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49. The Corporation Wars: Dissidence by Ken Macleod

In the far future, a bunch of robots who are supposed to be mining/terraforming a planet achieve sentience and refuse to work. So the company brings back to "life" backups taken of the worst war criminals in the last world war to fight them. Except that none of them are quite what they seem.

I'm a huge fan of Ken's work but this didn't do it for me. It had its moments, but I think this is my least favourite of all of his books.
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40 The Execution Channel by Ken Macleod


On the front cover: "The War on Terror is Over. Terror won."

Another one of Ken's near-future dystopias. Fewer impenetrable politics than usual, more impenetrable spying, layers of conspiracy and tradecraft. There's not a great deal of sci-fi element to it until the very end.

Enjoyable enough, but not one of his best works.
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57. Newton's Wake by Ken Macleod

It's Ken Macleod, so, you know, big space opera, post-Singularity, where societies have evolved around scavenging machines made by post-human AIs, and accidentally wake some, for want of a better description, Big Honking Space Guns (thank you Stargate).

It's a stand-alone novel with a similar scope to the Star Fraction series, so there's a lot packed in to it. There's a lot less difficult political stuff than he usually deals with though.

I wish I hadn't waited so long to write it up - there's a lot of things to think about in it, and I was actually thinking about them, but that was back at the beginning of the week and I can't remember.

Very good, though.
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25. Intrusion by Ken Macleod

A near-future UK where everything is supposedly wonderful, but actually a complete nightmare.  The nanny state has completely taken over and women can't drink unless they can prove they're not pregnant, and they're barred from most workplaces because these premises might not be safe if they were pregnant. 

It centers on a pregnant lady who refuses to take "the fix", a pill that fixes most genetic defects in the foetus.  Unlike anti-vaxers, it doesn't compromise herd immunity, and any problems that do come up can be fixed easily and cheaply at an early age.  Now, if she were a religious person, she would be allowed to be exempt.  But even though the fix is not compulsory, her health visitor and social services are a little too interested in her.

This book is atypical of Ken in that although it's still political, it's light on the theory (except for a couple brief passages) and heavy on the angry-making.  The parallels to 1984 are explicit.  It's much more a "this is exactly where we're headed, people" than his other stuff - the UK has become a 2-party state - Labour vs The Liberal and Conservative Party.  Not subtle.

Good, very good, but it will make you very angry.
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11. Learning the World: A Novel of First Contact by Ken Macleod

A spaceship whose purpose is to travel the galaxy and plant new colonies finds a sign of life, for the first time in thousands of years of colonisation.  The "aliens" are a sort of bat people at a level of development that roughly parallels the eve of World War I.

The story is told alternately by the point of view of each people.  The title is from a teenager on the spaceship - until now, they have assumed they are alone in the galaxy.  The discovery of alien life means that they have to re-learn everything they thought they knew about the universe.

It doesn't end the way you think it will.

By Macleod's standards, there's hardly any difficult political or philosophical ideas to wrestle with, and it's an easy and quick read.  I highly recommend it - I don't love it the way I did The Night Sessions, but it's very good indeed.  And a stand-alone, so you're not committed to reading a whole series.

No, you can't borrow it - I got it from the library.

Incidentally he's got a new book out next week, and I haven't even read the last one yet.
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When I say mixed, I mean a mixture of stuff the doesn't require much brain power. Concentration is still an issue.

35. Ghost Song by Sarah Rayne

I've reviewed Rayne's work on here before. They're all the same idea - gothic-type potboiler, spanning multiple historical periods. A poor woman's Kate Moreton, if you will. This one revolves around an East-End music hall that has been shut (but well maintained) since 1914 and the mysteries therein.

This is the first one I've had trouble getting into, and there were a few parts in the first half where the prose was a bit clunky and a scene or two that just doesn't fit, but the second half was un-put-downable, despite being full of historically highly unlikely (but not impossible) scenarios.


36. Stories I only tell my friends: The autobiography by Rob Lowe

I appear to have become a celebrity autobiography junkie. Lowe's been everywhere pimping it out, but the only thing I caught was a lengthy interview on (I think) Front Row on Radio 4. I was a teenager at the time of the Brat Pack movies, and as there wasn't a lot else to do, I saw a lot of movies. I've never seen The Outsiders (I hated being forced to read the book at school) but Lowe's account of its filming is really interesting. On the other hand I saw St Elmo's Fire more than a few times. And I'm a terminal West Wing fan.

