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UK edition of a selection of Blish's short stories and novellas. This has somewhat different contents to the US edition under the same collection name.

Common Time
Short about a test pilot flight of a faster than light ship (using the Haertel overdrive, a common strand in Blish's work). The two previous test flights left successfully but never came back, so this one is under total computer control and Garrard's primary job is to stay alive long enough to report back. The opening sequence is a vivid description of the effect of drive on time perception, with the perceived time rate decoupled from the physical time rate. This section is very hard sf in tone. It then goes into a passage that feels very New Wave to me, even though the story predates the New Wave movement. The juxtaposition is rather disconcerting. I've always loved the opening sequence, but I seem to be getting old and cranky as regards the middle section.

A Work of Art
One of my favourite pieces by Blish. Richard Strauss finds himself alive again in 2161, the product of a mind sculptor. As is quickly explained to him, his personality and talent has been recreated in the body of a musically talentless volunteer. Strauss welcomes the chance to write new music, and adapts well if crankily to the changes in society over 200 years, but is not impressed by modern music. He gradually comes to realise what the true artform of this era is. A moving exploration of identity and personality.

To Pay the Piper
The survivors of an apocalyptic war have been living in deep bunkers for years. The war goes on, but one side develops a method to re-educate the population so they can survive on the plague-ridden surface. The hard part -- it's a slow process that for practical reasons is to be restricted to the troops who will be sent to do final battle, but the civilian population want *out*. A politician exploits popular sentiment to lean on the scientists to give him priority...

Nor Iron Bars
Set in the same sequence as Common Time, but somewhat further on in the development of the Haertel overdrive. Space colonisation has begun, but the Haertel overdrive is not yet fit for shipping large numbers of humans. This is an experimental flight of another ftl drive -- and it too has strange effects, this time a disconnect between spatial dimensions. But this ship has passengers, giving the captain an added incentive to find a solution before the various side-effects kill people. Notable for showing an inter-racial couple in a story written in the 1950s.

Short story later expanded into a short novel, The Quincunx of Time. There's a spreading interstellar culture, and the intelligence service is using the top-secret Dirac transmitter, a communication device that offers instantaneous transmission over unlimited distances. Any message sent on a Dirac device can be picked up by any other Dirac, anywhere. Blish explores the practical and philosophical implications of the technology. I like this a lot, but a lot of people don't.

Novella about a group of genetically engineered humans, and the problems they face in being accepted by standard issue humans. The group are tetraploids, with features common in polyploid life-forms -- longevity, large size and low fertility. It's an interesting way of looking at racial and cultural discrimination, as the group are of the same genetic stock and culture as the host culture, but are clearly differentiated by their much greater height, and have created their own sexual mores to deal with the twin problems of low fertility and the skewed gender ratio that has resulted from prospective parents being far more willing to use the treatment on male embryos than female. But it somehow falls a bit flat for me.

Overall, the collection's worth reading, but some stories are definitely more interesting than others.
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Country house murder mystery written and set in the early 1930s. Great fun, with an entertaining cast of suspects and some cunning red herrings.

Dinah Fawcett arrives at her married sister's house for the weekend, only to find Fay's household in turmoil. Fay's stepson has arrived home with his fiancee, a famous and extremely flamboyant cabaret dancer from Mexico. Fay's husband has taken this as well as you'd expect from a bullying martinet of a wealthy retired army officer. General Sir Arthur Billington-Smith has always despised his highly strung son, not least because years ago his mother ran away with another man.

This would be bad enough if there were just family present, but Sir Arthur has invited guests for the weekend, and naturally is now blaming Fay for their presence. There are other weekend guests too, some self-invited, others not. And then there are the neighbours who drop in, with or without an invitation...

Sir Arthur proceeds to give almost everyone staying in the house motivation for killing him, so it's no surprise when he's found dead in his study the next day, stabbed with his own paper knife. It's up to Inspector Harding of Scotland Yard to sift through the assorted stories the potential suspects have to tell. Not an easy task, given the mix of attention-seeking and attention-avoiding to be found at the house party, as the various participants try to paint their own actions in the fashion most congenial to them.

Dinah takes charge of the household, being possessed of both common sense and an unimpeachable alibi. These two things also make her a useful source of information for Harding about the people at the house, even if he has to allow for her having a vested interest in protecting her sister. The novel is primarily told from Dinah and Harding's viewpoints, and there's a nice romance sub-plot in the background that adds to the story without being allowed to overwhelm the main mystery plot.

