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1. Fight Like a Girl edited by Roz Clarke and Joanne Hall

(Usual disclaimer applies - this book had the best launch event ever).

A collection of fantasy/SF short stories by women, about women in combat situations. The settings range from hard SF to traditional fantasy & everything in between. All the stories are well written, but some grabbed me less than others (hard SF and high fantasy being not generally my thing, nor are protracted fight scenes). Not that it's all about fight scenes. I enjoyed the Lovecraftian horror one a lot (predictable) but Gaie Sebold's at the end is by far the best. All The Feels, as the young people say.


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51. Transtories edited by Colin Harvey

I picked up this collection at a previous Bristol Con and have just got round to reading it in time for this year's. The late Colin Harvey was involved with the Bristol SFF scene but I never met him; the only person I know who has a story in here is Joanne Hall.

This is a collection of stories linked only by each being based (loosely) around a word beginning with "trans". It's an ecclectic and uneven collection (at least for me).

It stars out well with a story by Aliette de Bodard, The Axle of Heaven. I'd heard good things about her and off the back of this I bought one of her books in the recent big Hodder ebook sale.

Transference by Jay Carlsberg was interesting and thought-provoking, as was Transthermal by John Kenny. Jo's offering, The Snake on His Shoulder, was good fun (locking the devil in the bell tower is always fun right?). I also enjoyed Shopping for Children by Susanne Martin, set in a future where having children the natural way is no longer possible. Silver by Rob Rowntree was an interesting concept but had more domestic violence than I really want in a steampunk adventure. Rainbows & Unicorns by Cody L Stanford is brutal and heartbreaking but really, really good. Oh, for the Touch Tentacular by Jonathan Shipley, about a student trying to earn a living on an alien world where the sapient life forms are sauropod and concepts don't translate particularly well, was funny.

The rest didn't do much for me. I've discovered this month that stories set in post-human universes tend to make me bounce right off (the Stross book excepted), and two of the stories are that exact kind of thing.

In other words, it's like many collections - the good stuff is good indeed, but a lot is pretty disposable. Can't fault it for the variety of the stories - at no point did it all start to get same-y.
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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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48. Neptune's Brood by Charles Stross

Of Stross' books, I've read all of the Laundry novels and the detective stories (Halting State and Rule 34). I thought I should read some of his sci-fi and this was sitting on the shelf at the library at an opportune time.

The voice is totally different from the two series that I've read (which are different from each other, but quite close). It's a lot more difficult to read as hes examining more complex concepts.

In the far future where biological humans have been extinct for thousands of years, synthetic people are colonising space. There is no faster than light travel, with complicated implications for finance. A mendicant scholar who studies the history of finance is looking for her missing sister, who may or may not hold the key to a missing space colony and the biggest financial scam of all time. She is being chased by their mother (a real piece of work), a spacefaring cult whose ship is a gothic cathedral (yes, that's as great as it sounds) and a ship of pirates/insurance underwriters who have taken on a giant bat form.

In other words, it's good fun as well as dealing with difficult concepts. Stross digs deeply into the economics of colonising space. At times this felt like a Ken Macleod book - he even uses the line "early days of a better nation" which is, of course, the title of Macleod's blog.

It took me a while to get into it but couldn't put the last third down; recommended.
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19. Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson

I've heard a lot of good things about this recently so I got it out of the library.

I was not disappointed. It's a near-future espionage thriller set in a Europe where nation states are breaking down into ever smaller units, facilitating a roaring trade in smuggling things in and out of places. One of these "Coureurs" ends up over his head and discovers a conspiracy that has been going on since the 19th century and a parallel Europe that has been hidden ever since (shades of The City and The City, but utterly unlike too).

I loved this book. It's action-packed yet intelligent and I will be reading the sequel Very Soon Now.
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Wow, I am spectacularly bad at this. Once again I had a lot of thoughts at the time but have undoubtedly forgotten everything I wanted to say.

55. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Or That Book What Won All the Awards This Year.

