The Fall of Chronopolis — Barrington J. Bayley

Cover of The Fall of Chronopolis


The Fall of Chronopolis
Barrington J. Bayley
175 pages
published in 1974

I’ve always been a sucker for time war novels, starting with Isaac Asimov’s The End of Eternity, Fritz Leiber’s The Big Time and Keith Laumer’s Imperium series. I like the grand scale on which these stories play out, the whole idea of the impermanence of time itself, something that undercuts our most basic of securities, the idea that the past we remember is the way that past has always been, making literal the idea Orwell put forth in 1984: he who controls the past, controls the future. Which explains why The Fall of Chronopolis was one of the first bought at Eastercon novels I finished, even before the convention itself was over, finishing it at the Dead Dog party on Monday.

In the The Fall of Chronopolis the time war rages between the Chronotic Empire, which has steadily increased its dominion over the centuries until it rule a thousand years of human history and its far future enemy, the Hegemony, existing futurewards beyond the Age of Desolation after the fall of the Chronotic Empire. For the most part this time war has been limited, consisting of limited raids on each other’s history, but the Chronotic Empire is raising a grand fleet of timeships to invade the Hegemony directly, while the latter had developed a time distorter which can warp history directly. But this is only the surface story; there’s a lot more going on

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Books read April

Eight books read is only two per week, which isn’t quite the tempo I’m hoping for, but I have too much fun doing other things. Quite a few books read on the way to and from Eastercon; sadly however I bought roughly ten times as much.

Behold the Man — Michael Moorcock
I read this on the way to Eastercon, the day before Good Friday. It seemed fitting to read this story of a time traveller whose entire life has prepared him to journey back into time to the Crucifixion. One of Moorcock’s early classics, starring one of his characteristic passive protagonists.

Elysium — Jennifer Marie Brissett
This was a novel I might’ve nominated for the Hugos had I read it before. A love story that takes place against a backdrop of constantly shifting alternate histories, with the protagonist and their lover switching gender, sexuality and relationship with each shift, as the world increasingly takes a turn for the strange. Found via James Nicoll, as so much else.

Lost Things — Melissa Scott & Jo Graham
Another James recommendation, who called it “Jazz Age Occult Adventure” which suits this very well. A group of flyers get involved in an occult conspiracy, not entirely by accident.

The Fall of Chronopolis — Barrington J. Bayley
I’m a sucker for this sort of time war, dueling timelines story and Bayley has written a jewel here. Written with a pulpy jauntiness, but much denser than it first looks.

Strata — Terry Pratchett
Sometimes described as a Discworld prototype, this is both a serious sensawunda sort of space opera, Big Dumb Object story and a parody of same, especially Larry Niven’s Ringworld.

The Goblin Emperor — Katherine Addison
Political wishfullfilment fantasy of the benign kind, nominated for a Hugo and so far my pick for the winner. This may change once I’ve read The Three Body Problem.

The Race — Nina Allan
I had just bought this at Eastercon, after seeing the usual British suspect rave about it, when the author herself walked into the room, so now it’s a signed copy. A great novel, which shifts perspective in unexpected ways and does so with great skill. One plot point in the middle of the novel though had me stopped in my tracks, of which more once I review this properly.

Herfsttij der Middeleeuwen — Johan Huizinga
Classic history book by a Dutch historian, first published in 1919 and better known in English as The Waning of the Middle Ages. This is a history of 15th century Burgundy & France, in which the worldview of that period and region is put centre stage, a worlview that according to Huizinga was in the autumn of its existence, tired, wornout and in need of replacement.

The Goblin Emperor — Katherine Addison

Cover of The Goblin Emperor


The Goblin Emperor
Katherine Addison
502 pages
published in 2014

One of the dirty little secrets of book reviewing is that the circumstances under which you read any given book can massively influence how you feel about it. Since I read the first half of The Goblin Emperor on a sunny Thursday afternoon while drinking a nice IPA sitting at an Amsterdam terrace and the other half sitting in my garden on the Friday afternoon following, drinking an even nicer IPA, it’s no wonder I feel quite mellow about it. But in this case I would’ve enjoyed it even had I read it during one of the grey, dull, wet afternoons that you normally get in Amsterdam in early April. This is a great novel and well deserves its Hugo nomination. It’s also the sort of novel you can’t help but read fast, a true page turner.

