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February 2013
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Poll #1893840
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 13

Pick one:

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Harry Styles
6 (46.2%)
Alain de Botton
7 (53.8%)

Pick one:

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Richard Dawkins
6 (46.2%)
Rowan Williams
7 (53.8%)


Context if context be needed be.

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Poll #1889669
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 16

Which would you rather fight?

View Answers
100 duck-sized horses
11 (68.8%)
1 horse-sized duck
5 (31.2%)

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Poll #1889469
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 12

Which piece would you vote off the island?

View Answers
Battleship
1 (8.3%)
Boot
0 (0.0%)
Car
0 (0.0%)
Hat
0 (0.0%)
Iron
5 (41.7%)
Scottie dog
3 (25.0%)
Thimble
1 (8.3%)
Wheelbarrow
2 (16.7%)

Poll #1886505
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 13

Pick one:

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Orville
9 (69.2%)
Cuddles
4 (30.8%)

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Driving down the M1 the other day, we got talking about the possibility of getting a new car. At one point, I said: "Well, I doubt we'll ever own a brand new car." My wife was taken aback by this. Turns out that whilst I don't know anyone who has ever bought a brand new car, her whole family do this.

Poll #1885462
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 26

Have you ever bought a brand new car?

View Answers
Yes
11 (42.3%)
No
15 (57.7%)

Do you view buying a brand new car as a typical activity?

View Answers
Yes
4 (15.4%)
No
22 (84.6%)

Tags:

Poll #1885312
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 22

Pick one:

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Eggs and sausage and a side of toast
9 (42.9%)
Coffee and a roll
5 (23.8%)
Hash browns, over easy
2 (9.5%)
Chilli in a bowl
5 (23.8%)

What kind of pies?

View Answers
Meat
12 (57.1%)
Sweet
7 (33.3%)
Summat else
1 (4.8%)
Pies? Do you think I'm some sort of commoner?
1 (4.8%)

Tags: ,

Poll #1871883
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 27

Pick one:

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Chips
12 (44.4%)
Lobster
3 (11.1%)
Salad
3 (11.1%)
Pickles
5 (18.5%)
Cheesecake
4 (14.8%)

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Poll #1827590
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 15

Pick one:

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Pablo Picasso
8 (53.3%)
Rothko
5 (33.3%)
Rilke
2 (13.3%)

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Poll #1785581
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 40

Do you eat the skins of baked potatoes?

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Yes
38 (95.0%)
No
2 (5.0%)


Context.

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Poll #1785567
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 37

Irene is pronounced:

View Answers
I-reen
32 (88.9%)
I-ree-nee
4 (11.1%)

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Poll #1784485
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 22

The instruction to a lazy student is:

View Answers
Show your work
9 (45.0%)
Show your working
11 (55.0%)

Tags:

World Book Night asked people to nominate their top ten books to create a list that would feed into the selection of next year’s titles to be given away. Here is the list, usual rules apply.

1 To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
2 Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen
3 The Book Thief Markus Zusak
4 Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte
5 The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger
6 The Lord of the Rings J. R. R. Tolkien
7 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams

8 Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte
9 Rebecca Daphne Du Maurier
10 The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini
11 American Gods Neil Gaiman
12 A Thousand Splendid Suns Khaled Hosseini
13 Harry Potter Adult Hardback Boxed Set J. K. Rowling
14 The Shadow of the Wind Carlos Ruiz Zafon
15 The Hobbit J. R. R. Tolkien
16 One Day David Nicholls
17 Birdsong Sebastian Faulks
18 The Help Kathryn Stockett
19 Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell
20 Good Omens Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

21 The Notebook Nicholas Sparks
22 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Stieg Larsson
23 The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood
24 The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
25 Little Women Louisa M. Alcott

26 Memoirs of a Geisha Arthur Golden
27 The Lovely Bones Alice Sebold
28 Atonement Ian McEwan
29 Room Emma Donoghue
30 Catch-22 Joseph Heller
31 We Need to Talk About Kevin Lionel Shriver
32 His Dark Materials Philip Pullman
33 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin Louis De Bernieres
34 The Island Victoria Hislop
35 Neverwhere Neil Gaiman
36 The Poisonwood Bible Barbara Kingsolver
37 The Catcher in the Rye J. D. Salinger
38 Chocolat Joanne Harris
39 Never Let Me Go Kazuo Ishiguro
40 The Five People You Meet in Heaven Mitch Albom
41 One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez
42 Animal Farm George Orwell

43 The Pillars of the Earth Ken Follett
44 The Eyre Affair Jasper Fforde
45 Tess of the D’Urbervilles Thomas Hardy
46 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Roald Dahl

47 I Capture the Castle Dodie Smith
48 The Wasp Factory Iain Banks
49 Life of Pi Yann Martel
50 The Road Cormac McCarthy
51 Great Expectations Charles Dickens
52 Dracula Bram Stoker
53 The Secret History Donna Tartt
54 Small Island Andrea Levy
55 The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett
56 Lord of the Flies William Golding
57 Persuasion Jane Austen
58 A Prayer for Owen Meany John Irving
59 Notes from a Small Island Bill Bryson
60 Watership Down Richard Adams
61 Night Watch Terry Pratchett
62 Brave New World Aldous Huxley
63 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time Mark Haddon

