BooksOfTheMoon

Changing Planes: Armchair Travel for the Mind

By Ursula K. Le Guin

Rating: 4 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of short stories linked by the idea that you can travel other worlds (planes) through the boredom of a missed flight at an airport with “a mere kind of twist and a slipping bend, easier to do than to describe”. The stories represent descriptions of these other worlds that the author has either visited (or, in some cases, descriptions from others who have visited). For the most part, they’re gentle anthropological imaginings of different societies and different species. Although that’s not to say that bad things don’t happen. When you’re talking about societies over time, that’s inevitable.

Peoples discussed include the Islai whose experimentation with genetic manipulation had a terrible cost; the Asonu, who just stop talking as they grow up, and the travellers who come to follow them and analyse the few utterings they do make; and the Hegn, where almost everyone has royal connection, and the attention they pay to their few common families.

It’s a great collection of stories, well thought out and written by someone with a strong anthropological background, which makes for some well told tales.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575076235
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2004

Dimension of Miracles

By Robert Sheckley

Rating: 4 stars

I was introduced to Robert Sheckley when I was in my 20s, by a friend who was keen to promote him. I took to Sheckley a lot and devoured pretty much everything my friend had, although I don’t remember this one from back then. Incidentally, this is the first Sheckley book that I’ve encountered that hasn’t been second hand. I thought all his work was out of print, so I’m very glad to see this available, and hopefully it’ll help introduce a new generation to his work.

Carmody, a human, is randomly selected in an interstellar sweepstake to win a prize (sorry, Prize). He collects this, and then has to set off on an epic voyage to return home, encountering gods, dinosaurs, parallel worlds, and, most terrifyingly of all, bureaucrats, along the way.

Once we’re off the Earth, the majority of the book is a sort of travelogue of Carmody’s attempt to get home, accompanied only by his not-so-trusty sentient Prize while being chased by a Predator tailored to him. He has conversations about the purpose of godhood; about the invention of science; and the meaning of death.

Sheckley is, first and foremost, a humorist. His work has been compared to Douglas Adams and, stylistically, it’s easy to see why. The humour is easy and unforced but present in just about every page, combined with satire regarding the world he saw around him. Like Arthur Dent, Carmody is an everyman (although less tea-obsessed), and he even meets a person whose profession is building planets (including the Earth) – all over a decade before Adams’ Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy series.

There’s an awful lot to enjoy here, and there’s a surprisingly poignant ending. I’m glad to have rediscovered Sheckley and hope that there’s more on the way (although I do think that his best work was in short stories, rather than the longer form).

Book details

ISBN: 9780241472491
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Year of publication: 2020

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

By Natasha Pulley

Rating: 4 stars

In a Victorian London much like our own, Thaniel Steepleton comes home one day to find someone has broken into his home and left a gift for him – a pocket watch. It’s only when that pocket watch saves his life after an explosion at Scotland Yard some months later that Thaniel goes searching for the watchmaker, Japanese immigrant Keita Mori. Around the same time, Grace Carrow is trying to prove the existence of the ether, while simultaneously trying to avoid being married off by her parents. These three lives eventually intertwine in unexpected and life-changing ways.

I think it’s safe to say that this isn’t a plot-driven book. For most of its length, it’s slow and fairly gentle. Spending time mostly with Thaniel and Mori, with Grace not getting nearly as much airtime as she deserves. It speeds up towards the end, in a way that was quite confusing (albeit deliberately so) and there’s a relationship that completely blind-sided me. Looking back, I can see some subtle signs of it building up, but it turns out that if I’ve not had it explicitly signposted, certain sorts of relationship just completely pass me by.

There was a strong focus on Japanese characters (the author spent some time there, as an academic) and the book delicately draws the distinctions between the immigrants and the locals, without ever resorting to crude bigotry from its characters. (Subtle bigotry, on the other hand…) It also shows the balance that immigrants have to strike when they move to a new country between their history and traditions and blending in with their new home and where different people draw that line.