It's space opera, which is really not my thing unless it's by Iain M Banks or Ken Macleod. I did, however, thoroughly enjoy the world building. I didn't find the use of all-female pronouns as distracting as I feared, and I totally get what Leckie is doing there. For me, however, that wasn't the most interesting thing about the society described - it's a massive culture on a Culture-level scale but built on class and family and clientage. That was interesting as in theory it shouldn't work at that scale. Also the use of dead bodies as vessels for an AI was interesting, as was the AIs' development of personality.

Having said that I didn't care much about the plot (big honking space gun, whoopee), the scene where the two main characters fall off a bridge is a treat; really visceral. Ow.

I'm not going to run out and buy the sequels but will probably grab them at the library at some point.

56. The Girl With All the Gifts by MR Carey

ie Mike Carey, author of Lucifer, Hellblazer, the Felix Castor novels etc.

This one is hard to talk about without massively spoilering, but it's fair to say that it is a zombie apocalypse story that is very tender and human but violent and horrific at the same time. The ending is predictable on one level but with the most wonderful twist.

I can't recommend this highly enough, it is beautiful.

57. Women in the Crucible of Conquest: The Gendered Genesis of Spanish American Society, 1500-1600 by Karen Vieira Powers

I thought this was going to be academic and difficult, but it is a very good basic introduction to how women's roles changed in the Aztec and Inca empires after the Spanish conquest, and then goes on to discuss the roles of Spanish and mixed race women in Latin America. I knew most of the introductory part about women's roles in the Aztec and Inca worlds; the rest was new to me. It's clearly told and really, really depressing. It left me wanting to know more, but there are not a lot of English-language sources and my Spanish is a long way from being up to that.

58. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

December's book club book.

I expected to hate this because I don't play video games, but it's a pretty good ripping yarn about a disenfranchised youth in a distopian near-future playing a video game to become the richest person in the world, and then to save his life. It is oddly paced and so there are parts I ripped through and parts that dragged, but a good waste of a few hours.

It probably didn't help that I figured out where the first part of the puzzle would be found because I knew that ludus means game as well as school and was waiting for the character to catch up.

59. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

The BBC were making a big thing out of their production over Christmas, and I hadn't read the book since I was about 13, so I grabbed one. It takes about 4 hours to read. The characters are cutout stereotypes but the plotting and tension are first rate. Good fun.

So far I've only watched the first part of the adaptation. It's pretty good but the changes made have all been completely unnecessary, and it looks like there are more, and stupider, changes in the concluding two parts.

60. The First English Empire: Power and Identities in the British Isles 1093-1343 by RR Davies

This is all a bit High Middle Ages to be in my comfort zone. I meant to read it when it came out over a decade ago and I came across it in the library recently. It's the write-up of a series of lectures so it is more a collection of essays than a comprehensive narrative of how the English put their stamp on the rest of the British Isles - culturally as well as politically. Also why, unlike other European countries as they expanded and cohered in this period, why Wales, Scotland and Ireland remained culturally, linguistically and politically separate. My interest is in the north of England which, at the time of the Norman conquest, was not necessarily destined to be part of England (or Scotland) at all.

Recommended, if this is Your Thing. It's a reasonably easy read for the non-specialist but with good notes if you wish to follow anything up.
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53. The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar

Lavie was on a panel I attended at Nine Worlds. He is an Israeli writer who lives in London and writes in English. I added him to my "to read" list in an effort to read more books by non-European people. This is the first one I was able to randomly pick up from the library.

This is a story of a parallel 20th century in which there are superheroes following some sort of scientific experiment by a German scientist in the 1930s. They are involved in their countries' efforts through WWII, the Cold War, Vietnam, etc but (I don't think this is too much of a spoiler) don't affect the material outcomes.

I had trouble getting into it because the style was a bit odd - it is more literary than I was expecting, which is not a bad thing, it just required more effort than I'd anticipated. However, it soon picked up and I quite enjoyed it. I felt slightly uncomfortable about reading the passages about the Holocaust knowing they were written by an Israeli. You don't really warm to the characters (except one, near the end), but I think that that is the point.

As alternate histories go, it was a really interesting take on the 20th century, and I'll definitely be looking out for more of his books.
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I can't believe I'm falling behind on this again.