64 Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell Susanna Clarke
65 The Color Purple Alice Walker
66 My Sister’s Keeper Jodi Picoult
67 The Stand Stephen King
68 Cloud Atlas David Mitchell
69 The Master and Margarita Mikhail Bulgakov
70 Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy
71 Cold Comfort Farm Stella Gibbons
72 Frankenstein Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
73 The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Mary Ann Shaffer
74 The Picture of Dorian Gray Oscar Wilde
75 Gone with the Wind Margaret Mitchell
76 The Graveyard Book Neil Gaiman
77 The Woman in White Wilkie Collins
78 The Princess Bride William Goldman
79 A Suitable Boy Vikram Seth
80 Perfume Patrick Suskind
81 The Count of Monte Cristo Alexandre Dumas
82 The God of Small Things Arundhati Roy
83 Middlemarch George Eliot
84 Dune Frank Herbert
85 Wolf Hall Hilary Mantel
86 Stardust Neil Gaiman
87 Lolita Vladimir Nabokov
88 Midnight’s Children Salman Rushdie
89 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone J. K. Rowling
90 Shantaram Gregory David Roberts
91 The Remains of the Day Kazuo Ishiguro
92 Possession: A Romance A. S. Byatt
93 Tales of the City Armistead Maupin
94 Kafka on the Shore Haruki Murakami
95 The Magus John Fowles
96 The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas John Boyne
97 A Fine Balance Rohinton Mistry
98 Alias Grace Margaret Atwood
99 Norwegian Wood Haruki Murakami
100 The Wind-up Bird Chronicle Haruki Murakami

People really like Gaiman, don't they?

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Poll #1776585 Yoga
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 13

Annoying?

View Answers
Yes
5 (38.5%)
No
8 (61.5%)


Context.

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Poll #1753263
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 28

Will Obama be re-elected?

View Answers
Yes
22 (78.6%)
No
6 (21.4%)

Poll #1724991 Herbal
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 16

Which two of these ingredients are mentioned in the name of my tea?

View Answers
Hibiscus (45%)
3 (8.8%)
Rosehip (15%)
5 (14.7%)
Liquorice root (10%)
2 (5.9%)
Cranberries (10%)
8 (23.5%)
Apple (10%)
2 (5.9%)
Elderflowers (5%)
8 (23.5%)
Natural raspberry flavouring (5%)
6 (17.6%)

Tags:

Poll #1679277
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 40

Have you heard of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton?

View Answers
Yes
22 (55.0%)
No
18 (45.0%)

Have you read The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton?

View Answers
Yes
11 (28.2%)
No
28 (71.8%)

Tags: ,

Poll #1652613
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 31

Pick one:

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Russia
21 (72.4%)
Quatar
8 (27.6%)

Pick one:

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Ray Winston
14 (45.2%)
Sean Bean
17 (54.8%)

Pick one:

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Cowboys
9 (30.0%)
Aliens
21 (70.0%)

Pick one:

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Ra
7 (23.3%)
Zeus
5 (16.7%)
Odin
18 (60.0%)

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Poll #1652001
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 37

Christmas Day bird?

View Answers
Turkey
9 (25.0%)
Goose
5 (13.9%)
Chicken
0 (0.0%)
Duck
4 (11.1%)
Game bird
1 (2.8%)
Mammal
4 (11.1%)
Fish
0 (0.0%)
Nut roast, special flan or some other Christmassy vegetarian wrongness
6 (16.7%)
Just a normal meal, innit
4 (11.1%)
I really haven't thought that far ahead
3 (8.3%)

Tags:

Poll #1651996
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 42

Do you have an advent calendar?

View Answers
Yes
11 (26.2%)
No
31 (73.8%)

Did you get someone else an advent calendar?

View Answers
Yes
4 (9.8%)
No
37 (90.2%)

Are you expecting to have a stocking?

View Answers
Yes
13 (31.0%)
No
29 (69.0%)

Are you making a stocking for someone else?

View Answers
Yes
14 (34.1%)
No
27 (65.9%)

Tags:

Poll #1648326
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 33

I'd hit it:

View Answers
William Windsor
2 (6.5%)
Kate Middleton
13 (41.9%)
Nah, mate. Nah.
16 (51.6%)

Ever been Southamption?

View Answers
Yes
18 (54.5%)
No
15 (45.5%)

Ever been Scunthorpe?

View Answers
Yes
4 (12.1%)
No
29 (87.9%)

Have you ever been to Nando's?

View Answers
Yes
19 (57.6%)
No
14 (42.4%)

Tags: ,

Poll #1630257 There can be only one...
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 16

Pick one:

View Answers
Echinacea and raspberry
1 (7.1%)
Blackcurrent, ginseng and vanilla
3 (21.4%)
Cranberry, raspberry and elderflower
10 (71.4%)

Nettle tea:

View Answers
GOOD
8 (53.3%)
BAD
7 (46.7%)

Poll #1630209
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 34

Lady GaGa

View Answers
GOOD
20 (62.5%)
BAD
12 (37.5%)

Meat

View Answers
GOOD
28 (82.4%)
BAD
6 (17.6%)

Lady GaGa's meat dress

View Answers
GOOD
12 (37.5%)
BAD
20 (62.5%)

Gillets

View Answers
GOOD
11 (37.9%)
BAD
18 (62.1%)

Kedgeree

View Answers
GOOD
17 (54.8%)
BAD
14 (45.2%)

Andrew Marr

View Answers
GOOD
15 (48.4%)
BAD
16 (51.6%)

Mah jong

View Answers
GOOD
27 (84.4%)
BAD
5 (15.6%)

Gap years

View Answers
GOOD
18 (56.2%)
BAD
14 (43.8%)

Formica

View Answers
GOOD
10 (30.3%)
BAD
23 (69.7%)

Nick Cave

View Answers
GOOD
26 (78.8%)
BAD
7 (21.2%)

Special bonus Nick Cave question:

View Answers
Sapho
7 (29.2%)
Auden
17 (70.8%)

Poll #1628387 Gove
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 35

Tick any you have read:

View Answers
Dryden
14 (6.2%)
Pope
19 (8.4%)
Swift
26 (11.6%)
Byron
24 (10.7%)
Keats
27 (12.0%)
Shelley,
25 (11.1%)
Austen
33 (14.7%)
Dickens
31 (13.8%)
Hardy
26 (11.6%)

Tags: ,

Poll #1624974
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 6

Pick one:

View Answers
Tyrone Payton
1 (25.0%)
Chip Ellsworth III
3 (75.0%)

Pick one:

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Louis Winthorpe III
2 (33.3%)
Billy Ray Valentine
4 (66.7%)

Pick one:

View Answers
Sufjan Stephens
5 (100.0%)
Gucci Mane
0 (0.0%)

Tags:

#29 Swords & Dark Magic, edited by Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders

Read for review for SF Site.

