Bitter Seeds

By Ian Tregillis

Rating: 3 stars

As the shadow of war looms over Europe in 1939, Britain is worried. The Nazis have some sort of secret programme that produces men and women who can fly, turn invisible, and move. They are forced to turn to their own dark secrets to fight this menace, but is the price worth paying?

I dunno, I feel like I should have enjoyed this mash-up of psychic powers and magic more than I did, especially when they started changing the established history of the war (having a precog available means that you can do things like foresee the Dunkirk evacuation of your enemies and plan accordingly…) but it fell somewhat flat for me. I don’t know if it was the relentless grimness of it – the British magic in particular was grim stuff indeed, raising questions of what people will do to defend their country, and possibly turning into something not worth saving in the process. I also liked the idea of the Eidolons (malevolent creatures outside of time and space that can manipulate it beyond the laws of physics; sort of like Terry Pratchett’s Auditors of Reality) and that warlocks don’t perform magic, they negotiate with the Eidolons to do it for them.

Having a POV character in the Nazi camp also showed that these people aren’t the monsters that they were portrayed as and although Klaus was never a ‘hero’ the stuff he and the others of his unit did wasn’t that much worse than the warlocks.

So lots of interesting ideas, but I still have no desire to read the sequel.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356501697
Publisher: Orbit Books
Year of publication: 2010

The Girl in Blue

By P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: 4 stars

The Girl in Blue is a pretty typical Wodehouse farce. Young Jerry West has a poor uncle with a big house, a rich uncle who is withholding his inheritance, a gold-digging fiancé and has just fallen in love. Combine this with a missing miniature portrait, a dodgy butler, a policeman and a stream, leave to settle and you have one very entertaining novel.

While maybe not vintage Wodehouse, this novel still has all elements of a good, entertaining light read. You can polish it off in a few hours, and be thoroughly entertained during those hours. Marvellous to read while the weather outside is throwing its worst at you, while you’re curled up with a nice cup of tea and a blanket.

Book details

ISBN: 9780099514190
Publisher: Arrow
Year of publication: 1970



Rating: 3 stars

Sham ap Soorap is a doctor’s apprentice on a moletrain. Hunting the giant moles that roam the earth below the railsea – the vast network of rail lines that covers the world, forming an ocean out of which islands of hard rock poke, where the settled folk live. Finding a wrecked train and salvage within it, Sham finds something that takes him on an adventure to the edges of his world, and beyond.

This book didn’t really grab me as much as I’d hoped it would, and not as much as Mi√©ville’s previous YA novel, Un Lun Dun. Sham is a likeable protagonist and his escapades are interesting. The world building is pretty amazing and some of the imagery is stunning. However, the Moby Dick-esque story was let down, for me, by the ending. While I can appreciate the humour of the situation, I wanted more answers about the railsea, and some of the tantalising hints as to what it is and what happened to the people that created it, leaving behind only myths and religions.

The Moby Dick references came thick and fast, and I rather liked the idea that many railsea captains had their own ‘philosophy’, single-mindedly chasing after a single giant animal for their own murky reasons. The other characters in the book were all interesting in their own way, but the ending just sort of deflated the whole book for me. You might say that it ran out of steam.

Book details

ISBN: 9781447213673
Publisher: Pan Books
Year of publication: 2012

A Blink of the Screen: Collected Short Fiction

By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 4 stars

Terry Pratchett isn’t really known for his short fiction, so it was interesting to find a collection of shorts that spans his career, from the very first story that he sold (at the tender age of thirteen) to the latest from the Discworld.

I found the non-Discworld stories almost more interesting than the DW stuff. The first story here is the first one he sold, as a teenager, and while it’s obviously juvenalia, it’s much better than anything I could have written at thirteen! There are stories written for children, stories that were the basis for other things (including Rincemangle, which made its way into Truckers and The High Meggas, which became The Long Earth) and stories written while he was working for a local newspaper and just needed to let off steam. My favourite of the non-Discworld stories is probably Once and Future, which is a fun take on the Arthurian legends.

There are some lovely Discworld stories here as well. Troll Bridge is a lovely story about change, Progress and the end of things, while the Granny Weatherwax story The Sea and Little Fishes shows Granny at her headological best. There’s also the Ankh-Morpork national anthem (which you can find performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra here) and a story of Death coming for a philosopher who tries to argue with him, which goes about as well as you’d expect.

