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February 2013
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Back Viewing 50 - 100 Forward

#47 Thirsty by MT Anderson

In the spring, there are vampires in the wind. People see them scuffling along by the side of country roads. At night, they move through empty forests. They do not wear black, of course, but things they have taken off bodies or bought on sale. The news says they are mostly in the western part of the state, where it is lonely and rural. My father claims we have them this year because it is mild winter, but he may be thinking of tent-caterpillars.
This is an awesome opening paragraph but it does hint at the odd tragi-comic tone that swings back and forth throughout the novel. In the end that is probably its undoing but it still an interesting and impressive book. For start it is a teen vampire novel that is fresh and interesting, no small feat. It also sticks to remorselessly to the rules of the universe it creates, holding its nerve in a way plenty of novels (particularly YA) would not. Between this and Octavian Nothing, any Anderson novel is a must buy.

#48 Death's Head: Maximum Offence by David Gunn.

Like most people I like a good trashy novel. Unfortunately whilst trash is common, good trash is not. For some reason the first Death's Head novel clicked for me. It was not a trick that could be repeated though, this is more like the sort of bilge Andy Remic writes. It also has this weird habit of having a miniature stroke between chapters; the first time this happens you flick back to see what you missed (nothing), the second time you assume you will be caught up with a flashback (you aren't), the third time you just go with the flow. The flow being the next person getting knifed in the head.

Oh, and considering how the first novel started and given that it is called Maximum Offence it could have stood to be a lot more offensive.

#44The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan

Morgan's first fantasy novel and a really rather odd one. It fits alongside Market Forces, mixing sincere and righteous anger with what can only be pisstaking. It is also an uneasy balance of the brutal and the emo.

The Steel Remains wears its influences to previous novelists, particularly Poul Anderson and Michael Moorcock, openly and there is a fascinating Torque Control thread about the novel which notes that the protagonist fucks then kills Elric. Adam Roberts also notes it is all about the Eighties.

More on the emo nature of the novel at my blog and I loo forward to the next one.

#45 Fifty Key Figures In Science Fiction, edited by Mark Bould, Andrew M Butler, Adam Roberts and Sherryl Vint

Read for review for Strange Horizons.

#46 Dr Franklin's Island by Ann Halam

A modern re-telling of The Island Of Doctor Moreau with teen protagonists. Nicely written but pretty thin; it is just over 200 pages and feels more like a short story.

#40 Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve

My dad bought this in a bookshop in Tintagel that only sold books about King Arthur. It takes a unromantic view of the mythmaking: Arthur is the strong man who Mryddin seeks to unite Britain behind in order to finally to oust the Saxons. In fact, the story is less interested in Arthur himself than in gender roles and the life chances of British people after the fall of Rome. Good stuff.

#41 The Lord of the Sands of Time by Issui Ogawa
#42 All You Need Is KILL by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

Read for review for Strange Horizons.

#43 His Illegal Self by Peter Carey

Well, what can you say? As far as I am concerned Peter Carey is the greatest living writer. This isn't quite in his top rank but it is still very good.

OMG! What does this crazy stuff has to do with Lady Gaga? I luv her!!

The symbolism surrounding Lady Gaga is so blatant that one might wonder if it’s all a sick joke. Illuminati symbolism is becoming so clear that analyses like this one becomes a simple exercise of pointing out the obvious. Her whole persona (whether its an act or not) is a tribute to mind control, where being vacuous, incoherent and absent minded becomes a fashionable thing.


Lady GaGa

GOOD
11(55.0%)
BAD
9(45.0%)

Are zombies automatons?

Yes
6(20.0%)
No
24(80.0%)

Is Dracula a wizard?

Yes
2(6.9%)
No
27(93.1%)

Who would win in a fight?

Ian McKellan
14(42.4%)
Richard Harris
4(12.1%)
Michael Gambon
15(45.5%)

#35 Glister by John Burnside

Disappointing. Some further thoughts over at my blog.

#36 Wireless by Charles Stross

Read for review for Vector. Some other thoughts.

#37 Captives Of Cheyner Close by Adriana Arden

I'm being made to shit golf balls, she thought dizzily. Who'd have thought it?
Indeed. This is another Nexus novel and if anything it is worse than the last one. Trial and error is definitely not going to work with this genre.

