The Apocalypse Codex (Laundry Files, #4)

By Charles Stross

Rating: 4 stars

There’s an American preacher reaching up to Number 10 and getting much deeper than he should. The Laundry are worried, so they send (the long-suffering) Bob Howard to investigate. Well, they send some other people and send Bob to keep an eye on them. I guess he’s finding out who watches the watchers.

We find out more about the Laundry in the fourth book in Stross’s series, and there are revelations about Bob including fallout from the last book (The Fuller Memorandum) and a bit of a jaw-dropping ending (not to mention the worrying sight of an Auditor smiling).

This book wasn’t nearly as dark as its predecessor. It had some disturbing images (maternity/spinal injury unit, I’m looking at you!), but nothing along the lines of what happens in the previous volume. I’m very glad of that, although I still think that as CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN approaches, I may find the books harder to read (post-apocalyptic fiction isn’t really something I like).

This book did continue a trend started in the Fuller Memorandum of it not all being told in the first person. Stross (and Bob) acknowledge that it’s sometimes useful to be able to tell things from other points of view, and this is acknowledged at the outset of this volume of ‘Bob’s memoires’. Following the end of this book, I think this is something we’ll probably see more of this to come, as Bob leaves the everyman sphere that made him such a great narrator as part of his rise up the management tree.

Cameos from Pinky and Brains are present and correct, and this book’s gadget is a bit of a doozy (even if I don’t think it gets nearly enough use).

So still spy-fi-ish, but as CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN looms and the loonies and cultists (sorry, tautology) come out to play, the books are getting steadily darker in tone. Still very enjoyable, if not as much fun as they have been.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356500980
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2012

DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore

By Alan Moore

Rating: 4 stars

Alan Moore has been one of the giants of comic books for thirty-odd years, and this book showcases some of his best work for DC Comics. Several of the stories are tender, some are funny, others are just odd, but there are a few which are disturbing. While The Killing Joke is justifiably a great story, it is very disturbing. There’s the casual violence towards Barbara Gordon, what happens to Commissioner Gordon, and, for me, especially the last few panels. Excellent storytelling, but disturbing.

I also found Father’s Day, a story of The Vigilante (a character I’ve never heard of) disturbing. It feels almost nihilistic in some ways, asking what the point of life is, in the same way as The Killing Joke. But Moore seems to answer himself in other stories. Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow and In Blackest Night both seem to be deeply humanist stories about survival, life and finding things to fight for.

There are also some very funny stories here. I really enjoyed the black humour in the Green Arrow story Night Olympics, while Brief Lives is a tale of how mighty empires mean nothing on some scales (reminding me of the story of the two mighty battle fleets swallowed by a dog in Douglas Adams’ wonderful Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And Mogo Doesn’t Socialise is laugh-out-loud funny in its revelation.

Moore is a writer I have a lot of respect for. I find him difficult at times, but this collection showcases his flexibility and his versatility. Even if you’re not hugely familiar with the DC canon, it’s still damn fine storytelling, even if it is disturbing at times.

Book details

ISBN: 9781401209278
Publisher: DC Comics
Year of publication: 2003

Jack Glass

By Adam Roberts

Rating: 5 stars

This very clever, twisty, turny book tells the story, or rather, three, related, stories of the notorious murderer Jack Glass. We know that Jack is the murderer, we’re told right at the start, but the important questions are how and why. And where do the three little letters FTL fit in, and why are they so dangerous?

Other than his Doctor Who parody, Doctor Whom (which I didn’t like), I’ve not read anything by Adam Roberts, but I’d heard good things about this book and had heard that he was good at things that weren’t parody. I’m very glad I gave it a chance as I very much enjoyed this book. The language is gorgeous, going for the lyrical, poetical prose that I’m so fond of. The mystery is intriguing and I was true to form in failing to spot the root cause of the mystery (and went one better in the final story, by not remembering the Jack was the murderer and failing to figure out who it was (although can regain some credibility by figuring what what the murder weapon was).