The book was written in the 1930s and it shows in the attitude to class and race, with some of the characters being very stereotypical; but Heyer also deftly uses assumptions in those stereotypes to lay false trails. And for all the stereotyping, there are some lovely characterisations here. If 1930s country house cosies are your thing, this is a stylish and witty example of the genre.
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I was recently offered review copies of the second and third books in the Inspector Singh Investigates series by Shamini Flint, about a Sikh detective in the Singapore police force. I was pleased to accept, as I thought that the first book was very enjoyable, if flawed. I'm very happy to say that the second book, A Bali Conspiracy Most Foul, makes good on the promise shown by the first. The story's just as good, but the writing's much smoother in this episode of the Inspector's adventures, without the choppy pacing and info-dumping of the first in the series. The character of Inspector Singh is a wonderful concept, and this book offers a plot to do him justice.

Singh's a good detective, with a track record in catching killers, but he doesn't fit into the current force culture. So once again inspector Singh's senior officers are only too glad to get him out of their hair by volunteering him as their contribution to a major police investigation in a neighbouring country. In this book the country is Bali, and the crime is once again murder, but this time on a large scale. As the book opens, he's feeling frustrated because for all his skill at catching killers he has no experience relevant to the investigation of a terrorist attack. But soon there is work for him, for Flint has taken the real life tragedy of the Bali bombings, and added a separate murder mystery. One of the skull fragments recovered from the bomb site has a bullet hole through it. One of the dead was already dead at another's hand *before* the bomb went off.

Singh might be a fifth wheel on the bomb investigation, but murder on the individual scale is a completely different matter. He takes on the task of finding justice for the one victim out of dozens he can help in death. His temporary assistant this time out is an Australian policewoman from the bomb investigation team. Bronwyn Taylor has also been sidelined by her superiors for perceived insubordination, and her expert area is Indonesian language and culture, not murder. Her personality is far from a perfect match for Singh's and he often finds her irritating, but nevertheless the two make a good team for this case.

The book's viewpoint moves around between disparate groups who have had their lives disrupted by the bombing. The primary focus is the two police officers; but there is also a group of rather unappealing British and Australian ex-pats, one of whom has been missing since the bomb, a small group of Indonesian Muslims from another island, and of course some of the local Bali people, both within the police force and without. Singh and Taylor have a long slog piecing together the clues, even after an early breakthrough in identifying the shooting victim, but gradually the different threads they hold start to twine together, leading to a thrilling climax.

It would be very easy for a book using this subject to slip into exploitation, but Flint treats it with great sensitivity. One of the strengths of the first book was the way Flint showed multiple culture clashes from multiple angles, and this book develops the same themes. There is no demonising of any one group, and there is a thoughtful examination of how and why the different groups are motivated to behave as they do. The book is often gently funny and relatively light in tone even though it's using such a grim background and tackles some serious subjects. This can be a difficult balancing act to pull off, but this book does it well.

As with the first book, Singh himself is a marvellous character, and the other characters are well drawn. Team this with a good story and an evocative description of Bali, and you've got a book that's well worth your time. I'm looking forward to reading the third book, which is set in Flint's current home, Singapore.

Inspector Singh Investigates: Bali Conspiracy Most Foul: A Bali Conspiracy Most Foul (Inspector Singh Investigates 2) at Amazon UK
Inspector Singh Investigates: Bali Conspiracy Most Foul (Inspector Singh Investigates 2) at Amazon US
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An entertaining themed anthology, published in 1981 but containing stories dating back as far as 1938. Some stories have dated, many are still great reads, all clearly justified their selection at the time. I've been reading this on and off for several months, but got through about half of it last month, so my review of the individual stories is going to be a bit patchy.

The anthology is set out in sections covering different degrees of catastrophe, from the end of the universe down to the end of our current civilisation without the loss of humanity itself. Each section has a short intro by Asimov, who also provides a general introduction and endpiece for the anthology.

the individual stories )

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(Book 26 for 2010)

Fifth Torchwood tie-in novel, and the middle one of the trio released for the second season. This one has a couple of references which place it late in second season, but no spoilers, and you don't need to know anything but the basics about the universe to enjoy it.

Michael Bellini's a Cardiff dockhand, part of a workgang waiting to unload a ship late one night in 1953. A ship whose cargo includes a crate marked "Torchwood". A strange explosion leaves him in hospital, the only one of his mates to survive. But that's not the worst of his worries. There are the men who say they're from the union, but who are clearly government agents. They're not nearly as frightening as the men in black suits and bowler hats, who aren't men at all.