#38 King Rat by China Miéville

Another disappointment, although something of an expected one.

#39 The City & The City by China Miéville

Read for review for SF Site.

Have you seen any of the following on the public highway? (Hippy festivals or old timey bicycle conventions don't count.)

Unicycle
0(0.0%)
Tandem
2(5.4%)
Penny farthing
0(0.0%)
Those stupid recumbant bikes
2(5.4%)
Those really stupid tall bikes
0(0.0%)

Which is cooler?

Hovercraft
11(32.4%)
Hydrofoil
12(35.3%)
Ekranoplan
11(32.4%)

Pick one:

Clive Sinclair
12(35.3%)
Clive James
10(29.4%)
Clive Anderson
12(35.3%)

Tags:

Have you ever seen a dune buggy in real life?

Yes
12(41.4%)
No
17(58.6%)

What about

Snowmobile
1(3.8%)
Jetski
4(15.4%)
Segway
3(11.5%)

What stupid vehicle have I forgotten?

Tags:

The last poll worked out well so I thought I would try it again:

What should I read next?

The Weight Of Numbers by Simon Ings
4(13.3%)
The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall
1(3.3%)
Glimmering by Elizabeth Hand
0(0.0%)
Drowned Towers by George Turner
1(3.3%)
The Tough Guide To Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones
2(6.7%)
Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes
4(13.3%)
The Unusual Life Of Tristam Smith by Peter Carey
0(0.0%)
Doomsday by Connie Willis
1(3.3%)
Viriconium by M John Harrison
5(16.7%)
The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson
2(6.7%)

Tags: ,

Session ID: 893
Title: Re-reading
Description: There is a school of thought that re-reading is a juvenile habit, something children demand as a way to gain comfort. Yet most fans re-read. All critics do. What is it we gain from re-reading, do some texts bear more re-reading than others? And does this notion of comfort reading have any validity?


Have you ever heard of that school of thought?

Yes
6(12.5%)
No
42(87.5%)

Does that school of thought have any validity?

Yes
9(19.1%)
No
38(80.9%)

Do some texts bear more re-reading than others?

Yes
46(95.8%)
No
2(4.2%)


I couldn't think of a poll question for "Yet most fans re-read. All critics do." but that deserves some examination as well.

Tags: ,

#33 Saga by Conor Kostick

Fantasies of agency are common but they are particularly common in SF and in YA SF even more so. This is not necessarily a good thing.

I really enjoyed Epic, Kostick's previous novel, but this fails to repeat the trick. Chiefly this is because although both novels deal with groups of teens overthrowing a malign political authority in this case they only succeed because two of them happen to handily have superhero powers. It is also ineptly structured and less original in its setting: it shows a heavy debt to Scott Westerfield's Pretties series and anticipates Cory Doctorow's Little Brother.

#34 Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry

Another, more conventional fantasy of agency: Joe Ledger is the world's greatest cop, soldier and martial artist. When Big Pharma and Al Queda unite to unleash a zombie plague on the world, who ya gonna call? Utter tosh, obviously. Cheers to grahamsleight for keeping me up to date on trashy holiday reads though.

#31 The Seige Of Krishnapur by JG Farrell

I'm not sure what all the fuss is about, to be honest.

It is a good novel certainly and very witty but the relentlessly knowing tone is tiring. The uneven half satirical, half serious characters don't help either. Mostly though it doesn't seem any different to a lot of historical novels told from the late Twentieth Century perspective. Perhaps it was more radical when it was first published thirty years ago?

#32 Mouse Guard: Autumn 1152 by David Petersen

I've been meaning to check out this graphic novel for a while but unfortunately it was a big disappointment. The art is beautiful and the concept - epic fantasy but with mice as the sentient species - is good but the execution is sorely lacking. Petersen is really an artist rather than a writer and the story is weak, haphazard and underwritten. There is nothing epic here, just a couple of very slender episodes in a story that is over before it begins.

#27 The Knife Of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Re-read in preparation for reading the sequel.

#28 The Ask And The Answer by Patrick Ness

Read for review for Strange Horizons.

#29 Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui

Read for review for Strange Horizons.

#30 Martin Martin's On the Other Side by Mark Wernham

Fun but not fun enough. Read this review by Adam Roberts.