#30 By George by Wesley Stace

Recommended by ajr as his book of 2009. My wife got about half way through before putting it down as boring but I'm not sure what her problem was. It is a family mystery told by characters from two different generations, one of whom is a ventriloquist's dummy. Perhaps slightly contrived but very satisfying.

I also hadn't realised that the author is John Wesley Harding. The singer, not the gun in every hand guy.

#31The Servants by MM Smith

Another of Michael Marshall Smith's transparent psuedonyms which in this instance announces his move into children's literature. I don't think MMS could write a bad book but he's certainly written a dull. Specifically it is a worthy but dull Young Boy's Cancer Primer.

#32 The Fire Gospels by Michel Faber

Another minor work from a major author. This is part of the Canongate Myths series and concerns the discovery of a fifth gospel that shows that there was no resurrection. It unfolds much as you would imagine and whilst Faber is always an impressive writer, I wish he had written something more substantial.

#33 Far North by Marcel Thoreux

As I mentioned to coalescent , I think this is probably a better novel than The City & The City but I would have still given the Arthur C Clarke Award to China Mieville. I'm not usually a fan of post-apocalypse novels - too limited - but this is wonderful, a sort of science fictional version of Primo Levi.

#34 The Rule Of Bone by Russell Banks

Coming of age is used quite casually to refer to pretty much all children's novels. This is the real thing though; a novel about a child who accidently and then deliberately sets out to discover the the right way to live. Bone lives in a small town in upstate New York. His interests are typical - weed, heavy metal and petty crime - but then he discovers Rastafarianism. Again, it can be a little contrived but it is immensely powerful as Bone opens himself up to a new way of understanding only to run up against the inherent limitations both of this philosophy and of the world itself.

Poll #1611862
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 14

Pick one:

View Answers
Shadow-crouching
2 (15.4%)
Edge-peering
3 (23.1%)
Edge-tracking
2 (15.4%)
Rim-teetering
1 (7.7%)
Crack-following
0 (0.0%)
Point-sniffing
1 (7.7%)
Gap-straddling
2 (15.4%)
Crevice-sniffing
1 (7.7%)
Sill-perching
0 (0.0%)
Rear-end-anchored-locomotion
1 (7.7%)
Wall-clinging
0 (0.0%)

Tags:

Books: March - July

Oh man, I have fallen so far behind.

#15 Pig Tales by Marie Darrieussecq (translated by Linda Coverdale)

A modern version of Candide and that is high praise indeed.

#16 The Magus by John Fowles

I think perhaps I was too old for this but I still loved it. More Fowles for me in the near future.

#17 The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by JK Jemisin

This was terrible and I'm amazed by the positive reception it received. I put this down to an unholy trinity of things the internet loves: epic fantasy, YA and fanfic.

#18 The Hidden by Tobias Hill

I love Hill but I think this is as close he has come to writing a by-the-numbers book. My reading experience was perhaps adversely effected by the fact it has been compared to The Magus and it is nothing like it (I understand where the comparison comes from but no). It also one of those unfortunate novels which has the author's hidden intent clearly signalled by the cover. In this case it is a huge cover quote from the Observer which describes it as "one of the finest novels written so far about our age of terror". Which rather gives the game away.

Anyway, this is Hill doing everything he does so well - a detached, gnomic protagonist; restrained, exacting imagery; an obsession with peeling away the surface - but it feels like he is repeating himself.

#19 A Guide To Fantasy Literature by Philip Martin

Read for review for SF Site.

#20 Scott Pilgrim 4
#21 Scott Pilgrim 5

More of the same. Which is a good thing.

#22 The Part About The Critics by Roberto Bolano

Yes, I hacked 2666 into its constituent novellas but I didn't make it passed the first one.

#23 Katja From The Punk Band

Read for review for SF Site.

#24 Monsters Of Men by Patrick Ness

Read for review for Strange Horizons.

#25 A Country You Have Never Seen by Joanna Russ

A collection of reviews, essays and letters. Great contents, duff book. Further thoughts forthcoming in a Vector editorial.

#26 Wetlands by Charlotte Roche

I absolutely loved this. Two fingers up to body horror and social conditioning. there is a nice profile of Roche here.

#27 Transition by Iain Banks

What I was looking for was a Big Idea novel. Transition seemed to offer that in the idea of transitioning itself but in the end it was just too familiar. Torture? Check. Incest? Check. Morally ambiguous instruments of a highly interventionist state that believes it knows best? Check. In fact, the Concern is nothing but the multiverse version of Contact. You could get a fair approximation of Transition by simply mashing Complicity with Use Of Weapons (despite all the chaff that Banks throws up at the beginning to disorient the reader).

There is also a note of late Ken MacLeod creeping in with the Christian Terrorist stuff. It is so obvious and cheap.

#28 Scott Pilgrim 6

More of the same but mostly a big old showdown, albeit with some backstory which I really liked. What about Kim Pine though?

