Saturday, March 29, 2008

Thirty Days of Physiognomy at World's End

Another backlog of books to review in one go. Chronological order, let's get on with it.

"30 Days Of Night" by Steve Niles, with art by Ben Templesmith. Good story of vampires on a chomping holiday in Alaska, with a neat twist at the end. Templesmith's art makes this really special though. Awesome work. If you've read "Fell" or "Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse", you'll know what he's capable of.

"Worlds' End", volume 8 of Neil Gaiman's Sandman epic (only two more to go, yay!). Usual high quality of Gaiman's writing coupled with some excellently varied artwork for the stories-within-stories concept. There's a reason Sandman is still selling so nearly 15 years after these stories were written.

"The Physiognomy" by Jeffrey Ford, won the World Fantasy Award in 1996. He also wrote the synaesthesia-love-story "The Empire Of Ice Cream" which won a couple of awards too. A great writer; in this book he builds a believable, scary, dangerous world seen through the eyes of an expert in the science of Physiognomy. He's a detective, judge and jury, who bases his decisions on measurements of suspects' noses or the presence of hairy moles. It's not a whodunit though, it's a rollicking adventure, wonderfully done. Highly recommended.

cheese sardine set

cheese sardine set
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

awesome. truly awesome. found in the salvos.

King Rat

China Mieville's first novel, "King Rat", is another story of an alternative London. Like "Neverwhere", or Mieville's own "Un Lun Dun", it concerns normal people dragged into a fantastic underworld of magic and myth. I'd say it is Mieville's best; a leaner, sleeker novel than his later New Crobuzon books. It scurries along at a hell of a pace, terrifying and exciting. Excellent stuff.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Monday, March 17, 2008


I followed that nice Mr. Vandermeer's advice on writing: read the things you don't like, and work out why you don't like them. I bravely battled my way as far as halfway through chapter four of "The Outstretched Shadow" by Mercedes Lackey and That Other Guy. One thing I forgot to add to the list of advantages that ebooks have is that I couldn't hurl the book into the bin, mainly due to it also being my phone. Maybe that should go on the disadvantages list. Some books need a good hurling.

The embarrassing infodumps didn't stop after chapter one, nor did the book become any better. I've come up with a new rule for classifying fantasy novels: those that use the word "magicks" (with a fucking "k", because then it shows the author once saw a sample of faux-olde-englishe from way back before they invented spelling) and those that don't. The first set is a subset of bad books, the other set can also be, but that's not guaranteed.

Besides the extra "k" and the misguided belief that the word "magic" can have a plural, the things that turned me off the novel were its setting and the narration.

You never get the feeling that the city Ametholihathehathoeoh (or something) is a real one. I'm comparing it to the great fantasy cities that I've read: Ambergris, New Crobuzon, Ashamoil, even Ankh Morpork. All these places feel like real places, as if there are far more stories taking place there than the just the one you're reading. Armehthholieathotl reads like most of it was assembled from flatpacks from Ikea's new range of Crappy Fantasy Cities.

Every character is accompanied by narration that explains every single thing they do, the history behind every institution or custom, and the motivation behind their actions. There's a reason you're told to "show, don't tell", this is what happens when you ignore it. There's no scope for letting the reader experience the unfamiliar, which would give them some investment in the story and a feeling that they've been dropped somewhere strange and new. This is fantasy, don't make it feel tedious and mundane.

That's enough of that. I've spent enough time on that book, more than it deserves.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

mmm... nutty

mmm... nutty
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

that doesn't look like an egg to me. it does look like something else, though...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Tor are currently giving away free ebooks as part of a promotion for their new website. Just sign up for their newsletter and once a week they'll email you a link to download it in html, pdf, or mobi format. They're on their third book at the moment: "The Outstretched Shadow" by Mercedes Lackey and Someone Else Whose Name Isn't As Distinctive. The previous two were "Old Man's War" by that nice Mr. Scalzi, and "Spin" by Robert Wilson.

I have a decent-sized screen on my PDA-phone-thing, and reading "Spin" was quite comfortable. There were advantages over the paper version (reading in the dark; not as heavy; easier to read one-handed while swaying on the commuter meat wagon; I always have my phone with me so I've always got a book too), and disadvantages (could not read at the beach; or anywhere in bright light; not as high contrast as print on paper which did give me a slight headache after an hour or so; my book now depends on batteries).

I'm not sure if I would pay for an ebook; I definitely would not pay anywhere near as much as a physical book. If they were a couple of dollars, and of that money a substantial amount went straight to the author (say 50%) then I would consider it.

Anyway, enough about the medium. On to the message.

Spin won the 2006 Nebula Award, and rightly so. It's a great read, chronicling a near future where the Earth has been squirreled away out of the normal flow of time and the way the inhabitants deal with it. The idea is that outside our atmosphere time flows normally, inside everything has been slowed down. So for every minute that passes down here, hundreds of years pass in the rest of the universe. There are some great ideas in here, and some interesting characters. I'll definitely be looking for the sequel, "Axis", and in that respect giving away this book for free has worked. Robert Wilson has been added to the list of authors that I look for in bookshops.

I managed to read one chapter of this week's book: "The Outstretched Shadow" by Mercedes Lackey and Some Other Guy. It's the first of a trilogy, and I guess the idea is that by giving this away you'll want to buy the other two. That might have worked, had the first chapter not annoyed the shit out of me. A whole chapter of shockingly clumsy infodump that was embarrassing to read, with ham-fisted world building and Genuine Fantasy Setting(TM):
"look, ma, they name their days differently and they use bells instead of hours"
"wow, that really is different. What do they call strawberries?"

Urgh. Mercedes Lackey will be assigned to the list of authors to avoid when browsing. Luckily for her co-author there's no chance of me remembering his name. You've gotten away with it this time, Mr. Other Fantasy Writer Dude. I'll get you next time.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


A new Culture novel. Fuck, yeah!

(Review ends here for geeks, non-geeks read on.)

Iain M. Banks writes hard SF, most of it set in his Culture universe, where humanity has evolved into a free-thinking, free-loving, do-gooding society of people, machines, aliens and anything else that wants to join in. Imagine someone took the Star Trek ideals of no money, peace, and happiness and removed all the po-faced, father-knows-best overtones. And then added in free drugs and fun for everyone. Yay! Let's move there!

The stories usually involve Special Circumstances, the section of the Culture tasked with ass-kickery and general meddling in the other galactic societies. Imagine Star Trek's starfleet but replace the uniforms, plot holes, what-is-this-earth-thing-you-call-love, we-must-not-violate-the-prime-directive with a shitload of weapons, ships that think, and plots that are thoughtful, exciting and funny.

"Matter" is no exception to this. A great read. My only complaint was that the epilogue was tucked away after the appendix-cum-glossary at the end of the book. You might miss it.

Read this book. Then read the other Culture novels. In any order, it doesn't matter - this is no fantasy epic in 27 volumes. Then read anything else by Banks with or without the M. "Complicity" is a good one if you like to pretend you don't like science fiction. But you know you do, really.

qv fashion show

qv fashion show
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

ooh, the exciting things you get to see from our office.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Got the blues

Got the blues
Originally uploaded by No Middle Name

Liveblogging the Wilson Botanical Park Blues Night. Stuff yer $6000 TED conference.