The Consuming Fire – John Scalzi

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“Years later Lenson Ornill would reflect on the irony that his time as a religious man would be bracketed by a single and particular word.”

The Collapsing Empire was one of my favourite NetGalley finds – so much fun to read, and introducing me to an author I immediately wished to read more from. The story was intriguing, too: in the far future, humanity has spread throughout the stars by means of wormhole-like ‘flow’ paths between planets and habitats that would otherwise take months, years, or longer to travel between. Long cut off from Earth after the collapse of that particular flow, it seems as if other, depended-upon trade routes are also starting to disappear.

Following on from that, we once again join Emperox Grayland II now dealing with what could be the biggest upcoming disaster in any Emperox’s rule. First hurdle: convincing anyone else that the threat is real. Meanwhile, power struggles between ruling houses continue, taking more deadly and downright nasty twists. And on the end of a newly-opened flow, it could be that a long-cut off scion of humanity may not have been destroyed when their link to civilisation was…

I didn’t find CF quite as much fun as CE, but it was still a thoroughly enjoyable read. Lady Kiva is a bit more reigned in this time, although still a lot of fun. Cardenia is coming into her own. However, the scale of the story takes precedence over characterisation a little. There’s also a bit of ‘middle-book’ syndrome, in that this needs both the preceding and – omg, I have to wait HOW long!?! – sequel.

Still, a very recommended book/series. Even if one bit just made me think ‘Brexit in space’ – argh!! 😉

Kindle: 336 pages / 22 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: The Interdependency book 2
Read from 5th November 2018 – 4th February 2019 (due to receiving excerpt ARC of first few chapters and had to wait to get my hands on the rest, not because I wasn’t enjoying it!)

My rating: 8/10

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The Delirium Brief – Charles Stross

delirium brief cover

“It’s twenty past ten at night and I’m being escorted through the glass-fronted atrium of a certain office building in central London.”

Following straight on from events in The Nightmare Stacks, I’m delighted to say we have Bob Howard back as main narrator! Welcome back, Bob 🙂

It really makes a difference – I’ve been a little meh over the last couple of books (starting with Annihilation Score) but this hit the spot much more for me.

Of course, it’s hard to say anything about the plot without huge spoilers for previous books, but suffice to say the extra-reality threats that have been hinted at throughout the series are in full force. The threat level has risen over the course of eight books, and by this point the stakes are as high as can be.

What can go more wrong than tentacled horrors from the deep, or god-like horrors from other dimensions? What about an all-too-realistically dippit government disbanding the agency that stands between us and Them??

If I had to pick fault (and it’s a review, it’s half the point), then to be honest I really wasn’t keen on the sex-as-recruitment stuff; I dunno, it just felt lazy and icky. There’s a tricky path to be trod through the last chapters, as the operation is split into three missions, and we jump back and forth between the three in an almost-too-much fashion.

Overall, though, I really enjoyed this and felt that it was Laundry Files back on form. And best news? I’m about to start the next book to find out the fallout from signing deals with devils…!

Paperback: 435 pages / 11 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: The Laundry Files book 8
Read from 19th-29th December 2018

My rating: 8/10

Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds – Brandon Sanderson

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“My name is Stephen Leeds, and I am perfectly sane. My hallucinations, however, are all quite mad.”

Many Lives… gathers the three Legion novellas together in one volume. I received the first of these, Legion, from NetGalley, and it worked: I was hooked, and had to go grab the full book and remaining two stories.

The first installment impressed me with the level of backstory that was revealed and/or hinted at in a very compact form, while still telling a very interesting story – that of a camera that can take pictures of the past.

The second novella, Skin Deep, sees Stephen aka Legion, the man with many ‘aspects’ giving him expertise in anything he needs, approached to find a missing corpse. Twist? The dead man was a scientist working on using human DNA to encode data, like the world’s biggest and most ‘handy’ computer storage drive. Again, this is a fairly short story, but feels much much longer, just with the amount that is crammed in.

The final installment, Lies of the Beholder, gives the keen reader (ie me!) a little more of a personal slant. Aspects ‘die’, Stephen is in crisis, and we might even get to find out a little more about the mysterious Sandra…!

The novella form works brilliantly for these stories. Each is a fairly slim case for Stephen, but the hints and teasers about the man’s life and amazing brain are keeping you hooked as much as the plot. Brandon Sanderson’s preface talks about his idea of “Psychology-as-superpower”, which is absolutely fascinating.

Thoroughly enjoyed this, and I hope there might be more Legion stories to come.

HB: 340 pages / 45 chapters over 3 novellas
First published: 2018
Series: Legion books 1-3 omnibus
Read from 22nd-10th October 2018

My rating: 9/10

In the Vanishers’ Palace – Aliette de Bodard

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“The first inkling that things were going wrong was when the voices in Oanh’s room fell silent.”

The world is falling apart. The Vanishers – whomever or whatever they were – have gone, leaving behind destruction and chaos. Yen lives in a village dominated by fear, where those deemed ‘not useful’ are in danger of being put into a machine that will strip them down to atoms – and not quickly or painlessly.

