fivemack (fivemack) wrote,

Books read in December 2012

I read ten books in December, ranging from cheap fiction bought in a Kindle sale (which unfortunately mostly made it quite clear why it had been so deeply discounted) to a second-hand textbook of process chemistry.

Three books from late in ongoing sequences: Banks's Hydrogen Sonata, Bujold's Captain Vorpatril's Alliance and Butcher's Cold Days. The Bujold is very good; we get to see all sides of Ivan Vorpatril, and an ingenue's introduction to Vorbar Sultana in the late Gregorian. There's a slightly shoehorned-in plot of Jackson Hole's bloody power-politics, presented as a series of infuriatingly domineering in-laws.

The Butcher and the Banks rather less so; Harry Dresden books have a fairly precise formula, where a new adversary is introduced, Harry panics that he will be unable to defeat it, Harry defeats it anyway, and it carries on. Fourteen books in, both Harry and the adversaries are getting ridiculously powerful. Basically you read Harry Dresden for the moments of awesome, and they're quite well-done, but I wouldn't have minded if Jim had gone on to something else entirely after Changes.

The Banks feels almost like a mash-up of sections from other Banks novels, quite a lot of it could come from a bigger-budget remake of Consider Phlebas. It's a Culture novel, so it hits spots that other novelists generally don't, but it's not a first-rate one.

Noel Botham's Catch That Tiger was a cliche-ridden Second World War fictionalised biography not worth the £1.20 discount price. Kameron Hurley's God's War was just too bleak, grimy and full of betrayal to be very much fun to read, but I think that's more my attitude than the author's fault. Jonas Jonasson's The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Vanished has some very personable characters, but combined with dreadfully-researched history and a plot so entirely composed of coincidences that I at times wondered whether it was all a subtle parody on the contemporary Swedish crime novel.

Daniel Chamovitz's What a Plant Knows is a very good slim volume introducing the sophisticated sensory systems that plants have; it goes from Darwin's observational botany all the way to modern genomics, and there was lots of interesting material there that I didn't know. Stan Lee's Process Development: Fine Chemicals consisted entirely of case-studies and it wasn't at all clear whether I was missing the plot twists because I didn't know enough organic chemistry or because there weren't enough clues provided; it would have been much more helpful to have more 'we tried various conditions; T and U produced the wrong product because of side reaction R', V caught fire, W was much too toxic to use at scale, X turned out to be OK' than a constant sequence of 'it was determined that X was the best reagant'.

Paul Cornell's London Falling fits into a recent British tradition of paranormal police procedurals, but does interesting things with the genre because it 's much less conspiracy-driven; the protagonists gain paranormal powers in an industrial accident, and they're a pretty awful burden to them but useful as they track down a particularly unpleasant monster, but there isn't the secret magical infrastructure of Aaronovitch or of Kate Griffin. I recommend it.

Ian McDonald's Planesrunner is the start of a new YA series by my absolute favourite SF stylist; it works very well, with a pleasant combination of Masefield's Box of Delights and Pullman's Northern Lights, a new twist on steampunk with the background carefully written to get round some of the standard steampunk absurdities, and some really excellent zeppelins.
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