As you would expect, clocks, clockwork and time play a large role. Mori is a genius with clockwork, with his masterpiece being his somewhat adorable mechanical octopus, Katsu (who has a thing for stealing socks). Timing of events, and probability of others are important, and not just in relation to the bomb that nearly kills Thaniel near the start of the book.

So a charming novel, with a good heart, not to mention a very interesting female scientist, who’s bolshy and flawed. I also now totally want a mechanical octopus (even if I’d have to buy a lock for my sock drawer).

Spoiler
I totally shipped Thaniel and Grace, even though their marriage was literally one of convenience, and it was probably that which blindsided me to Thaniel’s blossoming relationship with Mori.

Book details

ISBN: 9781408854310
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Year of publication: 2016

The Wicked + the Divine Deluxe Edition: Year Three

By Kieron Gillen

Rating: 4 stars

I have a tendency to race through graphic novels at breakneck speed (well, that’s true of most novels, but especially so of comics). Hence I really like the writer’s commentary at the end that lets me re-read it, more slowly, a few pages at a time, paying attention to things that I never noticed first time round, and generally decompressing a bit. This was especially helpful here, in issue 27 where I had been reading so quickly that I didn’t even notice that I was reading panels out of order (this is a neat section with multiple stories being told on the same page, in differing layouts, with panel borders linking stories). I got the gist of it, which was all I wanted at the time, but it was good to go back and read it the way it was intended.

But, my goodness, WicDiv repays a close reading and then some. This third year covers the whole of what Gillen calls the Imperial Phase, following Ananke’s death, how the remaining gods turn things up to eleven and how that goes very, very wrong, culminating in two huge twists (or “reveals”, as Gillen prefers) at the end of the book.

WicDiv has always been a story of excess, whether that’s hedonism, sex or love, and all the gods give in to that excess in the Imperial Phase. There are tough themes covered in the story, from the co-dependence of the goth kids to Sekhmet’s nihilism and Persephone’s fatalism. some are shocking and some are just heartbreaking.

While there’s a lot covered here, and we finally get a glimpse of the Great Darkness that Ananke had talked about before, we don’t really get much idea of what it is or what the gods are doing about it (although I suspect that may be coming in the final year). I can’t wait to find out – even if I’m sure it’s going to be mostly heartbreak and misery for the cast.

Book details

ISBN: 9781534308572
Publisher: Image Comics
Year of publication: 2018

Monstress, Vol. 5: Warchild

By Marjorie M. Liu

Rating: 4 stars

I’m really very fond of this series, but I’m starting to lose track of it. At this point, I think I might pause and wait for the story to complete before I go back to it, although I can’t seem to find how long that might be. In this volume, the long-threatened war between humans and arcanics finally erupts, and Maika pauses her own plans to help defend the city of Ravenna.

This volume highlights the bitterness of war and the choices it forces us to make. We’ve always known that Maika is an angry and hard person, but here we see her kill just to make a point to pull others into line. Zinn, meanwhile, has gone from an unknowable creature of shadow to some sort of rambling, lost child, trapped in his own mind.

The one shining light amongst all the misery is Kippa. She doesn’t get it easy here, not by a long shot. She makes mistakes and poor choices, but her heart is pure and, like Maika, I’d drop everything to save her if she needed it.

As for the rest of it, the politics; trying to remember who’s currently possessed by what; the plots and counter-plots; who is allied with whom and why (or who wants to double-cross whom), I think that needs a clear run to be able to follow it. I’ll keep an eye on the series, I think, because the story it’s telling is one worth being told, and Sana Takeda’s artwork remains magnificent, but given the complexity, it’s hard to keep up with the overall story when we only get a few chapters a year.

