purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
When I first stumbled across The Story of Fester Cat, on Amazon I think, I was equal parts interested and dubious. I'm very fond of cats; I have mixed feelings about Pauls Magrs' work; and I was concerned about the twee potential of a memoir written from a cat's point of view. The book opens with a critique of another cat memoir in which the protagonist looks down upon its owners from heaven, so this last point was clearly a danger Magrs was well aware of.

The story starts with the final week of Fester's life, an artefact I think, of the way the book was written. I got the impression those first chapters were written in the immediate aftermath of his death as a coping mechanism and only after that did Magrs go back to write the rest of story. It shouldn't work, but somehow it does, in part because the book is meant to be a celebration of Fester Cat and dealing with his last week at the beginning means it does not have to be the end of the book itself.

It is very much the story of Fester Cat as imagined by Paul Magrs. You get the impression that Magrs was very much a watcher of the local cats even before Fester took up residence in his house. The opening sections give names and characters to many of them and, within reason, flesh out Fester's life as a stray. Later on Fester often discusses Magrs' own thoughts and feelings but, necessarily, Magrs' partner Jeremy remains a more shadowy character.

It is, essentially, a cat's eye view of two men settling down properly for the first time. There are ups and downs but it is coloured by lazy summer days spent in the garden or curled up on someone's lap. It is full of the details and rituals that surround Fester and infused with their love for him and the central place he assumes in their life. At the end of the book, I had to go and do a bit of concerned stalking to establish that they now appear to have been adopted by another cat, Bernard Socks. So someone feline is still keeping an eye on them.

It is, frankly, often twee in places but somehow it works, possibly because it is written from the heart.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
I've always struggled a bit with Paul Magrs' Doctor Who novels, though I liked the one original novel of his that I read. Magrs has always been something of a champion of the "silly" in Doctor Who and, while I don't like my Doctor Who particularly grim and serious, I've always had a feeling that the silliness I like about it is rather different from the silliness that Magrs likes and I've generally come away from his novels and short stories obscurely dissatisfied.

More recently (by which, inspection reveals, I mean in the past decade) Magrs has produced a series of original novels, the Brenda and Effie series, that by all accounts rested somewhere in between the magic realist tone of his early novels and the affectionate and explicit "silliness" of his Dr Who work. Somewhat belatedly I decided to give them a try and Never the Bride is the first.

Brenda runs a B&B in Whitby and lives next door to her best friend, Effie. Over the course of the novel it gradually emerges that Brenda is, in fact, the Bride of Frankenstein while Effie is the descendent of a long line of white witches. The both have a penchant for adventure and meddling. The novel is more a collection of four loosely linked novellas in which Brenda and Effie become involved with a range of characters, often drawn from the milieu of late 19th and early 20th century scientific romances and gothic horror stories (though they also meet a thinly disguised version of the Most Haunted TV team). At the core of the stories is their friendship, which is often prickly and difficult, beset with disagreements and misunderstandings. Since I currently have a daughter grappling with how to manage friendships with people who she frequently considers to be WRONG or BADLY BEHAVED, it was interesting to read this nuanced and affectionate portrayal of just such a friendship.

That said the stories themselves, that surround Brenda and Effie, left me with the same sense of encountering a style of whimsey that didn't quite gell with my own preferences, as reading Magrs' Doctor Who stories gave me. Possibly this is because I have no especial affection for either scientific romance nor gothic horror (and I've never watched Most Haunted) and suspect I was missing a lot of in-jokes as a result, I don't know.

It's a well written book and if you have a taste for whimsey, an affection for gothic horror and/or early SF, and an interest in books that examine the nature of friendship, then I would recommend it, but I don't really think it's for me.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
One the whole I would rate The Eyeless as an above average NuWho novel, but it makes quite a strange read, particularly since I recall the author discussing it on Doctor Who book mailing lists as he was writing. If I remember correctly, Parkin deliberately set out to show that the NuWho tie-in novels could tackle the same kind of material that the Virgin New Adventures and BBC Eighth Doctor novels had tackled. The result is a wierd hybrid - something that takes the themes of NuWho rather more seriously than most of the tie-in novels but, at the same time, includes material that genuinely does feel out of place in a novel at least partially aimed at children.

More under the Cut )

All in all, this is a strange hybrid between the Doctor Who novels of the 1990s and the NuWho novels. I'm glad I read it, and its certainly interesting, but in the end I think it is a failed experiment that demonstrates that, in fact, the NuWho novels can't do the same kinds of things that the New Adventures and Eighth Doctor Adventures did.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
Believe it or not, I purchased The Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin because of a crossover Sherlock fanfic that I liked but which seems to have vanished from AO3.

