Farmer Giles of Ham/The Adventures of Tom Bombadil

By J.R.R. Tolkien

Rating: 3 stars

This volume collects two of J. R. R. Tolkien’s short books:  Farmer Giles of Ham and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. I’ve already read the latter, and have reviewed it under another edition here, so I’ll concentrate on the former here. This is a fairly short story, aimed at a younger audience, about the titular Farmer Giles and how an encounter with a giant led to a series of increasingly heroic events. Even in this short volume, Tolkien can’t resist epic world-building, with the story being a foundation myth for something else (although set in what would become England, and not connected to Middle-Earth at all).

There are some lovely medieval-style “illuminated” illustrations to go along with the story (artist not credited in my edition) which really add to the atmosphere. I can’t say the same about the illustrations with The Adventures of Tom Bombadil though. Those are pixelated and low resolution, which is a shame because the originals (in colour in my other copy) are lovely.

Book details

ISBN: 9780048231253
Publisher: George Allen & Unwin
Year of publication: 1949

Thirty Years of Rain

By Neil Williamson

Rating: 3 stars

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that a book called “Thirty Years of Rain” tends to the depressing side. It appears that the prevailing weather in my favourite city has affected its writers. Those of speculative fiction, at least. The stories for this anthology were collected from the Glasgow SF Writers’ Circle, celebrating its 30th anniversary and while I thought that most of them were good, blimey, so many of them were depressing! Starting with a man in mourning for his recently deceased wife (and the substitute that he finds of her), leading straight into a story about a soldier who can be wired directly into a military aircraft and what happens when he’s let loose into civilian life with no support.

On and on they go, but, again like the city they’re inspired by, when the sun does break out, it’s glorious. For me the highlight of this book is Brian Milton’s The Lodger consisting of letters from a Certain Sort of lady to various destinations about the alien refugee who she has agreed to (temporarily) rehouse. Whimsical and often very funny, it still left me with a lump in my throat.

Back in chilling as *cough* territory, Headkiller is terrifying but very effective. Similar in theme, if not extreme violence is Crowd Control, about rubbernecking and social media in a world where personal teleportation is commonplace. There are other lighter stories in there as well. I enjoyed Duncan Lunan’s alt-hist I Believe That This Nation Should Commit Itself and Jim Steel’s self-aware Fritz Leiber pastiche The Crock of Shet. Neil Williamson’s Foreign Bodies was interesting and engaging, but I completely failed to understand the ending and Phil Raines’ The Circle closes things off with a story about a writers’ circle (very meta).

So a nice showcase for the authors, if rather tending to the darker side of the spectrum for my tastes. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to re-read The Lodger.

Book details

ISBN: 9781326753429
Year of publication: 2016

The Hanging Tree (Peter Grant, #6)

By Ben Aaronovitch

Rating: 5 stars

Peter Grant is back in London and back on form. When Tyburn calls him up to call in a favour by keeping her daughter out of any fallout from a drug death, Peter is forced to encounter another alien species: the rich. Investigating the death, involving wealth, power and poor taste in furnishings Peter, along with his usual backup crew, and some new additions, expand the world of the river goddesses with flair, pizazz and the appropriate forms, to be filled out in triplicate.

I’d forgotten just how much I missed Peter’s narrative voice. He’s a brilliant narrator; the combination of sarcasm, intelligence and geekery makes him a joy to read. Much kudos to Aaronovitch for keeping that voice just right. After the slightly disappointing, rushed ending to [book: Foxglove Summer], I was glad to see better pacing here, with an ending that doesn’t make me feel cheated. Yes, the ongoing plot involving the Faceless Man is still ongoing; and yes we only get tantalising glimpses of wider British magic, involving Lady Helena, but the plot of this book is still tied up and the Faceless Man plot has moved on, with promises of more revelations to come. One of the few disappointments in the book, actually, is that now that the Faceless Man has been identified, he turns out to be just another common, or garden, kipper. Just an old racist in the Nigel Farage mould, dreaming of a time while Britannia ruled the waves.

I did find it difficult to keep track of the various rich teenagers and their Responsible Adults, although that might have been part of the point. Police work, as Peter keeps telling us, is mostly about banging on and on and getting right into the detail. Still, with the involvement of her daughter, we do get to see a different side to Lady Ty, and her last scene with Peter is actually quite touching, as she tries to do the Big Sister thing for Beverly.