Book details

ISBN: 9781534316614
Publisher: Image Comics
Year of publication: 2020

Night Watch (Discworld, #29)

By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 4 stars

I bought this book when it came out in 2003*, as I did with all new Discworld books at the time, read it once, and for whatever reason, it never quite gelled with me, so it’s been sitting on the shelf and has never been reread. But I know lots of people for whom Night Watch is their favourite Discworld novel, so eventually I thought I should give it another go. And I’m quite glad that I did, because it’s a very good book. There’s a lot of depth to it, with complex discussion of justice, revolution, complicity and much more.

But (you knew there was going to be a ‘but’), for me, the best Discworld novels marry complex themes with a light touch and lots of humour. While there are lines here that made me smile, there were none that made me laugh. And, to be fair, even Pratchett would struggle to wring humour out of torture and police brutality. So while I enjoyed this book a lot (and will probably reread it again), I still pined a bit for Men at Arms.

Here, Vimes is pulled out of his comfortable life, shoved back in time and left with nothing. He’s got to capture a dangerous criminal who came back with him, teach his younger self how to become a copper and worry about a revolution, all without breaking history. We’re introduced to an older, more dangerous Ankh-Morpork, one that hasn’t yet been tamed and strengthened by Lord Vetinari, where a paranoid man sits on the Patrician’s chair, seeing plots wherever he looks. And has his special Watch squad, the Unmentionables, out “dealing” with them, while the rest of the Watch looks the other way, and tries not to think about the special cells under the watch house.

So, a good book, a very good book. Lots to think about, and, despite everything, a lightness of touch as well. I can see why so many people love it – it’s got a good plot, complex characterisation (for Vimes, at least) and interesting themes. But for me, it’s a little too dark and is a little short on the humour that I feel characterises the cream of the Discworld.

* Yes, I’m one of those cheapos who waits for the paperback**
** That reminds me, another (lesser) complaint is that there’s far too few footnotes in this book

Book details

ISBN: 9780552148993
Publisher: Corgi
Year of publication: 2003

Giant Days: Not On The Test Edition Vol. 2

By John Allison

Rating: 4 stars

This second volume of the Giant Days comic follows the adventures of Daisy, Esther and Susan in their second semester at the University of Sheffield. There are shenanigans in student politics, flat-hunting and film-making, along others. Along the way hearts are broken, the Night World is explored, and questionable decisions are made.

The key relationships between Susan, Esther and Daisy is unshakeable, and they’re all there for each other, whenever it matters. Outwith that “coven”, the friendship between Ed and McGraw is pretty strong, and usually a pleasure to read. There’s a lovely visual gag early on where McGraw builds a fake wall in front of his bedroom door to hide from “Big Lindsay” (who turns out to be not as scary as made out).

I’m looking forward to seeing what they get up to next. In the mean time, night be with you.

Book details

ISBN: 9781684150588
Publisher: BOOM! Box
Year of publication: 2018

Star Daughter

By Shveta Thakrar

Rating: 4 stars

This was a fun coming of age story, which I enjoyed quite a lot. Sheetal Mistry is the daughter of a mortal man and a living star, who came to earth for a while, fell in love, had a child and then left again. Sheetal has grown up having to hide her silvery, glowing hair and her heritage, but as her seventeenth birthday approaches, she finds her powers harder and harder to control, until she accidentally seriously burns her father, and has to go on a quest to the immortal realm and find her mother to save him.

Sometimes it feels like you don’t realise how important that representation in media is until, after a decades long drought, you start to see yourself. In the last few years, we’ve had a slow drip of south Asian characters appear in our stories (I’m a big fan of Yaz from Doctor Who), but characters living in the West, with a Hindu upbringing are still pretty rare. That was a lot of what I loved about this book, seeing the foods of my childhood, and recognisable archetypes of my family and others while growing up.

And speaking of representation, Sheetal’s best friend, Minal, is gay, which is something that is also rarely (ever?) seen in the media. Being gay in south Asian culture is still a bit of a big deal, so it’s good to see this treated like the normal, non-event that it is (and the relationship that Minal forms with Padmini, a member of the court, is very sweet).