Interesting factoids - Tom Cruise was a total tool even before he was famous. Patrick Swayze comes across as a hard-working, likeable guy yet I've never knowingly seen any of his films. In fact, I've run a long way to avoid them.

This book is surprisingly good. Lowe claims to have written the whole thing himself. I'm not sure I buy that, but he does write scripts, so it's possible. I really warmed to him as I read it. Maybe that's effective writing, maybe that's because in comparison to Slash's account of himself, Lowe is a stellar human being.

He's very clear that his success is a combination of hard work and luck. His parents took him to live theatre when he was 8, it blew him away and he decided that day that acting was for him and pursued it single-mindedly. He was living in Ohio at the time, but got lots of acting experience (some paid) in local community theatre and TV. His mom moved the family to Malibu when he was a teeager, which had the advantage of being able to take the bus in to the studios in LA every day after school to look for work, agents, etc. but provided no avenues for actually getting any acting practice.

Most of the book is about his childhood and becoming a star. I was sad that The West Wing is relegated to one chapter near the end. If you're after the sex tape stuff, that's only very briefly touched on, mostly to point out if he'd done it now it would give his career a boost instead of nearly ending it.

So, surprisingly moving and interesting. And short.

37. The Sky Road by Ken Macleod

You can't say I don't have eclectic taste in reading material.

Only Ken would have the 4th volume of a series be an alternative history - a minor character from The Stone Canal does something different, and the future is very different from that in The Cassini Division.

My memory is too poor to put the whole series together very well, but I think I liked this the best out of all four of the books in this series.
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I had a lot to say about some of these, but it's been so long I just can't remember or be bothered.

28. The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
Not as good as I remembered, but still worth while.

29. Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution by Simon Schama

A pretty scholarly work for something that accompanies a TV series. As I'd seen the series, I had Schama's voice in my head as I read it - a poor woman's audio book.

Recommended.

30. Naked Pictures of Famous People by John Stewart

I can't emphasize enough how un-funny this is. Which is a disappointment as I'm a huge fan of the Daily Show.

Consider yourselves warned.

31. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber

Recent BBC dramatization. Enormous book. Really, really good.

32. Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris

Another day, another Sookie Stackhouse novel. Everyone who isn't a vampire is breeding, which is most annoying.

33.The Cassini Division by Ken Macleod

Left wing space opera. Interesting comparisons to The Diamond Age.

Probably the best of the series so far (though I've started the final volume and am loving that too).
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8. The Stone Canal by Ken Macleod

Second of four books in the Fall Revolution series - I read the first, The Star Fraction recently, and found it good but hard going.

The second volume has two story lines - the first is set in Glasgow and London from the 1970s to the 2040s (or so) and explains the point of departure from "our" world, eventually catching up with the stage it had reached in Star Fraction. The second story line follows the protagonist, Jonathan Wilde, as he wakes up in the future on New Mars in a galaxy far, far away. For the most part I preferred the first story line, but the world of New Mars is really cool too (there's a lot about AIs and robots' rights that is a bit dense).

I ripped through the first 2/3 - 3/4 of this, but struggled a bit with the last section describing Wilde's journey to New Mars - basically his body doesn't go, his mind has been put into an AI, and somehow the visuals didn't work very well for me.

I still recommend it, and will be getting volume 3 from the library as soon as I'm finished with my current pile of library books.
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2. The Star Fraction by Ken Macleod

Ken's first book and the first of a four-part series. Typical Ken - left-wing space opera, lots of weird political ideas taken to their (possibly il-)logical conclusions. I really enjoyed it but a lot of it went over my snot-filled head. I'm enjoying volume 2, The Stone Canal, a lot more.

3. Primordial Soup by Grant Naylor

Yes, I read a collection of Red Dwarf scripts. I had flu. This was the level my snot-filled brain could cope with. Nothing new as I'd seen every episode represented here.

4. Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris

The fourth Sookie Stackhouse book. These are really growing on me. Even in my semi-conscious haze, I was impressed once again by the way she brings Sookie's voice so alive.
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55. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

This month's bibliogoths selection.  The mother of all dystopian novels.

Even grimmer than I recalled.  Though, I have to say, New Labour (and to be fair, every government now that we have the surveillance tech)'s wet dream.

Nobody actually liked it, but it did generate a lot of discussion.

56. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

I've only read two of Waters' books before - Fingersmith, which I love, and The Night Watch, which was technically very good but not really my thing.

