioned which goes into it in detail. I love the idea of the Golden Record (I did write a story about it a while ago, after all!), and I especially love the fact that we filled it with “our hopes, not our fears”. It makes it very clear that few people on the project thought there was much chance of it being found, but it was considered so important anyway: a moment for humanity to reflect on itself, and send out something of ourselves into the universe… the good parts, at least.

In terms of the engineering of the Voyager crafts, there’s relatively little, and though the math and physics of figuring out how to send them on their way is mentioned, it’s not explained. It’s more of a cultural history with explanations of what the Voyagers found than a science book, though there are interesting factoids about the various planets and moons of the Solar System which we wouldn’t have known (until later) without Voyager. Likewise, it discusses some of the problems that the Voyagers had — like the seizing of the camera platform — but not nearly all.

Entertaining, and probably as deep as some folks want to go!

Rating: 3/5

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Review – In the Night Wood

Posted September 25, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of In the Night Wood by Dale BaileyIn the Night Wood, Dale Bailey

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: literature professor is married with a kid and decides to have an affair anyway. Something terrible happens as a result, and the poor thing must live with the consequences.

Myeah, my sympathies with this book were low from the outset: infidelity is one thing I can’t really abide in most situations, and Generic Literature Professor is a wishy-washy example. He doesn’t have much strength of character to mark him out from the crowd, and he’s so forgettable I can’t remember his name and I finished this book less than an hour ago. (The back copy reminds me that the name is Charles.)

So anyway, with that set-up, Charles and Erin get a letter from England informing them that Erin is the last of a long family line, and do they want to take possession of the family house? So they go. Erin’s mental health is dreadful, and she travels with most of the contents of a pharmacy (how does she replenish her stocks when a UK doctor would not provide those meds or in that quantity? Unclear, she never sees a doctor for them) and self-medicates with wine. Charles starts to investigate the mysteries of the creepy house and surrounding wood, fails to share things with Erin, and is tempted multiple times to start affairs with every woman he meets. He’s always very aware of the scent and warmth of their skin, etc.

There are lots of rather generic ancient-fantasy-encroaching-on-reality descriptions, like this:

The present seemed to lie lightly on the land here, as though the narrow span of gray road, where the solicitor’s car hove momentarily into view at the crest of each new ridge, might simply melt away like a light dusting of snow, unveiling the bones of an older, sterner world.

This is supposed to be near Harrogate. I can assure you that Harrogate is as modern as anywhere else in Britain, and you will not melt away into a fairytale driving anywhere just outside Harrogate, especially not having just come off a busy roundabout.

Naturally, something creepy involving child sacrifice is going on, etc, etc, you’ve heard this story before.

I didn’t know how little I cared for it until I started trying to describe it. It’s not that it isn’t well written, though it ventures a tad towards the purple for something that’s describing fucking Harrogate. It’s a quick enough read, but. I… am profoundly unimpressed.

Rating: 2/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted September 25, 2019 by Nikki in General / 7 Comments

The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.

Cover of The Documents in the Case by Dorothy L. SayersWhat are you currently reading?

Many things at once, as ever, so I’ll pick out the two standouts! I’m most of the way through a book on the Voyager probe missions, which is pretty fascinating: it’s a little old now, and there have been other missions that added to our knowledge both since the probes did their fly-by and since the book was published, if I’m not mistaken. Still, Voyager was a heck of an undertaking, and completely admirable. I loved the part on the Golden Record and how things were chosen for it, and how Sagan guided it to represent humanity’s hopes and not our fears.

I’m also reading Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Documents in the Case, which I’d never actually picked up before, despite it being Sayers. It’s not Peter, of course, but it is very Sayers: she brings to life some rather different voices, exposes them mercilessly for all their faults, but with a kind of wry fondness for humans and all our foibles.

Cover of Smallbone Deceased by Michael GilbertWhat have you recently finished reading?

The last book I finished was It Walks By Night, with which I was heartily unimpressed. Before that it was Smallbone Deceased, which was a bit more to my taste. I’m afraid I really don’t get on with the author of the former, John Dickson Carr; I’ve read a couple of his now, and he does exactly the same flourish in each like it’s meant to be impressive. Smallbone Deceased actually reminded me of Sayers a little, though — not so much in style, but in the way he brought to life the setting.

Cover of Magic Slays by Ilona AndrewsWhat are you going to read next?

Search me! I have a book on deciphering lost languages by Andrew Robinson which I’m partway through, so I might focus on that. Or I might pick up Magic Slays, the next book in my Kate Daniels reread. Or finish up rereading Dreadful Company in time for Vivian Shaw’s new book, which hopefully will arrive on my doorstep tomorrow!

You get the gist, I’m bad at this.

What are you currently reading?

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