More under the cut )

In the end, I really loved this book. I really liked the way it attempts to marry the ideas of magic both as something bound by rigid incantations and fixed spells and as a wild and unpredictable force. Once I was used to it, I actually got really into the way the prose was constructed and I found Matthew and his willing/unwilling passenger selves a layered, sympathetic and interesting character. It is better than what googling tells me is a much lamented missing fanfic.

The next book in the sequence has gone on my amazon wish list.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
Conservation of Shadows is a short story collection with a mix of SF, Fantasy and blurred-somewhere-in-the-middle tales. There are consistent themes running through the stories, most notably an idea that art has a physical effect on the world, but a lot are also about war: invasion, occupation and battle. Depending on where on the genre spectrum a story falls art may be a form of engineering (origami spacecraft in the first story Ghostweight) or art may be magic (characters from stories, cut out of paper and brought to life in Effigy Nights).

I was surprised on reading the notes to discover that many of the stories were also toying with ideas from mathematics - this was a lot less obvious to me than it was in, say, Ted Chiang's Stories of Your Life and Others. I spotted the use of mathematics as magic in Counting the Shapes which was reminiscent, in a way, of the idea from Bidmead's Doctor Who that calculation can shape reality. While it is quite common for science fiction stories to pull inspiration from the experimental sciences and engineering, it is a lot less usual to read ones that are directly inspired by mathematical concepts. I am half-tempted to try and re-read some of the other mathematically inspired stories but, I suspect, if I didn't spot the connection first time through I might just be irritated by it on a second read.

The prose is quite dense. It often took me a paragraph or two to really start following a story on the page. Mostly, I would say, it falls on the right side of purple, being lush and atmospheric without being distracting, except in the eponymous Conservation of Shadows which I found too allusive. In the notes, Lee explains that he "dialed up" the prose in this story and says "There is always the danger of overwhelming the material with tinsel" which I feel is what happened here. I also found several of the stories stopped rather abruptly. I think you could argue that, in each case, the ending had been reached but sometimes I was left unsure what to make of that ending.

I think my favourite stories in the collection were the longer, more fantasty-based ones, Counting the Shapes and Iseult's Lexicon, but I also enjoyed the more Military SF-style The Battle of Candle Arc, the timey-wimey Flower, Mercy, Needle, Chain and the more contemplative Swanwatch. This kind of lyrical military SF/Fantasy is not a sub-genre I've really read much in before and despite some of my frustrations with the stories I enjoyed the collection a lot.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
The Story of Martha purports to tell the story of the year Martha spent walking the Earth at the end of Season 3 of NuWho and spreading word of the Doctor's plan to defeat the Master. I thought that sounded like a promising premise for a Doctor Who book and so picked this up. I was also interested to read something by Dan Abnett since his Primeval novels had impressed [livejournal.com profile] fififolle enough that she went out and bought some of his Warhammer novels on the basis of them.

More under the cut )

All in all, I think this was a bit of a wasted opportunity. Its focus on the events in Japan leaves much of the rest of Martha's journey unexplored and, all in all, I feel it sacrificed the opportunity to do something a little different in favour of delivering something that was more like a typical Doctor Who story.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
Windscale, 1957 is yet another book liberated from my father's shelves. It is an account both of the events that lead up to the Windscale fire in 1957 and the subsequent inquires which attempted to ascertain the cause and apportion blame.

It is mostly a fairly even-handed account. It recounts the pressures that were on the British Nuclear industry to produce large amount of weapons' grade plutonium using technology that was, at best, only partially understood and infrastructure that was barely in place. It talks through the design of the air-cooled graphite reactors at Windscale and, in particular, the regular need to shutdown the pile and then carefully reheat it in order to release Wigner energy: a process which, again, was only partially understood. It does its best to set out the causes of the fire though it seems that these will never be completely known since there wasn't adequate monitoring inside the core to really understand the sequence of events. It then talks through the aftermath, the monitoring of fallout, the milk ban, and then the subsequent inquiries.