All in all there were several gems in this collection and for any fan of Pratchett, it’s a great set of stories to see his style develop and mature over time.

Book details

ISBN: 9780552163330
Publisher: Corgi
Year of publication: 2012

The Hydrogen Sonata (Culture, #10)

By Iain M. Banks

Rating: 4 stars

It is the end of days for the Gzilt, an ancient species about to take the next step in its civilisation’s life and Sublime: move on from this reality to the great Beyond. However, not everything goes smoothly in the lead up to this process and the musician Vyr Cossont finds herself caught up in events that may threaten the whole Sublimation itself, aided only by a Culture ship and an android who thinks the whole thing is a simulation.

The book was a somewhat odd read. It felt slightly… inconsequential. Not the novel itself, which is huge, complex and thoroughly enjoyable, but the events it describes. During a civilisation-defining event, all this tinkering by the Culture, and the quest to find the oldest man in it, someone who was there at its founding, seems like a sideshow. It’s all very interesting, but as we’re told fairly early on what the big secret is that everyone is after, and most of the principal players know it as well, it’s all about confirmation, rather than discovery.

The Gzilt are an odd people as well. For a species that’s been civilised for ten thousand years, and was almost a founder member of the Culture, they seem oddly petty. They certainly don’t seem like a species that’s ready to take the leap into the next level of existence, but then our perspective is from a small number of ambitious and powerful people, who may not be representative of the species as a whole.

The Minds play a pretty big role in this book. Not quite the commanding presence they had in Excession (the Interesting Times Gang from that book gets namechecked, which is pleasing, for a long-term fan like myself), but they are certainly the movers and shakers. In saying that, the Gzilt politician scheming even in the end days comes pretty close.

Probably the most interesting character in the book is QiRia, the oldest man in the Culture, who was part of the negotiations that formed it. His philosophy and reasons for living are interesting, and one wonders if anything of Banks himself is in him. As far as I know, Banks didn’t know he was dying when he wrote The Hydrogen Sonata, so having a man who lives forever is probably just a morbid coincidence.

Although it wasn’t intended as such, it’s impossible not read this book as anything other than The Last Culture Novel, and try and read closure into it. Being about endings helps in that regard, and this does feel like a satisfying end to the stories of the Culture.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356501499
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2012


By Jane Austen

Rating: 4 stars

I read this book as a teenager, but couldn’t remember anything about it when I came to read it again for the first time in 15+ years. I did remember very much enjoying it, as a story of lovers finding each other following adversity. I’ve been meaning to re-read it for years, and finally got around to it now, although I did have to force myself to go slightly further down the shelf from Pride and Prejudice to get to this.

This time round, as well as still enjoying that aspect of the novel, I appreciated the satire on vanity and pretension as much as the romance, although it’s still a heart-warming love story as well. Eight years ago, Anne Elliot was persuaded by her family and close family friend to give up her engagement to the man she loved, because he wasn’t rich or well enough connected for them. Now he has come back into her life and throws it into turmoil again.

While Anne is no Elizabeth Bennett, she is a likeable protagonist, and contrasts very neatly with her vainglorious father and sister. Anne fits neatly into the mould of the good woman of the era, being quiet, modest and competent.

Although I still enjoyed Austen’s writing enormously, this book does seem to have an awful lot of very long run-on sentences, which sometimes meant that I lost track half way through, especially if a little tired.

Persuasion is a lovely little book, and probably my second-favourite Jane Austen novel, but it’s not going to be replacing Pride and Prejudice in my affections any time soon.

Book details

ISBN: 9780141028118
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Year of publication: 1818


By John Scalzi

Rating: 4 stars

Andrew Dahl is a fresh-minted ensign, just out of the academy, and assigned to the Universal Union Space Fleet’s flagship, the Intrepid. But it’s not long before he notices something odd: away missions are much more dangerous than they should be. Someone dies on almost every one, although never any of the senior officers. It’s not long before he discovers that there’s something very strange going on…

This is an amusing Star Trek parody right up until the point where it goes very metafictional indeed. It continues to be amusing, but your brain does tie itself in knots as you try to follow along. It’s difficult to say more without spoilers, but suffice to say that Dahl, our protagonist, and his friends on the Intrepid are likeable people and you’re willing them on through the strangeness.

The book has some touching moments that are all the more so for being unexpected through the humour, especially in the three codas at the end which feel like the right way to close off the story. So a humorous book with a good heart and a lot of wit. Excellent stuff.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575134300
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2012

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