Summer reads in brief

Well, it’s sure not summer anymore, but in my defence it still felt like summer until last week when I finished the last of these books, so I figure that counts!

The Quiet War

The Quiet War
by Paul McAuley

I’d been intending for a while to read one of McAuley’s novels, having really liked short stories of his I had come across, and this was Tim’s recommendation. It’s a book about war, and the politics leading up to war, which isn’t my favourite subject matter, but I tried to put that to one side. The book is set in a future post global warming with human settlements throughout the solar system. These “Outers” make surgical changes to themselves to suit the very different environments in which they live and are also supporters of science for science’s sake. The Earthlings, meanwhile, have turned to science to regenerate their planet but heavily restrict the science that can be done. There is ongoing tension that many believe is inevitably going to become war. War is prodded along by surreptitious activities on both sides. Chapters alternate between following various key characters in this space opera, though the reasons why they are key is clearer in some cases than others. There are beautiful descriptions of moving through space – McAuley manages to combine poetic language with scientific accuracy (or believability in the case of science/tech we don’t currently have). I loved the characters, even those who were thoroughly nasty. However, I did find the gradual build-up of political tensions in the first half of the book a little too slow.

“Jupiter’s fat disc dominated the black sky. Stars were flung with careless extravagance everywhere else, thousands of them, hard untwinkling lights of every colour.”

Published 2008 by Gollancz.

Source: Borrowed from Tim.

Paintwork
by Tim Maughan

I picked up this book about a thousand years ago at BristolCon, where I bought it from the author after hearing him speak in one of the sessions and thinking he sounded interesting. It was a good call and this is by some way the best self-published work I’ve yet read. It’s made up of three linked short stories set in a future where virtual reality software and gaming are the centre of the economy. Not being much of a gamer myself, this isn’t an obvious appeal for me but I found it really enjoyable. Maughan paints a believable but very different vision of the future. The book starts in Bristol, very much rooted in the local graffiti culture, and works outward from there.

“He skulked around the city in the early hours, darting under robotic surveillance cameras with a ninja-like bandanna over his face and a clanking knapsack full of car-repair spray cans on his back, his hands stained with multicoloured rainbows.”

Published 2011 by Tim Maughan Books.

Source: Bought direct from the author at BristolCon.

Improper Stories
by Saki

This collection of short stories are both separate and linked, as there are some recurring characters and clear recurring themes. They’re comic pieces set in upper class England in the very early 20th century and are very much comedy of manners a la P G Wodehouse or Dorothy Parker. The action tends to be slight; really it’s all about the drawing room conversations, about the character who shocks or outwits the rest. The opening story is about two children on a train whose governess is trying and failing to entertain them with moral tales. A stranger in their carriage shuts them up with a silly and morally outrageous tale, delighting the children and shocking the governess. That’s the whole story, and a typical example. I found them very funny to begin with but to be honest, the same joke over and over wore a little thin, even spacing out reading them to one or two per week.

“Her letter of thanks for the gift of a tiger-claw brooch was a model of repressed emotions. The luncheon-party she declined; there are limits beyond which repressed emotions become dangerous.”

Originally published between 1904 and 1914.
This collection published 2010 by Daunt Books.

Source: Amazon.

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