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REALJimBob

Fortysomething, photographer slacker, working in IT, living in Greenwich; failed polymath; drinks and eats too much, reads too little...

The State of the Art  - Iain M. Banks Sort of in the Culture series, sort of not quite. This is the (first?) collection of [a:Iain M. Banks|5807106|Iain M. Banks|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1352410520p2/5807106.jpg] short stories, paired with a Culture novella which gives the book its title. Taking up half the book The State of the Art tells the tale of the Culture's first contact with Earth, some time in the '70s. Told in the form of a mission report by Diziet Sma, and later translated by Skaffen-Amtiskaw, (prior to their appearances in [b:Use of Weapons|12007|Use of Weapons (Culture, #3)|Iain M. Banks|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1347522037s/12007.jpg|1494156]).

Sma is assigned to the Contact group, on board The Arbitrary. Contact's role seems to consist more of sampling the feel of a planet rather than actually making contact, and she hangs out in various cities sampling the food, the culture and the people. Unfortunately, the whole thing feels a little contrived – as if Banks had been repeatedly asked (a) is the Culture us in the future, and if not, (b) does the Culture ever come to Earth? Instead of having a story to tell, if feels more like Banks is answering those questions: no and yes, respectively. And, as there's no real story, Banks ends up filling the gaps with 'why humans suck' and 'why humans are so great'. Sma takes the anti-Earth side, wanting the Culture to completely step in and just stop us running things so badly; Dervley Linter takes the opposing side, as he's busy going native anyway. And to be fair to him, he's not suggesting that we're doing well, just that our failures are an authentic part of our path. Points are always rescued by the ships themselves – having The Arbitrary send a postcard to the BBC requesting Space Oddity is just beautiful.

The short stories that come before the novella are also a bit of a mixed bag. The Culture feels like Banks's preferred world, and the obvious Culture story, A Gift from the Culture, is probably the most conventional story in the collection and probably also the one I enjoyed the most. Odd Attachment reads like a retro-SF story. A first-contact between a human and a vegetable based lifeform goes tragically wrong, but told from the point of view of the vegetable. Cleaning Up and Descendant were both interesting. The first is the story of a ship of interstellar garbage men dumping their second goods into our sun, except that their transporter is faulty and the items keep appearing in the middle of a paranoia driven cold-war America – what could go wrong. The second follows a man and his smart space suit, crashed on a planet. Does the suit need the man as much as the man needs the suit – for the company if nothing else?

The remaining three are a little esoteric. The collection is bookended with Road of Skulls at the start: interesting start, but even for a short story I wanted it to go a bit further. And, at the end, Scratch (or: The Present and Future of Species HS (sic) Considered as The Contents of a Contemporary Popular Record (qv)): pure experimentalism, and I'm none the wiser if it worked or not. The final piece was Piece, which wasn't even science fiction. At first I thought it was an essay on religious extremism, but eventually I realised it wasn't supposed to be Banks narrating. However, as with much of the rest of the collection, it felt a little like being beaten with somebody else's opinions.

High Times at the Sixth Annual Succubus Sisters Garage and Bake Sale

High Times at the Sixth Annual Succubus Sisters Garage and Bake Sale - Regan Wolfrom I found myself on a train without a book and without my Kindle. My shiny new iPhone had the Kindle app on it, but no books. So I picked the shortest short story I could find on my to-read list and downloaded it quickly before I lost signal. Perfect in length – I read the story on the journey there and wrote most of the review on the journey home.

Heather meets Maggie in the queue for the drive through and is inducted into the LA Succubus Sisters group. A gang of wannabe sex demons. Before long her and Maggie are in love which isn't a good state of being for any sex demon. Luckily Maggie knows just the cure and before long their roles are reversed.

A very short story of an almost psychopathic group dynamics. Obviously meant to be taken tongue in cheek (pun intended) as there are a few puns in the title and story as well. You're never quite sure how seriously to take the succubusing and the twist at the end ties the whole thing up quite nicely. Fun, but possibly a little over-egged in places.
Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike - William Fotheringham Everybody with even a passing acquaintance of cycling as a sport has probably heard of Eddy Merckx. Anybody who has an interest in the sport will also know that Merckx was the greatest cyclist the sport has had – 'The greatest there is; the greatest there was; the greatest there ever will be' to steal (and change) a line from Bret Hart. What I didn't realise until I read this book was quite how great that great was. That such a cyclist doesn't seem to have written an autobiography, let alone had it translated into English, seems like a great oversight. An oversight that William Fotheringham and Daniel Friebe both seem to have decided to resolve; both releasing their own biographies of Merckx in the same year. I'm sure I'll read them both eventually but, due to some birthday book vouchers last year, I got to read [b:Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike|15799141|Merckx Half Man, Half Bike|William Fotheringham|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1356086391s/15799141.jpg|18332662] first.