John Bercow

GOOD
6(19.4%)
BAD
25(80.6%)

Three quarter length trousers

GOOD
8(25.8%)
BAD
23(74.2%)

Star Trek

GOOD
18(52.9%)
BAD
16(47.1%)

Dinner jackets

GOOD
22(64.7%)
BAD
12(35.3%)

Iain Sinclair

GOOD
19(61.3%)
BAD
12(38.7%)

Wimbledon

GOOD
17(51.5%)
BAD
16(48.5%)

The Lottery

GOOD
8(23.5%)
BAD
26(76.5%)

Barry Lyndon

GOOD
9(31.0%)
BAD
20(69.0%)

Summer cyclists

GOOD
20(60.6%)
BAD
13(39.4%)

Joss Whedon

GOOD
24(72.7%)
BAD
9(27.3%)

Pick one:

Monkeys
20(57.1%)
Goldfish
6(17.1%)
Caterpillars
9(25.7%)

Tags:

Have you ever worn a bowtie?

Yes
36(75.0%)
No
12(25.0%)

Tags: ,

Pick one:

Ethics
24(57.1%)
Enthusiasm
17(40.5%)

Tags:

#26 Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler

Well, I'm glad I followed your advice on this.

Often if you visit genre-changing material considerably after the fact it seems tired and dull in the wake of the evolution it has triggered. If anything the opposite is true here; for all the imitation very little since has approached the quality of the original. Farewell, My Lovely is peerlees. The prose dazzles, literally every page is quoteable. If there is any flaw it is the traditional "this is what just happened" final chapter. I would be happier if everything was left unexplicated since it is not as if you are reading for the plot. This is a minor point against a masterpiece.

Since I've now reached the halfway point to 52 I thought I'd take the opportunity to list by top ten of the year so far:

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves by MT Anderson
You Don't Love Me Yet by Jonathan Lethem
The Successor by Ismail Kadare (translated by David Bellos)
Billy by Albert French
Epic by Conor Kostick
Scar Night by Alan Campbell
In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield
The Moth Diaries by Rachel Klein
Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban
Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler

Tick as many as you want:

What should I read next?

The Weight Of Numbers by Simon Ings
1(4.0%)
Martin Martin's On The Other Side by Mark Millar
0(0.0%)
Glister by John Burnside
0(0.0%)
Glimmering by Elizabeth Hand
0(0.0%)
The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall
2(8.0%)
Drowned Towers by George Turner
1(4.0%)
Young Hearts Crying by Richard Yates
0(0.0%)
Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler
4(16.0%)
The Tough Guide To Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones
3(12.0%)
The Seige Of Krishnapur by JG Farrell
2(8.0%)

Tags: ,

#22 Iron Angel by Alan Campbell

The second volume of the Deepgate Codex, read in preparation for reviewing the final volume for Strange Horizons. I really enjoyed the first volume and this one lived up to my hopes. In particular Campbell is excellent at expanding his world in a way that feels right. The focus moves out from the ruined city of Deepgate to the surrounding country and then to far away lands and Hell itself.

It is remarkably boisterous and bloody, like a Meiville's novel that has gone on holiday. It is somewhat baggier and looser with characters abandoned for too long between appearances but it avoids most mid-series problems. More than the first volume it does end on a massive cliffhanger but what do I care? I'm about to read the next one.

#23 God Of Clocks by Alan Campbell

Read for review for Strange Horizons.

#24 Most Buxom by Aishling Morgan

Girl porn (of the real rather than Twilight variety). I read this with a view to seeing whether I could go into the trade which seems possible since this is pretty shoddily written.

#25 Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban

He wer talking so many levvils at 1ce I dint all ways know what he meant realy I wisht every thing wud mean jus only 1 thing and keap on meaning it not changing all the time.
Me and all. It is less the fact it is written in dialect that makes Riddley Walker hard going and more that Hoban is deliberately using it to throw us into a different pattern of thought to the one we are accustomed to. This is brilliant but exhausting.

Bloomsbury oddly describe this as a Twentieth-Anniversary edition which seems to mean they have taken the average of Hoban's afterword (18 years) and Will Self's introduction (22 years). Self's introduction is typically peppery and takes a pop at Malcolm Bradbury in the first paragraph.

