Books read, early October

John Joseph Adams, Other Worlds Than These. I understand that people split things up differently, but the combination of portal fantasies and alternate timeline worlds was a combination of one of my favorite things with a thing I can totally take or leave, so that was a bit disappointing. Still, my favorite stories did not actually split along those lines, so it worked out all right. I felt that the standouts in this collection were Alastair Reynolds’s “Signal to Noise,” David Barr Kirtley’s “The Ontological Factor,” and Carrie Vaughn’s “Of Swords and Horses.”

Joan Aiken, Dido and Pa (Kindle) and The Teeth of the Gale. This is not actually the last in the Dido Twite series of slangy children’s alternate history fun, but it’s the last I can easily get my hands on at the moment. Hanoverian villains amuse me. Not sure how I would feel if I was British. The Teeth of the Gale is the last of the early-19th-century Spanish adventure series, and while the outcomes are all fairly predictable, they’re a fun kind of predictable, and a swashbuckly kind I don’t have enough of in my current life.

Tim Akers, Memory Analog. Kindle. Short story that was more or less all premise; fine within those limitations but not outstanding. Akers is better at longer work, I feel.

Boris Akunin, The Death of Achilles. Next in the Erast Fandorin mystery series. Not deep or mind-blowing, but well-set, well-set-up, continues to be reasonably fun, within the context and its prejudices. The people who say “Russian James Bond” are not spot-on, but they’re not as far off as one might think sometimes.

Samit Basu, Turbulence. Indian superhero novel. Quite well done, and a great deal of fun to have a different view on priorities and human tendencies. More cross-cultural publication like this please.

John Calvin Batchelor, “Ain’t You Glad You Joined the Republicans?”. Grandpa’s. This was a history of the Republican Party, and I was afraid it would be intolerably yay-rah-rah about a group towards which I have no allegiance. No, the title was a quote from a mid-19th-century song. The book’s flaws were otherwise: basically it attempted to tell a history of a major political party with almost no reference to the legislative branch. No, really. No, really. It was bizarre. And of course the executive branch is not entirely separable from the legislative branch historically, so there were all sorts of weird gaps and things that appeared to come out of nowhere but did not. Also the important party political players from the executive branch were neglected if they did not get a presidential nomination, so…yeah, not so good. Also it was published in 1996, which…put a weird spin on things.

Anthony Blunt, Borromini. This was interesting about the architecture, but mostly I wanted it for a window into Anthony Blunt, you know, that Anthony Blunt, the spy. You can watch him being a bit plaintive about how Borromini was following rules, quite explicable and even rigid rules, just not the same rules as everyone around him expected. That’s…rather a thing, actually. Also the diagrams are lovely.

John Boyko, Blood and Daring: How Canada Fought the American Civil War and Forged a Nation. This is not fantastically written, but it’s entirely readable if you’re already interested in the interrelation of the American Civil War and the formation of the Canadian Confederation. And it’s got John A. MacDonald in it, and he’s always…vivid.

Barbara Hamilton, Sup With the Devil. The third of the Abigail Adams mysteries. I think Hamilton does a particularly good job here of having good people on both sides of the major question at hand (that being the Revolutionary War) and of having Adams reflect attitudes of her time, not of ours.

Alaya Dawn Johnson, The Summer Prince. A Brazilian-inspired future with nanotech and artists–despite the title, not a fantasy. Teen/parent relationships, teen friendships, politics, entirely appropriate crazy teen behavior. Recommended.

Suzanne Joinson, A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar. I picked this up on a whim in Chapters in Montreal. It looked lovely. It was lovely. It was one of those two-timeline novels, one contemporary and the other interwar Kashgar (which, for those not in the know, is very far western China, or at least has been for awhile–central Asia). And it was the rare example of a bifurcated perspective novel where I actually liked and was interested in both timelines equally. I will be keeping an eye out for more Joinson; recommended.

Natsuo Kirino, The Goddess Chronicles. Japanese novel in translation. Felt a bit like early LeGuin, but with different cultural expectations about structure and timing, and of course different baseline myths.

Martin Luther, A Treatise on Good Works. Kindle. Wanted to see what it actually said, not paraphrases of paraphrases. Some of the stuff fit its premises entirely, and then…oh dear. Spices. Spices are not our enemy. I promise. Dear dear oh dear.

D. Peter MacLeod, The Canadian Iroquois and the Seven Years’ War. Does what it says on the tin. Does not do a great deal with Iroquois culture leading up to or after; ah well, war histories, what can one do. I really did like how MacLeod started to behave as though siege warfare really didn’t make sense, because, y’know, it didn’t, and the Iroquois were pretty clear on that.

William Manchester, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Visions of Glory 1874-1932. Manchester walks a fine line between fondness for his subject and excuse of his faults. He is clearly charmed by Churchill, but by no means finds him perfect or even free of totally exasperating moments. I think it works reasonably well, but particularly well with immediately topical contrast like….

Martin Pugh, The Pankhursts: The History of One Radical Family. The beginning of this book was much stronger than the ending. While it was clearly not intended to be a biography of Emmeline Pankhurst exclusively, the parts when she was still alive were much stronger; Pugh did not seem interested in exploring the old age of the Pankhurst daughters in any detail, and the grandchildren barely got a cursory glance. Not staggeringly well-written, but certainly well enough written that it won’t be painful if you’re interested in the topic.

V. E. Schwab, Vicious. Discussed elsewhere.

Adrian Tchaikovsky, The Sea Watch and Heirs of the Blade. These both had what I read Tchaikovsky for, which is: a) different cultures than the usual fantasy furniture and b) politicking. By which I mostly mean backstabbing. Structurally I’m wondering whether he’s going to end threads separately or bring them back together–it’s a very weird structure, with the result that Heirs had some of the most disturbing stuff in the series to date and Sea Watch…was fine. But that’s a question that’s in no way interfering with my enjoyment of them, particularly as airplane reads.

Toh EnJoe, The Self-Reference Engine. Mosaic hard SF novel. It’s a bit like Greg Egan and a bit like Alan Lightman and a bit like Stanislaw Lem and then a lot more Japanese than any of those. There is a lot of nature-of-the-universe level stuff going on here, so if you’re expecting that hard SF means rayguns, recalibrate, this is not that. Dimensionality is a major issue here. Get comfortable with it.

P. G. Wodehouse, The Head of Kay’s. Kindle. If you are feeling sick and dizzy and have run out of paper books on an airplane, this is a diverting enough thing, with its cricket and its house rules and all that. It is one of Wodehouse’s school stories. It is probably not the best of them, but it may also not be the worst, and it passes the time as a Wodehouse thing will do.

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