Cheeseburger Gothic

Deadline reads

Posted February 3, 2014 into Books by John Birmingham

I've been smashing out this deadline since about early December, which means I'm way behind on my TV watching and video game playing, but strangely enough I've managed to do some quality reading. I find it helps when you're pushing through your own words to occasionally dip into someone else's. Maybe it's just a break from the imagined world in which I have to spend 12 hours a day. Could be it's just nice to see that somebody else finished the job.

I've gone through five novels so far this deadline; two of them brilliant, one of them pretty good, one a bit of a dud, and one that I'm only about a third of the way through and beginning to enjoy after some initial misgivings.

The brilliant picks I owe to Orin, I think. I seem to recall him mentioning a couple of space operas by a guy called James SA Corey awhile back, but if it was somebody else I apologise. Unlike most of the space operas I read, these are quite constrained. Humanity has got off this damned rock and colonised Mars, a couple of moons around Saturn and Jupiter, and big chunks of the asteroid belt. Faster than light travel is still impossible. Damn You, Einstein. But the Epstein Drive (invented by a guy called Epstein!) has allowed ship designers to build spacecraft that can get out to the edge of the solar system in mere months, as opposed to years. It gives the politics of the solar civ a wierdly nineteenth century feel.

This is the sort of thing that would normally piss me off, but Corey (a pen name for a couple of other writers who wanted to collaborate on a big splodey space project) does a very good job, Douglas Adams style, of reminding us just how big space is. Even our little solar system. It's really big. The tech is sweet, the science seems very scientific and the story rocks along. I won't give away too many spoilers other than to say an ancient evil from the cold reaches of intergalactic space reaches out and threatens to destroy the human race who are too busy squabbling amongst themselves to present a united front.

It was a joy to read these books because quality shoot-em-ups between the stars are increasingly hard to come by. The characterisations are great in both novels with an ensemble cast of four or five players led by a couple of main actors, who I won't discuss here because it would be difficult to lay out the story arcs without giving away massive spoilers. If you like your space opera with lots of splosions and infamy and space zombies, I recommend a buy.

The Long Earth, another collaborative effort, this time between Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, is the sort of book I would normally be all over like a cheap Chinese suit, since it's about the multi-verse. In the first of the series – there are a few more to come apparently – a scientist discovers a way to step between parallel earths, an infinity of parallel worlds, each one only slightly different from the one before. Of course when you push those differences out towards infinity, the differences become infinite. I found The Long Earth to be a fascinating if occasionally frustrating travel log as narrated by "Joshua Valienté (a natural 'Stepper') and Lobsang, who claims to be a Tibetan motorcycle repairman reincarnated as an Artificial intelligence." There’s good fun to be had following them through world after world and watching the repercussions play out on Datum Earth, or Earth version 1.0 I guess you could call it.

There isn't much of a storyline, though; it's really more a book of exploration with the challenges of pushing deeper into the increasingly different worlds providing what passes for a narrative arc. There's a bit of mystery involving some of the life forms which have evolved up and down the contingency tree, and these sort of feed into what passes for a plot in the second book in this series, The Long War. I didn't enjoy War nearly as much as Earth, and wouldn't feel comfortable recommending it to anyone. The whole thing seemed half baked. But if you like your alternate reality stories, there's nothing wrong with The Long Earth and I don't mind fessing up to having enjoyed it.

Finally I was in at Pulp Fiction the other day and saw that Peter Corris had a new Cliff Hardy novel out, Silent Kill I'm a sucker for Pete's work, and I've bought every Hardy book he's ever written; the only crime writer of whom I could say that. It took me a couple of chapters to get into this latest one which starts off with a large info dump about one of the principal protagonists and suffers in its early stages from a lot of characters being introduced a bit too quickly. But then somebody dies and we get back to Cliff doing what Cliff does best, driving around Sydney knocking heads together.