52. Classical Traditions in Science Fiction edited by Brett M Rogers and Benjamin Eldon Stevens

I became aware of this because[livejournal.com profile] swisstone has a chapter in it. It's an academic work examining the use of various classical works in science fiction (films, books & comics).

It's an academic work in a field which is only just adjacent to my areas of competence, and I am not familiar with most of the classical sources nor some of the science fiction works, so it was quite an effort.

As with most collections, some chapters were more interesting to me than others. I was particularly interested in the Canticle for Leibowitz chapter, which I've always seen as riffing on medieval themes rather than classical.. I have, however, come away with a reading list (both classical and modern!).

I've come away with a long list of books I want to read and films to watch; that's always a good thing.
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17. Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth L Powell

Gareth is a local writer. People at the local SciFi group meetings often praised his work but I thought this was some sort of cheesy young adult steampunk thing.

The he did a reading at the Fringe event a couple months back, whereupon I discovered that although yes it is steampunk, it's very sweary and very, very funny. The third volume was due out the following week so I duly purchased the whole trilogy at the launch event. (To which Gareth turned up in a monkey suit. It was ace).

There's not a great deal to it, but it does have some depths and concepts. But mainly, oh my, it's funny. Perfect bus reading except for the laughing out loud at lines like "your so-called dog just told me to go fuck myself".

I started volume 2 immediately after finishing this. So yeah, go read it. It's fun.
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15. Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut

I'm not sure how I've never read this before, but I haven't. It was the Bibliogoths selection this month.

While I've read more than my fair share of Great War novels, I don't knot a lot about the literature arising out of WWII. Vonnegut does a lot, in a very little space, and ends up questioning everything, not just the futility of war. It's incredibly tightly written, and clever without appearing clever.

I just wish I could work out why the prose in it was so familiar. I assume it's because every American writer in the last half of the 20th century wanted to use his voice.

It's probably the superior work, but Catch-22 is the anti-war book I read when I was in high school, and that's the one that remains in my heart.
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9 & 10 Bone Song and Black Blood by John Meaney

I became aware of these books back at my very first BristolCon. John Meaney was on a panel and talked about books he'd written that are noir crime thrillers set in a world where everything is powered by emanations from the bones of the dead in massive reactors.

Hello, that's ticked all my boxes.

While the mysteries and the detective parts were good, overall I found them a bit disappointing.

He throws too much into this world to make it "alien" for the length of the books, that don't really seem to have any function other than to prove how alien and dangerous this world is. Some aspects of it work better than others. At one point there is a throwaway comment about being made to pay a blood price. In a society that is made up of megacities and impersonal bureaucracy, I don't think that would work. (Admittedly, you probably have to specialise academically in societies that have a blood price to come up with that particular niggle).

The pacing is odd - there are parts I couldn't put down interspersed with parts where I wanted to give up, and the characters do things that simply don't make sense at times.

There's one nice touch where the detective goes into his local secondhand book shop and buys a fantasy novel that is clearly based on our world.

I so wanted to love these books, but they fell pretty flat for me.
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Not a lot to it plot-wise, but what there is is not bad. And it's very, very impressive to look at.
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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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On account of feeling too lousy to do anything these last couple of days, I got out the box set of The X-Files I was given some time ago. I've got through the first two discs of season one.

Due to the separation in time, I had failed to notice just how directly Supernatural has ripped off the X-Files. Only the X-files has a woman as protagonist and women and people of colour doing important high levels jobs throughout. Much as I love Supernatural, the lack of women Doing Important Stuff bugs me a lot.

Otherwise, it's aged pretty well.

The X-Files is the reason I started watching TV as an adult. I hated TV when I was a kid, mainly because of the lack of continuity - something would happen in one episode that you'd expect to change things and then the next week everything was set back to "start" again.

I didn't have a TV throughout university and when I lived in Leeds. I occasionally had housemates who owned one but didn't watch it. Then everyone, including people who didn't watch TV, started talking about the X-Files, and I thought I'd see what it was all about. And then it started having a story arc, and references to past episodes and how that affected the characters.

