Cheeseburger Gothic

The Armored Saint, by Myke Cole

Posted March 27 into Books by John Birmingham

I usually think of fantasy novels as epic. Epic in in scope, epic in length, epic in the sheer fucking tonnages of old growth forest felled to provide their thousands of pages. I’ve got all George RR Martin’s GoT books in hard back on the shelf somewhere behind me, and on quiet nights I can hear the hardwood groaning under their weight.

I was surprised then to discover that Myke Cole’s The Armored Saint is a genuinely slim volume, in hardback running to just over two hundred pages. The hobbit’s tea party at the start of LoTR felt longer than that. (Much longer. I never actually got past it).

And yet Cole has written such a densely packed story that I can’t imagine it running longer. It would be too much to bear. Every word, every line seems honed to strike a critical blow at the reader. Nothing is wasted and there is nothing that could be reasonably added to improve this novel. Not even ‘splosions. It seemed as I read it so perfectly crafted that I had to keep stopping to breathe and control my seething jealousy. I read one chapter a day, usually at lunch time, because that was all I could handle. The characters are drawn so vividly, their concerns so intimate, and the peril into which they pass seems so dire that it would fuck with my head if I read any more than that in one day, or if I made the mistake of reading it too late in the evening.

You don’t want to lay your head down with this story playing out behind your eyes.

So what happens?

The story is told by Heloise, a village girl in a grim medieval theocracy where warrior priests violently enforce a rigid stratification of the settled order. In fact they call themselves the Order. For a backward, priest ridden primitive hellhole, there’s a lot going on here. I won’t give away any spoilers, because I’m not a monster, but I can say that the Order’s unchallenged power derives from their historic role of protecting the realm from monsters and demons.

Except nobody’s actually seen any for so long that a rational man might begin to wonder whether they ever existed, or whether its just a dodge dreamed up by these scripture addled psychopaths of the unholy Order.

I will confess myself somewhat fucking shocked to discover the truth of it. Cole has great fun misdirecting, misleading and generally fucking with his readers. The world he has created here is beautifully realised. The characters live, and you really, really, really end up invested in Heloise and her terrible dilemma.

I’m just stepping outside to buy the next novel in the series. I may be gone for some time.

7 Responses to ‘The Armored Saint, by Myke Cole’

insomniac is gonna tell you...

Posted March 27
So...The Dave could be a prequel then. It's a short hop from 'The' to 'St.'.

insomniac reckons...

Posted March 27
Reading the extract in Amazon, it's pretty tight writing. Perhaps I should add it, and the others, to the invisible pile of Kindle shame.

she_jedi is gonna tell you...

Posted March 27
I added it to my invisible pile of iBooks shame when JB first mentioned he was reading it. This review has now prompted me to lift it from the invisible pile of shame and into the visible Reading Now pile of smugness :)

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she_jedi mutters...

Posted March 27
This review is excellent timing, because I finished my current book last night and was casting about for the next one. Sold!

Also, to be SUPER nit picky, you spelt Myke's name wrong in the title of your post. Autocorrect probably got to you again, but as someone who gets their name spelled wrong even when people have it spelled out in front of them in correspondence, I couldn't let it slide. Sorry :(

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted March 27
*Shakes fist at an uncaring sky*

"DAMN YOU, AUTOCORRECT!"

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Spanner ducks in to say...

Posted March 27
Damn you JB. Damn you to heck.

My pre order of Tiamat’s Wrath: The Expanse audiobook just landed in my audible app.

I’m currently listening to Batavia by Mr Fitzsimonds on my commute.

I can’t juggle a dead tree book and two audio books.

I can’t just buy this and toss it on my pile of shame...or can I.

Yes. Yes I can.

STOP JUDGING ME YOU JERKS.

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Barnesm reckons...

Posted March 27
Look it’s all well and good for JB to casually toss another outstandingly great novel endorsement but for those of us with steadily accumulating to-read lists I’d appreciate if he would confine himself to only read those on my already voluminous ‘want to read’ books listed on my goodreads page.

