The Core Dump

The Core Dump is the personal blog of Nic Lindh, a Swedish-American pixel-pusher living in Phoenix, Arizona.

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[By Nic Lindh on Saturday, 27 December 2014]

Book roundup, part 17

Things go dark and magical in this installment. Includes So, Anyway…, Yes Please, The Mirror Empire, London Falling, Broken Homes, Perfidia, The Peripheral, Burning Chrome, and the Bel Dame Apocrypha Omnibus.

Non-fiction

So, Anyway…, by John Cleese ★★★★☆

As you’d expect from an autobiography by John Cleese, So, Anyway… is smart, funny, and conversational. Fair warning, though, that it stops just as Monty Python are formed, so apart from allusions to Cleese and Terry Gilliam not being on the best of terms, to put it mildly, there’s little about that part of his life in here.

There’s plenty about his early life, strained relationship with his mom, and the escapades of his father, who clearly had an interesting time what with getting hurt in WWI then traveling around the waning Empire leading the life of a British gentleman before settling down in rural England to sell insurance.

One feeling I kept having when Cleese wrote about his college years and his start in comedy was how incredibly implausible it sounded. Not casting any aspersions on his truthfulness, but wow, the coincidences and lucky breaks are astonishing.

If you’re interested in Cleese himself or you’re a bit of an anglophile, So, Anyway… will do you solid.

Yes Please, by Amy Poehler ★★★☆☆

A funny and smart mix of stories about Poehler’s life, advice, and general oddity. It’s a fast, easy read, though the name dropping gets a bit heavy at times.

Yes Please made me binge-watch Parks and Recreation, which was enjoyable.

Fiction

The Mirror Empire, by Kameron Hurley ★★★★☆

One of the best new fantasy novels I’ve read in ages, The Mirror Empire does very interesting things with the tropes of the genre and is completely engrossing.

Be prepared to concentrate, though—the plot is intense and dense. You’ll be rewarded.

London Falling, by Paul Cornell ★★★★☆

There’s a whole sub genre of urban fantasy that takes place in London and London Falling is the darkest take on the genre I’ve seen. It’s a bit hard to discuss the plot without spoiling it, but basically four hard-case police officers working on a case accidentally acquire what they call the Sight, enabling them to see the supernatural elements and beings that crowd around London, including and centrally to the story a very terrible witch.

London Falling admirably sticks to being a noir police procedural with the supernatural elements added on top, providing another level of menace and straight-up creepiness.

This is one of the most British books I’ve read when it comes to vocabulary, to the point where I had to concentrate to understand some passages, which added to the atmo.

It’s also the first in the Shadow Police series and frustratingly the only one. If you happen across this review, Mr. Cornell, please write as fast you can—can’t wait for the next installment!

Broken Homes, by Ben Aaronovitch ★★★★☆

Broken Homes is the fourth installment in the great Rivers of London series and you should absolutely not start here but at the beginning—the series is written with each novel having a stand-alone plot but there’s also an arch that gets more and more interesting as it goes on.

So Rivers of London is written like a TV series and rewards binge-reading. Which is great until you reach the end of the published novels and have to sit in a corner and wait for the next one to get your fix.

Rivers of London is part of the London urban fantasy genre, like London Falling, but takes a much lighter tone. Our protagonist, Peter Grant, is a police officer with the ability to see the supernatural elements of London and is apprenticed to a wizard police officer who runs a tiny department in the police force that deals with the “special” sorts of cases.

Broken Homes gets deeper into the mythology and has Grant figuring out what is going on with a London slum skyscraper. Hint: Bad things.

It moves the series along and there’s a huge twist at the end, but it’s not the best installment. Still, if you’ve gotten this far in the series, you’ll enjoy it and get excited for the next installment, which is January 6, 2015 according to Amazon.

Perfidia, by James Ellroy ★★★★☆

Ellroy is back in LA in this first novel in a new series that takes place around the time of Pearl Harbor, before the events in the LA Quartet.

As you’d expect from Ellroy it’s super densely plotted and written and the most hard core of hard core noir. Soooo dark and depressing. And incredibly impressive both for its own sprawling plot and for all the recurring characters from the LA Quartet. (You don’t have to have read it to enjoy Perfidia, but if you have you’ll gasp in places as you get the back story of characters in those novels.)

If you’re an Ellroy fan, Perfidia is a given.

The Peripheral, by William Gibson ★★★★★

The Peripheral may very well be Gibson’s best work ever, which is high praise indeed. It gives us not one but two dystopian near-futures and is lathered with his polished, smooth prose. It’s impossible to talk about the plot without spoiling, so I’ll leave it alone except to say that it’s completely normal to start reading this novel and enjoying it while being utterly confused. Until that glorious moment when the plot clicks into focus.

Glorious.

Burning Chrome, by William Gibson ★★★★☆

After reading The Peripheral I decided to revisit Burning Chrome, Gibson’s classic short story collection. And even though some of the specifics of how cyberspace works and the prevalence of Japanese cyberdecks and conglomerates dates it pretty badly, they’re still beautiful vignettes, and since the technology was never really the thing, it’s still a great collection.

Since the last time more than 20 years ago I last read it, I’d forgotten how sad the stories are—regret is a constant theme.

Well worth a re-read or a first read if you’ve been living under a rock.

The Kameron Hurley Omnibus, by Kameron Hurley ★★★☆☆

I was impressed enough with The Mirror Empire to pick up this omnibus of Hurley’s entire Bel Dame Apocrypha series, God’s War, Infidel, and Rapture.

Far-future sci-fi, the series takes place on a planet colonized mostly by Muslim nations. The terraforming didn’t go super well, and the nations have descended into a horrific never-ending war.

Our protagonist is a former Bel Dame, what government enforcers-slash-sheriffs are called and she is most emphatically not a nice human being. And neither is anybody else. The series is grim and grimy with a strong sense of noir.

With the general unpleasantness of everybody involved, it can be a bit of a slog, but Hurley’s world building is first-rate and full of interesting details like the use of insects as technology-analogs (a result of the terraforming not going well) and plenty of misandry (women run the planet and are just as bad at is as men).

The Bel Dame series is well worth checking out if you want a different flavor of sci-fi.

You have thoughts? I’m @niclindh on Twitter and I want to know what you think.


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