Saturday, 21 April 2018

Facing the Bridge

(January 2018)

After my first experience reading Tawada was something of a qualified success, I decided to try again with this older collection of three longish short stories. In summary, it confirms what I think I already knew—she’s an intriguing writer, and one worth engaging with, but not one I’ll ever really love. There’s just a little too much distance in her work, too much detachment to engage on that more emotional level. To be fair though, that’s probably deliberate.

Unlike Memoirs of a Polar Bear, the stories here have been translated into English straight from their original Japanese, rather than passing through German on the way. Germany still features prominently in the first tale, though, as it splices the life of (the real-life) Anton Wilhelm Amo with the experiences of (the fictional) Tamao, a Japanese exchange student studying in Leipzig.

Monday, 16 April 2018

A Man of Shadows

(January 2018)

Nocturnal noirish nonsense with Noon. I still remain enamoured of the Noon of Pollen and Vurt I read in my late-teens, the dislocation of the familiar that seemed so startling when one first encounters it, which means I can forgive him a lot. I do find myself agreeing with this Strange Horizons review, however, in that the atmosphere is brilliant, but I’m not quite sure what the point of the rest of it is. I’ll still be buying the sequel, though.

Friday, 13 April 2018

The Stone Sky

(January 2018)

Wrapping up another trilogy as the New Year dawns. (Dawned). I think don’t think it’s an understatement to say that Jemisin’s Broken Earth will eventually come to be seen as significant as Gibson’s Sprawl. While not perhaps the strongest entry of the series (it lacks The Fifth Season’s tripartite trickery and The Obelisk Gate’s almost claustrophobic development of character) it’s nonetheless an excellent climax for an outstanding series. I’ve read a fair number of SFnal three-parters over the last few years, but this is easily the best of the decade, and I can’t see anything coming close to challenging it.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Mona Lisa Overdrive

(January 2018)

The last of the Sprawl trilogy and, ironically, a rather contained affair. Though I am writing this a couple of months after reading, and my memory isn’t what it was. It all takes place in a derelict factory and the wider fields of cyberspace, which I suppose is the point—the disconnect between the physical and the virtual.

It’s not one of Gibson’s stronger works, to be honest. All the loose ends seem to get wrapped up rather too neatly, to the point where the reappearance of certain characters seems to verge on fan service. Which reminds me that Molly Millions plays a significant part and that, actually, quite a lot of stuff happens in London and other cities so my opening line was touch unfair. Still and all, it does eventually boil down to a guy on a gurney wired into the matrix, so I wasn’t all wrong.

Saturday, 7 April 2018


(December 2017)

The first of Malka Older’s Centenal Cycle, the last of which comes out this summer. Given all the other trilogies I’ve still to catch up on, starting a new one seems like a bit of a leap of faith, but I’m very glad I did. The “relate it to what the reader knows” tagline would be something like “Snow Crash meets The West Wing,” in that Older takes the almost throw-away concept of micropolities from Stevenson’s book and then explores that through the slightly melodramatic viewpoints of young political operatives working behind the scenes. The two main PoV characters are Ken, a fixer for the broadly progressive Policy1st party, and Mishima, a security chief for Information.

Following a worldwide conflict of some sort (Isn't it always?), the world's governance has been reconfigured into a kind of global first past the post system. Each constituency is an even 100,000 people, which obviously mans that they're packed very tight in urban areas and cover large swathes of wilderness. In major cities the laws thus change from block to block, à la Snow Crash. There are global elections once every decade, and campaign for the third such is in full swing. These are policed by Information, which is essentially Google with its own police force, and the closest thing this world has to a global bureaucracy.

Saturday, 24 February 2018


Miyuki Miyabe, 1998 [Deborah Stuhr Iwabuchi and Anna Husson Isozaki, 2005]
(December 2017)

I'm branching out! (Slowly.) I've a guest review of this over at Rachel Cordasco's excellent SF in Translation site. It was an interesting, if often flawed, read. The book. Not the site, which is excellent. Did I mention that?

Friday, 5 January 2018

The Book of Dust

Phillip Pullman, 2017
(December 2017)

His Dark Materials will forever hold a very special place in my heart. I read the first two instalments in paperback just before The Amber Spyglass was released, so was able to take in the whole sweep of the trilogy in pretty much a single dose. More poignantly, I read that final volume just after I'd decided to come to Japan for the first time, and to try to make my relationship with my then girlfriend work long distance.* You'll understand why the dénouement to Will and Lyra's story hit particularly hard. I love the books with a passion, and have recommended them to countless people since, but will probably never reread them.

So The Book of Dust is all very exciting, finally giving me a full length opportunity to get back into Lyra's world.** And what a world. Biblical floods, Homeric journeys, and a notable episode in Wallingford, a small town in Oxfordshire I know fairly well because my grandparents used to live nearby. When I lived in London I visited them fairly regularly, and the journey that makes up the second part of The Book of Dust reads like my old rail itinerary in reverse. Nostalgia smacking me in the face every which way. Is it possible to separate that out from my experience of reading this book? Or even necessary or desirable? Clearly not. I therefore have nothing witty or insightful to say about this book except that, while you can't cross the same river twice, it's good to be home.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens, 1835-1854
(December 2017)
Every year I mean to read this book at Christmas, and every year I forget until about December 29th, at which point the moment has rather passed. I finally got the pitifully small affair that represents my act together this year, and it was in no way worth the wait.
He’s not subtle as a writer, is he? Soporific at points, certainly (though this is as much about the influence of the passage of time on prose style as Dickens’s writing itself), but never afraid to assert and reassert and rereassert the Moral of the Story until the reader has been bludgeoned into shame-faced coma of ethical contrition. The most notably thing about reading A Christmas Carol—having obviously been exposed to adaptations of it in various other media for as long as I can remember—was how Scrooge has basically repented of all his sins by the midway point of the visit of the Ghost of Christmas Past, yet we’ve still got two-and-a-half more apparitions’ worth of spectral hectoring to go.