In the present day, a quiet Sunday in the Hub is interrupted by the intruder alarm. A young man has suddenly appeared in a locked room, and he's riddled with a strange form of radiation. It doesn't take long for the team to establish that he's a local boy, but out of time. Not so strange for Torchwood, but there's a twist -- they've all encountered Michael before. Owen was a junior doctor, learning the necessary art of forgetting about his patients at the end of the day. Tosh was a little girl in Japan. Gwen was on her first day with a new partner, and somehow feeling as if it was her first day in the police force. Ianto was in his second week at Canary Wharf, making friends with another recent starter called Lisa.

And Jack? Well, Jack's been with Torchwood a long, long time. His own encounter with Michael was out of hours, but he still knows something about Michael's first encounter with Torchwood, and the alien artefact that sent Michael leaping through time. And a few more things besides.

This is a beautifully constructed novel, which uses Michael's leaps back and forth through time to tell a solidly plotted story around Michael and the artefact, while giving some lovely backstory and characterisation for each of the main cast. Something I particularly liked is that we see the characters when they were younger, and in those scenes they feel like younger versions of themselves, before various things happened to them. There's also some good characterisation in the present-day scenes. The nature of the book means that all of the main cast get a good share of the word count.

This is my favourite of the novels so far. That's partly because it plays to things I like, but it's also because it's well written. And while the canonicity of the Whoniverse tie-in material is ambiguous, I think this one adds a little more depth to the Torchwood world, not just another monster-of-the-week story.

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julesjones: Jack Harkness and a mug of coffee, Torchwood (coffee and Jack)
Another long piece of Whoniverse fanfic from Sam_Storyteller/Sam Starbuck/Copperbadge. This one's about 40k words long, i.e. short novel length, and uses those words to great effect. Sam has taken the "Doomsday" and "Cyberwoman" material, and linked it with some of the things we're shown about the classic Cybermen in the Hartnell and Troughton eras. The result is a story that takes Torchwood season 1, drops in one small fact a second or two after the credits roll in Cyberwoman, and makes you see parts of that season in a whole new light. It's beautifully written, with characterisations that build on and deepen what we get in canon. But this is more than good characterisation. There's a solid story here, one that would make a good tie-in novel.

The small fact is that Ianto wasn't physically converted, but *was* subject to direct mind control by Lisa's Cyber personality. With her death, the conscious control is gone, but that doesn't mean Ianto's free. Jack's interrogated more than one person who's survived an encounter with the Cybermen, he's heard enough about their methods to recognise what he's seeing, and he's not giving up Ianto without a fight.

It's not quite compatible with canon for me, because it doesn't quite mesh with the scene towards the end of Cyberwoman where Ianto is pleading with Lisa to remember who she is. But it makes a great deal of sense in the context of what we've been shown canonically about Cybermen over the years, both the original Mondas Cybermen of classic Who and the parallel universe Cybermen of new Who. This is an excellent piece of work, tying together elements of classic Who, new Who and Torchwood in a satisfying way.

Posted in five parts, plus author's notes on the canon material used, part 1 here. Sam's own description:
Rating: PG-13; R in the final chapter
Summary: Jack has studied the Cybermen for forty years, and he's damned if he'll let one take any of his people away from him without a fight.
julesjones: Jack Harkness and a mug of coffee, Torchwood (coffee and Jack)
This is a slightly unusual entry in the book log -- it's fanfic. But it's novel-length, and it's very good, and as far as I'm concerned it belongs in the book log.

A while back Sam Storyteller posted a Whoniverse short story about Jack Harkness, I Were The Heavens, Rating: PG for language, Summary: A sixteen-year-old boy from Boeshane is going to win the war. The Time Agency has a vested interest in children like him -- and so does the Admiral of the Fleet.

Now he's posted a novel-length story about what happened next. And it's set both just after that short story -- and just before Children of Earth. But this is no simple fix-it fic. This is a carefully crafted consideration of time paradoxes, and the potential for damaging your own past/future. It's difficult to discuss it in much detail without heading into spoiler territory, but suffice it to say that Jack Harkness's convoluted timeline gives a distant future Jack a pressing reason to pull Ianto Jones into the 51st century -- and it's nothing to do with saving Ianto from an untimely death in the 21st century. Jack not only barely remembers Ianto, but to preserve the timeline will have to put Ianto back where he got him from once the job is done...

You'll need to have at least some familiarity with the Torchwood universe to follow this story, but it's a fine example of how good fanfic can be in the right hands.