Covering the full range of Merckx's career – from his early amateur races when other riders would often not bother turning up when he rode; the first rider (and still only?) to win the amateur world championship and the professional world championship (which he won three times); winning the Tour de France and the Giro in the same year – three times no less – even taking all the jerseys; through his career changing crash; and ending with his retirement. His win rate was prolific, according to Wikipedia he won at least 25% of the races he entered for seven straight years, peaking at 45% in 1971. Numerous times in the book, Fotheringham explains how Merckx charged off to win races that he clearly didn't need to, just because he could. Although Fotheringham's journalistic background shows through in what is a hugely researched and fact rich book, he does manage to stop it being a dry read, although this is more due to his choice of source material than his prose per se. What he does do though is step back and let the story tell itself around the facts and figures.

I thought I knew a bit about Merckx, although he was a little before my time (he retired before I was 10). I was a cycling fan – I'd read articles about the man before. But I'd barely scratched the surface of either the races he won or the depth of his career. A must read for any fan of cycle sport, now I need to snag a copy of Friebe's [b:Eddy Merckx: The Cannibal|13580140|Eddy Merckx The Cannibal|Daniel Friebe|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1333673107s/13580140.jpg|19164682] and read that too...
The Bat: A Harry Hole thriller (Harry Hole 1) - Jo Nesbo Back to the beginning of the Harry Hole series with [b:The Bat|15986895|The Bat (Harry Hole, #1)|Jo Nesbø|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1346751777s/15986895.jpg|1994708] – originally titled Flaggermusmannen (see we're learning Norwegian here already). The first in the series is set in Australia, in Sydney. Harry has been sent out to assist the local police with their investigation into the murder of a Norwegian woman, Inger Holter. What starts out as a murder investigation quickly turns into a serial killer investigation and, possibly even, murder and cover up within the ranks of the investigating police force. This book has it all: lots of Australian slang (ripper use of the word rooting), clowns, red-heads and blondes, pimps, drug dealers and cricket, rape and racism, and Aboriginals. Phew.

While it's interesting to see some more of Harry's history, to be honest, there really isn't much more here than a reader would have already inferred from reading the later Oslo trilogy (books 3 to 5). Some flashbacks to his earlier years and relationships provide some colour and explain how he became an alcoholic and how he's now coping with staying clean. Maybe if I'd read this one first it would have all seemed so new, and so exciting, but until I've learnt Norwegian I have to wait until they're translated. The biggest thing I think I learnt about Harry from this novel was that the pronunciation of his name is closely to Holy than the English word Hole – I'd always thought it an odd surname.

The book just doesn't feel as layered as the later novels (especially [b:The Redbreast|7113816|The Redbreast (Harry Hole, #3)|Jo Nesbø|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1330419297s/7113816.jpg|1487876] which if anything I thought was overly layered and just plain confusing in places). Emotionally Hole seems too accessible – his quick attachments to both Andrew and Birgitta feel to quick and too deep for the timespan of the story. Obviously Harry has to care for them both in order to drive the story, but it's something that [a:Nesbø|904719|Jo Nesbø|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1313316680p2/904719.jpg] has got better at over time. The chapters are short, very short – there are 57 of them in the book – and they get shorter as the book progresses. This seemed to create a sort of a choppy sensation in the novel where my attention was constantly having to jump about and never able to settle into a single scene. I'm not sure if this was a deliberate style decision with Nesbø or not, but again, I think it's something he's got better at in the later novels.

That's not to say this is a bad novel by any stretch. It's a good one – it's won awards and everything. I liked it, the story is excellent, the Australianisms are charming, and the plot's twists and turns had me guessing to the end. It's just a first novel and he's done better since...