The Goblin Emperor at heart is a very traditional power fantasy, about the boy of humble origins who becomes emperor by happenstance and now has to very quickly learn how to survive in a world of political intrigue he’s completely unprepared for, filled with people who either want to manipulate him or replace him with a better figurehead. It’s one of those fantasy scenarios other writers can write multiple trilogies about to get to that point, but Katherine Addison has her goblin hero confirmed as the emperor within five pages, the rest of the novel being about him getting to grips with his new job, woefully inadequate though he feels.

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Books read March

Really? I’ve only read four novels this month? Apparantly so. Granted, most of the month was spent reading through this list of short fiction, but even so, this is disappointing.

Juniper Time — Kate Wilhelm
Read for Joachim Boaz’s Kate Wilhelm review series. This is one of the novels the cyberpunks were rebelling against.

Reaper Man — Terry Pratchett
I read this in the wake of the news of Terry Pratchett’s death, his most fitting novel as it revolves around mortality and DEATH.

King’s Dragon — Kate Elliott
It’s unfair. Here I was expecting at best a compentently written epic fantasy story, but instead Elliott made me think, by never choosing the lazy option, by actually creating a medievaloid fantasy world that is more than just modern people in medieval drag. It also has one of the most harrowing depictions of the psychology of domestic abuse I’ve read in any novel.

The Shining Girls — Lauren Beukes
Serial killer horror is not my thing as it so often puts its sympathies with the killer more than with their victims; cf. The Silence of the Lambs. Beukes however keeps her sympathies firmly where they belong, showing the waste and destruction the killer engages in without glamourising it.

Wolfhound Century — Peter Higgins

Cover of Wolfhound Century


Wolfhound Century
Peter Higgins
303 pages
published in 2013

Despite buying more books than’s probably good for me, I still keep a library membership and thanks to that I still end up finding science fiction or fantasy writers and books I wouldn’t encounter otherwise. Case in point: Peter Higgins Wolfhound Century, which I saw lying on the pile of new fiction books near the entrance and whose cover drew my attention. Reading the back cover blurb and the first few pages was enough to take a punt on it. They confirmed what the cover artwork seemed to suggest, that this was a fantasy novel inspired by Soviet Russia, not a setting you see much in fantasy.

The protagonist, investigator Vissation Lom, is the classic honest cop in a totalitarian system and his honesty has of course made him enemies. Nevertheless he’s one of the best investigators in Vlast, which is why he has been summoned to the capital Mirgorod by the head of the secret police. He is to stop and catch Josef Kantor, a terrorist protected by powerful forces from within the Vlast security apparatus itself. Without ties to any of the political factions in the capital or the security services, Lom is hoped to have a better chance at getting Kantor.

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Reaper Man — Terry Pratchett

Cover of Reaper Man


Reaper Man
Terry Pratchett
287 pages
published in 1991

Even before rereading the day after pTerry’s death, Reaper Man was mired in grieving for me. Because I reread it in 2012, the year after Sandra’s death, when I had fallen back on Pratchett’s Discworld series as comfort reading, something to lose yourself in and forget for a while. And then I hit Reaper Man, in which DEATH has been retired by the Auditors for having become too human, has to find a new living as BILL DOOR and a fragile, predoomed romance starts between him and Miss Flitworth, the never married widow he ends up working as a farmhand for. It’s a novel about death and life and humanity and the essence of it is captured by what DEATH argues at the climax of it:

LORD, WHAT CAN THE HARVEST HOPE FOR, IF NOT FOR THE CARE OF THE REAPER MAN?

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Books read February

A slightly disappointing total of seven books read this month, down from eleven last month. Partially this is because I started a short SF marathon over at my booklog, which I hope to finish on Sunday. At least it’s up from last year, when I only finished two books.

A History of Future Cities — Daniel Brook
Looks at the development and history of four “artificial” cities and the role they played in the development of their respective countries: Saint Petersburg, Mumbai, Shanghai and Dubai.

The Myth of the Strong Leader — Archie Brown
A synthetic history book that takes aim at the desire for strong leaders, both in democracies and autocratic systems.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet — Becky Chambers
Self published, old school adventure science fiction about a crew of wormhole punchers who get involved in something way above their pay grade…

Annihilation — Jeff VanderMeer
Brilliant first entry in a science fiction trilogy all published last year. It reminded me of Roadside Picnic though VanderMeer said to me he hadn’t read that before writing this.