Your Face Is Turned -- part 1 of 9
Sam's description:
Rating: R (more sex than you can shake a dick -- a stick! I mean a stick! More sex than you can shake a stick at.)
Summary: Lo Boeshane has a promising career ahead of him as he enters his first year of Fleet Officer Training, but the war is still with him and life at Quantico Station can be difficult. Meanwhile, Ianto Jones is just trying to figure out why the Doctor kidnapped him to the fifty-first century and why Jack abandoned him at a school for the Fleet's military elite. He suspects it may have something to do with Lo, but his attempts to help the troubled young veteran may damage his own timestream beyond repair.
julesjones: Jack Harkness and a mug of coffee, Torchwood (coffee and Jack)
It's first season (pre-Countrycide, and probably pre-Cyberwoman), and Team Torchwood are doing their usual thing -- but they have an extra member. James has recently joined the team, he fits in very well, and he's conducting a romance with Gwen -- not just a stress relief affair, but an actual romance that leads Gwen to think about how to finish gently with Rhys. He is, in short, a classic Mary-Sue figure for the first half of the book.

Since this is in series 1 continuity and thus we're going to have a reset button pressed by the end of the book, it's obvious from page one that there's more to it than that. But the book's more than just the unfolding story of who James really is and what he's doing in Torchwood. This book does a nice job of showing the day to day work of Torchwood, and how it can often be a lot of little things, some tying together and others not. There is a definite main storyline, but there are other small stories entangled with that, and it's not always clear to the reader which is which until it becomes clear to the characters. It does make the book feel a little choppy in places, but not in a bad way.

It's competently written, there are some interesting ideas in it that develop aspects of the Torchwood universe, and I am particularly taken with the secondary character of Mr Dine. He's an excellent study of a non-human character who is trying to blend in, and who understands humans just well enough to recognise how very limited his understanding is. He reminded me a lot of the character of Death in Pratchett's Discworld.


I'd have liked this book a lot more if I'd read it when it first came out, rather than after seeing all of series 1 to 3. It treats Rhys as a nuisance that Gwen stays with purely out of habit, rather than a man she loves but is tempted to stray from. This is just about compatible with series 1, but even in series 1 it's pretty clear that Gwen's affair with Owen is about the stresses of the job and the stress that puts on her relationship with Rhys, rather than because she actively wants rid of Rhys. The book portrays James as being the incentive Gwen needs to get on with ditching Rhys. While the eventual explanation for the presence of James might cover this, I don't get the impression that this was the author's intention. And for me this jars very badly with the Rhys/Gwen relationship as portrayed later in the series.

I suspect this is a reflection of the planned direction of the series at the time the writing brief was put together for the first trilogy of books (Rhys was originally supposed to be killed off in series 1), so I wouldn't consider it to be bad writing, just something that I personally didn't like.

The book focuses very strongly on James, Gwen, and Jack, with Owen and Toshiko getting less attention and Ianto being hardly present -- again, reflecting the show over the first few episodes.

I felt that the other two books in the first trilogy were accessible to readers who weren't already familiar with Torchwood, but I think this one would be much more difficult for someone new to the universe -- and perhaps pointless, given that much of the story is about the reader's understanding that James should not be there. If you've never seen Torchwood and want to pick up a book to see what the fuss is about, this isn't the one to start with.

In spite of my criticisms, I'm glad I read it. It's just not the one I'd pick up first for a re-read.

The book is also available in an (abridged?) audiobook read by Eve Myles, which I haven't heard.

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Book 13 for 2010.

The scene is the Portobello Road in London, home to a sprawling market and to people from all walks of life, the wealthy middle class and those with no hope of a job. A middle-aged antiques dealer finds some cash dropped in the street, and rather than hand it to the police, advertises locally for the owner. Half a dozen lives cross and are entangled as a result, some knowing and some unknowing; setting them all on a path that will change some forever, and leave others dead.

Rendall starts with stock stereotypes, and then draws their lives in intimate detail, showing them as rounded characters with a mix of good and bad in their personalities. This is a psychological thriller, but it's about ordinary people living ordinary lives; and how everyday pressures and events can lead into, and out of, tragedy. It has a mostly happy ending, and even the dead get some justice in the end, but these things depend on the small coincidences of ordinary life.

There's a very strong sense of place in the book, excellent characterisation, and an engaging story. My own reaction to it was that I thoroughly enjoyed it and am glad I read it -- but I have no desire to read it again, and no urge to go out and buy more by the same author. I'm not quite sure why this is so, as the book certainly doesn't rely on the shock value of seeing the events unfold for the first time.