Ponies

Ponies - Kij Johnson,  Mark Oshiro It's hard not to like any book when it's read by [a:Mark Oshiro|5183642|Mark Oshiro|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1361575297p2/5183642.jpg] of Mark Reads – and he's read [b:Twilight|41865|Twilight (Twilight, #1)|Stephenie Meyer|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1361039443s/41865.jpg|3212258] so I suppose I could put that to the test. Sometimes chapter by chapter reviews, sometimes YouTube narrations, sometimes a mixture of the two. Flushed from his recent Hugo nomination, he was asked to read the short story, [b:Ponies|18473762|Ponies|Kij Johnson|/assets/nocover/60x80.png|15268747] (a Nebula winner itself), from fellow Hugo nominee [a:Kij Johnson|110153|Kij Johnson|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1220146486p2/110153.jpg].

Mark manages to get so into any story he's reading, and the dark themes of this one were always going to play with his mind. Barbara has a pony (think My Little Pony but with wings, a horn and they can talk) and the time has come for her 'cutting out' party so she, and her pony, can be accepted by THEOTHERGIRLS. Like any ritual to join a group ruled by peer pressure, there's a strong element of bullying. And that's where the horror starts for both Barbara and Mark as he's as in the dark about the story as we are.

Short though the story is (the YouTube video clocks in at just over 10 minutes, and that includes a lot of Mark's own shock and thought processes), it's an exploration of peer pressure, group bullying, social expectation and the need to join a group that doesn't really want you, and you might not even be comfortable in. Fantastically narrated, as usual, and that might have coloured my view of the story somewhat too...
Little Brother  - Cory Doctorow I bought [b:Little Brother|4461558|Little Brother (Little Brother, #1)|Cory Doctorow|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1328043381s/4461558.jpg|939584] back in 2010 some time, planning 'giving this [a:Doctorow|12581|Cory Doctorow|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1361468756p2/12581.jpg] fella a go'. For some reason I got distracted, or bored, or just picked up another book and kinda forgot about it (this was before Goodreads). Fast forward three years, and I also seem to have bought an ebook copy of the book as part of the second Humble eBook Bundle. Two paid-for, but unread, copies of a book that I could download for free from the author's website – not bad going at all. Instead I read [b:Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom|7043172|Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom|Cory Doctorow|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1268759800s/7043172.jpg|1413] as my first Doctorow and popped this one on the shelf to try again later...

Little Brother is the story of a group of school friends in San Francisco, caught up in a terrorist attack against the city. In the wrong place at the wrong time they are scooped up by the Department of Homeland Security for questioning. The department's approach turns out to be a little extra-legal, and before they know it they are being held in a secure – Guantanamo-like – facility in the bay. Having already been held, without even telling their parents, for several days they can't just be released, and they are threatened further to keep them quiet. Once out, the San Francisco they are released into is one they barely recognise. With the DHS running and influencing almost everything there is no freedom to question anything anymore. Luckily, our hero Marcus, is determined to fight the DHS and get things back to the way they were.

Doctorow is an obvious Libertarian, and this novel is a good, young-adult, primer. The Department for Homeland Security is the over-powered evil authoritarian regime. The rest of the city are easily duped into accepting the occupation of their city – because, you know, Terrorism! Marcus and his friends are the hackers, free-thinkers and underdogs; determined to overthrow something for what was done to them: to right the wrongs. The perfect teenage rebellion fantasy. Not only does Marcus have the ideal organisation to rebel against, but he has the skills and tools to do so. While the politics gets a little obvious in places, Doctorow is obviously trying not to make this just a libertarian tract. Luckily, he has a pretty exciting story to tell and I still have no idea why I gave up on this the first time...
The Demolished Man - Alfred Bester The Sword and Laser bookclub read for September, it seemed as good a reason as any to push the book to the top of my to-read list. Not that I've ever really participated in the discussions there, or watched more than a couple of the video presentations that they used to make, but it's nice when somebody chooses a book for you – especially when it's a classic of the genre, and one you already have a copy of on your Kindle ready to go. That said, I still managed to forget to write a review until now...

Clearly this novel was the inspiration for [a:J. Michael Straczynski|2689|J. Michael Straczynski|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1305780248p2/2689.jpg]'s Psi Corps in Babylon 5 – Straczynski even named the leader of his Psi Corps Alfred Bester as a homage. In [b:The Demolished Man|76740|The Demolished Man|Alfred Bester|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1360171879s/76740.jpg|1247570] we have the telepath's Guild. As with the Psi Corps telepaths are graded according to their ability. A stronger telepath can generally both scan a weaker telepath and more easily block them returning the attempt. But in a world with telepaths, where you can be probed without realising (or even be broadcasting your thoughts), how do you plan, and execute, a premeditated murder?

