By Harlan Ellison

Rating: 2 stars

(Note: my copy only included Doomsman. Telepower was not included)

A feral Argentinian child is hunted down and brought to AmericaState’s feared School for Assassins to be trained. He is to join an elite that are sent in to decapitate the petty monarchies that have sprung up on the American continent since the War, but when a chance remark lets slip something about the father he never knew, he knows he must track him down and join him.

I don’t have a huge amount to say about this book. It didn’t leave many lasting impressions, although I was impressed with how Ellison was able to convey the harshness and brutality of this world, and his antihero, with such a light touch and sparing language.

Book details

Publisher: Ace Books

Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone

By Ian McDonald

Rating: 3 stars

As a bright art design student, Ethan Ring helped discover fracters: the synthesis of images that bypass the mind and directly affect the brain, bringing healing, pain, freezing of time sense, death and more. He was later recruited by the European Security Forces as an agent but his troubled soul is now on a journey of self-discovery through Buddhist temples in Japan.

The mcguffin of this book is faintly ridiculous, but I was able to suspend my disbelief enough to enjoy it. I’m a fan of McDonald’s work, and, although somewhat muted, the lyrical, somewhat whimsical, style that I enjoy so much was detectable through the work. The book starts with Ethan’s pilgrimage and the story of how he came to help create the fracters is told in flashback alongside his journey through a Japan filled with street gangs and private security firms happier to wield the bullet than the notebook, fighting his desire to use his fracters, for good and ill, along the way.

Like I said, the fracters themselves are faintly ridiculous, so it’s Ethan’s spiritual journey as he fights against the powers that bind him and against the demon box full of images that has his soul in hock that really holds the book together and drives the plot. Worth reading.

Book details

ISBN: 9780553561166
Publisher: Spectra
Year of publication: 1994

Lyttelton’s Britain: A User’s Guide to the British Isles as Heard on BBC Radio’s “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue”

By Humphrey Lyttelton

Rating: 4 stars

This is a collection of the little vignettes that Humph read out about whatever city the I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue team were visiting that week. Funny, sarcastic and sometimes laden with double entendres, this is a fun book to dip into. In my head, they automatically take on Humph’s dry, innocent and somewhat bored tones that made him a master of the radio and still missed.

Book details

ISBN: 9781848091078
Publisher: Preface Publishing
Year of publication: 2008

Alley God


Rating: 3 stars

This short volume consists of three novelettes: ‘The Alley Man’, ‘The Captain’s Daughter’ and ‘The God Business’. The first one was possibly the most unsatisfying with its story of an young academic who spends a week with an alley family, who survive by gathering rubbish, with the man believing that his misshapen features are due to him being the last remnant of a Neanderthal tribe. I didn’t find any way into this story, with neither the loud booming drunk ‘Neanderthal’ nor the quiet, intellectual woman being particularly interesting as characters.

‘The Captain’s Daughter’ has a doctor having to deal with a strange illness in the daughter of a starship captain, belonging to a particularly strict religious sect. This was more interesting than the first one, because it had a mystery element to the story even if the characters felt more like Golden Age characters rather than Farmer’s New Wave stuff.

The last story, ‘The God Business’ was the one I enjoyed the most, telling of a new god who appears in the middle of an unremarkable county in the US, turning the river into Brew, letting those who drink it shed their inhibitions and enjoy life, and the strike team sent in by the Government to stop this danger to the nation. This one had a real sense of playfulness about it, from Al Allegory, the crocodile-man walking allegory to the young jock who got turned into a demigod of fertility. An enjoyable read.

Book details

ISBN: 9780722134542
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Year of publication: 1962

The Boy, The Wolf, The Sheep And The Lettuce

By Allan Ahlberg

Rating: 2 stars

This is a short kids’ book, wrapping a ‘mystery’ narrative around the old puzzle of the boy who has to cross a river with a wolf, sheep and lettuce in a boat only big enough for one item at a time. There’s not much to it and I found the narrator incredibly annoying, but at least it was mercifully short.

Book details

ISBN: 9780141380698
Year of publication: 2004

The Electric Church (Avery Cates, #1)

By Jeff Somers

Rating: 2 stars

Avery Cates is a contract killer in a near future where the world has been unified, forcibly, under the Joint Committee. The System Cops have practically unlimited powers and unless you’re rich, you’re living in the gutters in the ruins of the great cities, mostly destroyed in the unification riots. In this society, Cade accidentally kills a System Cop, bringing the wrath of the system down on him, until he’s offered a very unexpected way out: to kill the head of the Electric Church, a new religious organisation whose first tenet is to convert humans into cyborgs, whether they want to be converted or not.