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A maverick senior police officer follows his instincts to solve a crime, in spite of interference from above. It's a stock pattern in the mystery genre, but this has one or two interesting twists. For this inspector is a Sikh in the Singapore police force, and the politics he has to negotiate include the somewhat strained relationship between Singapore and Malaysia.

A famed Singapore model has been arrested for the murder of her Malaysian logging industry tycoon husband. The couple have been resident in Malaysia for two decades, and there's an obvious motive in a messy divorce case, but perhaps the local police have been a little too grateful for a nice obvious motive. The Singapore public want their own police involved, and the Singapore government is willing to insist that there be cross-border co-operation in looking after its citizen's rights. Inspector Singh has annoyed one too many people, and to his superiors he seems like the ideal fall guy for a case where race, religion and nationalism are likely to overshadow the truth.

Singh isn't what the Malaysian detective in charge of the case wanted, but both men recognise the political realities of their situation, and try to make the best of it. And when another suspect presents himself at the police station, Inspector Mohammad becomes rather more willing to let his young sergeant assist Singh instead of simply keeping tabs on him. As the case grows ever more convoluted and new motives appear by the bushel, all three men have their hands full...

It's an entertaining read, and clearly written by someone who knows from the inside the cultures and issues she's writing about. Sometimes a little too clearly, as the cultural descriptions get a bit too info-dumping in places, rather than providing a sense of place. I did wonder whether this was the writer's choice, or an editorial decision to make sure UK and US readers had enough background to follow what was going on. But one thing I particularly liked was the way Flint shows the culture clash problems from multiple angles, rather than simply painting one side as the bad guys.

There are some other problems: I found the book structure a bit choppy in places, I don't think it quite works in terms of the reader being able to work out whodunnit just from the clues in the text, and it gets a touch too preachy about the logging industry in places (partly because one of the villain characters feels a bit too Stock Villain to me). But Singh himself is a very likeable character, and some of the other characters are very well drawn. While this book isn't a keeper for me, I want to read the next one in the series.

ISBN 978-0-7499-2975-6
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This is the fourth title in Andre Norton's Beast Master series. The first two (The Beast Master and Lord of Thunder) were written by Norton in 1959 and 1962. Three sequels were published as collaborations in the 2000s. The cover says by two authors, but it was obvious within a couple of chapters of this one that the only input by Norton herself was a story outline, if that. It got only more obvious as the book went on, because McConchie a) has not written a convincing pastiche of Norton's writing style, b) is not as good a writer. McConchie's own website states that all three of the "collaborations" were written solely by McConchie from brief collaboratively written outlines.

I don't have a problem with high quality sharecropped novels -- after all, I like good fanfic, and I'm perfectly happy to pay for pro-published fanfic if it's good enough. However, for me this example isn't good enough to buy, although it's worth checking out from the library if you want to read more about the beast masters. A particular irritation for me was that McConchie is addicted to head-hopping, and is not good enough to make it transparent. This is not just using an omniscient point of view -- this is dropping into a different character's head for a paragraph or two, sometimes in mid-paragraph, in order to provide information that the main character for that chapter can't know. By contrast, Norton had very tightly controlled point of view -- and as a result was the author who got me thinking at a young age about how different POVs work, and how it can be used to give different effects. Thus the head-hopping had a fingernails-down-blackboard effect on me, although other readers might not be irritated by it.

The primary focus of this book is Laris, a young woman who accepted bonded servant status to a circus owner to escape a refugee camp. Laris has a valuable talent with animals, and is used both in the ring acts, and behind the scenes to look after the animals. In her time with the circus, she's realised that it has ties to the Thieves' Guild -- and the latest scheme is the abduction of beast master's animals. When the circus heads to Arzor, she's used in a plot to acquire Hosteen Storm's animals. Laris's sympathy is with Storm and his family, but Laris has a beast companion of her own to protect... There's enough backstory dropped in that you could read this as a standalone, although I'd really have to suggest you go and get the original pair of books instead.

The story's enjoyable and fits in well with Norton's world, even if I didn't like some of the writing. Would I read the other two novels McConchie wrote using Norton's setting and characters? Yes, but going by this one I wouldn't go to any great trouble or expense to acquire them, and I probably wouldn't keep them once I'd read them.

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This is the eighth book in a long series, but works well as a standalone. I'd never previously read any of the Dumarest Saga, but found that any necessary backstory was woven into the book, and that the story in this book was complete in itself.

