fivemack (fivemack) wrote,

The books of August

I spent a long time on trains, on planes, and engulfed with various degrees of languor at weekends during August, so managed to finish fourteen books.

A couple I would recommend unstintingly: David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet has everything - exoticism and humanity, lust and longing, mighty crimes and mighty vengeance, and Jack Vance's Tales of the Dying Earth offers a Voltairian narrative of crime, folly and decadent whimsy.

A couple of conclusions to series; Steig Larsson's The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest is a very fitting conclusion but has a rather surprisingly utopian attitude to Swedish legitimate authority, an almost appeal-to-the-Celestial-Emperor line in which an honourable man can convince the highest levels of government to deal with the misdoings of their minions' minions. Adrian Tchaikovsky's Salute the Dark draws together most of the threads and brings a fitting finish to the great war of the insect-tribes - the series continues but at a different scale and in a very different part of the world.

Greg Egan's Zendegi is a welcome return to form, writing about humans in contemporary Iran and an (again slightly Utopian) near-future Iran rather than illustrating consequences of General Relativity among robots the size of rice-grains orbiting the galactic centre black hole; it's somehow more adult than much of what he's written before, actions have consequences which shake people but not worlds.

NK Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is an interesting example of the ingenue cast into an infinitely complicated web of palace intrigue, in a world where the power-centres include chained gods; rather like Brandon Sanderson's Warbreaker, which I read last month, but enough more subtle (mostly because it's entirely in first-person narration from the often-bewildered narrator) that I rather preferred the Sanderson.

Adam Roberts' New Model Army takes one of Adam's trademark ludicrous premises, and turns it into three hundred pages describing how much fun it is to be a member of a successful guerilla army, beseiging Basingstoke, running rampant through Reading and going to ground in Cambridge. Not a character I want to let back into my head, really.

Ken Macleod's The Restoration Game mixes a certain degree of autobiography with his strong sense of contemporary conspiracy theory; certainly a book to encourage tourism to Georgia. It does have the third deus-ex-unlikely-machina ending in three consecutive books; certainly it's instantly recognisable as being a Macleod, but it's among his weaker ones.

A few to avoid: Louis de Bernieres' Notwithstanding is sentimental to the point of mushiness, Bernard Cornwell's Azincourt is self-consciously gritty but says little. Arthur C Clarke's last co-written book (with Fred Pohl, The Last Theorem) is archetypically Clarke in its utopias but even more devoid of incident than Clarke's earlier travelogues; he's an almost perfect writer of Lonely Planet travel-guides to utopian futures, and it's a genre I like a lot, but I'm not sure about his humans.

Passing to non-fiction, Dan Cruickshank's Secret History of Georgian London is essentially a compilation of the naughty bits of the history of that apparently unrestrainedly carnal epoch; loving descriptions of the more ludicrous spectacles held at the more spectacular brothels of the town, one starts to get a clear image of the author as a somewhat rakish uncle well-stocked with off-colour anecdotes. Ahmed Rashid's Descent into Chaos and Thomas Ricks' The Gamble are an interesting paired read, Rashid showing how American funding to warlords ruined Afghanistan and Ricks claiming that American funding to what are clearly embryonic warlords is going to save Iraq.
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