It's commonplace now, but it was groundbreaking at the time.
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29. Descent by Ken McLeod

Set in Edinburgh in the age of our grandchildren (more or less), Ryan has an alien abduction experience as a teen. But he's savvy, he knows it he wasn't actually abducted by aliens and it was more likely to be a top secret aerospace project.

Nonetheless, this even has a pretty big impact on his life thereafter, a time of big change in Scotland and the world. The Depression (which is strongly hinted has been going on since our own crash in 2008) seems to be over and the political landscape is changing. Revolutionaries give up and go home...or do they.

I loved this - in some ways, not a lot happens, but it's the way he tells it. It's Ken McLeod, so it's full of ideas, but not in a way that bogs you down and makes you take a long break to process like in a lot of his works.

It's probably my second favourite of his books, after The Night Sessions.
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Not that I'm particularly involved in awards or fandom, but...

Yes, I get that Ross is a long time sci fi fan. Yes, I get that in himself he's probably a good guy.

But he's a big deal in the portion of the media world that revolves around the idea that being mean to people is big, clever and funny, with no thoughts to the fact that these are real people with feelings. That makes impressionable young (and not so young) people think that being cruel to others is Just Okay. Internet trolls? Totally a related phenomenon. So in other words, he's part of what wrong with - well, everything.

So I don't care that Neil Gaiman is all butthurt that his best mate was the subject of a Twitter storm. It doesn't matter that Ross wouldn't have made fun of sci fi nerds or the Hugos or the content... he makes a damn good living out of treating people with less than respect, so I'm not sad that he's stepped down.
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5. Living Next-Door to the God of Love by Justina Robson

Wow, this was *hard*. It did not help that I painted myself into a corner whereby the only way I could finish it was to read it at lunch and on the bus in order to finish it before book club.

I'm still not sure I understood it. I adored bits of it and found other parts not very interesting on top of being very difficult.

My final take-away thought is that it's bog-standard traditional-to-urban fantasy, but with n-dimensional physics, thus making it (according to the blurb on the cover) hard sci-fi.

Loads of interesting points to think about.

I'm keeping it, because I'd like to try it again some time and maybe I'll pick up on more of what's going on. Not that I'm likely to ever have the requisite time + brain power combination going, but it could happen.

Will definitely be checking out her other stuff.
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Somebody just wanted to go to lots of cool places to film this, right?

Otherwise, it's pretty pointless.
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stolen from [livejournal.com profile] nwhyte.

For someone who doesn't really read SF, I've read an awful lot of these. So there are some I wouldn't call SF, but never mind.

Bolded the ones I've read, struck out the ones I hated/didn't finish..

Ubik, Philip K. Dick
Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
The Lord of the Rings trilogy [sic], J.R.R. Tolkien
The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood - somehow, no, despite being a big fan.
Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin - but the whole series is sitting on my floor waiting for me to find the time.
Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
The Gormenghast series, Mervyn Peake

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A. Heinlein
Kindred, Octavia Butler
The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
Nine Princes in Amber, Roger Zelazny
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke
Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut
The City & The City, China Miéville
The Once and Future King, T.H. White
The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley

Zone One, Colson Whitehead
The Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling
The Time Quartet, Madeleine L’Engle
- I've been wanting to re-read these for a few years now.
The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis - read the first two, maybe three volumes when I was the requisite age & hated them.
His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
The Female Man, Joanna Russ
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne

Brown Girl in the Ring, Nalo Hopkinson
Solaris, Stanislaw Lem
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
The Dune Chronicles, Frank Herbert
Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson

The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
Neuromancer, William Gibson
American Gods, Neil Gaiman

The Foundation series, Isaac Asimov
Discworld, Terry Pratchett Not all, but more than I haven't.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
Among Others, Jo Walton
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

The Last Unicorn, Peter S. Beagle
The Drowned World, J.G. Ballard
Witch World, Andre Norton - I read crime and horror as a young adult and have thus ever read an Andre Norton novel.
Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury
The Time Machine, H.G. Wells

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
Little, Big, John Crowley
The Dragonriders of Pern series, Anne McCaffrey - ditto for McCaffrey. Plus anything with talking dragons gives me the stabby rage.
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, Charles Yu
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Patricia C. Wrede
The Castle trilogy, Diana Wynne Jones
The Giver, Lois Lowry
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Whoops. I had quite a lot to say about some of these, but I doubt I'll be able to remember any of it now.