When Yen’s mother fails to heal one of the village elder’s sick child, fear of such a punishment – and a healer’s need to save – lead her to call on a spirit to help. Vu Con, a dragon, agrees. But the price will be high: if not the life of the child, or the healer… well, the village elders decide Yen is the least useful member of the community.

And so Yen finds herself in the dragon’s home, an abandoned Vanisher palace. Impossible geometry is the least of her worries, as the gene-altering plagues bring victim after victim to the dragon’s care.

This is billed as a retelling of Beauty and the Beast but to be honest I don’t think the connection does this credit. It’s a slim tale of honour and love and duty, set in an amazing futuristic vision, tinged with an ‘exotic’ Vietnamese setting, and full of fantasical imagery brought to life with Aliette de Bodard’s delicately wonderful use of language.

Phew – that’s a lot to squeeze in to less than 200 pages! Recommended 🙂

NetGalley eARC: 145 pages / 10 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: none
Read from 13th-25th October 2018

My rating: 8/10

Venom (2018)

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Investigative journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is having a run of bad luck – losing his job, his girlfriend, and his home – when things take a turn for the worse. Trying to get his revenge on totally-not-Elon-Musk entrepreneur and space nut, Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), Eddie breaks into a lab that turns out to be holding an alien symbiote – which decides Eddie is just the host it needs.

Venom is a Spiderman villain, and the announcement of this Spider-verse movie without the webslinger always sounded a bit odd. However, that’s one bit of this movie I did like: the focus is on the villain, not the yawn-some conflict with a superhero, meaning the character is far from the usual one-dimensional offering.

And, Tom Hardy is pretty darn good at playing crazy, as he holds conversations with himself and reacts to the voice only he can hear, saying such wonderful things as “Let’s bite off all the heads – pile of bodies, pile of heads.” The CGI is… fine?

Alas, that about ends the things that were particularly good about this movie. When it hit one of the highs, it was very enjoyable – but most of the movie was not at that level. The plot is a bit meh, the baddy is as one-dimensional as a regular superhero villain, and Michelle Williams’ girlfriend role is not good.

I did enjoy this well enough as I watched, but I won’t be looking to see it again. I might hope a sequel could build on the strengths, as this is an interesting way to add to the very very crowded superhero market. But I’m too ‘meh’ about this one to care if they don’t try for a follow up.

Released: 3rd October 2018
Viewed: 26th October 2018
Running time: 112 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 5/10

Legion – Brandon Sanderson

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“My name is Stephen Leeds, and I am perfectly sane. My hallucinations, however, are all quite mad.”

Stephen Leeds is not insane. He just happens to have a host – a legion, if you will – of hallucinations. However, when each is a specialist in a different field it makes them really very useful.

This first Legion novella is a slim slice of story in Stephen’s life. There are tantalising hints of background detail that show that there has been a lot of drama before the point we’ve reached – where Stephen is living rather comfortably in a mansion with rooms for many of his hallucinated ‘aspects’. The conversations with other characters reveal that it’s not schizophrenia, it might well be a way of hiding genius, but whatever, Stephen is now coping with it.

He has, however, had years of being something of a ‘circus freak’, and has put up walls in defence. People approaching him for help or to study him aren’t always easy to differentiate. But when someone shows up with evidence of a camera that can take pictures of the past, well – that might just be worth investigating.

I was rather impressed with the amount of background that seeps through the story, and in general just how well it’s written to present us with a lot of information without breaking the flow of the story – especially in such a short package.

NetGalley eARC: 97 pages / 8 chapters
First published: 2012, and as part of omnibus in 2018
Series: Legion book 1
Read from 6th-7th October 2018

My rating: 8/10

Random Acts of Senseless Violence – Jack Womack

random acts of senseless violence cover

“Mama says mine is a night mind.”

Set in the near future, this 1993 book feels all too close to predicting some time in the next few years from 2018: society has collapsed, gangs and riots abound, the line between haves and have-nots slimmer than ever.

Given a diary for her twelfth birthday, Lola Hart undergoes a shocking transformation over the few months of the book’s narrative. The slide from middle class to life-threatening poverty is shockingly realistic: from being paid late to one bill you can’t pay, to any issue becoming a total catastrophe.

Lola’s diary entries go from complaining about her little sister and gossiping about her school friends, to her slow ostracization as those ‘friends’ react to the whiff of poverty about the family. She makes new friends, and the author is very clever in changing Lola’s style of speech slowly, until by the end it’s only as understandable as it is because the reader has had a slow introduction to the slang.

I could see this book cropping up on school syllabuses, if the violence and sexual content weren’t too shocking. It’s the kind of text that begs to be dissected, picked apart to uncover every nuance. At the same time the dystopia is chillingly plausible: riots in the street, city suburbs turning into no-go areas, brutal crackdown from on high, and through it all just hopelessness of ever being able to improve one’s situation.

So, yeah. Not a chipper read, but powerfully done.

Paperback: 256 pages
First published: 1993
Series: Dryco book 1
Read from 17th-25th July 2018

My rating: 8/10