The March North — Graydon Saunders
Graydon is an old acquaintance from rec.arts.sf.* known for his smart but sometimes slightly gnomic posts, this is his first published fantasy, somewhat less gnomic but still smart.

My Real Children — Jo Walton
An alternate history domestic novel that almost made it on my Hugo ballot.

Sarah Canary — Karen Joy Fowler
I asked Twitter to choose me a book to read and this is what it came up with, Karen Joy Fowler’s debut novel, science fiction in name only about a mysterious woman stumbling into a Chinese railway workers camp one day in 1873. If you put your SF hat on, it’s a First Contact novel, but it’s easy to read it as “just” a story about the mythology of the west, feminism and racism too.

Short SF Marathon Week 3

Richly late, halfway through week 4, but here are the short stories reviewed in week 3 of my Short SF Marathon:

  • Day 15: Yoon Ha Lee, Rose Lemberg
  • Day 16: Kelly Link, Ken Liu
  • Day 17: Carmen Maria Machado, Usman T. Malik
  • Day 18: Usman T. Malik,Tim Maughan, Sandra McDonald
  • Day 19: Sam J. Miller, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Sunny Moraine
  • Day 20: Sunny Moraine, John P. Murphy, Anna Noyes
  • Day 21: An Owomoyela, Susan Palwick, K. J. Parker

Annihilation — Jeff VanderMeer

Cover of Annihilation


Annihilation
Jeff VanderMeer
208 pages
published in 2014

Last year Jeff VanderMeer (or rather his publisher) did something rarely done, releasing an entire trilogy in one year. Annihilation is the first of this Southern Reach trilogy and has gotten steady buzz as one of the shoe-ins for Hugo and Nebula nominations; it already managed the latter, in fact. VanderMeer is arguably the father of the American New Weird, that mid-noughties movement that came bubbling up from England and got codified across the pond, mainly through his and Ann VanderMeer’s contributions. I’ve only read one story of his before this, the deliberately confusing The Situation.

Annihilation is a much more straightforward story, of a four woman expedition into Area X, as told by the biologist through her field journal; the other three members are the anthropologist, the surveyor and the psychologist. Their names are never told: “names belonged to where we had come from, not to who we were while embedded in Area X”. They’re the twelfth such expedition into the Area; the previous eleven all came to grief one way or another. What they’re setting out to discover is left vague; they themselves only know in general terms what they’re doing or what they can expect, though the psychologist seems to know more than she lets show.

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Books read January

That’s the first month of 2015 done and dusted. Eleven books read, ten more reviewed over at the booklog. Which puts me on track for reading a hundred plus books this year, which would be nice. Four fantasy novels, three science fiction, two history books and one disappointing book on steampunk.

A Natural History of Dragons — Marie Brennan
The first in a series about a natural explorer obsessed by dragons in a mock-Georgian fantasy world. Excellently done.

Half Life — SL Huang
The sequel to Zero Sum Game, in which math savant Cas Russell learns how to fake friendship like a normal human being.

Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting — Vijay Prashad
Excellent overview of the history of intersectionality between the South Asian and Black experiences, largely in the context of US history.

A Wizard Abroad — Diane Duane
The YA wizards series goes to Ireland, the country its author also moved to. Coincidence? Luckily not at all as Oirish as you may expect from an American author dabbling in Celtic myths.

The Golem and the Djinni — Helene Wecker
At the American Book Center they compared this to Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and I can see why. They share the same sensibility and willingness to let the story breathe.

The Rise of Cities in North-West Europe — Adriaan Verhulst
A bit of a misnomer as it only looks at roughly fifteen cities in the southern Netherlands between the Somme and the Meuse. Somewhat more worthy than I’d expected.

Steampunk — Paul Roland
A disappointing overview of the steampunk subculture.

Pandora’s Planet — Christopher Anvil
Light hearted semi-libertarian fun about humans outsmarting alien invaders — written from the point of view of the invaders.

The Lion Game — James H. Schmitz
Fifteen year old psionic wonderkind Telzey Amberdon outsmarts a hidden invasion of the Hub. Fun adventure science fiction.

Spies of the Balkans — Alan Furst
Another of Furst’s usually quite depressing spy thrillers set just before and during World War II, this one has what you might call a happy ending.

Wolfhound Century — Peter Higgins
Epic fantasy set in a sort of steampunk fantasy Soviet Russia.