Neil Gaiman - A Study in Emerald
Now this is one of my favourite things. I first came across this in my copy of Fragile Things but the version here is the audiobook read by Gaiman.
The story re-imagines the Holmes universe in line with a Lovecraftian setting whereby the old ones have returned and have dominion over humanity. The story finds a returning soldier (from Afghanistan) take up lodgings with a 'consulting detective'. He becomes the detective's companion and they are soon embroiled in the investigation of a death of a member of the Bohemian royal family.
The story borrows strongly, liberally and enjoyably from the Holmes mythos to produce a tale that is a ridiculous amount of fun.
I'm having to go out of my way to avoid giving anything at all away here so you'll please excuse if this review is brief but because Mr. Gaiman is a gent the story is available as a pdf here so you've no excuse not to check this out.
Neil Gaiman - The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Every now and again it's fun to do into Gaiman's worlds again and see what he's been up to. This one is fairly safe ground for him telling - in flashback - the story of the time when he and the family of 3 ladies who lived down the end of the lane accidentally brought a grey thing into the world and then sent it away again.
In a lot of ways it felt like a kids book but with some decidedly adult scenes dotted throughout. The version I got was the audiobook as read by the author and it was, as you'd expect, nicely done and it very much lent an extra autobiographical feel to the proceedings in support of the first person narrative.
It was an enjoyable trip, not for me on a par with his best but still bags of fun.
Mark Gatiss - Doctor Who: Last of the Gaderene
I loved Gatiss’ Lucifer Box novels and so I was really looking forward to getting to grips with this one. It did not disappoint.
Retired Wing Commander Whistler is a little perturbed by the new black shirted paramilitary organisation that has taken over the old airfield from which he flew his Spitfire in the war. A quick phonecall to his old friend Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart sees The Doctor and Jo heading down for a look see. What they find is a race called the Gaderene who are slowly possessing the bodies of the locals with the help of The Master.
It’s all fabulous nostalgic fun full of running and The Doctor throwing people over his shoulder. There’s also one of the finest pun’s I’ve read in years regarding the dubious joys of village fetes.
John Geiger - Chapel of Extreme Experience
Soft Skull Press
subtitled 'A short history of stroboscopic light and the dream machine'. John Geiger's fascinating and informative history of the use of flicker in scientific and visionary research traces this phenomenon from the first recorded observations in 1823 by Jan E. Purkinje through psychedelic and hallucinogenic research of the middle of the century up to the work of the triumverate of Brion Gysin, William Burroughs and Ian Sommerville and onto recent(ish) flicker related incidents with the Pokemon cartoon. The focus of the book lies with the above three psychonauts and their use and development of flicker and in particular their 'Dream Machine'.
Geigers fascinating book offers an insight into an overlooked part of the legacy Gysin, the very marginal Sommerville (even though it was he who designed and built it) and Burroughs have left us. The 'dream machine' was very much Gysin's baby and so it's through him that the tale unfolds chronicling his many attempts to popularise and commercially exploit the machine although frequent sidetrips are made to check in on those researchers in the field whose circle wasn't quite so hip, such as W. Grey Walter and John Smythies and then over time to include other avant-artists like Tony Conrad and Genesis P.Orridge. Within this book Geiger has achieved that most difficult of balances, that of the scientific and the artistic. Neither side of the research is neglected, an impressive feat in a book so short, and indeed it is stressed how interlinked they were. A case of marginal figures within each of their respective disciplines finding kindred spirits outside of those disciplines. Geiger has produced what is an enjoyable, if slightly dry, read that in years to come, when the rest of the world catches up with the ideas of the book's core-figures, will be regarded as essential reading.
Nick Gevers (ed) - Extraordinary Engines: The Definitive Steampunk Anthology
Hmmm. 'Definitive' is a big word to live up to but we all know it was put there for marketing purposes only. You'd have to be a particularly arrogant sort of chap to label your own work as such (whether you're the writer or the editor). Let's be straight here, it isn't 'definitive' by a long way. It has it's moments certainly but on the whole it's a fairly mundane read. What follows is a story by story instant reaction review.
Steampunch - James Lovegrove
Short tale about the rise and fall of robot boxing. It's got a nice sense of time and place and rolls along nicely but is a little too concerned with getting the taste of the place and as such is lacking an edge. It's written as a monologue delivered (complete with asides) direct to the reader which has never been my favourite - no idea why but it's always struck me as a clunky format. A reasonably enjoyable start though.