This is a YA book and Sheetal’s emotions are writ large, with everything feeling like the most important thing in the world (although, I mean, in her case she does literally have her father’s life hanging on the line). At that age, things do feel like that, but her reaction to finding out her boyfriend’s secret and the lack of willingness to communicate with him did frustrate me.

The immortal realm that Thakrar imagines is both a magical, ethereal place, and a very “human”, for want of a better word, place, full of intrigue, politics and back-stabbing, with her own family at the heart of it. She has to discover and come to terms with a family she has never met, and at the same time, worry about their motives.

One thing that I did grumble about was the political organisation of the heavens. As I grow older, despite what people say, I seem to be turning into more of a grumpy old lefty, and the idea of “a few royal houses govern[ing] the masses” makes me unreasonably annoyed. A society as long-lived and slowly changing as the stellar court would be pretty conservative, but it seems to me that they could learn a thing or two from the humans they constantly claim to inspire.

A fun book that may have made a greater emotional impact if I’d read it 25 years ago but which is still an enjoyable read.

Book details

ISBN: 9780062894625

Reborn: Supervillain Rehabilitation Project

By H.L. Burke

Rating: 4 stars

Reborn picks up the Supervillain Rehabilitation Project story about a year after the last book finished, with Prism heavily pregnant but as busy as ever. The driving force of this book is that Aiden, Prism’s brother, is alive (following the revelation for the reader at the end of the last book). Now on the one hand, it’s an long-established trope that superheroes rarely stay dead for long, but on the other, I had thought the treatment of Prism’s grief and growing acceptance of Aiden’s death in Redeemed was very well done, and this revelation felt like it undermined it a bit.

Still, the book does deal with the consequences of finding that Aiden is alive. Prism will stop at nothing to get him back, and she finds her mental balance thrown, as it’s repeatedly pointed out to her that there might not be enough left of him to save.

It’s Fade that’s most interesting here though. He’s someone who’s never had anything to lose in the past, and now he has not only a wife, but a child as well. This leads to some… dubious decisions. We didn’t see much in the way of consequences of that this time, but I expect chickens coming home to roost at some point. It also led Fade becoming over-protective to the point of being on the edge of being controlling. It’ll be interesting to see if that goes anywhere, or if I’m just being overly sensitive.

As always, there’s not enough Keeper (and Yui) – but then I’m biased towards there being more Scots in media – nor enough Tanvi, who’s probably my favourite character at this point. We got cameo appearances from some of the teens from the last book, along with their adopted parents, which was nice to see.

As with the rest of the series, the book is extremely readable. I enjoy the superhero world writ large, and this series scratches that itch admirably. Intrigued by the hook in the epilogue and already looking forward to the next one.

Note: I received an ARC of this book from the author in exchange for an unbiased review.

Book details

Year of publication: 2020

Redeemed: Supervillain Rehabilitation Project

By H.L. Burke

Rating: 4 stars

This book picks up a few months after the events of Reformed, with the whole team still reeling over the shock of Aiden’s death in the previous book, but with Prism and Fade a strong couple. Tanvi injures a sable who she sees breaking into a house and is shocked to find that it’s a just a teenage girl. She persuades Prism to recruit the girl, Alma, as the next recruit for the Supervillian Rehabilitation Project. But Alma has secrets of her own and is running from her past.

I enjoyed this short book a lot. Prism and Fade being an established couple works much better for me than bringing them together, and the interpersonal problems of a devoted Christian and a hand-waving theist make for surprisingly real drama.

I liked that we got to see much of both Tanvi and Bob this time round, although they’re still not PoV characters, and Yui also played a much more active role in the plot. Sidenote: I really liked the idea of Bob’s wife always being around, but nobody has any idea about it. It’s a neat little idea that tickled my fancy.

The true villain of the piece, Handler, was one that made me want to shower every time he was on the page. I really hate the idea of mind control, so his powers (not to mention his ruthlessness) made him an effective villain in my eyes.

Unlike the previous book, this one definitely ends on a cliffhanger, and I look forward to reading the next two books in the series, as they come out.

Book details

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