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Behind once again, so here is a round up of some of the lighter books from last year.
Aug 2014
The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman - Headline, 2013 (Kindle edition)
* * * *
This is another Neil Gaiman book that I basically liked but don't remember too well. It continues his welcome attempts to extend his range, being a rural childhood memoir laced with Ramsey Campbell-style horror. Unfortunately he can't quite shake off his tendency to recycle ideas, with the Maiden/Mother/Crone triumvirate reappearing as a family of benevolent witches.

Sep 2014
Nemesis - Lindsey Davis - Arrow, 2011 (Kindle edition)
* * * *
It is well known that Davis' partner sadly died while she was writing this book, and given the very different tone of this story, it is interesting to speculate on the influence that he had on the previous ones. It is not as you might expect. The Falco novels are primarily comic but have always had a dark and occasionally violent edge which leavens their more soapy aspects. Given that horror and brutality are features more often associated with the male of the species, it is therefore surprising that this novel shows these characteristics to a far greater extent than Falco's previous outings. It seems that Davis herself was the one adding the darkness, with her other half encouraging her to lighten things up. To my mind, the added darkness is an improvement. It makes the story feel more Roman, albeit at the expense of sympathy with the main character. Some of Falco's actions reminded me more of the protagonists of the TV series Rome from a few years ago than the jovial and (generally) considerate detective with whom we have become familar. However, the story, which is more of a conspiracy thriller than a whodunnit, ends as I think it should.

Oct 2014
CryoBurn - Lois McMaster Bujold - Baen, 2010 (Kindle edition)
* * * *
I have never understood the strange obsession that some people have with cryopreservation, the process of freezing a body at the point of death in the hope that future medicine will be able to revive it. It seems obvious that ice crystal formation during the preservation process would destroy irreversibly the cell wall and other membrane structures, and no nanotechnology could reliably repair them when there is no template to work from. Nonetheless, revival of frozen humans is a common SF trope and Cryoburn is Lois McMaster Bujold's take. It has some interesting features (I particularly liked the political and economic ramifications of storing not-quite-dead people) and the cryopreservation corporations make for a good, if rather safe, background for a new Miles Vorkosigan adventure. It was a shame that Kat did not get more of a look in and the orphan child was a bit of a cliché, but it was nice to have Armsman Roic as a viewpoint character.

Nov 2014
The Quantum Thief - Hannu Rajaniemi - Gollancz, 2010 (Kindle edition)
* * *
Another fun SF outing, set on a moving city on a terraformed Mars where a gentleman thief called Jean Le Flambeur is tasked with retrieving an item for the employer of a kick-ass woman called Mieli who sprang him from a quantum prison. There are many ingenious ideas - I particularly liked the prisoner's dilemma regime of the prison, the part-real, part-virtual setting, the personal privacy cloud called gevulot and the use of lifetime as a currency (when it runs out, your consciousness is used to run a servitor machine until you have earned enough to be reincorporated). But as with Ancillary Justice, the extreme focus on the viewpoint characters means that the imaginative weight that would be added by history and context is lost. The ideas may fit together into a coherent future society with things to say about personal privacy and social control, or they may be a bunch of whimsies laid over a run-of-the-mill computer game-style plot. It's impossible to tell.

Dec 2014
Midnight over Sanctaphrax - Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell - Corgi, 2001
* * * *
This was a Christmas present from my eight-year-old nephew, and while I suspect that he had help choosing it, he did well. It has a Discworld-influenced but nonetheless interesting setting - the Edge, a vast promontory that juts out over nothingness, on which is situated the Anhk-Morpork-like city of Undertown. Above it, tethered by a chain, hangs Sanctaphrax, a sort of floating Oxford with spires and academics who study the weather. The plot concerns Captain Twig, a skyship captain who loses his crew and his boat in an accident and has to travel across the land to find them. And meanwhile the mother of all storms is brewing which threatens to destroy everything in its path. The people and places are imaginative and nicely delineated (and well illustrated by Observer cartoonist Chris Riddell), and though the characters lack sophistication, it is nonetheless an enjoyable adventure tale.


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