DARK STATE by Charles Stross

A new review over at Tor.com:

Last January’s Empire Games kicked off a new, standalone chapter in Charles Stross’s Merchant Princes continuity: a science fictional thriller involving panopticon societies, multiple timelines, a cross-timeline Cold War and nuclear-armed standoff, political crises, and family secrets. It packed a lot into a relatively slender volume. As its sequel—and the middle book of a trilogy—Dark State has a great deal to live up to, and even more work to do.

It succeeds admirably.


Charles Stross, The Annihilation Score. Orbit, 2015.

This book distracted me from work I should have been doing, and I DO NOT REGRET IT ONE WHIT.

The Annihilation Score is the latest entry in Stross’s long-running Laundry series, and the first not to be told in the voice of Bob Howard. Instead, Dr. Dominique “Mo” O’Brien, part-time lecturer in music, combat epistemologist, Laundry agent and wielder of the white bone violin that eats souls (and kills demons), takes centre stage. Mo is promoted to take charge of the UK’s new policing agency to deal with people who are developing superpowers as CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN continues. Bureaucracy snark! And also policing nightmares. And nightmare police.

The Annihilation Score is darker, tonally, than the previous Laundry books, and a little less humorous – although the Laundry series has grown progressively darker, this installment has a lot more whistling past the graveyard than even the last couple. As a protagonist, Mo is more self-aware than Bob, scarred in different ways, and her voice is a touch more biting. Underneath the cynical jokes, engaging incidents, crises of beginning middle-age, and brisk send-up of the superhero genre, there’s something pretty bleak. That layer of bleakness makes The Annihilation Score stand out from its predecessors in a good way.

Gallows humour is the best humour, after all.

Books in brief: Stross, Leckie, Kaveney, Lackey/Mallory, Hambly, Lackey/Edghill, Godfrey, Baldwin, Maddox

I have read over 150 books so far this year. Maybe I should slow down…?

Charles Stross, The Rhesus Chart. Orbit, 2014.

The fifth installment in Stross’s “Laundry Files” series. Rather more episodic than its predecessors, with an approach to pacing that staggers rather a bit in the middle, it never quite transcends the sum of its parts. But it’s a fun story with an interesting twist in the climax that clearly sets up some New Changes in the life of its protagonist, and I enjoyed it a lot.

Ann Leckie, Ancillary Sword. Orbit, 2014. Review copy (electronic) courtesy of Orbit.

It is space opera, and could have been written JUST FOR ME. I love it as much as I loved its predecessor. Read this one for review for Tor.com: expect to hear more about it from me soon.

Roz Kaveney, Resurrections. Plus One Press, 2014. Review copy courtesy of the author.

Third in series, and what a fantastic bloody series it is. Kaveney isn’t afraid to make ambitious messes with mythology, genre furniture, and your own expectations. Structurally it’s not an entirely successful offering, but I love it incredibly much, and hopefully I’ll get to talk about it at length in a review somewhere else.

Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory, The House of the Four Winds. Tor, 2014. Copy courtesy of the publisher.

A competent if not particularly exciting fantasy novel set in a version of our world sometime in the 1700s – with all the names of the countries changed, but still with things called “French doors.” It has pirates and the high seas, and doesn’t fuck up shipboard life entirely, but you can call the plotpoints in advance pretty easily.

Barbara Hambly, Crimson Angel. Severn House, 2014. eARC courtesy of the publisher.

The latest Benjamin January novel, and in my opinion one of the best. (Mind you, my two favourites are Graveyard Dust and Sold Down The River.) Here, death and threats and an old family secret lead Ben and Rose – accompanied by Hannibal Sefton – to Cuba, and thence to Haiti. A fantastic, powerful, atmospheric novel.

Sharon Kay Penman, The Queen’s Man and Cruel As The Grave. Ebooks.

Two mysteries set in 12th-century England from an acclaimed historical novelist. Fun mysteries, diverting but not particularly stunning.

Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill, Legacies, Conspiracies, Sacrifices, and Victories. Ebooks.

Four novels in a Young Adult series called “The Shadow Grail.” Which was fun, until it became reincarnated Arthurian mythos nonsense.

Shea Godfrey, Blackstone. Bold Strokes Books, 2014. Review copy (electronic) courtesy of the publisher.

Lesbian fantasy romance. The prose is competent enough, but there’s not a lot of plot to hold the attention in between fairly unimaginative sex scenes. It is probably fairer to describe this as “romance, subtype erotic” than anything else, and that’s not exactly my style.

Kim Baldwin, Taken By Storm. Bold Strokes Books, 2014. Review copy (electronic) courtesy of the publisher.

Lesbian romance. Bunch of Americans and a handful of other nationalities (who don’t have characterisation) get trapped in a train carriage during serious avalanches in the Swiss Alps. There is some interesting ice climbing stuff. Mostly it is more competent than not, although the lack of attention paid to non-USian characters is deeply annoying. Not particularly special, but good enough if you’re looking for more women having relationships with women while adventures happen.