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The Killer Awoke

Posted February 7 into Books by John Birmingham

Had a pleasant surprise this morning when I found a cheque—yes, an actual paper cheque, possibly delivered by carrier pigeon—in my PO Box. It was from Baen, for a story in John Ringo's Voices of the Fall anthology. I'd forgotten about that piece, and the money turned up fortuitously. The Aussie dollar is in free fall on rumours of an interest cut, and my car rego was due.

So I dips me lid to JR and Baen. (Even though I had to totally murder Tom Kratman and Larry Correia to earn my Del Rey challenge coin).

The book is due out in early March. You can pre-order here. For those who don't know Ringo's Black Tide Rising series, it's a fun zombiepocalypse saga, unusual in having an Australian family as the lead characters.

For my contribution to the anthology I decided to revisit an old favourite, Caitlin Monroe. We join her, as we did at the start of After America, recuperating in a Paris hospital, but this being Ringo's story world, the details start shifting early:

Caitlin took a sip of cool water and closed her eyes for a moment.
She knew this was bad.
Echelon never put anyone in the field without due preparation. But she’d been yanked out of her deep cover run against al Banna’s network and thrown at these wingnuts on half-a-moment’s notice, with a ten-minute briefing and a surprisingly painful shot in the ass of some unnamed anti-viral magic potion that gave her the worst dose of flu she’d ever had.
Caitlin cursed softly under her breath. She had no idea what day it was. No idea how long she’d been out, or what had gone down in that time...

...Caitlin’s hand was throbbing and her head was starting to spin. She desperately needed a moment to herself, to get her shit together. She forced herself to breath slowly. Stilling her racing thoughts. Her flu had mostly cleared. She hadn’t turned rabid. She needed to reestablish realtime contact with Echelon. Overwatch must have arranged for her to jump the line if she was in a private hospital room. She did remember that hospitals were already turning people away when she was in London.
“Eh up? What’s this then?” blurted Celia.
Everyone fixed on the TV screen, where an impeccably groomed Eurasian woman with a perfectly modulated BBC voice was struggling to maintain her composure. “…the quarantine, which was not agreed to by Washington, will be enforced by NATO using all means necessary according a spokesperson from the Prime Minister’s office. Outbound commercial flights are either returning to their points of origin or diverting to Halifax and Quebec in Canada, or to airports throughout the West Indies, where the plague is reportedly nearly as advanced as on the continental US.”
The women all began to chatter at once, much to Caitlin’s annoyance. On screen the BBC’s anchorwoman said that the US president and vice President had been evacuated ‘under fire’ from the capitol. A hammer started pounding inside Caitlin’s head as she watched the reporter stumble through the rest of her read.
“…US forces are heavily engaged at Guantanamo Bay, using heavy weapons on hundreds of naked victims.”
Interesting word, thought Caitlin. Victims.

7 Responses to ‘The Killer Awoke’

HAVOCK21 reckons...

Posted February 7
I'll say it, having read the post and then looking at the cover art, I really didn't get much further...than re looking at the cover art!!!!!

Prolly un PC or isI it art appreciation?

John Birmingham mumbles...

Posted February 7
It’s Baen.

she_jedi puts forth...

Posted February 7
Wow, the 80s called and wants its cover art back. Although the art explains the House of Del Rey's feud with Baen, no wonder they're getting their authors to murder their Baen rivals

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HAVOCK21 mumbles...

Posted February 7
I'm really starting to think , that Caitlin and Captain Jane Willet, my two spanky favs might just well have been replaced!

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Murphy_of_Missouri swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted February 7
I never imagined Caitlin looking as good as the ones on the cover.

Oh, and Thank God for Baen.

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Vovchara is gonna tell you...

Posted February 11
Tom Kratman wouldn't be a big loss. But if you touch David Weber or Eric Flint...

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HAVOCK21 mutters...

Posted February 13
hmm, that title. I think, now, in retrospection that its really code...you know, for " HAVOCK's ALARM CLOCK WNET OFF" hence, the KILLER AWOKE!