Ben Reich is just that man, he has a passionate hatred for his business rival, Craye D'Courtney, and intends to murder him. To do so, he must not only plan and carry out the murder, but come up with a complex system to avoid casual detection and probing by top-rated police telepaths. As far as it goes, the story and the writing are excellent and carry you along with the crime and the following investigation. However, the weakness is the motive. D'Courtney seems to almost invite his murder and Reich can never quite rationalise why he needs to commit the murder. There is an explanation, which I won't spoil for readers, but I found it unsatisfactory.
Anansi Boys - Neil Gaiman Neither a sequel nor a prequel, it is though set in the same universe as [b:American Gods|983100|American Gods|Neil Gaiman|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1373208372s/983100.jpg|1970226], which I'd already given 5-stars to, so expectations were high. Some indeterminate time after the events of American Gods, this is the story of Fat Charlie Nancy – the only son of the trickster god Anansi (although he doesn't know this). Fat Charlie is a man with daddy issues; he blames his dad for pretty much everything. When his father dies, his already not particularly successful life really starts to fall apart as he's confronted with family realities that he'd either forgotten or suppressed – his dad was a god and apparently he has a sort of twin brother who's going to be serious trouble (and who's a god too).

Some reviews have said that [b:Anansi Boys|12708687|Anansi Boys|Neil Gaiman|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1328317822s/12708687.jpg|1007964] is the better book of the two. I wasn't entirely convinced. I think if I'd read this one first then this would have been the five-star story, that enjoyment of a story, the likes of which I hadn't read before, certainly boosts it's score a fraction. But once you get to the second story, some of that awe has worn off. Perhaps that's unfair on the second book, or overly generous to the first – who knows. Either way, [a:Gaiman|1221698|Neil Gaiman|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1234150163p2/1221698.jpg] has continued with his fascinating stories of the old gods. Fat Charlie has to fight to restore his family's standing and heritage, to save his engagement and ultimately to save his sort of brother; and I couldn't put it down.
Abaddon's Gate - James S.A. Corey This series just keeps getting better and better. For the third time we sail out on the good ship Rocinante and its captain, Jim Holden, and crew. As we've come to expect from Holden and friends, he's right in the middle of whatever's going on – if not actually causing it/making it worse. Although the chances are he's going to do a lot of that before the book is out too. The protomolecule artefact has finished with the planet Venus and has now created a massive structure in space. A massive structure hanging in space is just going to be a lightning rod to attract all the crazies: the government crazies, the religious crazies and the just-plain-crazy crazies. Some want to understand the artefact; some want to own it or destroy it; some just see it as an opportunity for revenge.

It feels like author duo, James S.A. Corey, has been sitting at the foot of [a:George R.R. Martin|346732|George R.R. Martin|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1351944410p2/346732.jpg] a little too long. Each chapter cycles through a series of point-of-view characters – an expanded cast over the previous novels – and this is used to good effect to narrate the story from multiple ships, from multiple governments, and even Melba's little revenge trip sub-plot. The synchronicity is a little too convenient at times – Melba's (great cover name by the way) hatred of Holden is understandable, but it doesn't explain quite how she's able to control events quite so successfully, getting the Rocinante and its crew in just the right place at just the right time. Everything just comes together a little neatly. And I still don't really feel like I've 'bonded' with the crew as much as I think I should have after three novels. Bobbie I liked immediately – these guys I still feel like I'm getting to know. So why a five-star? Because these things don't matter. The story really is that good.