The supporting cast are all present and correct, complete with extended cameo from Lesley May. Peter’s new partner, Sahra Guleed is an interesting character in her own right, and, unlike May, happily avoiding handling actual magic, although as the one who’s been involved more of the Weird Stuff than anyone else outside the Folly, she’s now the unofficial third in command and has had some nice character development of her own.

So Aaronovitch is back on form and this book was worth the wait. Still huge amounts of fun with brilliant characters, I’ve already ordered the next graphic novel to help tide me over until the next full novel.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575132559
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2016

The Home Crowd Advantage (Peter Grant, #1.5)

By Ben Aaronovitch

Rating: 4 stars

Nice wee short story set early in the Rivers of London sequence, during the London Olympics of 2012, this sees Peter having to deal with History and Conscience while Nightingale is away. As always, Peter’s distinctive narrative voice is a joy to read and it has the usual mix of modern policing and utter geekiness that I enjoy so much. This also widens the world a little bit, with some details of French magic and what happened to it.

Book details

Year of publication: 2014

Lumberjanes: To the Max Edition, Vol. 2

By Noelle Stevenson

Rating: 4 stars

The second To The Max volume of Lumberjanes is just as pretty as the first, with a lovely hardback cover and gorgeous internal artwork. The story continues to be engaging and fun as well. The first issue within this volume is a standalone story of the various Lumberjanes telling each other ghost stories. After that, we move into a longer story of Molly and Mal getting trapped Somewhere Else (with dinosaurs!) after following the Bear Woman, and then something which fleshes out Rosie’s backstory, gives the Bear Woman a name and introduces a new character with a dangerous obsession.

It took me a wee bit to get back into this; the standalone and somewhat disjointed first story didn’t really help, but once it got going, I very much enjoyed it. The tension between Jo and Barney was interesting and had a lovely payoff at the end. It was also nice to see Rosie’s character fleshed out a bit more, and more beats between the Roanoke gang (especially Mal and Molly and also the friendship between Jo and April).

There’s obviously something going on at the Lumberjanes camp and I look forward to finding out more about what it is, not to mention spending more time with the Lumberjanes themselves.

Book details

ISBN: 9781608868896
Publisher: BOOM! Box
Year of publication: 2015

Valour’s Choice (Confederation, #1)

By Tanya Huff

Rating: 4 stars

Humans were given entry to the Confederation because the elder races had long since lost their ability to fight a war, and now one had come calling upon them. Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr and her platoon are assigned to a diplomatic mission to recruit a new race into the Confederation before the aggressive Others can get to them. However, the ceremonial role goes awry when their transport ship is shot down, and Kerr has to keep her people, and the diplomats, alive for the future of the Confederation.

I’m not normally a big reader of MilSF, but a friend whose tastes I trust heavily recommended this to me, and it was a lot of fun. From my limited reading in the subgenre, I don’t think it brings anything hugely new to it, although the protagonist is female, and there’s never any doubting that the women are any way lesser than the men in the Marines of the Confederation. Torrin is a likeable protagonist, as are the others in her platoon, from the new wet-behind-the-ears officer that she has to mould to the men and women she’s in command of. From fairly early on, I was playing Guess Who’s Going To Die – although the book is fairly smart and when one grunt is found by his colleagues wistfully looking at a picture of his young daughter, he gets yelled at for not knowing about the tropes.

One issue I had with the book was that the aliens didn’t really feel all that alien. The Confederation military has three different races in it, and apart from one of them being very fond of sex and the other being able and willing to eat just about anything, they could just be humans. The race that they’ve gone to recruit, the Silsviss, are more interesting, as their lifecycle forms a fairly important part of the plot. Still, this isn’t a hugely big deal for me as all the characters, no matter what their race, are interesting and usually quite fun.

Apparently the final battle was based on an early battle in the Zulu war, although since I’m not a military buff, I completely failed to notice this. But on the other hand, it wasn’t important to the enjoyment of the book nor to appreciate how tense the situation was, with Kerr’s platoon massively outmanned.

This is the first in a series and despite my misgivings about military SF I liked Kerr and the setting enough to definitely look out for others in the series.

Book details

ISBN: 9781781169667
Publisher: Titan Books
Year of publication: 2000

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