I picked up my copy of Silent Kill on iTunes and have been reading it on my pad and phone, rather than my Kindle. (I saved my Pulp Fiction purchase for a hardback called The Suicide Exhibition, because Nazis and Demons. Or something. I'll drop the link in below). Amazon forced the change on me when they opened the Australian-based Amazon store and tried to make me reset my account locally, where the selections are much thinner and the prices much higher. I'm happy to pay for my digital content, but I'm not willing to get shaken down for it. So, perversely, although I pay a little more per title on iBooks, and the selection is complete arse unless I use my US account, I've decided that's the price I'm willing to pay to chip away at Amazon's monopoly. The link above goes thru Amazon, where the kindle copy seems to be a reasonable seven or eight bucks. If Apple had an associates program, I'd link to them instead.

I'm getting pretty close to the end of the second Hooper book, and I suspect Cliff will see me through. I'll have a couple of days off then before charging into book 3, which I've got plotted out scene by scene and ready to go. At that point I'll need to give me a few more deadline titles in reserve.

36 Responses to ‘Deadline reads’

Spanner would have you know...

Posted February 3, 2014

Bugger, I've just used up my audible credits. I was looking at that Terry Pratchett colaberation but went with a Discworld novel.

Soooo JB about book club?

(please let it be Irvine Welsh's Glue)

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Blarkon mutters...

Posted February 3, 2014

I'm not the only fan of James S.A. Corey here - so it might have been me, it might have been someone else. The other one I want to promote is Lexicon by Max Barry which is flat out FKN AWSM. Other burgers that have read it seem to agree.

John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted February 3, 2014

I'll add it to my deadline list.

damian would have you know...

Posted February 3, 2014

I've noted the existence of the James S.A. Corey series for a while and figured I'll be reading it sooner or later. It was a toss up whether I'd start that or the Alastair Reynolds I've been reading... might actually start this after On the Steel Breeze.

I'd still like to plug the historian Henry Reynolds' latest book, The Forgotten War in the non-fiction list for book club...

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Blarkon asserts...

Posted February 3, 2014

The third book - Abbadon's Gate has been out a while. The forth is written. The fifth is in production. There is also a green lit script for an "Expanse" series pilot.

John Birmingham asserts...

Posted February 3, 2014

Oh. My. God!!!

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insomniac puts forth...

Posted February 3, 2014

a little OT but we received some Audible credits for Christmas, and spent the first one on Crime and Punishment. It seems to me that listening to some Russian stodge makes the book much more enjoyable than having to read it, although I've never tried reading P&C. Are more readable books such as those mentioned above even better in Audible form or should I stick to stodge, and keep the others to paper or ebook?

John Birmingham is gonna tell you...

Posted February 3, 2014

We listened to Patrick Stewart reading A Christmas Carol over Christmas. I'd never bother reading it, but his performance was the business. Really brilliant.

As for popular fiction, it depends a lot on the narrator and the production values. I've loved the shit out of Steven Pacey's read of Joe Abercrombie's series. Just awesome. OTOH I have an audiobooks of Stephen King's Dr Sleep that I'm worried about starting in case I hate it.

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Barnesm has opinions thus...

Posted February 3, 2014

I've really enjoyed the Expanse series it was my favourite thing to read last year. In a science fiction lately I have been hitting a lot of post apocolyptic, or dytopias and while the what you delightfully termed 'ancient evil' is indeed a terrifing one the future itself has a postive feel.

Io9 has been all over this series singing its praises as well

The crew of the Rocinante had a wonderful Firefly vibe to the adventures, and my favourite character was from the Marine Bobby and her interations with the UN politician Avasarala.

Great read.

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted February 3, 2014

Yeah, the Rocinante comes to feel like home and you get nervous when they're off the ship.

damian puts forth...

Posted February 3, 2014

There's a rather wonderful canoe-yawl design by a famous Amercan yacht design of the early 20th century called the Rozinante, likewise after Don Quixotte. Not sure that's exactly the classic yacht I ever wanted to build, but it's a nice accessible size. I think if it had worked out that I build many boats in my life I'd have done one of those at some point, but things didn't work out that way.

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Barnesm puts forth...