I am mostly going to be doing Clarke reading from now on so updates will continue to be sporadic.

Poll #1567314 Inspired by CDC
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 36

Pick one:

View Answers
China Miéville
24 (66.7%)
Morrissey
12 (33.3%)

Tags:

Poll #1557459 In honour of Arthur C Clarke
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 21

Coolest?

View Answers
Salman Rushdie
7 (33.3%)
A Stormtrooper
14 (66.7%)

Tags:

Poll #1535836
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 41

Prefered Cheddar strength:

View Answers
Mild
4 (9.8%)
Medium
3 (7.3%)
Mature
9 (22.0%)
Extra mature
24 (58.5%)
I am some sort of non-Cheddar eating idiot
1 (2.4%)

Tags: ,

Poll #1529443
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 21

Punch is usually

View Answers
Hot
3 (14.3%)
Cold
18 (85.7%)

Tags: ,

Poll #1524679
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 31

Pick one:

View Answers
Neil Young, Blur, Bruce Springsteen
26 (86.7%)
U2, Muse, Stevie Wonder
4 (13.3%)

Avatar:

View Answers
GOOD
8 (32.0%)
BAD
17 (68.0%)

Which is the odd one out?

View Answers
Franz Ferdinand
5 (20.0%)
Bloc Party
11 (44.0%)
The Killers
9 (36.0%)

JD Salinger:

View Answers
GOOD
17 (63.0%)
BAD
10 (37.0%)

I am taking a leaf out of coalescent 's book and doing these on a monthly basis now. Films listed here.

#1 The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I devoured this in a day. However, as well as being highly readable, it is also highly manipulative. I recommend this piece by Abigail Nussbaum which compares the novel to The Knife Of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness.

#2 Going Postal by Terry Pratchett (read by Tony Robinson)

I listened to this in the car on a particularly tedious journey and it was a life saver. I am not massively keen on the story itself though, it is very much late Pratchett.

The only other audio book I've listened to was The Colour Of Magic which Tony Robinson also narrated so I imagine he must have done the whole series which is quite impressive. I don't massively rate him though. His range is fairly limited and I'm not at all convinced by some of his voices.

#3 If Not Now, When? by Primo Levi

I found myself curiously unmoved by this.

#4 The Secret History Of Science Fiction, edited James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel

Reviewed for SF Site.

Oh, and I haven't forgotten about this.

Poll #1516322
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 23

Pick one:

View Answers
Swede
12 (52.2%)
Turnip
11 (47.8%)

Tags:

#1 Doctors & Nurses by Lucy Ellman
#2 The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves by MT Anderson
#3 Journey Into Space by Toby Litt
#4 The Final Solution by Michael Chabon
#5 Astrotruckers by Mikael Niemi (translated by Laurie Thompson)
#6 You Don't Love Me Yet by Jonathan Lethem
#7 Fools' Experiments by Edward M Lerner
#8 The Falling Torch by Algis Budrys
#9 The Iron Thorn by Algis Budrys
#10 The Successor by Ismail Kadare (translated by David Bellos)
#11 The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway
#12 Billy by Albert French
#13 High John The Conqueror by Jim Younger
#14 Biohell by Andy Remic
#15 Epic by Conor Kostick
#16 Nights Of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton
#17 Scar Night by Alan Campbell
#18 In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield
#19 The Helmet Of Horror by Victor Pelevin (translated by Andrew Bromfield)
#20 The Moth Diaries by Rachel Klein
#21 A Thread Of Truth by Nina Allen
#22 Iron Angel by Alan Campbell
#23 God Of Clocks by Alan Campbell
#24 Most Buxom by Aishling Morgan
#25 Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban
#26 Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler
#27 The Knife Of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness *
#28 The Ask And The Answer by Patrick Ness
#29 Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui
#30 Martin Martin's On the Other Side by Mark Wernham
#31 The Seige Of Krishnapur by JG Farrell
#32 Mouse Guard: Autumn 1152 by David Petersen
#33 Saga by Conor Kostick
#34 Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry
#35 Glister by John Burnside
#36 Wireless by Charles Stross
#37 Captives Of Cheyner Close by Adriana Arden
#38 King Rat by China Miéville
#39 The City & The City by China Miéville
#40 Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve
#41 The Lord of the Sands of Time by Issui Ogawa
#42 All You Need Is KILL by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
#43 His Illegal Self by Peter Carey
#44The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan
#45 Fifty Key Figures In Science Fiction, edited by Mark Bould
#46 Dr Franklin's Island by Ann Halam
#47 Thirsty by MT Anderson
#48 Deaths Head: Maximum Offence by David Gunn.
#49 The Broken World by Tim Etchells
#50 The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod
#51 Underground by Tobias Hill
#52 The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
#53 The Crimson Petal And The White by Michel Faber
#54 The Terror by Dan Simmons
#55 The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson (translated by Reg Keeland)
#56 Sex In The System, edited by Cecilia Tan
#57 The Apple by Michel Faber
#58 A Matter Of Size by Robert W Birch
#59 The Year Of The Flood by Margaret Atwood
#60 The Rapture by Liz Jensen
#61 Witpunk, edited by Claude Lalumière and Marty Halpern

So that is substantially down on last year's 83 but actually an increase in the number of reviews I wrote. I will need a break from that. I wasn't hugely enthused about most of what I read last but I have written up my winners and losers on my blog. Finally, as always, some stats:

SF: 59.0% (down)
Books by women: 18.0% (up)
In translation: 11.5% (new)
YA: 13.1% (down)
Short story collections: 8.2% (up)
Graphic novels: 1.6% (new)
Non-fiction: 1.6% (down)

Whilst that is trending in the right direction I still want to read less SF and more women and I really need to sort my non-fiction reading out.