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Book review. SALVATION by Peter F. Hamilton

Posted January 27 into Books by John Birmingham

I didn't finish Hamilton's last door stopper, Night Without Stars. It was set within his 'Commonwealth' story world, which I hugely enjoyed, but this particular narrative side quest simply didn't appeal. I came to SALVATION then, with some misgivings. Thankfully, they were unfounded.
SALVATION isn't the pure space opera of the early Commonwealth Saga or the even earlier Night's Dawn trilogy, but it does offer a satisfying buffet of devious space aliens, big honking space guns, and futuristic world building. There's even a pretty decent terraforming/terrorism sub plot set in Australia.
Most of Hamilton's vividly imagined creations tend to revolve around one central technological conceit. In Night's Dawn its encoded consciousness (don't argue with me, it just is). In SALVATION it's portal technology. Stargates, if you like, but prosaic, almost banal stargates. Sure, they can let you walk between the stars, but they're also used for getting around locally on now defunct bus routes.
The portals are not the point of the story. They're the enabling architecture. They channel the stories of the main narrators towards a surprise ending that sets up a conventional—but for me quite exciting—sequel promising lots of devious space aliens getting splattered by big honking space guns.
Like Night Without Stars, SALVATION proceeds in two time periods, inviting the reader to speculate how one led to the other. In the earlier period, an ensemble cast of characters recalling some of the great Hollywood anthology films of the 1940s travel to a far-flung world in search of an alien artefact. One of them is an alien spy, and Hamilton's deft handling of the whodunnitry recalls some of the best Paula Myo cases from the Commonwealth.
The second seemingly self contained story arc is set hundreds of years later and could be thought of as a reimagined Ender's Game, as we follow a small cohort of children through ten years of education and training in preparation for battle with the above mentioned but unnamed devious alien threat. By the end of SALVATION Hamilton has threaded the two timelines together and pulled off a pretty decent surprise when revealing the identity of the spy.
I read this book while we travelled around Vietnam, usually getting through thirty or forty pages a night before crashing out, and finishing it on the plane as we flew home. It was compelling and ocasionally quite stunning as an imaginative tour de force. I enjoyed it so much that I feel like I should go back and give Night Without Stars another chance.

9 Responses to ‘Book review. SALVATION by Peter F. Hamilton’

thetick mutters...

Posted January 27
I really enjoyed Salvation.

Hamilton's been a bit hit and miss with his Commonwealth saga (which overall I enjoy). I really enjoyed Great North Road as well.

Genuinely looking forward to the rest of the books.

Have you read Brian Mcclellan's Powder Mage novels?

John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted January 27
I was listening to it on Audible. Oddly, I recognised that it was a great piece of work, but for some reason I just couldn't get into it.

FormerlyKnownAsSimon ducks in to say...

Posted January 29
i find the same with Audible, and it all depends on the reader. Doing a good rendition seems to be bloody hard. Storytellers who use their voice to maximum effect should be once again kings of the world.

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Barnesm is gonna tell you...

Posted January 27
Excellent, keep the recommendations coming. You had me at 'Big hoinking space guns'. I shall commence it once I have finished "Will to battle" book 3 in Ada Palmer's Terra Ignota series.

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she_jedi ducks in to say...

Posted January 27
Did you see Charles Stross recommending Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone on the Twits the other day? It looks epic, I have it on pre-order with iBooks, but I thought it would be up your alley when I read the blurb for it

John Birmingham is gonna tell you...

Posted January 27
Added to my stack!

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jason would have you know...

Posted January 28
Breville BRC460
Panasonic SR-DF181WST

These are the two top ranked units by Choice Magazine Australia.

I used to use the stove top in my quest for a real Asian feel and then went to Asia where rice cookers are everywhere.

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jl mutters...

Posted January 28
I'll have to look this up. Currently finished a bunch of reading for a research project, now I'm into a book called "Bloodlands" about the violence in Eastern Europe 1933-1945. Starts with the famine in Soviet Ukraine 1933. Not exactly light reading.

