Review – The Eerie Silence

Cover of The Eerie Silence by Paul DaviesThe Eerie Silence, Paul Davies

Paul Davies does a really good job here of illustrating the issues of SETI’s lack of success, and Fermi’s Paradox. He goes into the science and philosophy of it in depth, explaining all the terms and generally making it crystal clear. What amazes me is that he’s still somewhat optimistic about finding intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, given all the things he says in this book — I’m now almost completely sure that even if intelligent life has arisen elsewhere (and that’s still a big if) that we’ll have trouble finding it because of the issue of the sheer amount of time and space involved.

Not that I don’t think the search is worth doing. Even if we’ll never manage to communicate with intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, we might find signs of it, and understand more about how life begins. There’s so much we can learn along the way, and maybe the idea that we may not be unique will keep us a little bit more humble.

Or not.

Rating: 4/5


Review – The Wicked + The Divine

Cover of The Wicked + The Divine by Jamie McKelvie and Kieron GillenThe Wicked + The Divine, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson

The Wicked + The Divine is really gorgeously illustrated and coloured. I want to give it a million stars just because it looks so consistently good. Everything is clear, clean, sharp: it’s very characteristically McKelvie’s work (as the script is pretty characteristic of Kieron Gillen, I think) and that’s definitely a good thing. I think I got sucked into this via the art, first and foremost.

In terms of plotting and characters, there’s interesting stuff going on, but there are tons of unanswered questions. Unlike some other reviewers, I don’t expect to get all the answers in the first five issue TPB; we wouldn’t get that in a novel, so why here? There is a lot I want to know, about the whys and wherefores of the gods’ reincarnations, what their aims are, why they love attention… I’m half-expecting something American Gods-y, in that sense, where the worship and adulation they get as pop idols fuels them in some way. I don’t know, though; I’m looking forward to finding out.

The relationship between Laura and Luci is central to the story, and it mostly works for me. I think the intensity of the bond doesn’t entirely feel natural there… but there are explanations: Laura’s hunger to be close to the gods, rebellion against her parents, hero worship and I-want-to-be-you.

I’m looking forward to seeing where this is going, anyway; it looks like it’s going to be a fun ride.

Rating: 4/5

Stacking the Shelves

This week looks quite busy, but I have excuses, I promise…


Cover of Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon Cover of The Language Wars by Henry Hitchings Cover of Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Cover of Creation by Adam Rutherford Cover of If Walls Could Talk by Lucy Worsley

I’ve been meaning to pick up Bitter Greens for a while, and my sister loves Elizabeth Moon, so that’s why those two — and the non-fiction, well, they were fairly random picks from the library non-fiction section. I do love having random non-fiction to read.


Cover of Native Tongue, by Suzette Elgin Haden Cover of The Terrorists of Irustan by Louise Marley Cover of The Glass Harmonica by Louise Marley

Cover of A Seed on the Wind by Cat Rambo Cover of Queen & Commander by Janine A. Southard Cover of Hive & Heist by Janine A. Southard

This looks fairly busy, but I spent less than £5 myself — a friend from a book group bought me Native Tongue, after a discussion went pretty nasty in the group, which picked my mood up greatly. The Terrorists of Irustan was a rec that came out of that, too. And then I spotted Damaged Worlds, which contains those four books plus a short story by Cecilia Tan for under £1. So I thought I might as well give them a go.

So, not a bad haul for me, and pretty cheap too! What’s everyone else been grabbing?

Review – The Hero and the Crown

Cover of The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinleyThe Hero and the Crown, Robin McKinley

Wow, I don’t know why I didn’t really like The Hero and the Crown very much on the first go round. It’s full of all the kinds of things I love: love stories that aren’t just simple love-at-first-sight or we-grew-up-together-and-now-we’re-in-love, but something more complicated that that; a world with a history and a future, outside of what we’ve got; a heroine who works through flaws and barriers to become a hero. And the last sentences — ach! Lovely.

It’s not some straightforward children’s story in which a heroine goes forth and slays a dragon. That happens, but it happens as part of a longer journey: the dragon isn’t the end, but only really the beginning of Aerin’s journey. It doesn’t solve all her issues and let her go home unscathed, unchanged, to a court that’s suddenly ready to accept her. Aerin’s story is harder than that.