I watched 103 films for the first time this year, substantially up on last year's 69. The reason for this is that I took out a subscription with LoveFilm. This meant I saw lots of very bad films but I also saw some very good ones indeed. Full list:

1) Hancock - An astonishing bodge job of an brilliant premise. Half fun, half shit.
2) Quantum Of Solace - Opens with two excellent chases but then mostly settles down to Bourne-aping mediocrity.
3) There Will Be Blood - As good as everyone said.
4) Final Destination 3 - Now entirely an excuse for gruesome CGI deaths.
5) Zombie Strippers - Poor.
6) The Cottage - Moderately fun gangster flick that morphs into a horror film half way through. Not great but with some very funny bits.
7) Oscar And Lucinda - More like a filleted version of the novel than a film in its own right.
8) Shoot 'Em Up - Clive Owen kills some one with a carrot in the first five minutes. That is all you need to know.
9) Munich - The problem is that there is nothing this film can meaningfully say. It is also incredibly violent and features repeated male and female full frontal nudity so it is a bit surprising it got a 15 rating. The Spielberg effect.
10) Crank - Oh my fucking God!
11) The Golden Compass - Everyone said this was a bit rubbish but I thought it was pretty good. Obviously it has its work cut out shoehorning everything in which means it is a little like a string of set pieces but they are a good set pieces. Lyra's world is very well realised and the inversion of tough Lyra and damsel in distress Roger is nice.
12) The Beast With A Million Backs - Yeah, perhaps the feature length versions of Futurama weren't such a good idea.
13) Shrek 2 - Good! I wish I'd seen the first one.
14) War- Unfortunately, now that I've seen Crank all other movies starring The Statham are downhill. Bring on Crank 2!
15) Shrek - A bit slower than the sequel by neccessity but still a lot of fun.
16) Shrek The Third - The subversion has now become moralising. See also late Pratchett.
17) The Ruins - About as good as a film about an evil plant can be (ie not very good.)
18) Gomorrah - Almost abstract portrait of organised crime emphasising its petty and sordid nature.
19) Slither - Knowing you are making a silly monster film doesn't necessarily make your silly monster film any good.
20) The Host - I was expecting something a lot more mainstream and a lot less, er, Korean. A frankly bizarre collision of monster movie and family drama. Lots of nice touches but perhaps too odd.
21) Fantastic Four - Not very good. I did quite like Chris Evans.
22) Shadowboxer - I think I might never watch a film about hitmen ever again. This was a particularly bizarre instance of the subgenre though: a collision between brutal thriller and soft porn romance with a constant I R Serious Artist score.
23) 1974 - Lynchian.
24) Barry Lyndon - Enjoyable but vastly long. It is also rather hampered by some duff acting and poorly aged actors. Beautifully composed though.
25) Crash - Despite being a big fan of both the book and Cronenberg it took me until now to see this. Inevitably it is a curious little film but I don't really think it captures the essense of the book. It is too knowing, at times it strays into the camp and there is an irritatingly intrusive score throughout that constantly judders you out of immersion. It is utterly staggering to think this film was actually banned.
26) Hero - I'm not sure they really managed to pull off the structure and I know it was deliberate that the fight scenes were secondary but they still looked it. Nice use of colour though.
27) 1980 - Harrowing
28) Revolver - A huge mess which must have completely mystified Richie's fan base.
29) Old Boy - Extraordinary revenge film but still a revenge film.
30) No Man's Land - As a satire this much too broad and even shades into melodrama. Nice idea but no.
31) Watchmen - Crass.
32) Die Hard 4.0 - Surprisingly good! Obviously very silly but well put together (except for the shark jumping bit at the end).
33) The Others - Good child actors, genuinely creepy in parts but it is a trick too clumsily executed.
34) The Orphanage - Perhaps a mistake to watch this straight after The Others since it shares the same strengths and flaws. It is a rather better made film though.
35) Tales From Earthsea - Long, tedious and hammy in the way of many Studio Gibli films. Admittedly I can't remember anything of the plot of the Earthsea novels but I don't remember them being like this.
36) Let The Right One In - Tragic.
37) Babylon AD - This was slated by everyone, not least its own director. Turns out it is a perfectly decent and immensely stylish SF action flick.
38) Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within - Incomprehesible hippy bullshit.
39) Couscous - Excellent, intimate slice of realist cinema set in an immigrant community (presumably Algerian) in an ecomonically depressed French port. The ending is either ambiguous, obvious or infuriating depending on your view point.
40 Bender's Game - The best Futurama film so far but still not up to the levels of the show.
41) Twilight - I actually quite enjoyed this despite the ludicrous girliness of it. It certainly made me want to find out what happened next (which is, of course, the whole point). There were many comments about the hotness of Robert Pattinson but he just looks wrong to me. Look at his eyebrows!
42) Donkey Punch - Fairly routine take on the old accidental death > cover up > mass murder plot.
43) Mutant Chronicles - Total shit.
44) Pineapple Express - I should have been stoned.
45) X2 - As superhero sequels go this was pretty good. And I want to see Wolverine even though I know it will be balls.
46) Way Of The Gun - I like the idea of small time criminals who are professionals rather than fuck ups but this is a pretty cheap and self-important film.
47) Death Race - Jason Statham drives around in an armoured car killing people. Lovejoy has his back.
48) Kung Fu Panda - Absolutely awesome.
49) I'm Not There - For the first hour or so I thought this could well be my film of the year. Unfortunately when we get into the extended Cate Blanchett section it became clear
that it wouldn't. Not because Blanchett is anything less than excellent but because it is at this point Haynes loses control of the picture.
50) Paprika - Bonkers. Very impressive in terms of visuals, direction and score, although as always hampered by the characters, dialogue and acting (a half and half split between the Japanese original and the American translation). It is also fantastic in a way I couldn't get my head round (and which I suspect is explained in the book) which made it a little unsatisfying.
51) Black Sheep - Horror comedy but without either of those ingredients.
52) Inkheart - Interesting in flashes but slow, dull, poorly thought out and never does enough with its brilliant premise. Fraser is absolutely leaden in the lead role and Bettany gets an undeserved happy ending.
53) Transporter 3 - Rendered utterly superfluous by the arrival of Crank.
54) Jindabyne - I now realise I've already seen this but I can't for the life of me remember when. It is very well made but perhaps not as ambitious as it could have been.
55) Bolt - Nice idea but ruined by Disney smaltz.
56) Somers Town - Very much Meadows lite, complete with soft and fuzzy happy ending.