The truly strange thing about this though is that, after three full-length novels and two short stories, it really only feels like Corey has just gotten started. All three novels stand up perfectly well as novels in the series, but it suddenly becomes clear that the world-building that Corey has been doing so far was only the tip of the iceberg (or the tip of the available universes in this story). Suddenly, the artefact (presumably) is opening up a whole myriad of further universes to explore and world-build in. I'm looking forward to it...
The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare - G.K. Chesterton, Kingsley Amis, Matthew Beaumont Another one from the Waterstones London books display that Louise and I bought too many books from (I keep thinking I've read them all then I find another one in one of my many piles of unread books), The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare. This introduction begins with the warning: "First-time readers should be aware that details of the plot are revealed in this Introduction" and like a fool I breezed past the signs – how much are they going to give away in the introduction? Turns out, a lot. More a criticism of the novel than a straight introduction it pretty much tears the whole plot apart, laying bare all the surprises and plot twists in front of the idiot reader. After the novel I think it would have made perfect sense; once I'd started it was like an accident in slow motion – I knew I should skip ahead, but I just couldn't. The footnotes though I found irritating for other reasons. Firstly, they aren't footnotes, they're at the end of the book and I hate having to flick back and forth to read the notes. If they're that important put them at the bottom of the page where I can just glance down. Secondly though, many of them just weren't that important and it felt a bit like I was wasting calories flicking those pages each time just in case the note would bring some insight that I'd otherwise miss. We are informed that "new women" is a code for feminists; that a "crême-de-menthe" is a syrupy mint liqueur; that a "screw" can refer to a cylindrical mechanical appliance or a thumbscrew; that Harrow is a public school on the edge of London or that "Albert Hall" refers to the Royal Albert Hall, a theatre in London. All facts that some people won't know to be sure, but also facts that the knowing adds so little to the story, could be inferred from the context, or flicking back to the footnote becomes a distraction.

Once we get beyond the publication, and concentrate on the text, we have a truly amazing story, the likes of which I don't think I've every read before. Gabriel Syme starts to taunt an anarchist speaker, Lucien Gregory (Beaumont is keen to point out that we're supposed to have noticed that these are Gabriel and Lucifer), for not being anarchist enough. Talking is just talking, but doing is where the real anarchists should be. Before long, after extracting a promise that he not tell the Police about anything he sees there, Lucien has dragged Gabriel along to the meeting of the London branch of the New Anarchists where he expects to be elected as the new Thursday to the Central Anarchist Council. Each following chapter peels back a layer, as first Gabriel Syme's secret is revealed to Lucien (under a promise not to tell the other anarchists), then the secrets of the Central Anarchist Council are revealed one after another as each member of the council is broken down in turn. I'm still not quite sure why anarchists feel the need to have meetings, secret codes, branches in London (or other cities) or any kind of central council. Aren't anarchists supposed to be less about the formal structures?

Finally, for those smart enough to resist the urge to read spoiler introductions, but not to resist the urge to read spoilers in Goodreads reviews I'll just say that Syme gets elected as Thursday instead of Lucien, Syme is also a policeman, all the members of the Central Anarchist Council turn out to be undercover policemen, and Sunday, the leader of the council, also turns out to be the leader of the police force – so there!
The Secret Agent - Joseph Conrad With [a:G.K. Chesterton|7014283|G.K. Chesterton|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1365860649p2/7014283.jpg]'s [b:The Man Who Was Thursday|9114152|The Man Who Was Thursday A Nightmare|G.K. Chesterton|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1311646856s/9114152.jpg|195447] sitting on my to-read list for a while now it seemed like a happy coincidence when [a:Will Self|13794|Will Self|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1207342063p2/13794.jpg] chose it as his favourite cultural work on an episode of Front Row recently. He'd recently reread the novel and this one, [a:Joseph Conrad|3345|Joseph Conrad|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1198538984p2/3345.jpg]'s [b:The Secret Agent|86658|The Secret Agent|Joseph Conrad|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1171075859s/86658.jpg|3876535], back to back. Never one to walk away from a reading challenge, and having a copy of The Secret Agent already on my Kindle, I thought I'd do the same.

The secret agent is Mr Adolf Verloc, an odd little man who runs a porno and stationary shop in London with his wife and her brother and mother. He doesn't seem a particularly effective secret agent, reporting regularly back to his paymasters with titbits of information from his little gang of anarchist friends. He's not a particularly effective secret agent because his friends aren't particularly successful anarchists – one, nicknamed 'The Terrorist', has never engaged in any terrorism. Instead of engaging in active anarchism, they sit around talking about it. Consequently, Mr Verloc's information doesn't seem to be impressing his new master, Mr Vladimir, any more. If he wants to keep on getting paid, he's going to have to start causing the intelligence rather than just reporting it. Direct action is called for. Something to stir up London before a big conference in Milan.