Posted February 3, 2014

I will hold judgement on The Long Earth/long War series until all five are out, liked the way the Long War was ended and will read the next ones.

Saw The Suicide Exhibition reviewed and am interested, would like to hear what you thought of it first. Personally if its Nazis and Demons you are after might I recommend The Milkweed Triptych by Ian Tregillis; Bitter Seeds, The Coldest War and Necessary Evil.

John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted February 3, 2014

Suicide Exhibition was described to me as the sort of book Tregillis would have written if he had any sense of fun at all.

I'll read and review in a few weeks.

damian is gonna tell you...

Posted February 3, 2014

I put off reading Long War for quite a while because of that thought it would seem contrived. And it did a bit, sort of like the best ideas went in the first book. But I have to say I enjoyed reading it and look forward to the next.

The hard sf geek in me wants answers to some difficult questions about some of it... But it's not really a hard sf story, at least as credible as most space opera so I'm inclined to give the very respected authors a break.

On that, you don't get much impression of Pratchett's voice in the prose. Not saying that is bad, just noting it.

Barnesm mumbles...

Posted February 3, 2014

The Milkweed trilogy also starred all the folk we met when we read Operation Mincemeat, instead of trying to conduct espionage in this story they are dealing with nazi experiments and trying to develop Britian's wizards to employ horrors beyond space and time. With a bit of multiworld hypothyisis and time travel.

John Birmingham puts forth...

Posted February 3, 2014

That. Sounds. AWSM!

Blarkon reckons...

Posted February 3, 2014

Pratchett's "voice" has been increasingly wavering - even in his own stuff. That's partly because he's gone from typing to dictating. The upcoming Gaiman/Pratchett colaboration will be intersting - if only to compare with Good Omens.

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Lulu ducks in to say...

Posted February 3, 2014

When you get back to some TV watching, Generation War is worth a look (and might still be up at SBS on demand).

Blarkon mumbles...

Posted February 3, 2014

You mean "Generation Kill"?

NBlob asserts...

Posted February 4, 2014

Incorrect oh scaly one.

gen kill = Iraq Gulf War II

Gen war= Wehrmacht World War II

Blarkon is gonna tell you...

Posted February 4, 2014

Are they nearly as creative when it comes to expletives?

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Dino not to be confused with swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted February 3, 2014

Hey JB

Get ready for me to cancel my subscription to Fairfax.

There is some story about Woody Allen and stuff and Cate Blachshett.

OMG Cate Blancshett!

Omg!

Better than Keilly in naybors!

Yeah anyway Kate has a really nice Mercedes but after working with 'Woody' she may upgrade to a newer model.

Do you know how much it costs go go around the world getting awards?

POOR cATE NEEDED THE MONEY.

pOOR CATE.

nOTHING TO DO WITH wtc 7 AND 'WOODY'.

pOOR CATE.

No you don't, so shut up you and don't say anything negative about 'our 'Cate''.

She is priceless...

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Surtac puts forth...

Posted February 3, 2014

I read the first Corey when it turned up on the Hugo nomination list in 2012. Haven’t yet got to the next ones, but am now suitably reminded so will pick them up at some stage.

If you want something else in a similar vein, I’d recommend Neal Asher’s The Owner sequence, just concluded with Jupiter War. Solar system spaceflight, Mars colony, future totalitarian government dystopia with lots of cool technology (spiderguns are shiny) and lashings of explodey goodness for thems that like that sort of stuff. Page-turning entertainments for those of us who might be twiddling their thumbs waiting for monsters to arrive and show us their protocols, hmmn?

Oh yes, and Bookclub? I had half a memory you’d mentioned Peter Brett’s The Painted Man, which by coincidence I got for Christmas from the kidlets. But no pressure – just pick a title and a (post-deadline?) date.

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Dino not to be confused with is gonna tell you...

Posted February 3, 2014

i DID NOT SIAY SHE IS WHORE!

i DID NOT SAY DAT.

mUST A BENN SOMEONE ELSE!

Dino not to be confused with reckons...

