BooksOfTheMoon

Pied Piper

By Nevil Shute

Rating: 4 stars

I probably wouldn’t have found this book on my own, but a friend recommended it to me and it sounded delightful: an old man goes on a fishing holiday to France in the middle of the Second World War. While he’s there, France is invaded by the Nazis, and he has to make his way home, except that a British couple also out there ask if he’ll take their children back to Britain as they can’t leave. He agrees, and spends the book acquiring more children to bring safely to Britain.

This is a charming and sweet book. Our protagonist, Mr Howard, shows boundless patience towards his charges and a determination to get them out of danger and to safety, whether in England, or to send them to his married daughter in America.

Howard’s decision to go to France on holiday perhaps shows poor judgement, but there are mitigating factors, revealed later in the book. But it also perhaps shows how little the war had impacted gentlemen of a certain age and class at this point, that he felt that a fishing holiday was safe. Although I imagine nobody expected France to fall. Certainly not a quickly and completely as she did. The book is also contemporary to events: it was written in 1942, only two years after the fall of France, when the book is set. At this point, the outcome of the war is far from certain, and to write such a positive book in the midst of it is quite the achievement.

Spoiler
I really loved the relationship that built up between Howard and Nicole, the French girl whose father he knew, and who, it turns out was the lover of his dead son, John. This is something that surprised me in a book written at this time – that such a relationship, with heavy implications that it was a physical one – outwith marriage was not only written about, but in a positive, non-judgemental way. Howard even accepts and describes Nicole as his daughter-in-law, despite the fact that John died before they could marry.

An enjoyable, slow-paced book, albeit with added danger towards the end. But even Nazis want to see their children kept safe.

Book details

ISBN: 9780099530220
Publisher: Vintage Classics
Year of publication: 2009

How To

By Randall Munroe

Rating: 4 stars

There are perfectly sensible ways to dig a hole, cross a river or move house. If you’re a fan of any of being sensible, do not buy this book. The author uses Science! to find the most useless, complex and dangerous ways of doing common or everyday tasks. As well as the above, we learn to how throw a pool party, move house, predict the weather and much more.

In this book I learned that the US military detonated nuclear weapons to see what effect they would have on alcoholic and carbonated beverages (good news, they survived and, apparently, tasted fine); that one percent of people think it’s okay for employees to steal expensive equipment from their workplace (presumably that’s the oft-neglected thieves’ vote); and that if the book itself was used to power a car, it would burn through about 30,000 words per minute.

Munroe persuaded Serena Williams to hit tennis balls at drones (outcome: Serena Williams is very good at accurately hitting balls at things) and Chris Hadfield to answer increasingly stupid questions about how to land an aeroplane/space shuttle/space station (which he amusingly did without batting an eyelid).

Munroe certainly didn’t skimp on showing his workings throughout. For whatever harebrained scheme he comes up with, he probably provides not only the outline solution, but there’s a good chance he’ll provide the relevant equations and fill in the values for you, so you can try it for yourself. In fact, this book probably has more equations than I’ve seen outwith a maths or physics textbook and almost certainly has the highest laugh to equation ratio of any book that I’ve read all the way through.

A lot of fun, engagingly written and scientifically accurate, if implausible. If you do try out some of the things in this book, make sure to video yourself so that the rest of us can point to it in warning of Things That Man Was Not Meant To Attempt.

Book details

ISBN: 9781473680326

Exit Strategy (The Murderbot Diaries, #4)

By Martha Wells

Rating: 4 stars

Murderbot is on its way back to Dr Mensah, with additional evidence against the shady-to-full-blown-evil GrayCris corporation when it discovers that she’s been kidnapped. So, once again ignoring its Risk Assessment Module, it immediately goes off to rescue her. En route, it runs into some old acquaintances (friends, Murderbot, they’re your friends) and has more Feelings that aren’t about entertainment media.