Based on actual events, there was an actual (and also failed) bomb attempt against the Greenwich Observatory in 1894 – 13 years before Conrad published this novel. Many of the details appear to be the same, even down to the bungled attempt by the anarchist. I enjoyed this much more than the previous Conrad I read, [b:Heart of Darkness|6233281|Heart of Darkness |Joseph Conrad|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1327956388s/6233281.jpg|2877220], but not as much as The Man Who Was Thursday which I thought much more amusing and well put together.
Thuvia, Maid of Mars - Edgar Rice Burroughs Eventually every good series needs to be put to bed. Drawn to a close. Wound up. Killed. In spite of that [a:Burroughs|10885|Edgar Rice Burroughs|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1207155710p2/10885.jpg] is soldiering on with his stories from Barsoom. The first three books focussed on John Carter and his beloved Dejah Thoris as she repeatedly got into scrapes and he repeatedly had to rescue her. The fourth book completely changes everything and instead focusses on their son, Carthoris, and the woman he has fallen for: the titular Thuvia of Ptarth. This time it's Thuvia's opportunity to get kidnapped and Carthoris's opportunity to run around Mars to rescue her (and clear his name as the assumed kidnapper). Only the names have been changed to make it seem like a brand new book.

It does feel very derivative of the previous three novels. Thuvia is an unobtainable beauty, promised to somebody else. She is kidnapped by a jealous Jeddak and taken to a new area of Mars that we've never been to before. Our hero, Carthoris, is both blamed and also the only one actually capable of finding and rescuing her. The odds are as insane as ever as he goes up against two full clans of barsoomians and a whole new race. Oh yes, of course there's a new race. Every book has to introduce at least one new race of barsoomians to us. This time an even older race who believe they are the only surviving barsoomians. They have the power to create mental projections of their own kind and over time these are able to take on physical form.

Eventually, of course, no matter how insurmountable the odds they will be beaten; no matter how convincing the charges they will be proven false; and no matter how unobtainable the damsel, she will be unable to resist the charms of the son of John Carter. And no matter how contrived and repeatable the story, it does still have something of a "boy's own adventure" charm to it.
Greybeard - Brian W. Aldiss Waterstones had a display of books set in London and we bought a few. I think this is the last one I had left to read, only to discover that the book isn't set in London at all. London features heavily in the book as somewhere they want to get to — in fact they want to get through London and out to the coast — but starting west of London they never quite make it. That said, their quest to reach London still makes the city feel like a character. Just out of scene, aspirational, but a character that they keep searching for and referring to.

48 years before a test explosion in space leaves the whole world sterilized. Once the sickness settles down and the radiation deaths slow down the world is left with an ageing population – an ageing population that can't have children. Algy and Martha were just children during the year of sterilization. Now, in their 50s, they are the youngsters in their community. Their leaders are increasingly old and increasingly paranoid, so they decide to take off, head down the Thames, and try and get to London, then hopefully onto the coast beyond.

Aldiss presents the touching tale of the travels of this group, as they pick up a handful of other disaffected community members on their way out, the story is also interspersed with flashbacks as we find out about Algy's and Martha's childhood meeting and their time in Douche (Documentation of Contemporary History – England). More touchingly, we come to understand how important the lack of any children has become to these people. As they grown older there is no one to look after them, as they die there will be nobody to replace them. Everybody lives with the knowledge that, as a species, we are dying out. Phantom pregnancies, rumours of freak shows of deformed half-human children, and con-men offering all sorts of life extending treatments all seem to spring out of this desire for things to be different. Even Douche itself is the vain hope that humanity needs to make sure there is some legacy, even if it's only information, to leave for the children that everybody hopes will come again if the radiation levels fall and somehow the sterility is reversed before they're all too old to even have children, let alone raise them.
The Ghost Brigades - John Scalzi Once I'd loved [b:Old Man's War|16078572|Old Man's War (Old Man's War, #1)|John Scalzi|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1349873151s/16078572.jpg|50700], it wasn't going to be long until [b:The Ghost Brigades|8934762|The Ghost Brigades|John Scalzi|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1316128034s/8934762.jpg|18279845] bubbled to the top of my next-in-series reading list. As a sequel, it lacked a lot of the 'wow' factor of the previous novel – we already know how the CDF works; how the soldiers are 'made'; and that there are a number of alien races out there that just plain don't like us. The one part of the CDF that [a:Scalzi|4763|John Scalzi|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1236228326p2/4763.jpg] held back on a bit in the previous novel was the special forces, or Ghost Brigades. Created as children in even more heavily modified adult bodies (often based on the genetic material of people who died before they could join the CDF) and, obviously, lots of those details come out in this novel. Sadly, while John Perry doesn't appear in this novel (beyond a brief mention) it instead focuses on the special forces solider, Jane Sagan, introduced in the first novel (created from his dead wife as it turned out).