57) The Lookout - Excellently performances and cleverly constructed but perhaps too lacking in consequences.
58) 300 - Rarr! Synder isn't what you would call a good director but after this and Watchmen I am fascinated to see what he will do next.
59) Burn After Reading - An odd film: a comedy that not only doesn't have any jokes, it doesn't have any comic writing. This is an entirely deadpan farce so I'm not surprised its reception was so mixed.
60) Barton Fink - A pretty minor part of the Coens canon, to be honest.
61) Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince - The beginning of the end of the franchise.
62) Swimming Pool - Silly Anglo-French "it was all just a dream" drama.
63) Waltz With Bashir - Amazing blend of documentary, autobiography and fiction. Film of the year so far.
64) Outpost - Not just ghosts, not just zombie ghosts but Nazi zombie ghosts. Pretty good actually.
65) Mamma Mia - It took me a good half an hour to getting into the flow of this. It probably helps if you are pissed out of your mind (as the cast clearly were).
66) Zatoichi (2003) - Weird, boring samurai pantomime from Takeshi Kitano.
67) Moon - Entirely welcome thoughtful SF film but slightly disappointing in its conventional conclusion.
68) The Spiderwick Chronicles - Actually pretty good, although the family elements were much more interesting than the rather familiar fantasy elements.
69) Ravenous - Wonderfully knowing cannibal chew 'em up. Robert Carlyle hams it up, Guy Pearce plays it straight and the modern score by Nyman and Albarn works surprisingly well.
70) Vanilla Sky Really quite bold and vivid for most of the film but with a hamfisted last 15 minutes. I will have to see the original. Got me wondering about the fact there is nothing Tom Cruise can do to escape the fact he is Tom Cruise. Not this, not Magnolia, not even Tropic Thunder.
71) Push - A nice take on mutant powers which balances the inevitable action sequences with some interesting performances. It was probably sunk by its overly complicated plot which was too compressed for film. Would have worked well on TV as the Heroes that actually made sense.
72) Hellboy 2 - Less a film than a series of strung together set pieces. Luckily del Toro has a great visual eye and understands that a set piece doesn't necessarily mean an explosion. Still...
73) Inglourious Basterds - Audacious, mad and slightly brilliant.
74) The New World - Monumentally measured. It has been criticised for its glacial pace but that is the point. A beautiful film but it perhaps suffers from its closeness to The Thin Red Line, Malik's previous film.
75) Domino - Kiera Knightley is a bounty hunter. Domino is the most preposterous film ever made.
76) The Hurt Locker - Extremely tense and effective bomb disposal drama. There are slightly too many moments when you are reminded that this is a film and the topless wrestling bordered on self-parody but overall very good.
77) In The Loop - Obviously I liked the swears but mostly I just found it depressing.
78) Franklyn - Quite an interesting mental fantasy but it becomes overtaken by some guff about the interconnectivity of souls and culminates with the most appalling final scene I can remember witnessing.
79) Outlander - I don't know why I thought this would be anything less than utter tosh.
80) Star Trek - Utterly pointless psudeo-parody remake. Very little gravitas indeed.
81) Terminator Salvation - Even without knowing the script had been fucked with you can tell. Plus the same boring ending as always.
82) Wolverine - I should have just watched the trailer.
83) Hercules - Weak plot and animation but good vocal performances.
84) The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor - Oh dear, a lot of good will squandered here. Maria Bello is terrible as Rachel Weiss's understudy.
85) The Taking Of Pelham 123 - Second and completely superfluous remake of the minor classic. The plot is lazily simple and underdeveloped, it is more a collage of bits from other movies with Scott pissing about with various visual effects over the top (as always).
86) Knowing - A really weird blend of horror, science fiction and religious fantasy. Cage gives a characteristically hammy performance but there are some moments of subtlety under this. The Proyas verdict is still out.
87) Aliens Versus Monsters - Tries too hard and wobbled a bit with the kid/adult divide but nicely oddball.
88) Ice Age 3: Rise Of The Dinosaurs - Getting a bit stale now and again struggles with being a bit too knowing. The show was comprehensively stolen by Simon Pegg.
89) Hunger - Beautifully composed film about Bobby Sands and the hunger strikes. McQueen makes a very impressive transition from visual artist to director.
90) Step Brothers - I was hoping Ferrell and Reilly would be repeating their genius partnership from Talladega Nights. It isn't quite at that level but it is extremely funny in parts.
91) Blindness - I guess I am just not a fan of fables. A mysterious outbreak of viral blindness is one thing but being singularly unable to realistically extrapolate from it is another. Coupled with this there is Danny Glover's irksome voiceover and the bizarrely cheerful ending.
92) Jar City - Decent enough thriller but it gets most of its edge from the fact Icelanders appear slightly alien to English eyes.
93) Fantastic Mr Fox - When I first heard about this I thought it was a brilliant idea. Then I went off it and then I saw the trailer which
turned me off completely. Turns out it is actually brilliant. Pure Wes Anderson but in a good way. Superb at conjuring up a world that is very
American, very English and not at all Transatlantic. Excellent turn by Michael Gambon too.
94) Get Carter - Much grimmer than I was expecting, I didn't realise Caine was playing such an antihero.
95) Robots - Indifferent children's film. Some nice design, Robin Williams chews the scenery, not much to say.
96) A Serious Man - Wow. It continues the path started by Burn After Reading but takes it to the next level. Simultaneously the Coens' most personal and opaque film, I am still trying to come to grips with it. I haven't felt this way since watching Hidden.
97) The Green Butchers - Danish comedy about cannibal butchers. Great central performances and some really funny moments but it can't really sustain itself for a whole film.
98) Synecdoche, New York - A masterpiece.
99) District 13 - Good fun French action flick which does enough to distract you from the holes.
100) Where The Wild Things Are - Spike Jonze chose to direct this over Synecdoche, New York and I'm glad because Charlie Kaufman really needed to make that film himself. This films strikes me as the best full-length version you could do of the source material but I'm still not convinced a full-length version was needed. Makes an interesting compare and contrast to Fantastic Mr Fox which I think succeeds rather better.
101) Drag Me To Hell - Dire "horror" "comedy" in which Sam Raimi pretends it is the Eighties.
102) Prince Caspian - Far more handsomely made than The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe but ends up as nothing more than a Lord Of The Rings knock off.
103) Sherlock Holmes - Not much like Sherlock Holmes but enjoyable entertainment (Watson is revised more than Holmes and this is welcome). Doesn't quite overcome the problems of pacing and then revealing the secrets of the plot.

