Magical London – Gaiman, Stross and Aaronovitch

Finding a good new-to-me writer and series is always a delight and I’m celebrating my discovery of Aaronovitch and The Rivers of London by putting them in the context of some books I’ve known much longer.

Charles Stross: The Laundry Files

A mash-up of Fleming – Deighton – Le Carre spy novels and Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos? Why not? And some cubicle-life workplace humour for light relief? Sure. The result won’t be to everyone’s taste but some of us will find it to be great (gory, gruesome) fun.

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SF bookshelf

This is a collection of tiny reviews of science fiction and fantasy. They are books which I liked enough to recommend but haven’t reviewed at length (often because I couldn’t find time). The collection is structured like a blog, with the most recent additions at the top, and dates are the dates of my mini-reviews, not book publication. It began as a comment-string to an identically-titled post on Green Path which drifted away from its environmental theme and into general SF.


Every Version of YouThe ScarBabelThe Year of the JackpotChildren of MemoryFuturistic Violence and Fancy SuitsReconstructionThe Seven Moons of Maali AlmeidaThe AnomalyFlyawayFrom Here On, Monsters

Every Version of You

The idea of uploading ourselves to hardware has been a staple of SF for decades. In Grace Chan’s Every Version of You (2022), almost the whole human population uploads to the cloud in the 2080s, to live there in virtual-reality communities. Back in the real world, the global population drops to a few thousands while the necessary computing infrastructure is maintained and extended by androids. “Was this evolution or extinction?” one of the remaining real people asks, and, even more poignantly, “Are they [the uploaded] still us?”

Chan’s focus is identity rather than technology and Every Version of You explores that very well indeed. The issues are too big to treat briefly so I’m not going to try – I’m just going to recommend Every Version.

The Scar

The Scar (2002) is set in the world of Perdido Street Station, China Mieville’s breakthrough second novel. It’s a completely separate story, however, set mostly on a floating city. It resists categorisation but I will call it epic steampunk with magical elements. Whatever it is, it’s very good. Iron Council, the third of Mieville’s novels set in the same world looks good, too


Babel (2022) by R.F. Kuang is an alternate-history novel presented as fantasy. The fact that the novel’s central characters meet and bond as first-year students of magic makes Oxford in the 1830s look like a grownup version of Hogwarts: so far, so generic. Never mind; the fantasy aspects will attract readers who wouldn’t pick up a straight historical novel and that’s all to the good.

Kuang’s main concern is anti-colonialism. Babel eviscerates the British Empire through the protagonists’ political awakening. Its subtitle, on its title page but not on its cover, articulates its mood. In full, it is Babel, or the Necessity of Violence.

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Garner and Rovelli

covers of Rovelli and Garner booksOne of the lovely things about the first few weeks after Christmas, at least in my corner of the world, is having lots of new books to read. This year was a little different, however, because I found myself with an odd pair of books, loving both of them but unable to read either of them straight through.

There are places…

The yellow one is nonfiction. Rovelli is a theoretical physicist working on loop quantum gravity. The fact that a physicist could publish a book – any book – with such a title attracted me to him, and to it, immediately.

There Are Places turned out to be a collection of his newspaper articles, three to six pages each, on science, history, philosophy, religion and politics. Every single one was a pleasure to read – calm, lucid and enlightening – but I couldn’t read the book straight through. Continue reading “Garner and Rovelli”

A bookish ramble

Magic and Mystery

cover of Magic and MysteryA friend passed this very old, battered copy of Magic and Mystery in Tibet my way amongst others she was discarding recently. I found it fascinating as an historical artifact and impressive in an intrepid-traveller kind of way.

The author, Alexandra David-Neel, was part of the early Western engagement with Asian religion, along with the theosophists (whom she knew well).

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Key classics of fantasy and science fiction

Once upon a time, no-one was considered truly educated unless they knew Shakespeare’s plays. More recently, but still not recently, an influential critic published a really big list of books which he thought were necessary for an understanding of western culture – sorry: Western Culture.

My ambitions are much smaller. All I claim is that anyone who doesn’t know the books on my list has missed key works of fantasy and science fiction, so they have missed some great books and will miss innumerable cultural references.

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