Like the rest of the Murderbot books, this is fun, pacy, and with more emotional punch than you would expect from a sarcastic, misanthropic killbot. Despite its best efforts, Murderbot really does care. It wants to protect those who were kind to it and who treat it like a person, and it wants to beat (in both senses of the word) those who are trying to harm them.

It’s not world-shattering stuff. It’s pretty lightweight, and popcorn reading, but it’s good at what it does and is highly entertaining. Recommended.

Like the others in the series, this is short, easily readable in a couple of hours. I got given the middle two volumes in the series as a birthday present, which is what then pushed me to pick up this final novella, as otherwise I probably wouldn’t have bothered, given that they’re priced close to full-sized novels. If Tor releases the novellas as a pretty omnibus on paper, they’ll have a built-in market (I’d certainly buy it, despite now owning all of them in electronic format). Come on Tor, why won’t you take my money?!

Book details

Publisher: Tor.com
Year of publication: 2018

Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries, #2)

By Martha Wells

Rating: 4 stars

Murderbot got its clients away from the really quite nasty GreyCris corporation on the survey world it had been guarding them on, and after its client bought it, just walked away. Now it decides that it needs to know about its past, about the event that caused it to give itself that name. Aided by a research transport vessel, it ends up taking on a small group of clients as a security consultant and finds that despite what it wants, it cares about them too much to skip out on them.

Murderbot is, despite, you know, the whole murder thing, a delightful protagonist. It’s fun and sarky and, despite its best intentions, isn’t nearly as misanthropic as it wants to be. It just wants to be left alone to watch space-Netflix all day, but instead keeps getting involved with humans it can’t bear to leave to die horribly.

While I’m still not convinced about any society that creates sentient cyborgs and then enslaves them, I think that Wells has given us enough hints that a) she doesn’t consider this to be a place anyone would want to live and b) not the whole of human space is like the bit that built Murderbot.

The research transport that Murderbot sort of befriends (ART) is a lot of fun, and you can’t help wanting to protect its clients/cover story, as they’re young, innocent and just adorable.

Final thought: Murderbot is horrified at the idea of being hugged. I would do some murdering of my own for a hug right now (stupid coronavirus).

Book details

Lumberjanes: To the Max Edition, Vol. 5

By Shannon Watters

Rating: 4 stars

The first story in this collection moves away from Roanoke cabin to Zodiac, as Barney settles in with their cabin-mates following their move to the Lumberjanes camp last volume (incidentally, there was a nice little introduction to the idea of people’s pronouns here, which wasn’t too thickly laid on, but a good way to show it handled well). Diane has been allowed to stay, and she takes them off on a treasure hunt for magic. After this, we’re back with Roanoke, as we move into a sports-based storyline involving roller ball. I’m not a huge sports fan, but there’s enough fun in this (especially given who the opposing team are) that it keeps my attention.

The second arc sees Parents’ Day, where the various parents come to visit. This revisits previous hints that Molly’s family life isn’t happy. Seeing her watching, smiling slightly sadly, as the others make happy reunions with their families is a little heartbreaking. This seems to be something that the authors are going to leave simmering and come back to in future.

The artists change between the arcs in the volume. While I enjoyed the Carolyn Nowak’s art on the first story, Ayme Sotuyo’s work on the second felt “more Lumberjanes” to me. Both are very good and fit the type of storytelling going on here, but the second just spoke to me more. As always, everything to do with art is subjective, and YMMV.

The themes of friendship to the max, and found families persist in this volume, as the girls grow ever-closer, and the camp becomes ever-weirder. Lovely stuff.

Book details

ISBN: 9781684153121
Publisher: BOOM! Box
Year of publication: 2019

Flotation Device: A Charity Anthology

By E.M. Faulds (editor)

Rating: 4 stars

This anthology from the members of the Glasgow SF Writers’ Circle was put together quickly after the start of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, in aid of various charities. All the authors donated their stories, so all the money (minus PayPal fees) went to the chosen charities. Given the cause, how could I refuse?