This blows both of them (yes, including Fingersmith) out of the water.

It's a departure for Waters.  There are no lesbians.  There is, in fact, no sex.  The narrator is a straight middle-aged man.

Set in 1947, it's the story of the decline of the family in a local Big House and how the local doctor gets sucked into it.  It works equally well as a ghost story or a story of too much isolation leading to descent into madness (no prizes for guessing which interpretation I favour).

I'm completely unable to do it justice - I was glued to it from the first page.

Go. Read. Now.

57.  The Night Sessions by Ken McLeod

My cup runneth over with good things to read!

Obviously, I can't resist a detective novel set in near-future post-apocalyptic (sort of) Edinburgh by an author I already rate highly.  It's a startlingly good mystery, along with the usual mix of interesting (and usually hilarious) ideas that only McLeod can come up with.   As [livejournal.com profile] hirez pointed out, McLeod's pretty much alone in having goth and transvestite characters that feel real. 

Again, not doing it justice.  Just go read.
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44 & 45. Dark Light and Engine City by Ken Macleod

The second and third volumes in the Engines of Light trilogy. Like Cosmonaut Keep, Dark Light takes a while to get going, but it's really good when it does.

There's lots of interesting concepts in here - including a society where gender is determined by social role rather than sex (the down side being, the single defining criteria for being "male" is being willing to kill for not a particularly good reason), making space suits with stone age technology, and there being an academic way to express the concept of messing with people's minds: guerilla ontology.

The pacing is a bit odd in bits, and I was disappointed by Nova Babylonia when they finally got there (Mingulay and Croatan are much more interesting), but overall I love this series.

I'll be starting The Night Sessions as soon as I can.
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27. The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

I keep seeing this in charity shops and am not convinced as the blurb on the back makes it sound good but it's packaged in a really girly way, so when I saw it in the library I grabbed it.

I ended up loving it, and got through it really quickly. I'm still not sure how much of a guilty pleasure it is though. It has two time lines - on set in a stately home in 1914-1924 and the other in the present, with the one surviving person who was involved in a tragedy in 1924 telling the story of what really happened to her grandson. It's got lots of good gothic elements - the family decays, the house decays, there are several betrayals. The ghastliness of Edwardian society where appearances are more important than actual virtue is a big element.

28. Cosmonaut Keep by Ken Macleod

This months' bibliogoths selection. Takes a while to get going, but it did grow on me. It's really obvious that Macleod grew up with Ian Banks (and there's a good portion of Charles Stross in there for good measure, so what's not to love?). This is left-wing space opera that's a lot easier to read than most of the Culture stuff (see earlier review of my struggles with Matter). Another one with two strands - a near-future dystopia set in Scotland, and a farther-future set on a different planet colonised by the characters in the first. With sentient reptilians, and the great minds of the galaxy are a squid-like species called the Kraken.

Even after I got into it, I didn't think I was all that impressed, but it was one the really impressed me on reflection afterwards. Also, as [livejournal.com profile] hirez has reminded me, I need to read more books with Ideas in (and I'm not doing so well on the gargantuan non-fiction pile). So, today I took delivery of the other two volumes in the trilogy, and a newer Macleod novel, a near-future murder mystery, which could only appeal to me more if there was a supernatural element. After some reading on Wikipedia I was sorely tempted by his Star Faction series but purchasing 7 books by the same author at once would have been excessive, even by my standards.

29. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

Largely the same idea as The House at Riverton, but even better. It's more complex (three time lines instead of two) and the mystery is more mysterious, and the characters in the past timeline even more like something out of a 19th century gothic novel.

Still not convinced this isn't chewing gum for the mind - there are themes and ideas and stuff in there, but any 650-page book I can read in 3 days when I'm not in bed sick just can't be that substantial!

30. Un Lun Dun by China MiƩville

Young adult urban fantasy set in an alternate reality London (and the real thing). Up to now I've worshipped at the altar of China, even though Iron Council is really, really heavy going, but I'm afraid the jury is still out on this. The bits where he describes the strageness, and colourfulness of Un Lun Dun reminded me just a little too much of Clive Barker's Abarat, and parts of it really dragged. There were concepts that struck me alternately as hilarious and stupid, depending on my mood (the binja - nina garbage cans being the main one), though the career of Extreme Librarian is too good to be true. He does get some points for subversion [1] of the epic quest genre.



[1] I don't think I mean subversion - something similar, but I've lost the word. Damn cognitive blips.

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