These were all logged at 52filmchallenge . It was actually hard to pick the best films of the year so here is a top ten and ten other very good films. Further awards for winners and losers on my blog.

Top five:

1) Waltz With Bashir
2) Synecdoche, New York
3) Hunger
4) I’m Not There
5) Gomorrah

Bubbling under:

There Will Be Blood
Crank
Kung Fu Panda
1980
Old Boy
Couscous
Let The Right One In
A Serious Man
Inglourious Basterds
Fantastic Mr Fox

It is a Christmas miracle; no one on my Flist has posted about Doctor Bloody Who! Presumably everyone is waiting for the second part but I am (thankfully) going to miss it so I will post my review now:

It is telling that the acting, script and production values for the BBC's preceding programme were of notably higher quality than for Doctor Bloody Who. That programme was The Gruffalo.

The final two of the year...

#60 The Rapture by Liz Jensen

Read for review for Strange Horizons.

#61 Witpunk, edited by Claude Lalumière and Marty Halpern

Discussed here. Dire.

My winners and losers of the year are up on my blog.

Poll #1498766
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 29

Pick one:

View Answers
Clocks
24 (82.8%)
Moped
5 (17.2%)

Pick one:

View Answers
Wine
13 (44.8%)
Cheese
15 (51.7%)
Toiletries
1 (3.4%)

Pick one:

View Answers
Chips
17 (58.6%)
Peas
4 (13.8%)
Pudding
2 (6.9%)
Gravy
6 (20.7%)

Harry Ramsden's!

View Answers
Yes
9 (31.0%)
No
20 (69.0%)

Tags:

Poll #1493870
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 33

Do you have an advent calendar?

View Answers
Yes
10 (30.3%)
No
23 (69.7%)

#56 Sex In The System, edited by Cecilia Tan

(Belatedly) read for review for SF Site. Discussion of the individual stories here.

#57 The Apple by Michel Faber

This is a sort of rarities and B-sides collection to accompany The Crimson Petal And The White. I've often been curious about such a thing and Crimson is the kind of novel which deserves one. I'm not sure if I would recommend this collection if you haven't read they other but it does flesh out Faber's world in interesting ways.

#58 A Matter Of Size by Robert W Birch

Absolutely bloody awful "erotic" thriller. Just terrible.

#59 The Year Of The Flood by Margaret Atwood

Read for review for Strange Horizons.

Here is the ideal gift for you:



A bargain at £29.95. Brought to you by John Lewis, purveyor of satanic Christmas trees.

Poll #1477907
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 8

Pick one:

View Answers
The Battleship
3 (37.5%)
The Rusty Hook
3 (37.5%)
The Parrot's Beak
1 (12.5%)
The Cornerstone
1 (12.5%)

Tags: ,

Poll #1477100
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 42

Which of these have you attended?

View Answers
Wedding
2 (4.8%)
Funeral
0 (0.0%)
Bar/Bat Mitzvah
0 (0.0%)

If you've attended a funeral, what type?

View Answers
Burial
5 (12.5%)
Cremation
12 (30.0%)
That one where they melt you in a giant washing machine
0 (0.0%)
Sky burial
0 (0.0%)

If you've attended a cremation, what happened to the ashes?

View Answers
Scattered somewhere special
3 (9.1%)
Put in an urn
4 (12.1%)
Left at the crematorium
6 (18.2%)
Dunno
6 (18.2%)

Where would you want your ashes to be scattered?

Tags:

Despite reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (literal translation of the title: Men Who Hate Women) years after everyone else, it appears that it was actually a timely choice. The Guardian picks up on a short post by Jessica Mann:

Authors must be free to write and publishers to publish. But critics must be free to say they have had enough. So however many more outpourings of sadistic misogyny are crammed on to the bandwagon, no more of them will be reviewed by me.