There’s quite a variety of stories here, light and dark, and of varying lengths. The opener, Of Gods and Monsters was strong, with a modern take on a fantasy Quest, where the princess gets pregnant with the Chosen One’s child and the Mighty Wizard storms off in a huff, so they have to find another solution. Sweet and funny, a fun way to start the collection.

Other highlights included The Map, or a Pocketful of Dog’s Teeth about a carny and their con trick against a punter; Amaranth, a metaphor for depression wrapped in a superhero story and The Snow Baby about a boy and his younger brother who’s been hidden from the rest of the village for fear they’ll kill him, which turned out better than I was expecting.

Some stories are short but pack quite a punch, such as The Anniversary by Ruth EJ Booth. Christopher Napier’s The Sea Calls its Own is longer, but has father-son feelings going on, and an end that punched me in the guts.

There are some well known names in here, such as Hal Duncan, with Threnody. I’m sorry to say that having read several pieces by Duncan in different collections, I’ve never entirely clicked with his style. Neil Williamson also contributed a story: Rare as a Harpy’s Tear, which is lyrical and melancholy.

I’m saving my favourite story for the end though. I must proclaim an interest here, in that I know Brian Milton personally and he’s a lovely chap, but I always perk up when I see a new story by him. His style is whimsical and light, but always full of heart. Here, he contributed Some of the Great Old Ones are on the Pitch, a story in broad Scots about a kerfuffle at a Partick Thistle football game. And, because some people apparently found this difficult to interpret, he’s provided a translation into the Queen’s English on his website. Heartily recommended if you need a smile today.

This is a good collection, with many of its stories based in Glasgow or Scotland, and for a good cause. Definitely worth your money and your time.

Book details

Publisher: Glasgow Science Fiction Writers Circle
Year of publication: 2020

Robots vs. Fairies

By Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe (editors)

Rating: 4 stars

This is another gem from Scalzi’s “The Big Idea” over on Whatever. The idea of an anthology features robots and/or fairies tickled me, and I’m very glad I picked it up, as it’s a very strong anthology with a lot of big names in it.

It opens with Seanan McGuire‘s Build me a Wonderland (featuring both robots and fairies), which is a great read that satirises theme parks, consultants and HR. This is followed by a thoughtful story by Ken Liu on life in Silicon Valley, robot nannies and the way they change the social fabric around them. It’s also filled with geek popular culture references (particularly from the Star Trek episode Darmok), which always goes down well with me.

Other highlights include Murmured Under the Moon by Tim Pratt, about a human librarian of a fairy library, which is a huge amount of fun; Just Another Love Song about a New York banshee just trying to make a living as Fae disappear around her; and To a Cloven Pine, Max Gladstone‘s science fictional take on The Tempest.

Hmm, looking at that list, it looks like I’m on Team Fairy, which surprises me, since I would consider myself much more Team Robot. The things we learn about ourselves.

Special mention to Catherynne M. Valante‘s closing story A Fall Counts Anywhere, which, like the opening story, also features both fairies and robots, this time in a very literal take on the anthology title, with robots and fae fighting it out, Battle Royal-style, in a WWE-style wrestling ring. Very fun, and with a surprising amount of pathos for such a silly concept.

So a great anthology for any fan of fairies and/or robots. With an absolutely beautiful cover to boot.

Book details

ISBN: 9781481462358
Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press
Year of publication: 2018

Empress of Forever

By Max Gladstone

Rating: 4 stars

Vivian Liao is a tech billionaire, on the run after making powerful enemies. As she schemes in the bowels of a Boston server farm to fix her life and make her enemies pay, she’s pulled into a far future ruled by the almost omnipotent Empress. Here, she has to gather together a group to help her survive and somehow stop the Empress from destroying the universe in her ongoing battle against the Bleed.

