The Lost Plot

By Genevieve Cogman

Rating: 4 stars

A senior dragon has died and there is a vacuum surrounding his station, one that two factions race to fill, dragging the Library into their internal politics, something that it must avoid at all costs to preserve its neutrality, and possibly its existence. A Librarian is caught in the midst of this, and it’s up to Irene to extricate him while preserving everything the Library holds dear, even at the cost of her own life.

This was a great addition to Irene’s adventures. Much more politically focussed than previous instalments, although that doesn’t stop there being lots of action, razor-sharp wit and mobsters with tommy guns in the 1920s style alternate America that Irene finds herself on. Her relationship with her apprentice Kai is stretched right to the breaking point here, as she struggles to avoid involving him in dragon politics that could also further implicate the Library. It’s nice to see that develop and I wonder where it will go.

The usual supporting cast get almost no screen time. Irene’s superior Coppelia is represented only by an email, and the Holmes-a-like Vale only appears in the last chapter. I missed him a lot, as he’s a fun character, but there’s more than enough plot and characterisation to be going on with, even without him.

Niggles are minor. There’s the old trick of ending every chapter with a cliffhanger. It’s an effective tactic, but it can get a bit much. It does fuel that “just one more chapter” feeling but can be a bit exhausting as well. It’s still a great read and I look forward to the next one.

Book details

ISBN: 9781509830701
Publisher: Pan
Year of publication: 2017

Nebula Winners Sixteen

By Jerry Pournelle

Rating: 3 stars

This anthology brings together the Nebula short fiction winners from 1980 along with some other fiction and essays about the state of the genre and fandom in that year. Of the fiction, I’d read a number of the stories elsewhere but I still very much enjoyed Grotto of the Dancing Deer in which an archaeologist learns about the past through an unexpected source; and The Ugly Chickens, a humorous story in which a young academic starts on the trail of the possible discovery of a lifetime. I was less taken with the novella, The Unicorn Tapestry, about a therapist who takes on a new client – a vampire. I found the protagonist irritating and I’ve never really been a fan of this sort of slower, psychological SF. Of the non-fiction, I must confess to skipping most of Algis Budrys’s essay What did 1980 Mean which tried to being a critical analysis to the start of the art in that year, but did nothing for me. The most interesting non-fiction piece for me was 1980: The Year in Fantastic Films, by Bill Warren which looked at 1980 in film and TV. Although most of what he talks about have sunk without trace over the years, there were two that stood out, and it’s interesting to see how time has changed the way we look at both: The Empire Strikes Back and Flash Gordon. Warren regarded Empire as inferior to A New Hope and gave interesting reasons for this. This was written at the time, before the trilogy was complete and the darkness that is now most commonly praised was held up as its major flaw. Flash Gordon on the other hand was considered to have been made by people contemptuous of the genre and without love, whereas time as turned it into a bona fide classic, albeit a very camp one!

So an interesting snapshot of the state of SF in 1980, both in the fiction and the essays that accompany them. As you’d expect, the stories range in scope and taste but definitely worth dipping into.

Book details

ISBN: 9780352314239
Publisher: Star
Year of publication: 1982

Rivers of London, Volume 4: Detective Stories

By Ben Aaronovitch

Rating: 4 stars

This volume of the ‘Rivers of London’ graphic novel series takes a slightly different format to the previous ones. Rather than being a single story, it’s a set of short stories, with the overarching narrative of Peter taking his detective exam and these being episodes from his history being told to his examiner (something which works well for comics – as each story is an issue long). This format does let us move around in time, and some of the stories are being told when Lesley May was still Peter’s partner, not his enemy.

The focus of these stories is very much on Peter, with the supporting cast taking a background role (poor Molly is relegated to a single walk-on part – even Toby gets more screen time than she does!). This is understandable given the framing narrative but I did miss Nightingale, Guleed and the rest. One thing I did very much like about this one is more time inside Peter’s head. It can’t be as much as the books, but again the format of this story comes to our aid, as these are being told in retrospective, so Peter knows the outcome and is relating the story.

The art is still lovely and Sullivan and Guerrero have become more assured as the series has progressed. The only major complaint is just the usual one – can we have more written word Peter Grant, please? I like the graphic novels and all, but I’d like to see the main plot being progressed some too.

Book details

ISBN: 9781785861710
Publisher: Titan Comics
Year of publication: 2017

Five Red Herrings

By Dorothy L. Sayers

Rating: 2 stars

Lord Peter Wimsey is spending some time hanging around artists in the Scottish Borders when one of them is murdered. It turns out that any of about half a dozen people could have done it and he ends up helping the police with their enquiries.

I must confess that I found this one a bit difficult to wrap my head around. Keeping track of all the suspects, their motives, stories and alibis got quite tricky, and the fact that travel was important made it difficult as well, as the train timetable became central. Not to mention little things that would have been so common as to be barely worth mentioning in Sayers’ day but because train travel has changed so much in the last eighty or so years, it’s confusing when she talks about bicycles being ticketed separately to the person and held in a different compartment, and rather than taking it in, you’re left going, ‘eh’? Oh, and the idea of trains mostly running to timetable as well seems less than credible!

Lord Peter is a fun protagonist, ever cheerful and bimbling about in an inoffensive way that ferrets out information without people even noticing, and yet with an edge that lets him push if he has to. Neither he, nor the rest of the cast, get much in the way of character development – I suppose with six suspects, hangers on and a number of police officials, there just wasn’t room for it. I certainly struggled to keep things clear in my head, even with the handy list near the start and the police recap near the end.

I wasn’t sure about writing the Scottish characters in dialect to start with, but it did grow on me and I was enjoying it by the end. I also laughed out loud at Sayers’ little wink to camera in a section near the start where Wimsey is frantically searching for something to do with the murder and when the policeman asks what it is, the author puts in an insert to the effect that Wimsey tells him, but leaves it hidden from the reader, in a very post-modern way.

So enjoyable enough and it wouldn’t put me off reading more Wimsey stories, but it’s definitely one that needs attention and to be read in reasonable chunks.

Book details

ISBN: 9780450038457
Publisher: New English Library
Year of publication: 1931

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