What We Have Read

From my reading journal:

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories
Susanna Clarke

Short stories, set in the world of Norrell and Strange, explore the interface of faerie and Jane Austen’s England. Favorite tale: “John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner”.

Twinkie, Deconstructed
Steve Ettlinger

Each chapter is an ingredient on the Twinkie’s package, exploring origin, how used, and history. We travel deep down a mine in Wyoming for baking soda, New Zealand where milk is converted to dried caseinate, or the Shengji Oilfield on China’s east coast, where benzene is extracted which eventually becomes red dye number 40.

The writer does a tremendous amount of travelling and research for a single book. Photos would be welcome, but perhaps difficult in a highly secretive industry.

Ruth Downie

Recently arrived to Deva in the Brittania colony, Gaius Petrius Ruso holds the post of Medicus in the fort hospital, XX Legion. After noticing young women from the nearby cat-house turning up dead, Ruso is drawn into a mystery no one else wants examined. He must cope with hospital administrator Priscus, his newly acquired slave Tilla, house-mate Valens, madame Merula, and ex-soldier doormen Bassus and Stichus.

First-time novel writer Downie expands beyond known archeology to create an entirely plausible picture of Roman colonial life. Existing histories dating from Roman times concentrate on rulers and nobility; how refreshing to focus on physicians, colony life, slave-holding, and a house of negotiable affection.

The Brass Man
Neal Asher

Mr. Crane is a Golem series twenty-five, stolen from Cybercorp, subverted, mind fractured into multiple pieces, a ruthless killing machine secretly trying to re-assemble his soul. He fascinates Skellor, a human able to harness virulent alien Jain technology. He is pursued by Ian Cormac, agent of the AI-governed Polity, able to grid-link without hardware. He and AI/warship Jack Ketch pursue Skellor to the planet home of Dragon, a rogue intelligence specializing in biological engineering.

A large cast of characters, frequent (and sometimes confusing) flashbacks, adrenaline-charged, thrilling ride.

Custer’s Last Jump
Howard Waldrop and collaborators

Here is a compilation of short stories jointly written by the mad Texan and many others, including Bruce Sterling, George R.R. Martin, and Leigh Kennedy. The intros and extros by Waldrop and the writing partner, giving insight into the partnership process, are worth the read. Stories range from medieval Japan to an AI spaceship to Troy to alternate history Crazy Horse. Especially delectable is “One Horse Town”, parallel tales of Troy and Homer and Schliemann.

Sun of Suns
Karl Schroeder

Virga is a balloon 5 thousand miles in diameter, inhabited by people who have created dwellings which spin in order to create artificial gravity, and communities clustered around small artificial suns. Hayden Griffin’s community Aero was conquered by the slow orbiting nation of Slipstream, and he has sworn revenge on Admiral Chaison Fanning. Fanning’s wife Venera and outborn Aubri are key parts of a mission involving pirate treasure, a dead forest nation, an even worse conquering foe, and a plan to overturn reality. Brilliant world-building.

You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing
John Scalzi

Essays originally appearing on Scalzi’s Whatever blog, frequently opinionated, uniformly entertaining, concerning the craft and business of writing for publication. The writer claims six figure income every year working in his profession, and describes how this is possible. Since mid-list writers get such small advances for genre fiction, here is valuable insight on how a serious writer can make an actual living.

Howard Who?
Howard Waldrop

A collection of short stories published in obscure and extinct speculative literature magazines. The writer often does months of research on out-of-the-way subjects to support the story: the Mauritius dodo, sumo wrestlers, Protocols of Zion. One favorite of this reader is “Dr Untergang des Abendlandesmenchen”, where Bronco Billy and William S. battle a vampire in Europe; the twist at the end is unforgettable.

Cory Doctorow

Collection of short stories, characteristically heavy in DRM, cyber tech, and almost-upon-us tech themes. Several riffs on famous SF stories, including “Anda’s Game” and “I Row-Boat”. Most compelling is perhaps “After the Siege”, a trifle wordy but a strong ending.

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