Earl Dumarest is a wanderer trying to find his way home. As a child he stowed away on a ship, and in his efforts to survive found himself travelling further and further, until he found himself ina region of the galaxy where Earth's location is not only lost, but considered a myth. In this novel, in trying to avoid trouble on his trail he finds himself almost penniless on a new planet, with the fastest way to earn enough money for a ticket out being the Games. Once harmless sport, the violent and often deadly modern Games are a symptom of the way the planet's current Owner is taking the planet into a new age of barbarism.

Dumarest wins his game -- and a large bet for one of the two potential heirs of the Owner, a few hours before the owner dies. As the younger of two otherwise equal claimants, Veruchia is likely to lose to her cousin, a man who will take their planet even further down the path of barbarism. But Veruchia may have another line of claim, and now she has the money to search for the proof in the short time before the Council makes a final decision. If she can survive the assassination attempts by her rival...

One of veruchia's friends sees that Dumarest would make an ideal bodyguard for her. But Dumarest has more incentive than just money to take the job. The lost records of the first landing on the planet could give them both the information they need to change their lives. And so they work together against the clock, and against what may be a common enemy.

This is great pulpy fun, solidly written and with enough description to evoke a world without any padding of the word count. It's a fairly short novel, and a quick read, but the right length for the story. And glory be, the backstory for the series gives this book extra depth, but it really is written so that you don't need to read anything else in the series.

That latter point is going to be of interest to some of the people who read my blog -- because if you read it as a standalone, you can treat it as a cross-genre romance with a Happy For Now ending. (It's a long-running series and Dumarest always eventually moves on to protect his loved ones from his enemies, so if you want to read Veruchia as a romance rather than as sf, you really should treat it as a standalone.)

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First of the Torchwood tie-in novels, and set a few weeks after the start of the series, i.e. after the second episode and before the fourth.

The book opens with a second-person role-playing game scenario -- except this game's not in the computer, and when the "you" loses a life and hopes for better luck next time, it's a real body that dies. Of course, it takes Torchwood a little longer to work out why their serial killer has just cheerfully committed suicide...

In a second story strand, Owen's been spending a lot of time in a more conventional multi-player game, though he's taking advantage of Torchwood technology, and Toshiko's technical skills, to ramp up the online experience a little. When he runs into an old girlfriend in the game and discovers that she's living in Cardiff, he sees it as both a personal and professional opportunity -- he wants to prove his theory that the game is a good initial screening tool for potential Torchwood recruits, and Megan's just the sort of person who would make a good recruit for Torchwood.

While Jack, Gwen and Tosh are tracking down who their serial killer was working with and what he's done with a set of stolen nuclear fuel rods, Owen and Megan stumble across part of the solution quite by chance. And all the while the rain pours down on Cardiff, as the Rift's latest problem plays havoc with the local weather system...

The mirrored plotlines make it obvious early in the book what's going on (intentionally so). But the real puzzle is who's doing it, and what their motive is. Anghelides carefully weaves the different strands together so that the reader can see the pieces falling into place, as what seem like separate stories start to interlock. By the end, what seemed like pieces of characterisation and scene-setting turn out to be crucial to Torchwood winning the day.

This is a nicely constructed novel, with an interesting story and good characterisations. There's a good spread of scenes across most of the characters, and even Ianto gets some nice characterisation vignettes, even though the book's set at a point in the series timeline when he was mainly a background character. Notably, that includes a fair bit of the flirty banter between Jack and Ianto that was in the tv episodes at this point in the timeline.

I liked this book a lot, and think a fair number of my friends would too. While it's a tie-in, Anghelides does a good job of working the universe set-up into the first few scenes, and I think the book should also work well for someone who hadn't seen the show, although obviously you'd get more out of it if you're already familiar with the characters.

It's also available as an audiobook read by John Barrowman, which I haven't heard.

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Anthology of sf crime short stories from the prolific book packager Martin H Greenberg. I normally like the anthologies Greenberg puts together, in both sf and mystery, but I've got a bad case of "it's not you, it's me" with this one. I can see why other people might like it, but it doesn't quite work for me, and I think it's because I'm not quite keyed in to the relevant genre conventions. Half way through, and I still haven't encountered a story I'd regret not having read, and have read one or two that left me feeling I'd just wasted a small piece of my life -- even though I know and like the work of several of the authors (and indeed, bought the anthology specifically because it included a short by one of my favourite authors). I've finally learnt that I don't have to finish a book just because I've started it, so I'm bailing at this point -- but even so, I think this one could work for a reader with slightly different tastes to me.

