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.

Here’s an index, now that it’s long enough to need one:
The ScarBabelThe Year of the JackpotChildren of MemoryFuturistic Violence and Fancy SuitsReconstructionThe Seven Moons of Maali AlmeidaThe AnomalyFlyawayFrom Here On, Monsters

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; and the 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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Stross: Rule 34

• I reviewed Rule 34 when it was published in 2011 and it has been on my bookshelf ever since, far too good to throw away but challenging enough that I didn’t pick it up for a second reading until last week. Here’s my (old) review, shortened slightly but otherwise unchanged, with a (new) afterword to bring it up to date.

cover of Rule 34Rule 34

Charles Stross

Orbit, 2011

Rule 34 is an internet meme which says, “If it exists, there is porn of it,” and Rule 34 centres on an Edinburgh policewoman whose daily job is dealing with its consequences.

Not that DI Liz Kavanaugh has any hope of stemming the tide of porn sloshing around the web (it’s about ten years into our future and all law enforcement agencies have tacitly abandoned the attempt), but her unit tries to prevent the worst of it from spreading.

On secondment to another unit, she is called to take charge of a murder scene as bizarre as any porn fantasy.   Continue reading “Stross: Rule 34”

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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Big Questions reading list

This short list recommends a few books that may be of value to those interested in religion (particularly Buddhism) and philosophy. It’s just a personal list, not a systematic set of references, so use it for what it’s worth.

1. Nonfiction

Books which are primarily about people and society but throw light on Buddhism as practised in Tibet and China.

Bones of the Master by George Crane (1996)
George Crane, American poet, meets Tsung Tsai, a Chinese Ch’an (Zen) monk who escaped from the disastrous Great Leap Forward in 1959-60. The two of them travel to Inner Mongolia to re-establish the monastery.

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