Static - Marly Youmans
Not really sure what to make of this one. It reminded me strongly of Dianne Wynn Jones (she of Howl's Moving Castle fame) with a touch of Neil Gaiman in there too. It is essentially a wicked stepmother story, even to the point that the girl protagonist's (the princesses) room is called 'the tower'. It's got some nice characterisation (the old fella in the attic is terrific) and some real wit but for me the static riddled world created was just too awkward and unwieldy to settle.
Speed, Speed the Cable - Kage Baker
Baker is, according to the accompanying blurb, the author of the Company novels of a time travelling corporation and this tale fits into that universe. I like his writing style, it's easy and fluid but really his story about the laying of a trans-Atlantic communications cable and an attempt to sabotage it is fairly weak. I'm intrigued by the writer though and may well invest in some of his longer works at some point in the future.
Elementals - Ian R. Macleod
I didn't dig his one at all really. It had a kind of charm to it and Macleod has an easy style but his tale of science and elemental spirits seemed at odds with itself and i felt I was reading a story that was simultaneously striving to go in two directions of once and succeeded only in going nowhere particularly interesting.
Machine Maid - Margo Lanagan
A fun little jaunt into the dubious worlds of Australian mining towns, new marriage, loneliness, murder and robotic sex dolls. The end is a little loose but the rest of the tale had me smiling.
Lady Witherspoon's Solution - James Morrow
One of the more recognisable names in the anthology, Morrow is a writer of some note and this is shown in the style, panache and sheer gonzo humour that runs through his piece. I'm not even going to attempt to describe it but it's the definite high point so far.
Hannah - Keith Brooke
A tiny little excursion into Frankenstein science. Too short and too unsophisticated to be truly satisfying but certainly not awful.
PetrolPunk - Adam Roberts
I've had a copy of Roberts' 'Swiftly' novel sat on my bookshelf for a year or so now. It does look like a fun read but I've not had chance to give it a go so this tale is a bit of a dry run for me.
Petrolpunk is a nifty, light-hearted affair with a novel little alternative reality story at it's heart. It's told with an innovative and engaging voice but is too brief for it's scope and suffers a little for it. That said though, i did thoroughly enjoy it.
American Cheetah - Robert Read
A strange little tale of a robotic Abe Lincoln and an equally metallic James / Younger gang. It had promise which it squandered in a muddled ending subsequently improved with an nice little coda.
Fixing Hanover - Jeff Vandermeer
Lots of style but very little substance.
The Lollygang Save The World On Accident - Jay Lake
Jay Lake is another author I have sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be be read (his Mainspring novel) so I've read this one with anticipation. To be perfectly honest it was way too obliquely sci-fi for my tastes. I prefer my sci-fi to be near or twisted future rather than the exoticism of pure sci-fi so not really my cup of tea this one.
The Dream of Reason - Jeffrey Ford
Not really quite sure what the point of this one was. It didn't particularly go anywhere and didn't even particularly fill the brief by being of a steampunk bent. A poor ending to a fairly slapdash book.
William Gibson and Bruce Sterling - The Difference Engine
I've not read any Sterling before but for a brief period a few years back i read as much Gibson as i could possibly lay my hands on. As an author I find him to be the consummate world-builder with a nicely pulp sense of plot and pacing. You'll have to excuse me therefore if I over-egg Gibson's role in this collaboration as it's not in my power to be able to separate each participants contributions and role - and I think I probably wouldn't want to even if I could.
This collaborative steampunk novel (probably more correctly described as inter-connected novellas) was an absolute corker from start to almost finish. The picture they paint of a London (indeed a world) changed before it's time by the genius of Charles Babbage is simply awe-inspiring. You can taste the smog and feel the starched collars. The societal (and technological) changes seem purposefully organic. Change is everywhere and it's happening before our eyes - at an accelerated pace obviously as that is the premise of the novel - but it's happening within a logical framework. No leaps of fancy are needed here, there are no robot-police or trans-continental dirigibles, the new technology is transforming society at a pace that we living in the here and now would recognise but which is lightning fast when placed in the context of the novel's Victorian era.
For me, the most interesting aspect of the new technology is in it's embrace by the new government itself in it's pursuit of compiling statistical information regarding the population as a whole thereby firmly rooting the novel in the tradition of British bureaucratic dystopian novels a la 1984 & Brave New World an aspect that becomes increasingly apparent at the novels end.
