Sunday, 27 December 2015


Look! Cake! Also deadlines: massive stinking honking deadlines. Which is why it's been a bit quiet round here of late, and will remain so until the new year.

Hope you're all enjoying your holidays, wherever you are and however you celebrate them, and here's to great 2016.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Bookmark Four

Year Four. Who’d a thunk it etc etc. Anyway, it’s Contrarily Early Annual Reading Round-Up Time!

Monday, 16 November 2015

Strange Weather in Tokyo

(November 2015)

Look, I’m as hacked off as the next man by the tendency for every Japanese author translated into English to get compared to Haruki Murakami, as if he’s the only author from the 10th most populous country in the world. Here, however, I think it might actually be justified.

Monday, 9 November 2015

All the Pretty Horses

(November 2015)

The obvious thing to do here would be to pastiche McCarthy's style, but other people have done it more convincingly and more amusingly, so rather than just strip out all the punctuation and occasionally write very long sentences I'll actually try to talk about the book. Or at least my reactions to it.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

10 Billion Days and 100 Billion Nights

(August 2015)

I invite you to marvel dumbfounded at the depth of my ignorance and the height of my hubris, as I attempt to mix it with people far, far smarter than me over at the Strange Horizons Book Club.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Sorcerer to the Crown

(October 2015)

Delightful. As with her short stories, Cho has a rare and unerring ability to do charming without tripping over into twee, and witty without falling into smug.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Very Short Introductions

Robert J.C. Young, 2003
Ken Binmore, 2007
(October 2015)

A pairing prompted by absolutely no good reason whatsoever, but one which did at least serve to emphasise that I'm better with the big ideas than the tedious business of actually backing them up with numbers and evidence. But then we knew that already, didn't we?

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Archivist Wasp

(September 2015)

Brought this without realizing it was YA. Heart sank a bit when I realized it was YA. Heart sank even further when I realized the protagonist was a teenage girl caught in a dystopian society and which compels her to fight her peers in an annual match to the death.

Monday, 14 September 2015

The Book of Phoenix

(September 2015)

Never let anyone tell you that twitter is worthless. In addition to the massive box of books I scored a couple of years back based on nothing more than a cheap seasonal pun, I'm now in possession of a gorgeous hardback copy of The Book of Pheonix, thanks to the fact that the good people at Hodderscape (or at least their social media managers) have a surprisingly similar taste to me for dubious mid-90's RnB poetry mash-ups.

Friday, 11 September 2015

The Fifth Season

(August 2015)

Fantasy like I remember it when I first discovered it. Fantasy that keeps you turning the pages until the small hours of the morning. Fantasy with wit and grace and grime and agony. Fantasy with characters that matter, and relationships that matter, and stories that matter.

Fuck me but this is good.

Monday, 7 September 2015

The Southern Reach

Jeff VanderMeer, 2014
(August 2015)

Where to begin with this? Let's start by acknowledging that, like Lord of the Rings, this is best considered as a single book that just happens to be published in three volumes. If nothing else it'll help you get you over the hump that is Authority. Difficult Middle Volume syndrome in full effect there, otherwise.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Bonjour Tristesse

Françoise Sagan, 1954, 1956 [Heather Lloyd, 2013]
(August 2015)

Oh so very Gallic. Gamine young women; passionate affairs with older men; existential ennui: it couldn't be more French if it created continent-wide wide travel chaos through aggressive industrial work-stoppages whilst eating a wheel of cheese and listlessly smoking a Gauloises inside a Gitanes.

Monday, 31 August 2015

The Secret Agent

Joseph Conrad, 1907
(August 2015)

A slightly bizarre reading experience, this. While continuing the slow migration of my library from the UK to Japan (i.e. going through boxes of books in Mum's loft) I found an old copy of this with a bookmark wedged about forty pages from the end.

Friday, 28 August 2015

When the Emperor Was Divine

(August 2015)

You’ll recall that I was blown away by The Buddha in the Attic, which you could say acts as something of a prequel to this. Emperor isn’t quite up to those rarified standards, but is still a very good book, dealing with the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, and so reading this during early August just added to the normal merry-go-round of opinion and counter-opinion regarding the end of the Pacific war. Once again, I'm quite glad I’ve got the excuse of these bite-sized holiday round-up posts to let me avoid expanding on that, to be honest.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Starship Troopers

(July 2015)

So now I’ve read some Heinlein. A handbook of military etiquette leavened only by some tedious and dubious civics lessons. Disappointed Grandpa Lecture in its purest, most literal form.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The Wicked + The Divine / Sex Criminals

Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie ,et al, 2015
Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky, 2015
(July 2015)

I really should stop pairing these two up when I read and write about them. It's not doing me or Sex Criminals any favours at all. Don't get me wrong; SC is pretty good, even if Jon continues to annoy the everloving shit out of me. WicDiv, however, is astonishing. I know I mentioned this last time, but it really does seem almost intentionally set up to push my personal buttons in the best possible ways. I can't recommend this one highly enough; if you're not reading it you should be.