Posted February 3, 2014

aNYAWY pOLANSKI AND hELTER SKELTER AND SUCH.

And Such.

Sleep tight Munshckins.

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Vovchara ducks in to say...

Posted February 4, 2014

I could recomend "Dread empire's fall" series from Walter Jon Williams. It starts with The Praxis. Hard core sci-fi with a lot of 'splosions :)

Surtac would have you know...

Posted February 4, 2014

Happy to second this recommendation - this is a good series.

Also, WoJo/DubJay had some very good hard sf (almost cyberpunk) books early in his career which got some attention but probably not as much as they deserved: examples are Hardwired, Voice of the Whirlwind, Angel Station, Ambassador of Progress and suchlike.

And if you like a touch of farce in your space opera, I highly recommend his Drake Majistral series about a celebrity Allowed Burglar. The books are The Crown Jewels, House of Shards and Rock of Ages. Very funny in places, and reminiscent of the Francis Sandow stories by Roger Zelazny - another series where you sense the author is having way too much fun putting the words together for you to read.

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Matthew K puts forth...

Posted February 4, 2014

testing

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Matthew K mutters...

Posted February 4, 2014

I massively reccomend John Courtenay Grimwood's "Arabesk" trilogy (Pashazade, Effendi, Felaheen) for those who haven't read it: Alternate history North African cyberpunk noir, really beautifully written even if the what if history does seem a bit too close to ours considering that the Kaiser's Reich, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires are still alive and well since Britain failed to win the WW1.

And I just today bought Long War damnit.

Also, this website likes me again.

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Lobes has opinions thus...

Posted February 4, 2014

Thanks JB et al. I love a good tips thread.

I'll almost certainly get Leviathan Wakes and going to try watching at least part I of Generation war as well. I've got the first book of the Milkweed Triptych loaded on my e-reader but havnt started it yet.

For my contribution I can recommend Ready Player One. Cant remember the author* but its a fairly believable portrayal of a dystopic near future where widespread addiction to MMORPG combined with schmancy advances in VR goggles have changed the structure of society somewhat. It has some action, comedy and a bit of romance lying on the intersection of virtual and real. Give it a look.

*The author is Ernest Cline

Blarkon swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted February 4, 2014

Ready Player One is fun - but it's not particularly believable. It works well for a nerd with a particular level of 80's pop-culture awareness.

Lobes is gonna tell you...

Posted February 4, 2014

Yes it lives and dies on the pop culture references. I imagine unless you are of a certain age theres a lot will fly over your head.

Its believeable in the sense how some projections of the evolution of current society seem to ring true whereas the technology not so much.

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w from brisbane mumbles...

Posted February 4, 2014

I just read 'Agent to the Stars' by John Scalzi. It's a free book on the internet. It was good fun.

"

The space-faring Yherajk have come to Earth to meet us and to begin humanity’s first interstellar friendship. There’s just one problem: They’re hideously ugly and they smell like rotting fish.

So getting humanity’s trust is a challenge. The Yherajk need someone who can help them close the deal.

Enter Thomas Stein, who knows something about closing deals. He’s one of Hollywood’s hottest young agents. But although Stein may have just concluded the biggest deal of his career, it’s quite another thing to negotiate for an entire alien race. To earn his percentage this time, he’s going to need all the smarts, skills, and wits he can muster."

'

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan would have you know...

Posted February 4, 2014

I must read this book.

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sibeen mumbles...

Posted February 4, 2014

OK, on the reccomend I downloaded Leviathan Wakes and have now read it. Yep, enjoyed it; but as science it sucks. If the Epstein drive existed, the stars our ours.

The drive could blat at 15 gravities and keep on keeping on. Fuck me, with that sort of grunt you don't require a generational ship.

Ignoring relativity effects and mass, accelerate for one year at one G and you're at light speed. The beauty is, even getting up to decent percentage light year speeds and reletivity becomes a bonus. You'll get there in fuck all time. OK, you're relatives back on the home world may be well blowing around as dust, but it's not as if you were going back for a visit anytime soon.

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