I loved this book! While I wasn’t entirely sure that a tech billionaire was going to be the most relatable protagonist, Viv is a very fun character. And her fish-out-of-water status helps to ground her. The other characters that eventually form part of her crew are larger than life as well. From the monk Hong, to the tragic pirate queen Zanj. Following them and exploring their world along with Viv is thoroughly enjoyable, as is seeing how they grow and change through their meeting and friendship with the woman from the past. And the mystery of Viv, and her ability to affect the world around her, keeps the book going forward.

The world-building is also excellent. There’s a sense of huge scale and a rich past that we pick up on through the natives of this time. Another thing I liked was that the book does answers questions as it goes, setting up new ones in their place, which helps to keep the pace up and means it never feels too frustrating.

It’s also a standalone book, which is welcome in this era of overwrought trilogies. The book tells its story and then ends. And while there’s scope for more stories in the world, I’d be sort of hesitant about going back, after a very well-suited ending here.

4 1/2 stars (rounded down)

Book details

ISBN: 9780765395818
Publisher: Tor Books
Year of publication: 2019

The Wicked + The Divine Deluxe Edition: Year One

By Kieron Gillen

Rating: 4 stars

I’d heard some good things about this series and it was the hard recommendation of a friend whose taste I trust that finally sold me. Firstly, the physical object here is beautiful. It’s a hardback book with a minimalist black cover showing the logos of the twelve gods who have been reincarnated for this Recurrence.

The art is of a style that I generally enjoy and I really liked it here. The story is intriguing and has kept me engaged the whole way through: every ninety years, twelve gods return as young people, help inspire and change the world, and within two years, they’re all dead. That’s quite the hook, and Gillen and co make good on it. This time round, the gods are all pop stars, allowing the writers to talk about our culture through that lens. Our PoV character is Laura, a fan, maybe acolyte, of all of them who Lucifer (aka Luci) takes a shine to. This is followed by attempted murder, actual murder and a mystery over a death.

Gillen is happy to build up his mystery slowly, as he builds his world. And you can’t help but get drawn in. With such a large cast, to start with, it is sometimes difficult to remember who is who and what their shtick is. This gets easier as the book goes on, and it ends on a heck of a cliffhanger, that completely threw me.

I’m definitely going to be picking up more WicDiv, and how can I not get these gorgeous hardbacks? My favourite ‘extra’ in this volume is the writer’s commentary at the back. Gillen goes through pretty much the entire comic, page by page, with his own thoughts and analysis, pointing out things that I missed in my first desperate rush to read the next page. It’s a great way to read the whole thing again in a more thoughtful manner.

Book details

ISBN: 9781632157287
Publisher: Image Comics
Year of publication: 2016

City of Miracles (The Divine Cities, #3)

By Robert Jackson Bennett

Rating: 4 stars

Shara Komayd is dead (not a spoiler, it’s the first sentence on the blurb on the back). Her old friend and ally Sigrid finds out and sets out to find her murderer and avenge her. Amongst his grief, he finds himself in the middle of a hidden war and learns me than he wanted to about his own past.

This book is about cycles. Cycles of violence and revenge and, eventually, forgiveness. The Divinities of the Continent were the source of so much pain to Saypur; Saypur in turn imposed its will on the Continent, returning the favour. The book questions these sorts of cycles and what is required to break them.

Sigrid was probably my favourite character from City of Stairs. He was huge, inscrutable, competent, and just destroyed things that got in his way. But I wasn’t sure about making this book about him. But it was good to get inside his head and find what’s been driving him through the series. The way he held on to his anger and pain until it became a millstone around his neck. His fear of being unable to change, and the anger at losing the last person in his life that he truly cared for.

It’s exciting, with lots set-pieces, as the hidden enemy slowly starts to reveal himself, leaving Sigrud as the last thing in his way, now that Shara is gone. The pace is good, as well, and there’s a neat twist right at the end which made me smile (and, for once, I worked out the main ‘twist’ before it happened, which is something I’m normally awful at).

It left me with a feeling of melancholy, but this feels like a good way to end the trilogy.

Book details

ISBN: 9780857053596
Publisher: Jo Fletcher
Year of publication: 2018

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