Monday, 24 August 2015

The Dangerous Type

(July 2015)

Awesome cover, dreadful title. The story itself hovers somewhere in between the two, if, unfortunately, closer to the latter than the former. Fighting and fucking, basically: the SF equivalent of a summer bonkbuster. And it’s a good thing I read it on my holidays, as if I hadn’t I probably wouldn’t have finished it.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Master of the House of Darts

(July 2015)

The final volume in the Obsidian and Blood trilogy. In and of itself it's a nicely fantastical murder-mystery, if in places a touch repetitive (Copal incense! Always with the copal incense) and with a slightly abrupt conclusion. As a way to finish off the series it's stronger: the characters are fleshed out more (including, importantly, the previously wasted Mihmatini) and the plotting and politics are convoluted enough to keep things interesting without becoming overwhelming. There's a marked improvement across all three installments, which makes the current buzz surrounding de Bodard's newest book very easy to believe. As if my unread pile wasn't big enough already.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Things Fall Apart

(July 2015)

"Shakespearian tragedy" it says here in what passes for my notes. Clearly deserves something more substantial and less glib, but I'm equally unable to provide that right now. Not exactly beach read material, but obviously so, so much more.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015


Sean Jackson, 2015
(June 2015)

A belated plug for my review over at Strange Horizons.

China's War with Japan

Rana Mitter, 2013
(July 2015)

Holidays are over. I'm sure you're delighted, because this means that not only do you have a maudlin and self-indulgent State of the Nation/Family/Self post to look forward to in the next couple of weeks, but I'm also going to be indulging my slightly obsessive record-keeping streak with individual updates for my summer reading. Hurrah!

Monday, 20 July 2015


Look! A cake! Coconut oil instead of butter (there's a shortage, you know), in case you were wondering what made this one different.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Lumberjanes / East of West

Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Watters, Brooke Allen, 2015
Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta, Frank Martin, 2015
(June 2015)

Slightly random paring this, created largely through the coincidence of release and delivery schedules. Can I force them together into some kind of awkward thematic union? You betcha. Let’s talk Americana.

Monday, 13 July 2015

The King's English

(July 2015)

A style guide, basically. And as with any reasonably well constructed style guide it contain equal parts sage regard for the essential mutability of language and random prescriptivism, particularly on the subject of pronunciation.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

The Yellow Birds

(July 2015)

Much vaunted, this, and not undeservedly so. I need more time to roll it around my head, so you’ll have to look elsewhere for the deep and meaningful analysis (on which note, I’m definitely not a fan of the increasingly prevalent gimmick of adding book club discussion notes to the back any lit-fic paperback that didn’t tank on initial release).

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The Goddess Chronicle

(July 2015)

As I write this it’s mere hours after the Nadeshiko have been rather freakishly drubbed in the World Cup final, so it’s fitting that we return once again to the subject of gender relations in Japan, and especially so that we do it in consideration of a book whose notionally feminist message I am decidedly ambivalent about.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The Violent Century

(June 2015)

Atmospheric. Metatextual. Short sentences. No quotation marks. Evocative of McCarthy. Evocative in general. Europe descends to war. People fight the Nazis. The Nazis fight back. Also Vietnam. Also superheroes.

Friday, 26 June 2015


(May 2015)

This was an interesting experience; reading through twenty year’s worth of a single title as essentially a single work. While I was peripherally aware of John Constantine he’s not exactly an A-list character. Spiderman, say, is well enough established in nerd culture that I could probably bluff my way through a conversation about him despite the fact I’ve never read one of the comics, but I (and I suspect most) couldn’t say the same here. The upshot of this is that there’s this massive, historically embedded run of storyline to which I’m coming more-or-less spoiler free.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Memory of Water

(June 2015)

I guess I’ve only got myself to blame for this one. I’ve a limited tolerance for dystopia anyway, so going for a third in the space of a couple of weeks was probably pushing it. But look, this one’s been racking up the award nominations in a fairly spectacular style, and Random Acts of Senseless Violence was excellent, so strike while the iron is hot, eh?