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This is often described as Clarke's non-sf novel, but it has a very similar feel to some of his hard sf. There is the same world building and sense of wonder inspired by science -- but the world he brings to life here was real and recent history. For this novel is a fictionalised account of the development of Ground Control Approach radar during the second world war, and Clarke draws upon his own experience of working on the project to safely talk down aircraft by radar.

It might sound dry, but it isn't. Clarke does a fine job on showing both the the technology, and the people who created the technology, with the interplay between different personalities, and the little and large incidents that make up life in a developmental project. The main character's not always that likeable a person, but in a way that makes him a believable viewpoint character rather than a stock hero. There's plenty of dramatic tension, and lighter moments as well, with both clearly being drawn at least in part from Clarke's own experiences. Glide Path is well worth a read for both sf readers and WW2 History buffs.

LibraryThing entry
at Amazon UK
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This anthology collected the first 30 stories from a monthly series of mystery shorts Asimov wrote for Eric Potter at Gallery magazine. The frame story for the series is a group of four men who sit together at their club. One of their number claims to have a background in intelligence, and has a habit of telling stories about problems he has solved for the police and intelligence services. The problems are typically in the form of lateral thinking puzzles, and Griswold invariably finishes by commenting that the answer was obvious, and waiting for his companions to admit that they can't work it out before giving them the answer (thus also giving the reader a chance to try to work it out before the answer is revealed). With only 2000 words to play with each month, the stories are of necessity fairly pared down and low on characterisation. They're often great fun, and I find it entertaining to watch the ongoing frame story about the narrator and his two friends trying to decide whether Griswold is telling the truth about his past or pulling their legs; but if you don't like bad puns you won't like a fair few of these little mysteries, and some of them have dated badly.

I enjoyed the collection, though it's more of a book for dipping into occasionally than reading all the way through in one sitting. I find them excellent for when I want something that will occupy me for five or ten minutes without making it difficult for me to put down the book at the end of a chapter. The collection has kept me entertained through more than a few bouts of 3 am insomnia when I wanted something light and short to focus on that I could put down again as soon as I felt sleepy.

It's not really worth going to a lot of effort to lay hands on a copy, but if one comes your way it's well worth trying a few of the stories.

LibraryThing entry
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US
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One of the 1968 volumes in the long-running sf anthology series. The highlights for me were a Sector General story from James White , and a novella from Colin Kapp that was definitely not an Unorthodox Engineers story, but which pressed some of the same buttons (at least for me). As usual with this series, I personally didn't like everything in the collection, but thought it was all well-written.

Vertigo -- James White

A Galactic Survey ship comes across a decidedly peculiar planet which the crew promptly name Meatball. While they debate how to recognise any intelligent lifeforms, the lifeform solves the problem for them by sending up a primitive rocketship. It appears to be in difficulty, so the survey ship rescues ship and pilot, and carts it off to Sector General for the pilot to receive medical treatment. It's up to Conway and friends to work out why the rescue seems to have made things worse...

It is in general a fun and interesting story, but I did find it rather implausible that the medics took so long to realise what the basic problem was, especially given the Great Big Clue in the initial encounter.

(Later included in the Sector General fix-up novel "Major Operation", which is where I first read it.)

Visions of Monad -- M John Harrison

Psychological study of a man who has been the subject of a sensory deprivation experiment. Well-written, but didn't work for me.

Worm in the bud -- John Rankine

Short story in the Dag Fletcher space opera series. Fletcher's on a diplomatic mission to a hostile planet. Part of that mission is a one-man geological survey with limited supplies in a remote part of the planet -- so why are the natives finding all sorts of ways to delay pick-up of the geologist past the safe time limit?

They Shall Reap -- David Rome

A young family give up everything to make a fresh start in a new community of farms founded by wealthy philanthropists. The valley is even more isolated than they realise, and with reason. While I liked the writing, John Wyndham had covered this territory a decade earlier, and to better effect.

The Last Time Around -- Arthur Sellings

Poignant exploration of the social and emotional effects of being a pilot on a relativistic ship, with your subjective time decoupled from the objective time of your society. This theme has been covered by many writers, but this is one of the best ones I've read.

The Cloudbuilders -- Colin Kapp

In a low-tech world, hot air balloons are the main form of long-distance travel. Jacobi the Journeyman joins Timor the master Cloudbuilder, bringing personal experience of new techniques developed by their Guild. But that's not all he brings.