Where it loses its impartiality a little is in its defence of the men conducting the Wigner release. The first inquiry, intended as a purely technical investigation had interviewed them on the understanding that it was purely an attempt to understand the sequence of events. Indeed the initial confidential report form the inquiry restricted itself to technical matters. However as the report made its way through the political process towards a public summary a sentence was inserted which spoke of "faults of judgement by the operating staff". This was obviously deeply resented by men who were over-worked and who were following standard procedures (insofar as anything can be described as standard when it has only been performed 9 times before and when the process it is controlling is only partially understood). Windscale, 1957 clearly considers part of its job to be setting the record straight on behalf of these men and offers little explanation of the opposing point of view which presumably felt faults of judgement had occurred.

This being the 30th anniversary of Chenobyl, there has been a lot of coverage recently of the far more serious Chenobyl disaster. One thing that has struck me in that coverage is that one of the root causes there was pressure from the Soviet government for the plant to produce ever more power, leading to the bypassing of safety procedures. While safety procedures were not bypassed at Windscale, it nevertheless seems fair to say that the the political pressure on the industry to expand meant that power stations were being built and operated right at the edge of our understanding of how this could be done safely.

It is easy to say that lessons have been learned and it is extremely unlikely that a fire like the one at Windscale could reoccur (if only because nuclear power station design has vastly changed), but I'll confess I'm not sure the general lesson, that politicians should be careful of placing too great demands upon dangerous technologies, has been learned.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
Mary Robinette Kowal's Jane Austen-esque fantasy stories get quite widely referenced (at least in the online places I tend to hang out). I've nothing against the concept of Regency-based fantasy - in fact I'm a fan in general of non-medieval fantasy. However, I'll admit I entered this with a certain scepticism about Jane Austen-esque fantasy. Jane Austen was poking gentle fun at a society with which she was deeply familiar and which no longer exists. I couldn't quite see how a modern author could pull that off, even with the addition of fantasy elements.

More under the cut )

This book could easily have been terrible. Fortunately Kowal has clearly extensively researched the 18th century, has a deft hand at reproducing Jane Austen's style and has avoided the trap of imposing modern views on her characters. Still, I really can't see the point of poking gentle fun at a society 200 years past when it has already been done to perfection by someone in that society itself*. I think, the bottom line is, that if I want to read Jane Austen, I'll read Jane Austen and even with the introduction of fantasy elements Shades of Milk and Honey isn't bringing enough new to the table to make me really see the point of it.

Maybe the problem is just that I'm too fond of Austen. I don't want to read derivative works, even good derivative works, because I don't really perceive any need for it.

* Yes, I realise said society is closely related to our own and many of the human failings Austen highlights are universal, but nevertheless her stories are very much of their time and place** and Kowal is really not trying to push the envelope and draw out any parallels to modern times that one couldn't infer from reading Austen straight.

** And yes, there have been several very successful modern retellings of Austen's stories (many of which I rate highly), but I would argue that all of them stumble in places when trying to reframe certain crises in modern terms.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
The Idylls of the Queen is one of my favourite Arthurian novels, so I was interested to learn that its author, Phyllis Ann Kerr, had written a fantasy sequence (or at least duology) with rather pretty titles (do not underestimate a the power of a pretty title). I obviously wasn't paying enough attention however and so ended up with Frostflower and Windbourne (the second in the sequence) rather than Frostflower and Thorn (the first).

More Under the Cut )

I appreciate intellectually what this book is trying to do, presenting a different take on a medieval society with magic, which focuses on the small scale and has distinct characters but I found it an oddly unsatisfying read. I feel it would get a fairer hearing from me if I had read the first book but, on the other hand, I didn't really enjoy it enough to want to make the effort of tracking the first down.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
Someone must have recommended the novels (of which this is the first) to me at some point because I can't imagine I'd have picked them up on spec anywhere. I've no idea who or why, though whoever it was has my thanks. I really enjoyed this.

Tara Abernathy is a junior craftswoman (read wizard) in a world that is only just recovering from a war between gods and wizards, which the wizards appear to have won. There are very few gods left. Mostly, it would seem, those who kept out of the whole thing. Kos Everburning is one of these and he's focused primarily on providing power and protection to his city of Alt Coulomb and mourning his dead lover, who headed out to the wars and didn't come back. She is less mourned by the citizens of Alt Coulomb who recall her Gargoyle servants with fear and hatred. Only now Kos is dead. Tara and her mentor, Elayne Kevarian have been asked to attempt a resurrection but, in the course of this, it becomes clear that not only is Kos dead, but that he was murdered.