Looking at my old review/notes on this, I was disappointed by the worldbuilding — which I think is funny, because though it’s subtle, there’s plenty here. The surka, the crown, old heroes, Luthe’s background, why the animals follow Aerin: there’s so much that doesn’t get elucidated, but remains there for you to turn over and wonder at. McKinley doesn’t give you all the answers about her world in one go, and I doubt that The Blue Sword will answer all of it either. Maybe you have to do a little more work to really appreciate the history of the world, because McKinley does nothing so clumsy as sit you in a history lesson with Aerin to learn about it.

Overall, given the subtlety of parts of this and the wistfulness of the love stories, I’m not entirely sure how I’d have taken this as a child. It may be a prime example of a story that works on two levels: Aerin waving her sword around for younger readers, winning the day with her prowess, while the older readers might taste more of the bittersweetness of her immortality and her twin-nature.

Rating; 4/5

Review – You Are Here

Cover of You Are Here by Chris HadfieldYou Are Here, Chris Hadfield

You Are Here is a gorgeous book, a collection of photographs taken by Chris Hadfield during his time on the ISS. He shows us Earth in all its variety: the densely inhabited cities lighting up the night, the marks we’ve left on the landscape, and then also the stretches of empty desert, the glorious geologic features of mountains and volcanoes, the places where meteorites have impacted. It’s much better than looking at the photos on a computer, as he says in the introduction: it seems so much sharper and clearer, the colours truer.

There’s not much by way of editorial content here — some explanations of what you’re looking at, short inset paragraphs with Hadfield’s comments, but mostly the photographs speak for themselves.

Rating: 5/5

What are you reading Wednesday

What are you currently reading?
If Walls Could Talk (Lucy Worsley) for non-fiction, which is pretty fun for light reading.

For fiction: Fever (Mary Beth Keane), which I started reading last week, read half of, and then haven’t picked up since for no apparent reason. It’s interesting, though, because it tries to take the perspective of Mary Mallon, aka Typhoid Mary. I keep meaning to look up some of the details to see how much of it is accurate and how much total fiction. Also The Hollow Hills (Mary Stewart), and The Just City (Jo Walton), but work seems to be coming in sufficient profusion to stop me actually finishing anything at the moment.

What have you recently finished reading?
The Eerie Silence and The Goldilocks Enigma (Paul Davies). He loses me a bit when he goes into string theory and the like, and I know that some smaller aspects are gonna be out of date since it was written before the Large Hadron Collider was up and running, but for the most part I hung in there. The Eerie Silence leaves me very sceptical about the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence, but then The Goldilocks Enigma seemed more positive again… Odd, from the same author!

What will you read next?
I agreed to do a buddy read of The Goblin Emperor (Katherine Addison), this weekend; other than that, I’m not looking beyond the stack of half-read books at my bedside!

Review – The Atrocity Archive

Cover of The Atrocity Archives by Charles StrossThe Atrocity Archive, Charles Stross

I keep trying Stross’ work, because I’ve read other novels of his and I know that there are some elements which interest me, some things which I do keep turning the pages for. I was actually more interested in The Atrocity Archive and “The Concrete Jungle” than I have been in most of his other books, which is a start, but I’m afraid a lot of it went over my head (not geeky enough) and some of it went under (fart jokes).

All in all, the alternate history conjured up here is interesting, though I can’t really talk about the mathematics, geometry, etc, because I can’t write down my own phone number without transposing a digit or two. That somewhat hobbles the story, because I think there’s humour and worldbuilding there that I just. don’t. get. Which is unfortunately how Stross has made me feel before.

I don’t think I’ll be reading any more of this series, though I quest on in my attempt to find a Stross book I genuinely enjoy. It seems like he has cool ideas, and it’s not like it’s his writing style that throws me off — I just don’t feel like enough of a nerd!

Rating: 2/5

Review – Osama

Cover of Osama by Lavie TidharOsama, Lavie Tidhar

I’ve been avoiding reading Osama for a while, as I didn’t really feel tempted by the summary, but I ended up picking it up in the library — because that can never hurt! — and really enjoying it, as it happens. Rather more than the books that Lavie Tidhar wrote for Angry Robot, actually, even though superficially they might seem more up my street.