LibraryThing entry

at Amazon UK
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Disclaimer: Daniel Fox is a friend of mine. However, I didn't review the book just because he's a friend -- I whined shamelessly for an ARC because having read the first book in the trilogy, I very badly wanted to read the next one as soon as it was available in edited form, rather than waiting until it was on sale.

Daniel Fox -- Jade Man's Skin
ISBN: 978-0345503046

Daniel Fox keeps up the quality and the pace in the second volume of his fantasy trilogy inspired by mediaeval China. The first volume, "Dragon In Chains", told the tale of the boy Emperor's flight from a rebel army, and the stories of some of those touched by the war. Now the Emperor has reached safety on the remote island of Taishu on the very fringe of the Empire.

Taishu may be remote, but no would-be usurper can afford to leave the Emperor there in exile. The island holds the jade mines that are the source of imperial power -- and in this world, that isn't just symbolic. This volume explores in greater depth the subtle magic that underpins imperial rule. And there is more than imperial magic. There are other intelligences in this world, and the human forces which are arrayed against one another are starting to learn just what it means to tangle such creatures into human battles.

It's hard to review this book in any depth without giving major spoilers for the first one (which I've reviewed previously), because this trilogy really is a single novel in three volumes, not a series of three interlinked novels. But what I can say is that it follows each of the major characters and threads from the first volume, developing each strand of the story in a satisfying way. This is no wish-fulfillment story wherein the Hero is noble simply because he is the Hero, but a careful consideration of the cumulative effects of power -- on those who have it, whether in name only or in reality, on those who desire it, and on those who are simply in its path. And like the first volume, it neither flinches from showing the horror of war, nor wallows in gratuituous gore.

This is a complex story with equally complex characters, which genuinely needs the three volumes to do justice to the tales it has to tell. But it's beautifully constructed, and told in stunningly good prose. If you've not read the first book, don't start with this one. It really is worth your while finding "Dragon in Chains" and reading that first, not least because part of the pleasure is watching how the characters are changing and growing in response to the upheavals in their world. But there's no need to wait for the final book to come out, as "Jade Man's Skin" offers enough intermediate resolution of plot threads to leave a reader feeling satisfied while still wanting to hear the end of the story. Go buy them now -- this series is breathtaking, in concepts, in story and in prose.

LibraryThing entry
Jade Man's Skin at Amazon UK
Jade Man's Skin at Amazon US

My review of Dragon in Chains (volume 1)
Dragon in Chains LibraryThing entry
Dragon in Chains at Amazon UK
Dragon in Chains at Amazon US
julesjones: (Default)
This book follows one of Burley's standard formats, with a flashback prologue showing the reader a motive for a crime, then showing the crime that first brings Wycliffe into the story, and following the process of solving the crime. Here the motive is the vicious bullying of a young teenager on a school trip, and the crime is the separate murders of two young women. At first there appears to be no link between the two murders, but as Wycliffe digs into their past, he starts to find connections. Connections that lead him to a motive, other potential victims, and a race to find the killer. It's not difficult for the reader to work out who the killer is, but the point of the story is to follow along as Wycliffe pieces together the fragments of information that might lead him to the next victim before the killer. It's an entertaining read with some interesting character sketches, although be warned that the prologue could be triggery for bullying victims.

LibraryThing entry
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US
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In the year 1345, an alien spacecraft lands in the small English village of Ansby, expecting an easy defeat of the local primitives. Unfortunately for them, the local primitives are preparing to go on Crusade, and their reaction to having one of their number burned where he stands is a disciplined military reaction. That discipline and the aliens' surprise results in the English capturing the ship. Unfortunately for the English, the last alien survivor manages to lock the ship onto an autopilot program that will return it to its base. Unfortunately for the alien empire, that gives the Baron 10 days of travel time to come up with a plan to conquer the garrison on the alien colony planet...

It sounds daft, and it is, but Anderson was a good enough writer to pull it off. Sir Roger may be a mediaeval baron, but he has an open mind, an excellent grasp of tactics, and a sound understanding of practical psychology. That makes him a formidable opponent for an empire that hasn't had to deal with serious opposition for generations. It also makes for a very funny story, particularly when Sir Roger cheerfully lies his way through various negotiations, presenting himself as the representative of a large multi-planet empire.

First published in 1960, this is a short novel by today's standards, but just the right length for the story it tells. It's enormous fun, and well worth a read.

LibraryThing entry
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US


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