May 04

Reading diary – March and April 2016

Sick kids and podcast addiction have gotten in the way of reading. What a lot of graphic novels…

The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross

Charles Stross’s Laundry series is brilliant, a cross of Lovecraftian horror and Le Carre with a humourous twist, and but you shouldn’t start here.  The series has been chugging along since The Atrocity Archive, and in this book it takes a side turn from the main thrust of the metaplot. The main character, Dominique, is an interesting change from the usual narrator, but the author seems to hate his material. Each of the books in this series is a sort of loving satire on an earlier subgenre, like the Bond novel, for example. His take on comic book heroes is simplistic, and stale. It was interesting in, say, Wild Cards, Watchmen,and Mystery Men, but the idea that wanting to be a hero indicates you have a screw loose is so obvious, now, that it seems weak and obvious..

Archie Vs Predator by Alex De Campi

Fun, but with an odd ending. Better than Archie Meets Glee: less good than Afterlife with Archie. Only for completists. The Library Service has copies.

The Great Railway Bazzar by Paul Theroux.

I couldn’t get through more than six chapters.  I know his work’s considered a classic of travel writing, and if you like people waxing lyrical about how awful it is to travel for pleasure, I can recommend Therous to you.

Minecraft: Combat Handbook by Mojang.

What it says on the tin.  We run Minecraft in the Library now. I’m going to have some awesome tax returns this year, now that gaming’s part of my job.

Mr Mulliner Speaking by P G Wodehouse.

A set of short stories about foppish young men, before the First World War, getting involved in terrible conundrums of manners.  I love Wodehouse, and so recommend him more widely than I should.  If you are already a fan, please be aware that Bobbie Whickham motivates a few of these stories. I was unaware of them, and so I was never clear why people (like Cyril Northcote Parkinson, for example) tended to put money on the idea that Bertie Wooster would eventually be bought to the altar by her, out of all the various Wodehousian women. Now I know, and approve.

Lumberjanes : A Terrible Plan.

I thought this less awesome than the previous two volumes, but still eminently readable.  I note there’s a lovely homoromantic relationship here, so if you have some readers looking for some (chaste) lesbian teen shipping, this is a great choice.

Mutiny by Julian Stockwin

In this book, you have to give Stockwin points for going where few naval fictioneers dare to tread. His main character, Thomas Kydd, participates in the great mutiny which paralyzed the British navy during the Napoleonic Wars.  Such character just don’t appear in many naval series, or appear only as targets for broadsides. Stockwin goes into the cause of the mutineers, and treats it with a modern, sympathetic eye. That’s something well worth doing, and promises much for the future of the series.

Kydd is not, however, going to be allowed to change history. The main question for the eader, for most of the book, is how Kydd will escape being hanged.  This isn’t badly handled, but there’s an obvious chunk in the middle of the book where the plot treads water. One of the supporting characters takes over the plot, with Kydd merely as his ineffectual witness.

The book opens and closes with sea combat, perhaps to hook the reader and leave them with a satisfying conclusion. I once went on a catered canal cruise where they had lost track of the fact that I’d booked vegetarian, and only realised a few minutes before we unmoored. My lunch was two slices of  artisanal bread around a middle of shredded processed chesse. It wasn’t bad for a cheese sandwich, but it was bad for a catered lunch. Mutiny reminds me of that. It’s fine, but not as excellent as it, superficially, promises to be. For fans of naval adventure fiction who don’t mind it if things drag a bit.

Nemesis by Mark Millar

Imagine a guy with the resources of the Batman, who is bored and takes to crime. It’s a good idea that just doesn’t work its way through the plot. The bad guy has no stakes, no limits, and his instantly-completed atrocities have no punch. This may be because the American sites he desecrates aren’t as sacred to me as the intended reader, but they get blown up in so man y movies that surely even Americans have disaster fatigue. Recommended for fans of Batman and Kick-Ass, but very few other people.

Sir Harry Hotspur of Hasslethwaite by Anthony Trollope

This book is meant to be a classic example of Trollope, and I was hoping to review it for our reader’s season. The good character is too good to live. The bad character is too bad to live. There’s a wise old father figure, and if people would just do what he said, then everything would be right. It’s tempting to suggest that Sir Harry is a very early example of the Mary Sue. The moral of the story is that young people should obey their elders, and stop acting like such fools.  Hard to recommend.

Tiny Titans: Welcome to the Treehouse / The Treehouse and Beyond / Meet Titans East by Art Balthazar

This won awards for comics for kids, but I don’t agree. A comic for kids needs to be more than something which lacks the sort of disturbing content which would suit a higher rating. It needs a plot. The jokes in Tiny Titans only work in the reader knows the original comics in some form.  Now, my child is a superhero fan, and she can quote you lines from the Teen Titans cartoon (because I’m a nerdy and awesome parent, obviously) but she still hasn’t read classic issues of the Perez run of the comic, and that means she has no idea why Duela Dent is funny, or why the Terra jokes are funny.  I understand them, because I’ve been reading comics for decades. This makes it an adult nostalgia comic, and as such it’s an easy recommend.  For kids, though, it’s a bit flat and weird.

The Twelve : a thrilling novel of tomorrow by J. Michael Straczynski

JMS uses this comic to bring back a dozen characters from the 1940s Timely Comics imprint. It’s a strange eulogy for lost visions of America. The twelve heroes, when designed, represented the aspirations of the wartime audience.  It’s strange that so many are stale but that the antiheroes so cleanly slide into the modern day. The plot is not particularly strong, and the character development is stilted, but the interactions between the characters from the 1940s and the modern day are well thought through, and worth a look if you are a fan of four-colour comics.

Voltron: The Sixth Pilot by Brandon Thomas

A new take on Voltron, which makes the purple, scaly bad guy a human, and makes the good guys arguably evil.Each pilot has a single emotion that they use for everything.  The Princess is a Strong Woman, so hers is that she’s really good at killing things.  It didn’t gell for me.  Recommended only for people who love the franchise.

Many of the books I’ve read this month have received their own, separate, reviews.

The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin.

Smile, Sisters, and Drama by Raina Telgemeier. (Review pending: come back in two weeks!)

Saga (vols 1-5) by Brian K Vaughan.

Astro City Volume 13 : Lovers Quarrel by Kurt Busiek.

The Diary of Samuel Pepys

I also read Cairo by, which has been reviewed by Loupie. I don’t think the link in her review works, so try this.