Unlike much literature in this field the technology isn't the focus here it is to a great extent superfluous. It serves to place the plot in a world unlike our own but one that we can easily empathise and interact with. It is the lot of the people of this world that is - as it should be - the novels focus. At it's heart there is a relatively straight forward spy / revolutionary / adventurer storyline but orbiting this is a bewildering array of subplots and narratives that occasionally impact upon the main in ways that are not always immediately apparent but have a pivotal role in the overall arc.
It isn't perfect. It's episodic nature leaves it feeling a little jarring at times and the placement of the climactic finale to the simplistic action-romp tale leaves the extended ending feeling a little like an afterthought which is a real shame. It is however a novel that I enjoyed immensely. Unusually for a steampunk novel it felt real, it felt familiar and it felt natural.
Barry Gifford - The Stars Above Veracruz
This set of shorts from the author of the Sailor and Lula novels (the first being Wild at Heart made into a movie by David Lynch) had some gems mixed amongst them and there were some moments of pure Gifford but it wasn't all gold. Some parts dragged which is really saying something with stories that often only lasted a couple of pages.
On the whole though it was still a typically fun piece of Gifford-ana.
James Goss - Doctor Who: Dead Air
This was the last of the David Tenant audiobooks and it's a pretty good ending.
This is the Doctor on his own, no assistant to get in the way although he does acquire a scouse DJ called Layla along the way. The story has a Sapphire & Steel vibe to it with a Time Lord weapon called the 'Hush' trying to increase its range and power through some nicely devious machinations that only become apparent at the end.
Tenant is a great reader and he really does have his Doctor down absolute pat. His reading is fun and quirky with some nicely done voice work that perfectly suited the story. I enjoyed this one a lot.
Jonathan Green - Pax Britannia: Unnatural History
Buckling his swash across this pulpiest of landscapes our hero, Ulysses Quicksilver, is a dashing young man of not inconsiderable daring do. He's equal part Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, d'Artagnan, Allan Quatermain and Batman (sans the gimp suit). Helping him serve Queen and Country is faithful family retainer, the improbably named, Nimrod.
It's quite hard to really find much to say about this book. For the most part it's world-building with a fairly obvious pulp adventure romp tacked onto it. It's enjoyable enough - Quicksilver is a personable enough hero without any real bite. The writing is solid - I've read a few of Green's Warhammer books and they were usually pretty readable (I thoroughly enjoyed the two Armageddon ones) - with some nice flourishes although the dialogue is knuckle bitingly cliched at points.
As a series it has promise and the world is an interesting setting with echoes of many pulp sci-fi tropes showing up with the promise of a fun ride ahead.
Jonathan Green - Pax Britannia: Evolution Expects
It has been ages since I read one of these Pax Britannia books and it was a nice surprise just how much I enjoyed it. I looked the others, they were fluffy and silly but generally solid pulp fun. This new one continues on from the breakdown of the government in previous book (Human Nature) as the Prime Minister went postal.
The new PM and the new head of the secret service are trying to reclaim the polluted city and therefore reinvigorate the country. Meanwhile Ulysses is investigating both the appearance of a golem in the east end and the worrying number of people changer into insects hidden away in Bedlam. At the same time there's a new vigilante hero in town with distinct Batman tendencies.
Big, silly and fun. Looking forward to the next one.
Simon Guerrier - Doctor Who: The Pirate Loop
The twentieth of the 10th Doctor books is a strange mix of humour and violence. The Doctor dies twice, as does Martha, Mrs Wingsworth dies many, many times, as does most everyone else.
The story revolvers around a lost spacecraft called 'Brilliant' which is simultaneously caught in a time horse-shoe (like a time-loop but with a bit missing) and being attacked by space pirates badgers.
The three main pirate characters are the stars of the book. Archie is great fun with his new found obsession with canopes. Jocelyn and Dashiel also slowly come around to the light side. Jocelyn's 'I do n'all' was a great line.
The story reminded me of the old multi-part storylines but told at modern break-neck speed. It's got a strong storyline and a solid cast and the nice ambiguous touch at the end was a cool way to go out. One of my favourites of this series so far.
Simon Guerrier – Doctor Who: The Switching
I’ve seen some reviews of this short that were less than complementary but I really enjoyed it.
The Master has somehow contrived to switch minds with the Doctor (through means not apparent) and proceeds to spend a day being polite and civil to the members of UNIT HQ. Meanwhile the Doctor is trying to Venusian Karate his way out of prison whilst the guards are left wondering how their nice, polite prisoner has suddenly become so rude and violent.
It’s a lovely little twist on the characters of the two that was perfectly suited to the format of these teeny little audios. Great fun.