I'm always impressed with novels that manage to set up a fantasy world and then manage to set a coherent and interesting mystery story within it. It takes the Urban Fantasy novel (which seems to love the detective trope) one step further but that step seems to widen the scope allowing rather different stories. I'm also a sucker for world-building and I loved this fantasy world where the gods are explicitly just incredibly powerful beings and, more than that, in which magic runs on tightly legalistic contracts and where the showmanship of the courtroom, where a powerful lawyer may be able to manipulate words to change the view of a case is replaced by magical duels where a powerful craftsperson may do the same thing.

Obviously the risk in setting a murder mystery in an entirely imaginary world (though this one does have some very loose parallels to ours) is that the reader may feel cheated from puzzling out the solution for themselves because the laws of reality were never adequately explained to them. There is a touch of that here, characters are revealed to have skills and natures that the reader did not know were possible. However most of these are hinted at through the book, if one is paying attention, and you could argue that the reader's own awareness of their partial understanding of the rules should make them more open to picking up on the hints that are dropped. In the end to be honest, the whodunit and how is not so much of a surprise, the reveal is how our heroes manage to snatch victory from the jaws of apparent defeat.

Still it's an impressive novel that matches two genres I love (detective fiction and detailed world building) and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing.
purplecat: The Tardis (Doctor Who)
Douglas Adams famously (at least within Who fandom) would not agree to the novelisation of the episodes he wrote (on the grounds, I believe, that no one else would do them justice and WH Allen couldn't pay him enough to do it himself). His estate, clearly, have no such qualms. This was a source of frustration, at least to completist book fans such as myself. Of the three scripts he wrote for Doctor Who, Shada, was particularly tantalising since the filming of it was never actually completed. A version constructed from the completed parts with linking narration by Tom Baker was released in the 90s, and Big Finish made an audio/animated version from the scripts a decade later starring Paul McGann and Lalla Ward. Based on these fans have generally considered it the least accomplished of Adams' scripts for the show.

Gareth Roberts is a pretty good choice of noveliser. He started out writing the Virgin Doctor Who New Adventures and stood out from a pack of writers who certainly had a tendency towards angst-ridden navel-gazing, by writing quirky, gently humorous stories. He's gone on to write, often well received, scripts for (Nu)Randall and Hopkirk (deceased), NuWho and the Sarah Jane adventures all of which, to a greater extent, reveal his light touch and gentle humour.

Of course, Adams' humour wasn't really gentle, but of all the field of Dr Who authors Roberts is the obvious choice. Roberts wisely avoids making Eoin Colfer's mistake of attempting to emulate Adams' style and he has the advantage of being able to work from Adams' scripts. On the other hand he's saddled with the modern desire for longer books. Where Terrance Dicks could happily compress a six part Doctor Who script into 120 pages (which arguably was a little on the short side), Roberts needs to spread Shada's script out over 400 (which I would argue is too many). Comedy is all about timing (Adams madcap humour arguably even more so), even in novels, and Shada just takes a little too long to deliver its punch lines.

Roberts has written a very interesting epilogue in which he discusses his own opinions of the scripts he had to work from, and he clearly feels that Adams was being forced to write in too much of a hurry, to a plot outline he disliked, and that the dissatisfaction and rush ultimately shows. Roberts has obviously worked hard in an attempt to polish off some of the rough edges but this feels more like the ghost of a Douglas Adams work, rather than the work itself.

Still, as someone, who used to mourn the gaps on her bookshelf where The Pirate Planet, City of Death and Shada should sit, it is nice to see that filled and by something which, while not of Adams' calibre when at his best, is better than a Terrance Dicks* production-line effort.

*It is popular these days to speak well of Dicks' writing, and some of it is good, but it would be foolish to pretend he was doing much beyond adding minimal description to a script on the days when he was writing a novelisation a month.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
In my late teens I devoured all the then available V. I. Warshawski books in quick succession. Wikipedia tells me that Sara Paretsky has been writing these novels since 1982 although there have been lean patches (especially in the 90s) when they did not appear very frequently. I certainly stopped reading them at some point under the impression they were no longer being written and then discovered a new one, to my surprise, a few years back. I've now lost track a little of which one's I have read and which I haven't, although this is the first I have read in a long time.

More Under the Cut )

I'm torn between thinking I should look out the V. I. Warshawski novels I don't think I've read - it looks like there are at least two published since this one came out, and the titles of some of a couple of the previous ones don't ring any bells. But then I look at my to read pile and wonder slightly if she's worth the effort.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
A good book. However, although I'm not surprised it won a Hugo, I'm sort of a little disappointed because I didn't feel it was that good a book. In fact, of the two Scalzi's I've read, I would say that I think Old Man's War is better.