I think a fair amount of the trouble people have reading this is that they’re expecting the wrong thing. A classically noirish detective story, a thriller, something solidly science fictional that deals with multiverses… but it’s none of those things, or not only those things. It borrows some of the trappings of each: the protagonist is a detective in a classic noir style; there are excerpts that’re meant to be from a thriller; there are at least two parallel universes, it seems…

Going into this as I did, without too many expectations, let me enjoy it a lot. Each chapter is short, so it ended up flying by, and while others complained about the metaphors and imagery, I actually enjoyed it a lot. Borrowing from a genre that gave us “shop-worn Galahad”s and the like, I don’t think the writing style was out of place at all.

It’s much more quiet, meditative, than most noir-ish things, though. Although the character is in many ways insubstantial, that’s kind of the point. If you’re looking for a thriller, this ain’t it: though there’s plenty of violence and mystery and so on, really it’s more about an internal journey.

Rating: 4/5

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is books on the winter TBR. I’m not very specific about stuff like that, and I’m dreadful at getting round to books on time, but here’s more or less what I’m planning…

  1. Mary Stewart, the Merlin trilogy. The first book was a reread, but with The Hollow Hills I’m breaking new ground. And enjoying it, thankfully; I still think Rosemary Sutcliff has just about everyone except maybe Steinbeck beat, but I’m enjoying Stewart’s work more than I remembered.
  2. Jo Walton, The Just CityI got distracted from finishing this off by family visiting, and because I can’t take it to clinic with me (I’m only allowed my ereader because it’s quite discreet!). So I’m planning to finish it… probably before the start of December, really.
  3. Tanya Huff, The Enchantment EmporiumAlso been on the go for a while, whoops. And it’s fun!
  4. Ben Aaronovitch, Foxglove SummerBecause omgggg.
  5. Garth Nix, ClarielBecause I’m dreadful and still haven’t got round to it after I wasn’t able to read it on the Eurostar on my last trip.
  6. Brandon Sanderson, Steelheart. Because superheroes! And it’s about time.
  7. Samantha Shannon, The Bone SeasonI’ve been meaning to pick this up for a while, and with the next book out soon, it seems like it’s about time.
  8. Guy Gavriel Kay, The Lions of Al-Rassan. I’m still working on reading all his books in chronological order (by publication), so this one’s up next.
  9. Henry Marsh, Do No Harm. I’m starting the long road to becoming a doctor, in theory. Marsh’s topic (brain surgery) fascinates me, and I feel like I should be learning everything I can and just soaking up the knowledge in that way I have of gaining things by osmosis. (Ask my mother. I don’t know how to pronounce a lot of words because they just slipped into my vocabulary via books, without me ever hearing them. She thinks it’s funny.)
  10. Bernard Cornwell, The Winter KingBecause there’s no better time, with a title like that, right? But also because the Mary Stewart re/read is putting me in the mood for other historically based versions of the story.

What about everyone else? Share!

Review – Tooth and Claw

Cover of Tooth & Claw by Jo WaltonTooth and Claw, Jo Walton

I had a vague recollection of not really liking this book as much as Jo Walton’s other work. Then I reread it in approximately five seconds flat (well, a little more than that, maybe). As people have noted, my original review called this Austen-esque, whereas Jo makes it clear in the book itself that no, the influence is much more from Trollope. Not that I’ve read anything by Trollope, and there are aspects here reminiscent of Austen.

Before I write any more about this, let me just pause to be very amused that often the same people complaining the dragons are too human-like (wearing hats) complain that the dragons aren’t (modern Western) human-like enough for their taste (socially acceptable cannibalism after someone dies).

The thing I really enjoyed about Tooth and Claw, this time round as much as last time, was the complex history and social background there is to this story, which you don’t have to know about, but which is there. The world isn’t just a paper thin homage to Trollope; there’s a lot more going on, a whole geography and history and philosophy which shapes the story and gives the dragons life. The homage to Trollope is there, sure, but Jo also looked at it and changed what needed to be changed to make the dragon society feel real — lacy hats or no.

This time, I finished the book feeling glad that it’s a self-contained story which concludes within one book, because fantasy trilogies are getting out of hand these days, but also wondering very much about the background of the world, about events before and after the only somewhat personally significant events of this story. That’s something I love to leave a book wondering, because it means that the world wasn’t just created for the story, but the story takes place within the world.

Rating: 5/5