Tags: ,

Poll #1476017
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 36

The best approximation of the colour khaki is

View Answers
Sand
20 (55.6%)
Olive Green
16 (44.4%)

Tags:

#55 The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson (translated by Reg Keeland)

I had somehow mistaken this for The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. I'm not sure how. Instead it is a standard airport thriller which somehow sold 12m copies (as the jacket loudly trumpets). Larsson was a journalist and it shows in his prose and the translations is competent at best and prone to bizarrely archaic choices ("anon", "forsooth", "gaol" instead of jail.) It is not the unpromising writing which is the problem though, rather the idiotic plot. I know that being preposterous is de rigeur for the modern commercial thriller but still.

In one thread, financial journalist Mickael Blomvist has been chosen (for no real reason) to solve an old crime. Do you think this amateur will succeed where 40 years of police and family investigation have failed? In the other thread, Lisbet Salander is also drawn into the case. She is the world's greatest private investigator because she is also the world's greatest hacker. She is also - at 24 - a ward of the state because apparently in Sweden you can forfeit your human rights by being a bit moody as a child. Here is Larsson in full-on journo mode (it goes on for a couple of pages but I can't be bothered to quote much of it):

In Sweden approximately 4,000 people are under guardianship... Taking away a person's control of her own life - meaning her bank account - is one of the greatest infringements a democracy can impose, especially when it is applied to young people.
The fact an ultra-competent investigator for a major security firm allows this situation to persist is ridiculous. It becomes even more ridiculous and extremely distasteful when she allows herself to be raped by her guardian in exchange for access to her bank account. This goes against everything we know about her skills (she could easily hack the account) and, more importantly, her character (she is a fighter, "she was never passive). This lack of passivity then manifests itself in an elaborate revenge that requires her to be (much more brutally) raped again. Larsson obviously has strong views about the endemic nature of violence towards women - it is a thread through the novel - but shoehorning this revenge fantasy into the novel gratuitous, grotesque and offensive. It makes him complicit. I almost stopped reading at this point but I was on a long, slow bus journey. It did prepare me for further childish fantasies of agency later on though.

These occur after Blomvist and Salander meet halfway through the novel. Obviously, they immediately get it on. They also start to make some progress on what has until now been a very slow investigation. Turns out there is a serial killer involved which is a shocking twist for a big fat thriller like this. Weirdly though this main plot with its requisite implausibilities is wrapped up pretty quickly leaving Larsson to concentrate on a framing plot about Blomvist's journalistic career and the financial health of the magazine that he (like Larsson) works for. He is presumably under the mistaken impression that this is just as exciting as unravelling a decades long string of secret ritualistic sex murders.

53 The Crimson Petal And The White by Michel Faber

A monster (800+ pages) and hence taken on holiday. Although it flags slightly two thirds of the way through it is otherwise immensely nimble and readable for such a hefty volume. I've often been heard to defame the pre-war novel as false and Faber's chronicle is infinitely more preferable to me to than Hardy or Dickens. I'm not especially familiar with the period but Faber is clearly playing with these novels to some degree and piss and spunk massively improve them.

And it has a happy ending! For the final couple of hundred pages Morrisey was echoing through my mind - "please, please, let me get what I want, Lord knows, it would be the first time - and yes, Sugar did. I might want bodily fluids but I am also a big softy.

#54 The Terror by Dan Simmons

The other side of the coin to Faber. This is another huge cod-Victorian novel but even to a non-expert it rings utterly false. Adam Roberts (an expert) details this in his Strange Horizons review, along with its tedious repetition and (more forgiveable) its breast obsession (although he seems to have liked it).

As in his story ‘On K2 with Kanakaredes’, Simmons takes an inherently dramatic situation (then mountaineering, here the Franklin expedition) and adds very little by introducing a speculative element. Presumably in both cases it was done entirely with an eye toward potential markets. In this case the spec fic aspect is that Inuit mythology is true, although this is only revealed very late on, after the novel has completely reconfigured its shape. Unlike Jeff Vandermeer I am not at all sure that this literalisation avoids treating the main Inuit character as a magical savage.

#51 Underground by Tobias Hill

You can tell this is a debut novel and you can tell he is a poet (excess of simile) but it is still bloody good (piercingly accurate simile). Extremely confident and ambitious for a writer who was still in his twenties.

I think this means I have read all Hill's fiction apart from his latest one, The Hidden, which must be out in paperback around now. Bring it on.

#52 The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Really enjoyed this. Probably shouldn't have been surprised since I've enoyed all his other work but this got lukewarm notices and I wouldn't have read it if the missus hadn't brought it on holiday. It is no different from any other Gaiman novel - or, indeed, any other children's novel - but it is very nicely done. (Gaiman himself describes this a "work for all ages" but he is deluding himself. The audience will be wide but it is a kid's book.)

And that is fifty two. As a treat, here is a poll:

Poll #1474693
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 9

Prefered illustrations to The Graveyard Book

View Answers
Chris Riddell
4 (44.4%)
Dave McKean
5 (55.6%)

#49 The Broken World by Tim Etchells

I had hoped to review this but in the end I didn't have much to say. The idea is that the novel is structured as a walkthrough for computer game called Broken World. However, in order to achieve what Etchells wants, he has to make his game utterly unbelieveable (ie totally non-linear and randomised) and his walkthrough similarly so. Instead it is more ruminations on the narrator's life and the imaginary game. Which is of course the point but knowing so doesn't make it any more compelling. Considering his background this was a bit of a disappointment.

#50 The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod

This, on the other hand, I din't expect to like. And I didn't.

After The Execution Channel MacLeod stays with the war on terror but this time filters it through religion rather than politics. It is just as problematic as his previous novel and it is just as irritatingly glib as pretty much the whole of his body of work. Like Charles Stross, he really needs to learn when in jokes are appropriate. More on this - and some comments from MacLeod - on my blog with this.

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