17. Some Remarks by Neal Stephenson

A collection of various articles and essays and a couple of short stories Stephenson has produced over the years. Fascinating stuff, for the most part. The longest piece is a series of articles he did for Wired about laying pipeline for telecoms, including the internet, in which he travels around the world following the path a line that was being rolled out at the time, and meeting the people who are responsible for it at all levels. Parts of that were less interesting to me, but switched off with things I found really cool, so I can't complain. Highly recommended.

18. A Treacherous Likeness by Lynn Shepherd

I went to an author event for this, and while I was a bit dubious about the concept, she spoke well and passionately about her work and I was convinced about the level of research she'd put in, so I bought it. It was possibly that she came tot he same conclusion about William Godwin - some good political & philosophical ideas, too bad he was a hypocritical ass and a leech to boot - that I did when I was working in the field that tipped the balance.

Set in London in 1860, her detective character, Charles Maddox, is hired by the descendants of Mary Wollstonecraft and Percy Shelley to find out what Claire Clairmont (who really did live to old age) wants from them, as they are desperate to preserve the carefully fictionalised versions of Shelley's life they've presented to the Victorian public. Maddox lives with his great uncle, who was a thief-taker in the 1810s and was involved with the Godwins and Shelleys then, and the very mention of their name causes the old man to have a stroke, so young Maddox just has to find out what happened...

I thoroughly enjoyed this - her research is good and she uses fiction to fill in the gaps in the documentation. Instead of writing in a faux-Victorian style she writes as a 21st-century author to a 21st-century audience, but doesn't do so explicitly too often.

The only thing stopping me buying her book based around Bleak House, Tom All-Alone's, right now is the fact that my to-read pile is still threatening to take over the bedroom.

19. The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Clark

It's entirely possible the world doesn't need yet another book on the origins of WWI, but I got a lot out of it anyway.

The first section details the situation in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina in the early 20th century and is splendidly handled - incredibly information dense yet thrilling stuff. It's all conspiracies and secret societies. The rest of it is somewhat drier, where he examines the changing foreign policy situations of the major European powers in that period.

I had a lot of thoughts at the time, but the take away points seem to be:
Serbia and the Balkans were absolutely key. They were already being played down during the "July crisis" leading up to the declaration of war, but there's no getting away from that.
The assassins of Franz Ferdinand were demonstrably Serbian with links to factions in the Serbian government, as the Austrians asserted. However, starting with the Russians, all the Allied powers completely ignored this and refused to look into it.
There were already assumptions that Austria-Hungary was a dying power, long before the war.

Oh, and this book introduced me to my new favourite word: irredentism. Go look it up.

Long, lots of work, parts were not that exciting to me, but I'm really glad I read it. It took me a while to realise that he's the same guy who wrote Iron Kingdom, which I've been meaning to read since it came out; I'll look for it more actively now.

20. Fables from the Fountain, edited by Ian Whates

A collection of short stories based on Arthur C Clarke's Tales from the White Hart (with which I am not familiar, but hope to be soon) that has contributions from Neil Gaiman and Charles Stross. I somehow managed to miss it when it came out. Pat and I bought the only two copies as BristolCon, and otherwise it changes hands for ridiculous amounts of money.

It's based around a fictional pub on a back lane somewhere near Holborn, where a group of scientists and science fiction writers gather frequently to swap stories. They integrate into a whole really, really well. The Neil Gaiman contribution didn't do much for me, but the Stross story "A Bird in Hand", is hilarious. My favourite was "On the Messdecks of Madness" by Paul Graham Raven, even though the characters in it hate HP Lovecraft. The last few stories did less for me than the first, but there wasn't a really bad one in there. One is set in a pub in Edinburgh where a similar group gathers that includes Iain Banks, Ken Macleod and Charles Stross.

Thoroughly recommended if you can lay your hands on a copy. The only thing stopping me buying a copy of Tales from the White Hart is the aforementioned space problem.

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