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

The Tropic of Serpents

(June 2015)

A much needed change of pace, this: an engaging protagonist, a decent plot, and some but not too much in the way of tension and peril. It also benefited from being started during an entire afternoon free from parental, academic, or any other kind of responsibilities. I can't remember the last time I just sat down and read a book for three hours straight. Lovely.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Random Acts of Senseless Violence

(June 2015)

Holy fuck. I mean seriously: holy fuck. You know the cliché about stuff ‘making the hair on the back of your neck stand up’? Actually happened. Genuine shivers down the spine. Two-hundred-and-twenty pages of agonizingly honed build-up driven into the base of your skull through the knife-point of the final three paragraphs, with all the brutal precision of a neurosurgeon wielding a prison shank.

Friday, 29 May 2015


Molly Tanzer, 2015
(May 2015)

High in the Rocky Mountains of late nineteenth-century Colorado there is a sanatorium. It is run by one Dr. Panacea. That's Dr. Panacea. You can now be confident to the ninety-fifth percentile as to whether this book is something you’ll enjoy as rambunctious fun, or if it will only serve to annoy the everloving shit out of you.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

(May 2015)

I want to write more about this book. This book deserves to have more written about it. Unfortunately though I’ve had a ton of deadlines recently, so while I only read this a couple of weeks ago my mind’s been so cramped since then I’m not sure I’ve got much in the way of intelligent – or at the very least interesting – comment left to pass. No change there then, eh? (Etc, etc, and so forth.)

Monday, 18 May 2015

Rat Queens

Kurtis J. Wiebe, Roc Upchurch, Stjepan Sejic, 2015
(May 2015)

Less of the sass this time around, which is no bad thing. Rat Queens continues to be best described as bloody good fun.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Honest Abe

Abe Shinzo gave a speech to congress a couple of days ago, and now I am conflicted.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

The Devil Made Me Do It

Lucifer vols 1-10, Mike Carey et al, 2000-2006
Ghost Rider vols 1-4,  Daniel Way et al, 2007-2008
Ghost Rider: Road to Damnation, Garth Ennis et al, 2007
(Spring 2015)

My headlong plunge into Mr. Salaryman’s MASSIVE BOX OF COMICS continues apace. You’ll forgive me for being a little vague with the details, I’m sure, but when I said there were a couple of hundredweight of them I really wasn’t exaggerating. Anyway, at this point I’d like to do a little pondering about the nature of the Devil. The old ones are always the best, eh?

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Boy, Snow, Bird

(April 2015)

This is a beautiful book, both in terms of the cover (it’s even better in reality than on the screen) and the contents. Based on this it’s very easy to see why Oyeyemi has been lauded as one of the best British writers of her generation. It’s not quite a masterpiece though. The first 90% is outstanding, but I’m still not quite sure what happened at the very end, or how I should deal with it. That shouldn’t detract from the rest of the book but somehow, y’know…

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Lust, Caution

(April 2015)

I need to read more of this kind of stuff: mid-twentieth century writing by vaguely dissolute women. Of course, all that most female writers from that era needed to do to gain a ‘vaguely dissolute’ reputation was to speak their minds and openly enjoy something other than childcare or macramé, but on the occasions I do read them they seem infinitely more contemporary to the present day than male writers of the same period. I’d be the first to admit that my sample sizes for both populations are pitifully small, but there’s something to be said for the theory that in order to compete with the men women had* to be better than them. Clearly this was grotesquely unfair, but as a reader it does mean that you get access to books that are, well, better.

Friday, 27 March 2015

The Race

(March 2015)

I came into this book almost completely blind, buying it simply on the back of its appearance on this year’s shortlists for both The Kitschies and the BSFA Awards and the reasonable cost of the ebook edition (price-point matters, kids!). I think I lucked out massively in this regard, because the less you know about this going in the better. However, it’s almost impossible to talk about without spoilers, so why don’t you track yourself down a copy and come back once you’ve had a chance to read? There are dogs in it, if that helps.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

She Weeps Each Time You’re Born

(March 2015)

This is very good. The obvious point of comparison is Midnight’s Children, in that it’s also a magical realist novel in which a mystical child offers a prism through which to view the inevitably traumatic business of colonial separation and the ensuing intranational turmoil of independence, but in Vietnam and not India and, well… Better.

Thursday, 19 March 2015