||[Mar. 31st, 2018|07:50 pm]
Gnomon - Nick Harkaway|
Places in the Darkness - Chris Brookmyre
Dark Matter - Blake Crouch
H is for Hawk - Helen Macdonald
The Dry - Jane Harper
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street - Natasha Pulley
Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right - Jane Mayer
The Furthest Station - Ben Aaronovitch
White Houses - Amy Bloom
Gnomon is so. fucking. weird. It's Nick Harkaway channelling China Mieville to write The Raw Shark Texts by way of Cryptonomicon. It's a near future dystopia where Britain is a surveillance state monitored by an all-seeing AI known as the Witness, where an inspector of the Witness is investigating the death of a suspect in custody. Except it's also about this greek banker being haunted by a ghost shark that lives in the stock market and eats corporations. Except maybe it's also about a greek alchemist from six thousand years before that who's trying to use magic to bring her son back from the dead and talks like an East End landlady. Except also it's about about an Ethiopian painter who escaped certain death as a political prisoner by walking through walls. Except, except it's about a mad God called Gnomon from the end of time, or it's about a poor, mad woman who's had her brain carved up to protect the Witness.
It was a seven hundred page doorstop of a library hardback where I not infrequently had to move my finger along the page as I read as though to force the words into my brain, and yet I couldn't stop reading because I had to know what the fuck was happening. I still don't know what the fuck was happening.
And I sincerely and entirely hope some of you read it. If only so you can explain it to me.
Christopher Brookmyre is my favourite author of what the book reviewing youth will insist on calling tartan noir, and although he's edged towards writing sff before Places in the Darkness is his first out and out sci-fi novel. It's a technopunk mystery set on a space station, where the god-cop-turned-corrupt detective (think Lionel Fusco, only hot, a woman, and bisexual) is forced into a redemption arc when she has to team up with her new, goody-two-shoes, stick up her bum, maybe because she's just a stickler for the rules or maybe she's secretly an android boss. They have a really neat enemies-to-friends-to-wait, were they flirting in that last scene? arc that plays out as they're forced to work together to, in the first instance, solve a brutal murder, and in the second instance, deal with the the fact that even in space corporations are bastards and not to be trusted.
It's a solid, good sci-fi novel. It's a solid, good buddy cop mystery. I liked it a lot. I have but one complaint, and it's that no one in it was Scottish. If Brookmyre was ever going to write a book set in space then I wanted it to be more Scottish. I'm talking the entire populations of Glasgow, Paisley, and Dundee just on the moon, and it's never explained; I'm not saying that humanity's future in space would be glorious or long-lived, but God would it be fun while it lasted.
Holy sentence fragments, Batman! was most of my reaction to Dark Matter a story about a man lost in the multiverse trying to get back to his wife and son. The alternate universe hook has been handled in more creative and interesting ways in pretty much every sci-fi show ever, yet the characters were drawn too thinly to make it a compelling character or family drama. It was, idk, baby's first science fiction by way of James Patterson's prose?
Its saving grace was that it was a super quick read that I never felt tempted to DNF because almost as soon as I started it I was nearly finished, possibly because of all the sentence fragments. Holy cow!
H is for Hawk is a memoir in which Macdonald, an experienced falconer, processes her father's death by purchasing and training a goshawk she names Mabel. And when she's talking about her life, her grief, her relationship to Mabel the book is really good, really compelling. But for reasons I still don't understand she intercuts this with a mini biography of the life of TH White and a recap of White's book The Goshawk and every time the book steered back to that I went …but why? and put it down for the rest of the day.
I judge crime novels by three metrics: 1. Do I like the detective? 2. Did the setting work for me (bonus points for not being London)? 3. Did I guess whodunnit?
And so to The Dry. 1. I liked but didn't love Aaron Faulk; as a rule I prefer female leads. 2. It was set in rural Australia, not somewhere I'd ever seen a mystery set before, so bonus bonus points. 3. Nope, hurrah.
I also judge crime novels on whether they have gratuitous sexual violence, and generally don't finish those that do. I DNF a lot of crime novels that way. Anyway, The Dry merely nodded in that direction, and was generally very good.
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is set in London in the 1880s, and features a Japanese watchmaker who can remember the future, a dispirited civil servant, and a rare female oxbridge graduate. It reminded me of Sorcerer to the Crown because of the time and place; it reminded me of Angelmaker because of the clockwork; it reminded me of Witches of New York because of the magical realism; it reminded me of The Night Circus because of the writing, and it wasn't nearly as good as any of them.
It was very much a damp squib.
Dark Money traces the origins of kochtopus in US politics and how citizens united gave it a shot of steroids. A straightforward and compulsively readable account of something that must have originally taken an army of forensic accountants to uncover. Stops before the 2016 election, so you can only imagine how much worse it got. Generally excellent if you are at all interested in this kind of thing
My thing with the Rivers of London series is that in small doses I really love Peter's first person narration, and in larger doses all the proselytising about London gets to me, so as a novella The Furthest Station was just right!
I don't know if there's much I can say about White Houses. I feel like you're either the sort of person who wants to read published Eleanor Roosevelt/Lorena Hickok RPF or you're not, and you already know where you fall on that. For what it's worth I'm on the yes, please side of the divide. I will also say that the writing was stunning.
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