Charles Stross’ THE ANNIHILATION SCORE

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.

Recently arrived review copies

Four here

Four here

That’s Liu Cixin’s THE DARK FOREST, trans. Joel Martinsen; Seth Dickinson’s THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT; Melinda Snodgrass’s EDGE OF REASON; and Greg van Eekhout’s DRAGON COAST, all courtesy of Tor Books in one way or another –

And four here.

And four here.

– and P.N. Elrod’s THE HANGED MAN, Cathy Clamp’s FORBIDDEN, N.K. Jemisin’s THE FIFTH SEASON and Kit Reed’s WHERE, courtesy of Tor Books and Orbit Books.

CALIBAN’S WAR by James S.A. Corey

James S.A. Corey, Caliban’s War. Orbit, 2013 (2012).

Caliban’s War is the second novel in Corey’s “Expanse” series. All things considered, it is a much stronger novel, doing a number of things that interest me much more, than its predecessor. Caliban’s War builds on the setting of Leviathan Wakes, but its pacing is much stronger, and the three new viewpoint characters added to Holden’s are much more interesting than the Holden-and-Miller show of Leviathan Wakes.

Give me the POV of cranky old-lady super-politician-diplomats and badass female marines and my investment in a narrative goes well up, is what I’m saying. And Prax, the scientist whose search for his missing daughter drives a good section of the narrative, is a pure delight to read.

Holden remains, unfortunately, boring in the square-jawed American-hero way. Fortunately the characters around him are much more interesting.

It strikes me that this makes two books in a row in this series where the search for a missing female person has played a significant role in the development of the narrative. I wonder if that’s going to be an ongoing pattern?

This is a stronger book than its predecessor, and I’m glad I read it. It is also making me a convincing argument to keep reading: things exploded very entertainingly here.


I have a Patreon now. Please consider supporting.

Recently arrived review copies: Alex Marshall and Anna Sheehan

Two this time.

Two this time.

Anna Sheehan, NO LIFE BUT THIS, from Gollancz. A sequel, and I haven’t read (nor do I possess) the first book: anyone know anything about it?

And Alex Marshall, A CROWN FOR COLD SILVER, from Orbit. A debut novel, and one which comes to me with more than the usual recommendations from editor- and publicist-type people, so I’ll be interested to see what it’s like.

Mur Lafferty’s THE SHAMBLING GUIDE TO NEW YORK CITY: not a review

Mur Lafferty, The Shambling Guide to New York City. Orbit, New York, 2013. Review copy courtesy of the lovely people at Orbit.

ΤΟΙΣ πᾶσι χρόνος καὶ καιρὸς τῷ παντὶ πράγματι ὑπὸ τὸν οὐρανόν. – ΕΚΚΛΗΣΙΑΣΤΗΣ 3.1

For everything there is a time, and for all things a season under heaven. It’s as true for books as it is for anything else, but I’m not sure that there will ever be a season where I am able to read and enjoy The Shambling Guide to New York City. The large amounts of praise and enthusiasm it has received since its initial publication overrode my initial instinct that this wasn’t a book for me: but in this case, the initial instinct is right.

(At least for now. It may well be that in two or three years’ time, it will become a book for me.)

I have read only the first two chapters and some bits from the middle. And between me and this book there is a vast cultural divide. The main character, Zoe, is pushy and professionally business-aggressive in the way that is stereotypically USian – stereotypically New Yorker – and does not do well at accepting hints or taking no for an answer. The first chapter had me cringing in situational embarrassment while Zoe breezed insistently along, and sections from the middle chapters make me think this is a book about the culture clash of Young Urban Professional meeting the Professional Urban Monster Underworld.

And I’m not – I don’t quite know how to put this. There is something fundamentally alien about the supposedly normal human protagonist of The Shambling Guide to New York City, something foreign to me, that makes it really difficult for me to understand, or relate to her. In the same way I find myself bemused at middlebrow popular American so-called “women’s fiction,” I don’t get this book. Its sense of humour is so utterly aslant to mine, I don’t even see how it is funny.

Which is very frustrating. But at the same time, since I’m not being paid specifically to finish it, and since I prefer to use my Tor.com column to talk about things I actively enjoyed, I’m going to shelve it and hope I like it better – or at least enough to finish – in a couple of years.

Sorry, lovely people.

Books in brief: Jon Courtenay Grimwood, The Outcast Blade; Weston Ochse, Seal Team 666

Weston Ochse, Seal Team 666. Titan Books, 2013. Copy courtesy of Titan Books.

This book’s prologue begins with a thinly-disguised fantasy fictionalisation of Seal Team 6’s assassination of Osama bin Laden, in which the unnamed bin Laden figure is portrayed as sincerely and knowingly in league with demonic forces.

Me, personally, I found this immensely disrespectful towards any understanding of Islam. Look, lads. Leaguing with demons? Charged by Protestants against Catholics and vice versa. But there are no demons in Islam. The only power a “devil” has is to lead men and djinni away from the straight path:

He said: “Give me respite till the day they are raised up.”
(Allah) said: “Be thou among those who have respite.”
He said: “Because thou hast thrown me out of the way, lo! I will lie in wait for them on thy straight way:
“Then will I assault them from before them and behind them, from their right and their left: Nor wilt thou find, in most of them, gratitude (for thy mercies).”
(Allah) said: “Get out from this, disgraced and expelled.”

(Sura 7, Al-A’raf.)

And when continuing on from that in the next chapter, there was no attempt at explaining why there’d be demons involved, and it also proved rather dull – well, I have a lot of other things to read. A lot. So I stopped, and I do not intend to go back.

Jon Courtenay Grimwood, The Outcast Blade. Orbit, 2012.

I may rag on “grimdark” fantasy a lot, but I like a good bit of gritty darkness as much as the next person – as long as it’s leavened with moments of emotional warmth and somewhat ethical choices. In The Outcast Blade, sequel to The Fallen Blade, JCG continues the story of Tycho, ex-slave turned knight, a trained assassin who craves blood under the moon; the sixteen-year-old noblewoman Giulietta, widow, key political pawn – or player – and the dark and troubled Venice of this alternate, fantastical, 16th-century Venice.

Caught between the Holy Roman Empire’s army and the Byzantine fleet, with scions of both empires offering for Giulietta’s hand in marriage, Venice, Tycho, and Giulietta are all in an uncomfortable position. One made more complicated by the dangerous rivalry between the regents for the mad/idiot Duke Marco: his mother, Alexa, aunt to the Mongol khan, and his uncle Alonzo. Tragedy, treachery, and international politics collide…

It’s a very good, very tightly written book. It never forgets the agency of its women, and its Venice is home to a wide range of people – Mongols and Mamlukes, rabbis and gravediggers, noblewomen and street children. I enjoyed it a lot, and I anticipate its soon-to-be-published sequel with some eagerness.