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Oldy mumbles...

Posted January 29
Sold.

I'll check it out :)

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Raw vegan dirt

Posted January 24 into Books by John Birmingham

From the Orbital Operations newsletter by Mr Warren Ellis: "I personally enjoy the 21st Century consumer affordance of carrying a small slate that contains a couple of hundred books and can quickly and wirelessly grab more. Slave of platform capitalism, yes yes, go and live on the fucking land and raise your memes on bespoke raw vegan dirt. Living in the future has had many disappointments, but my electric books are a personal positive."

I forget what Ellis was talking about, other than his unnatural physcial love for his Kindle, but I am down with him for this. I took my fancy Kindle on my recent travels; the funny shaped one with the removable battery case. You take that case/cover off and it's both incredibly light and pleasing to hold because of the odd, ergonomic design. I also took my iPad, loaded with Season 3 of Travelers, but I didn't fire up the Netflix app once while I was away. That's not a humblebrag. I just didnt find myself in the mood.

I did, however, finish reading Peter F. Hamilton's latest space opera, Salvation. I'll post a review separately, but long story short, it was enough to keep me entertained along with Steve Stirling's finale to the Change series, The Sky Blue Wolves.

I tended bed down with Salvation at the end of the day and read for half an hour or so. With Steve's book, in which I get a cameo, I chose to do most of my reading on my phone while we were out and about and I found myself with, say, five or six minutes to spare and no scenery or adventures to distract me.

Under those circumstances I'd normally fire up Twitter, or in really desperate straits Facebook, but I made a conscious decision to stay the fuck away from social media while we travelled.

It helped. There's an obsessive-compulsive neediness engineered into those networks that really gets the hooks in. It was the reason I deleted their apps from my phone a year or so back. But even the terrible web interfaces can be addictive. So instead, whenever I found myself at a loose end I'd open up the Kindle app and just read for a few pages.

I honestly think it improved my mood as much as being away for a few weeks. It's why I'm trying to blog more since I got back. Rather than wasting time in Twitter's burning cesspit, I'd prefer to waste it here.

And that's also three books I've read in the last month, (including Alicia WB's Blood of Heirs) a real turn around after a long fallow period. I'm finding it restful to read, in a way I dont find it relaxing at all to contemplate my nearly infinite unwatched stack o' streaming TV. Hence Tuesday's Blunty. One of the things I'd forgotten about books is the way you can pick them up and put them down after just a minute or two if you need to do something else. There's none of the same sense of frustration I feel when I have to stop and start video. Not sure why, but that difference is a real thing.

Next I'm going to move on to Dan Moren's The Bayern Agenda. (I have a sneaky pre-release copy)

And then, after that, I might even attempt a non genre title!

9 Responses to ‘Raw vegan dirt’

Rob mutters...

Posted January 24
argh the Twitters. Where everyone's voice is as loud as everyone elses. Where that voice seems as important as the President of the United States. And where that voice is one of a 14 year old boy who listened to his first anarcho-punk record from the 80s , decides he doesn't need to learn anything because he knows it all and decides to shout what ever woke crap comes out of his head. Or its Karen.

John Birmingham puts forth...

Posted January 24
Ugh. Karen.

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Oldy mutters...

Posted January 24
Travelers Season 3 is pretty good, with some clever writing to tie up some of those things that I thought got a little out of control in Season 2.

And the finale was pretty darn neat. I'm hoping for Season 4, but if it doesn't happen, they didn't leave us hanging.

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Barnesm ducks in to say...

Posted January 24
good to welcome you back to the league of readers. With a couple of hours a day on public transport I find plenty of opportunities to read, a task enhanced by you outstanding tips, eg Blood of Heirs so grateful if you can keep reading and maing recommendations.

John Birmingham asserts...

Posted January 24
I have more.

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she_jedi ducks in to say...