The characters are interesting, especially the relationship between Diana (the young heiress and amateur detective in the second and third segments) and Iago, her tutor. The worldbuilding is also excellent. The idea of a solar system in turmoil is brought across very well, with the minimum of exposition and there are shades of Orwell in the idea of the trillions of ‘Sumpolloi’ barely surviving in the shanty bubbles of the solar system and trying to ferment revolution in the proletariat to overthrow the mysterious Ulanov clan, who rule the system with an iron fist.

I’ll certainly be looking out for more of Roberts’ work.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575127647
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2012

Time is the Fire: The Best of Connie Willis

By Connie Willis

Rating: 5 stars

I’ve not read a huge amount of Connie Willis before, although I wasn’t hugely fond of Lincoln’s Dreams. However, she’s an author I’ve heard good things about, and when I found out that she’s won enough Hugo and Nebula awards to make a (pretty big) book out of, I was intrigued. And dear me, but this is a good book!

It starts slowly with A Letter From the Clearys, a story that definitely shows more than it tells. Perhaps it leaves a little too much unsaid for my tastes, but it’s a wonderfully atmospheric story. From there on in, the pace picks up. At the Rialto is a hilarious pastiche of an academic conference/SF convention held in LA, where nobody listens, all the staff are just filling in while they’re trying to be something slash something else.

That’s something that I wasn’t expecting, actually. Willis is a master of humour. Several of the stories here are very funny, with masterful comic timing and just the right amount of ‘something’. But that’s not to say that she can’t be serious as well. She starts of so, and Fire Watch, The Winds of Marble Arch and Last of the Winnebagos are all very good, character pieces.

One of the ones that made the most impact of the collection is probably The Winds of Marble Arch, which tells of an academic in London for a conference with his wife, looking forward to catching up with old friends and adventures on the Underground. But something happens and things start to unravel as he becomes obsessed with tracking down where the strange and disturbing winds down in the Tube come from. Willis just blew me away with this one, as our protagonist realises that life is decay, people get old and things change, not always for the better. This was on track to be pretty bleak, but a final twist leaves us, like the protagonist, feeling uplifted and thinking that maybe there is a point to it all after all.

Oh, and another contender for favourite story in the collection is Even the Queen, which had me laughing out loud, and still left me feeling thoughtful at the end. As the introduction puts it, it’s quintessential Campbell-ian SF, other than its unspeakable subject matter.

To round off the collection, there are a few speeches that she gave (or, in one case, didn’t give) which give us a taste of the woman, as well as the author and each of them had me welling up at some point. The woman is good.

So jumping from the Blitz and St Paul’s, through post-nuclear America, dealing with unruly families and the London Underground to a world without dogs, there is something here for anyone who likes thoughtful science fiction. There’s a reason that Willis has won all those awards. I would recommend this without hesitation.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575131149
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 1993

Superman: True Brit

By Kim Howard Johnson

Rating: 3 stars

This graphic novel tries to answer the question of what would happen if the infant Kal-El landed in Somerset rather than Kansas and grew up to be a true Brit. Well the first thing you’ve got to answer is what a true Brit is. The answer that Howard and Cleese have come up with is someone who mustn’t grumble, never stand out and always ask WWTNT (What Would The Neighbours Think), and who ends up working for a sleezy tabloid rather than an upstanding beacon of virtue.

A lot of that rings sort of true, but it never quite gels for me. While it does raise a smile, it’s never laugh-out-loud funny, but the serious story about dealing with corruption and tabloid journalism also feels undermined by the slapstick. And I still have no idea what was going on with Colin’s parents moving house all the time.

So a nice idea and one that kills a bit of free time but in true British fashion, I just shrug my shoulders, s’okay, I s’pose.

Book details

ISBN: 9781401200237
Publisher: DC Comics
Year of publication: 2004

Powered by WordPress