More Under the Cut, I'll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but I will discuss the basic premise, structure and characters )

As I say I'm not surprised it won the Hugo. Scalzi has a very high profile online presence and is cheerfully self-publicising. Moreover, if you're not familiar with the kind of meta-fictional games this book is playing (which are, I suspect, more common in fan fiction than elsewhere) then I can imagine the premise is startling and original, and there is no denying that it is mostly extremely well executed. Redshirts could easily have been a one-joke novel but it's never content to simply rest on its central idea. The dialogue which drives most of the novel is consistently witty and often clever. I just have a suspicion, I suppose, that Scalzi wrote better stuff when he was less famous.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
`The British counterpart to Alexander McCall Smith's' The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency said the pull quote on the front cover of my copy of Maisie Dobbs. This was a little too reminiscent to `Comparable to Tolkien at his best' to fill me with a great deal of confidence.

More under the cut, but I'm basically a bit `meh' about it )

The book passes the time, but I don't think I'll be reading any others in the series.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
Some of you may recall Chicks Dig Time Lords which I found a lot less compelling than everyone else, it seems, since it went on to win a Hugo. It's not terribly surprising that there have been several follow-ups including Queers Dig Time Lords.

My main criticism of Chicks Dig Time Lords was that it didn't feel to me to be much about being a woman who likes Doctor Who so much as being about being a woman who goes to the Chicago Tardis convention. With one or two exceptions I found the contributions to be, ultimately, a bit repetitive.

Thankfully Queers Dig Time Lords doesn't suffer from this nearly so much. It has contributions from a much wider spread of fans, both geographically and in terms of when and how they became engaged by the series. There is also a much wider set of takes on the subject matter. Chicks Dig Time Lords was mostly in the form of memoirs - "this is how I got into Doctor Who and this is the fannish thing I do now". While Queers Dig Time Lords has several of these, it also has several essays which focus much more upon the show itself, whether it be simply celebrating some aspect of it that the writer felt particular did (or did not) resonate with their own queerness, essays that seek to understand what it is that particular attracts QUILTBAG people to the show, and a couple that challenge the assumptions that there are a lot of gay men in Doctor Who, or indeed that the show (in either of its incarnations) has been particularly queer-friendly.

There are a lot of essays in the book and so, inevitably a certain amount of repetition and some misses, but it is well worth a look. I wish Chicks Dig Time Lords had been as diverse and interesting as this.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
Open Secret by Stella Rimmington is an oddly fascinating book. I say oddly fascinating because I think its interest lies primarily in the fact that Rimmington is an interesting woman, who had an interesting job in interesting times, but she tells her autobiography in a surprisingly lacklustre fashion.

More Under the Cut )

I'm torn about whether to say I recommend this book or not. I don't think that it is particularly well written. However the subject matter itself is fascinating and Rimmington was in a unique position to write about it.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
I think I'm getting a bit bored of Urban Fantasy I thought to myself about one chapter into Fated, by about chapter 4 I was gripped.

More under the Cut )

I can't quite make up my mind about this book. I liked both the central character and the plot, but the world they existed in was flimsier and less convincing than I generally like from Urban Fantasy.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)
Continuing my quest to learn about the Age of Sail...

Under the Cut )

In short a fun book, very much aimed at the lay person, but with a slightly odd structure in places.

Now all I need to do is find a book about the Merchant Navy
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)
The Command of the Ocean is the second of Rodger's books on the History of the Royal Navy, following on from The Safeguard of the Sea. Despite the fact the history has now reached the period I was particularly interested in (that involving baggy shirts and dapper waistcoats) I didn't enjoy this instalment nearly as much and, in places, found it something of a slog to get through.

More under the Cut )

I still enjoyed this book, and it is hard to criticise it for the scholarly attention to detail it brings to its subject matter. However, I suspect, that the level of detail available for the 17th and 18th centuries moves it more towards an academic audience and away from a general one when compared to its predecessor.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
Mori is an isolated 15 year-old Science Fiction fan. She's leaves the Welsh valleys where she grew up following the death of her twin sister, and is sent to boarding school by her father and his controlling sisters.

Oh, and she can see fairies and her mother is a witch.

More under the Cut )

This is a good book and very well-written considering how accurately it invokes the voice of a teenage girl. The fantastical elements are well done and nicely thought through. It is a coming of age story, but it is a coming of age story about an SF-loving teenage girl and there are not many of those out there.


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