Another nearish-future dystopia, I enjoyed this slightly more than Moxyland, but that’s not saying much. I didn’t find the anti-hero hugely sympathetic, and given his lack of competence, he was really only kept alive by the power of plot. The Monks – the cyborg ‘converts’ of the Electric Church – with their outwardly placid countenances and lightning reflexes and weapons are intriguing, as is the idea that they prey on the poor and homeless, offering literal immortality. This would be creepy enough without the “involuntary conversions” but they, and their effect on society, are never really explored. The story doesn’t quite hang together either, and, as I’ve said before, I don’t really like dystopias and only read this because the cover blurb sounded interesting and it was free at Eastercon. Not one I’ll be rereading.

Book details

ISBN: 9780316053938
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2007

Century Rain

By Alastair Reynolds

Rating: 5 stars

Verity Auger is an archaeologist searching for artefacts in the ruins of a post-Nanocaust Earth when a mistake nearly costs the life of a young boy. Her boss uses this as leverage to get her involved in a secret project that involves illicit travel through an ancient alien hyperspace transit network controlled by a different faction of Humanity.

At the other end of the transit wormhole is an unpolluted Earth of three hundred years ago, except that in that world, the Second World War never happened. Auger must find the papers left behind by her predecessor, Susan White, who appears to have been murdered, and with a tenacious private detective and some seriously freaky children on her tail, that’s not going to be easy.

I really enjoyed this part space-opera and part alternative history novel. Despite (or perhaps because of) her prejudices, Auger is an interesting character, and I enjoyed some of the back story of the book, including the splitting into two factions: the Threshers, who reject nanotech and prefer to stay on the “threshold” of advanced technology; and the Slashers, who have gone whole hog and are now surrounded by a cloud of nanotech, surrounding and enhancing them at all times. Seeing Auger cope with an alternative 1950s France is fun, and the jazz-loving private detective, Wendell Floyd is a great character too.

There’s perhaps some comparison with Nausicaä (which I’ve been reading recently) too, with Auger’s Earth being a warning of what can happen when Humanity tinkers too much with nature (the Nanocaust was caused by nanotech released into the atmosphere to control the weather that got out of control and eventually consumed every living creature on the planet). The story was tightly told with information being dripped out at just the right rate to avoid being infodump or getting too frustrating. An enjoyable book.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575076914
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group
Year of publication: 2004

Nausica of the Valley of the Wind, Vol. 7 (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, #7)

By Hayao Miyazaki

Rating: 5 stars

Nausicaä and the God Warrior that she accidentally awoke must go on a quest to seal the Crypt that preserves the technologies that kings and emperors have used over the years for evil, but it seems that even now, her way isn’t easy.

And so Nausicaä’s story finally comes to a close, with a message that is very Miyazaki-ian in nature, and somewhat reminiscent of Laputa. The warning in the tale is reminding us where arrogance can lead and to avoid thinking that we have all the answers and can ‘fix’ the world around us. The plot moves quickly and Nausicaä never stops being a sympathetic character you can’t help warming to, and you feel for her when those around her are in pain.

It’s a well-told (and well-drawn) story with a satisfying conclusion. And the series is inexpensive enough to pick up reasonably quickly and is probably worth buying since I think it certainly has re-read potential.

Book details

ISBN: 9781591163558
Publisher: VIZ Media
Year of publication: 1995

The Mating Season (Jeeves, #9)

By P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: 5 stars

Bertie Wooster is going to Deverill Hall to star in a local entertainment at the behest of his old friend Corky, except he has to pretend to be newt-fancier and teetotaller Gussie Fink-Nottle and eventually finds a house full of heartache and crossed lovers. It’s up to Bertie, ably assisted by the indefatigable Jeeves to sort the whole mess out — with the spur that if he fails, he’ll have to marry Madeline Bassett, who thinks that the stars are God’s daisy chain.

Typical Wodehousian mania, with lots of eccentric characters, bumbling policemen and twisty plots. The characters are as likeable as ever and Wodehouse’s writing just hits a sweet spot for me of being eminently readable. Jolly good stuff, what ho!

Book details

ISBN: 9781585672318
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Year of publication: 1949

The Best of C. M. Kornbluth

By C.M. Kornbluth

Rating: 4 stars

I’ve not read very much of Cyril Kornbluth’s work but this collection won me over. Kornbluth’s writing is humorous, sarcastic and revels in the stupidity of the human species (in one or two stories, the idea that stupid people are outbreeding the intelligentsia are actively explored). Kornbluth collaborated with Fred Pohl extensively in his fairly short life and Pohl’s introductions to the stories show a warmth to his friend and offer some interesting notes on the stories themselves. Definitely worth reading.

Book details

ISBN: 9780800807238
Publisher: Taplinger Publishing Company
Year of publication: 1976

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