Monday, 18 September 2017

The Vagrant

(August 2017)

I remember this book generating a fair bit of buzz a couple of years back, but it doesn’t really live up to it (or, to be fairer and more accurate, to my memory of it). There are a lot of interesting parts here, but somehow it never quite adds up to more than the sum of them.

Monday, 11 September 2017


(June 2017)

A lot of life has intervened since I read this book, as it has a wont to do. From what I can remember, Heathern fills the chronological space between Random Acts of Senseless Violence and Ambient, and so it was kind of an odd experience reading it prespoiled, as it were. Still entertaining enough, certainly, but lacking the linguistic virtuosity of the former of the ludicrous satirical anger of the latter.

Friday, 30 June 2017

The Essex Serpent

(June 2017)

A drily amusing (and on occasion laugh-out-loud funny) historical novel from the author of After Me Comes the Flood. The Essex Serpent has been receiving plaudits left, right, and centre, and it’s certainly very readable (that most ambiguous word of praise); it’s a little over 400 pages and I got through it in a weekend. It’s not, on the surface, a hugely challenging book. Engaging, yes. Thoughtful, certainly. Erudite, even, but you don’t emerge at the end feeling as if you’ve been put through the wringer, emotionally or intellectually. This is, of course, not necessarily a bad thing at all.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Central Station

(June 2017)

Central Station is a mid-future cyberpunkesque novel comprised of a dozen or so chapters, many of which were originally published as stand-alone short stories. They’ve obviously been reworked fairly carefully (or, more generously, were originally written with a very clear eye on the big picture), and for all that there is something of a central plot running through the book, its focus is very much on these interlinked vignettes exploring migration and belonging, faith and memory.

Monday, 19 June 2017

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe

(June 2017)

It was only when I was about two-thirds of the way through this beautifully written novella that I learned it’s based on a H.P. Lovecraft story—The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. (Related note: I must at some point actually read some Lovecraft.) By that point it’s pretty clear that we’re deep into that kind of territory, what with shifting skies, uncaring gods, and caverns full of ghouls and nightmare tentacle beasts. Johnson’s use of language is glorious, and it’s here wedded to a well-done but traditional quest narrative, which I suppose is fair enough, given the title. Even without a detailed knowledge of this book’s progenitor, it’s a couple of hours of joy. Recommended.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Red Girls

Kazuki Sakuraba, 2006 [Jocelyne Allen, 2015]
(June 2017)

Red Girls is a family saga, spanning sixty years in the town of Benimidori. It’s a company town, built around steelworks owned by the titular Akakuchibas, and we follow the family’s rise and, if not decline, then stagnation, as three generations of its women (and the town itself) exemplify the experiences of post-war Japan as a whole. This fictional community, it’s probably worth mentioning, is located on the very real, very provincial San’in coast of Chugoku, which is not so very far from where I live now.

Friday, 9 June 2017

The Glorious Angels

(June 2017)

Justina Robson is a novelist whose scope of imagination frequently leaves me in awe, but whose plotting just as frequently leaves me scratching my head trying to work out exactly what’s going on. In this regard Glorious Angels, somewhat counterintuitively, seems to do slightly better than those of her other books I’ve read.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Speak Gigantular

(May 2017)

This is an intriguing if slightly uneven short story collection set largely (but not exclusively) in London, but with enough fantastical elements that I was tempted to pitch a review to Strange Horizons. Ultimately, however, I’m not sure I’m capable of crafting a suitably insightful path through these stories, so you’ll just have to settle for some disjointed observations here instead. You’ll live.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Food of the Gods

(May 2017)

Before we get into details about this book there are a couple of larger points I should make. The first is that it’s a compendium edition, collecting Khaw’s two previous Rupert Wong novellas (Rupert Wong: Cannibal Chef, [2015] and Rupert Wong and the Ends of the Earth [2017]), which is something I wish I knew before preordering it then also buying those novellas separately in order to get up to speed. This is how those nefarious publishers get you: Make blurbs so spoilery and disruptive of the reading experience that you give up reading them entirely, then use your carefully encouraged ignorance to get you to buy more stuff.