Posted January 24
iBooks now has a funky "want to read" bucket where you can either add titles you've already got in there, or add stuff that you will purchase and read later, and it's great but also turning into a long list of to-be-read-shame that I keep adding to. In addition to the to-be-read-pile-of-shame of analogue books on my bedside table, which thankfully hasn't grown since I added Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall to it so I looked intellectual to my real estate agent when she does my rent inspections.

I've remained committed to reading every night in bed before sleep, but the last couple of months I've found that I fall asleep before any real reading happens, and then I wake up in the middle of the night, turn my light off and go back to sleep. When once I was smashing through a couple of books a week, now I've been trying to finish Alice Isn't Dead for at least a month. Is this what middle age is? Does crossing the year 40 threshold eliminate your ability to consume fiction? Asking for me :(

The third season of Travellers was excellent, and the ending was both a WTAF moment and immensely satisfying. You should definitely get around to it JB :)

John Birmingham mumbles...

Posted January 24
OMG. I have so many unread copies of Wolf Hall I could start one of those pop up Japanese bookstores that only stock one title. Plus the audiobook.

she_jedi reckons...

Posted January 25
I remember your post on Wolf Hall and how Mantel’s incredible prose broke your brain and you couldn’t finish it, and I was reading Wolf Hall at the time and I had a moment going “OMG JB’s right,” and I persevered a bit longer and then I gave up on it too. And it sits reproachfully on my bedside table in the laughable illusion that I will go back to it one day and try to finish it...

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jason asserts...

Posted January 25
A writer who didn't read. I've been looking for a definition for irony and i think i found it.

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Tsundoko

Posted October 16 into Books by John Birmingham

Nice piece in the New York Times about my teetering stack o' shame, which the Japanese apparently call a tsundoku: a stack of books that you have purchased but not yet read.

The sight of a book you’ve read can remind you of the many things you’ve already learned. The sight of a book you haven’t read can remind you that there are many things you’ve yet to learn. And the sight of a partially read book can remind you that reading is an activity that you hope never to come to the end of.

3 Responses to ‘Tsundoko’

jl puts forth...

Posted October 16
Yeah, the older I get the more I realize how little I know. It would take more than my span of years and mastery of a few more languages to get where I'd like to be.

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insomniac is gonna tell you...

Posted October 16
Is it better or worse if your tsundoko is hidden deep within a Kindle or other such device? It just looks like a pile of one, and is that really worthy of being called a pile?

John Birmingham ducks in to say...

Posted October 16
I suspect the chances of your being guilt tripped into reading your Kindle tsundoko are much smaller. Can't say whether that's good or bad.

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Amazon sale: The Golden Minute

Posted October 1 into Books by John Birmingham

Amazon's sentient robotic core emailed me a while ago to ask if I would like to have THE GOLDEN MINUTE featured as a special deal this month.

I figured, why the hell not!

Also, I'm trying out a new affiliate link here, because reasons.

So if you haven't got a copy of Smith and Cady's latest yet, and you are a slave to the Beast of Bezos, follow this link and you can get all the tasty discount sauce you want.

2 Responses to ‘Amazon sale: The Golden Minute’

Barnesm would have you know...

Posted October 1
Excellent bargin, low cost and over the top explody goodness, what more could I ask for?

Seriously, is this all I am asking for? I need to expand my horizons.

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allenwsnyder asserts...

Posted October 21
The Golden Minute is one of Amazon's Kindle Daily Deals today, for $1.99. I have to admit, the two-sentence description sounded totally stupid to me: Deputy US Marshal John Titanic Smith...really? Puritan Jihads..really again? But there were a lot of five-star reviews, which could mean nothing, but was enough to get me reading the prologue via Amazon's Look Inside feature. The prologue is well written and it totally grabbed me, maybe not quite instantly but close enough. Purchase made.

Also, all the Trumpist one-star reviews on A Girl in Time is moving me to purchase it at $4.99, even though I know that if I wait long enough it will be on sale for $1.99 or less. (Only one Trumpist three-star (!) review on The Golden Minute, so far, but from someone who doesn't even know how to spell "heroine." [Insert shrug emoji here.])

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