Sagan's unit has been asked to take in a new recruit – a recruit with a difference. Jared Dirac is just like any other special forces soldier: he's the age of a child, but put into the finely tuned body of a CDF soldier. What nobody apart from Sagan knows though is that he's also had the consciousness of a traitor, Charles Boutin, downloaded over his own burgeoning personality. The process doesn't take, but as he's on operations with his unit some memories from that personality start to surface. Will he become a danger to the unit and the CDF, or will his own personality win out...

Scalzi serves us a lot more background in how the Ghost Brigades work. Both the technology that allows them to function at a level above the normal CDF soldiers, but also an insight into the very grey ethics that goes into their creation and continued servitude to the CDF. They are, after all, created by the CDF for the sole purpose of being a dirty-ops group for the CDF. They are born into a contract where their only expectation of escape is to survive long enough to retire. No wonder the CDF is both embarrassed by their existence, but also scared of them as a fighting force. Still, even though the world is already mostly built and we know how it works, Scalzi still manages to create an exciting story with still a few surprise new technical and thought provoking ideas.

Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child

Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child - Terrance Dicks The opening story in the Doctor Who TV canon, this is [a:Terrance Dicks|4768|Terrance Dicks|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1283004803p2/4768.jpg]' novelisation of the first four-episode story arc of the same name: [b:An Unearthly Child|18310727|Doctor Who An Unearthly Child|Terrance Dicks|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1376346903s/18310727.jpg|1761975]. Barbara and Ian, two school teachers, are worried about one of their students – Susan. She has some strange behaviours; appears to know far too much about some things and far too little about others. So they decide to follow her home one evening and confront her strange, autocratic father, who identifies himself only as the Doctor. The rest, as they say, quickly became history (and future, and present on other worlds, etc.) as the Doctor whisks them all away in his Tardis to the dawn of time (and a 50 year TV career).

Novelisations have a tendency to be a bit one dimensional, but Dicks brings a depth to the secondary characters here that just wasn't present, or possible, in the TV episodes. Whether this is Dicks embellishing the screenplay to make the novel read better or if there was detail in the original script that wasn't apparent in the episodes isn't clear, but it works. The secondary story featuring the cavemen is really only a device to introduce us to the characters and premises of this, and future, stories. And while well told (arguably better than the original TV episodes) it's always going to be difficult to try and cram a real plot into such a short story while also introducing four central characters and the beginnings of the science-fiction back-history of the Tardis and its capabilities.

Already looking forward to [b:Doctor Who and the Daleks|1417018|Doctor Who And The Daleks|David Whitaker|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1376349833s/1417018.jpg|1407387]...
Erase Me - Margaret Atwood I remain to be convinced of the wonders of serial short fiction. On the one hand, I like the idea of getting my fiction in doses – I read a lot of series after all – but I think the authors feel the pressure to include too much 'previously on' than they would in a conventional book chapter. But, with four to five months between publication of each chapter, the reader could be forgiven for having forgotten exactly what went on before. Hopefully [a:Atwood|3472|Margaret Atwood|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1282859073p2/3472.jpg] will be putting this series through some judicious editing before it's considered for publication as a single volume.

All that said, this chapter (I can't bring myself to call them anything else) in her Positron series marked an important turning point in my relationship with both Stan and Charmaine. For the first time I found myself not finding them stupid and irritating. Instead I started to feel a bit sorry for them. Both trapped in this prison/community Consilience, they are becoming increasingly aware that they're just pawns in whatever larger game the Consilience security team are playing. Stan spends most of the story coming round from the injection that Jocelyn gave him in the previous chapter, unable to move, and waiting for whatever fate Charmaine will give him. Charmaine in her turn is finally allowed back to the job she takes such pride in: administering fatal injections to the original members of the Positron prison. Obviously, she can't afford to mess up her first injection no matter who it is.

Not much happens really, the things set in motion in the previous chapter come to fruition, but we knew, more or less, what was expected from both Stan and Charmaine. But that shouldn't be seen as a bad thing. Not every chapter in a novel can be action packed, or full of revelations. There have to be chapters that allow the characters to develop a little and give you a reason to keep reading. [b:Erase Me|17164350|Erase Me (Positron, #3)|Margaret Atwood|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1356576070s/17164350.jpg|23590701] is one of those.