Jaime Maddox, The Common Thread. Bold Strokes Books, 2014. Review copy (electronic) courtesy of the publisher.

Novel in which the lives of twins separated at birth come to intersect after a murder. The idea for the narrative is ambitious, but the execution is lacking. For all that, it is a perfectly readable book, if ultimately a little too… well, trite.

A review of Charles Stross’ Neptune’s Brood

Over at Tor.com.

Neptune’s Brood, the latest science fiction novel from multiple award winner Charles Stross, could be subtitled a novel of adventure and accountancy. I’ve read what seems to me a lot of fiction, and a lot of science fiction: I don’t think I’ve ever before read a novel so closely involved with financial theory and the workings of money and debt. Stross has written a novel that works as both science fiction thriller and an exploration of how interstellar banking—interstellar economics—could work in a universe without FTL travel but with interstellar mobility.

Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross, The Rapture of the Nerds

Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross, The Rapture of the Nerds. Titan Books, 2013. Copy courtesy of Titan Books.

This is a case of right book, wrong time – or possibly wrong book, wrong time, although I normally enjoy everything Stross writes and tolerate Doctorow’s (entertaining, if thinly-disguised as didactic, moralistic tracts) technophiliac agitprop novels. Huw, the protagonist, is an entertaining if unpleasantly self-righteous wee Luddite, but I keep bouncing from the second chapter. I’m really not in the mood for futureshock and posthuman stuff lately. (Shocking, I know: stress sends me towards staider, simpler fare.)

I’ll try this again sometime, though: it’s definitely the wrong time, and so I’ve no way of judging whether or not it’s the right book.

Linky has been away playing Mass Effect

Because it was the closest thing I could get to a holiday from this constant cold cold wind and rain. Had we not the ability to import food, we’d be looking towards famine conditions, I suspect. Drowned fields and intermittent frost at this time of year doesn’t bode well for either the grain or the potato harvests.

Sobering thought, that for much of history the vast majority of people were only ever one bad harvest from suffering, and two from catastrophe.

Charlie Stross on The Permanent Revolution:

But it’s important to understand that virtually the entire mainstream of political and social discourse today is radical and revolutionary by historical standards. (Hell, the concept of sociology itself is a construct of the revolutionary philosophers.) This is not an historically normative set of touchstone ideas to run a society on. We’re swimming in the tidal wave set running by an underwater earthquake two centuries ago — and like fish that live their entire lives in water, we are unable to see our circumstances as the anomaly that they are, or to know whether it’s all for the best.

Marie Brennan on Batman had it easy:

It never even occurred to me that Bruce Wayne should have been in danger of sexual abuse. (Spoilers now for The Dark Knight Rises.) As McDougall points out, he’s physically helpless, in a prison full of violent criminals who have no path to sexual release except their hands and one another. We know how that kind of thing turns out in reality; we make jokes about it, because the subject is so uncomfortable. Yet put Bruce Wayne in prison, in a scene that is supposed to represent him reaching absolute rock bottom, and nobody touches him for any reason other than to help him.

Can you imagine how audiences would have reacted if Bruce had to fight off a rapist? Even if the rape weren’t completed. A lot of people were put off just by Silva unbuttoning Bond’s shirt and putting a hand on his thigh, by a few lines of suggestive dialogue. They would have blown a gasket permanently to see Batman treated like, oh, name just about any superheroine you care to. Batman, like Bond, is a Man’s Man, the ultimate in unimpeachable masculinity. You can’t damage that by having somebody try to rape him, whether they succeed or not.

This Week in My Classes: Am I Making Excuses for Gaudy Night?

But are these aspects — my feelings, and what I’ll call my ‘expertise’ — really so unrelated? Don’t I love the novel because of how I interpret it, and don’t I interpret it as I do because of the time and thought I’ve put into reading and rereading it? Or is it that I read and reread it because I love it, and thus I interpret it as I do because of how I feel about it? What does it mean to “love” a novel anyway? And since this particular novel focuses on precisely the challenge of integrating head and heart, can’t I just stop worrying about which came first, the love or the understanding, and be happy that here I find the perfect fusion of the two?

Mentioned in the comments to my SWM column on Dishonored: the Border House Blog on The Treatment of Women in Dishonored:

I think that’s what frustrates me about the depiction of women in Dishonored. The women in Dunwall are oppressed as they are in most ‘violent’ games set in fictional or non-fictional historical places. I just wish that at least once, either the women are given the chance to fight back and improve their situation, or I am given the option as a player to help them and show that I care. I feel like in Dishonored I am made blatantly aware of their inequalities and how unhappy the women of Dunwall are but also I am hobbled and unable to do anything about it, rendering it a cheap trope used to color the setting and add flavor to the plot.