#19 The Helmet Of Horror by Victor Pelevin (translated by Andrew Bromfield)

One of the Canongate Myths series. I am not a fan of dream sequences, I find it impossible to remain engaged, and this is nothing but a series of dream sequences. I quite like Pelevin's tone but The Helmet Of Horror failed to sustain my interest.

#20 The Moth Diaries by Rachel Klein

Never judge a book by its cover. I'm not sure how this ended up on our shelves but I thought it was some sort of Young Adult vampire novel. I felt like a light read so I picked it up.

The Moth Diaries is not a light read. It is set in boarding school for girls in 60s/70s America but the school is (as the narrator admits) essentially timeless and placeless. It exists in a bubble that is isolated from the real world by the intensity of the world the boarders have created for themselves. The narrative takes the form of a diary that chronicles one boarder's growing obsession and eventual mental illness.

#21 A Thread Of Truth by Nina Allan

Read for review for Strange Horizons

#16 Nights Of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton

Read for review for Strange Horizons.

#17 Scar Night by Alan Campbell

I read this as a companion piece to Nights Of Villjamur (they are both Tor UK new school fantasies) and I liked it a lot more. Campbell creates one of the great fantasy cities: Deepgate, a city suspended on over an abyss on vast chains. Pleasingly this is not just eye-catching set design but fully integrated worldbuilding based on the implications of the dominant religion. These implications worm their way through the whole novel and the questioning of them drives the plot. So we have the best of both worlds: wonderful outlandish imagery allied to a plausible story.

It is written with the same sort of glee and ease that makes Scott Lynch's novels so readable. It doesn't go much beyond this but sometimes a page turner is all you want. I will be buying the second volume, Iron Angel, as soon as it comes out in paperback in the summer (although I can already see that this is the sort of book I could quickly tire of.)

#18 In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield

Read for review for SF Site.

#13 High John The Conqueror by Jim Younger

The other day immortalradical said of The Island at the End of the World by Sam Taylor:

Niall has been fooled by the book's publicity into believing this was a mainstream SF novel. It's not, though it is a diverting enough fable.
This is another of those. An exuberant, farcical mix of sex and drugs and religion.

#14 Biohell by Andy Remic

Read for review for SF Site.

#15 Epic by Conor Kostick

Bought on the strength of a recommendation by fjm and I'm very glad I did. Epic takes the familar idea of a virtual reality game as proxy for the real world and then fully explores and critiques this idea. The sequel, Saga, is out in paperback later in the year and I am looking forward to it.

#11 The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway

I liked this a lot more than my comments here might suggest. I will be very interested to see what he does next.

#12 Billy by Albert French

By accident rather than design I've worked by way backwards through French's ouvre. If I'd started with Billy I'm not sure I would have continued since although it is a fine little book it is pretty unexceptional. He brings to life late-Thirties Mississippi but although the story is important it is familar and not particulalry interesting.

Do you know what videlicet means?

Yes
14(32.6%)
No
29(67.4%)

Tags:

#7 Fools' Experiments by Edward M Lerner

Read for review for Vector.

#8 The Falling Torch by Algis Budrys
#9 The Iron Thorn by Algis Budrys

Odd and good. More here.

#10 The Successor by Ismail Kadare (translated by David Bellos)

I picked this up on account of its International Booker win and it comes loaded with extravagent praise. Its good but its not that good though...

As many of the quotes suggest there are touches of Kafka here but also of Milan Kundera: the engagement with life under Communism, the tension between the personal and political, the flashs of magical realism. Kadare's book is more removed from the sphere of the intelligensia though. The novel circles round the death - murder or suicide - of the titular successor, second-in-line in the Albanian Communist Party. No one is ever clear exactly what happened or even what other people believe happened, everything is coloured by an ingrained fear of the Party and, particularly, its infirm but still monsterous leader. Kadare captures this uncertainty brilliantly

It is good to see that Canongate continue to publish quality fiction in translation. However, it is worth noting that the translation by David Bellos is actually of another translation (the French) rather than the original Albanian which seemed to me like a barrier too far between myself and the author, despite the obvious quality of his translation.

Remember that giant horse? It's only gone and won!

Mark Wallinger's ruddy great horse?

GOOD
4(14.3%)
BAD
9(32.1%)
Beyond GOOD or BAD
15(53.6%)

#5 Astrotruckers by Mikael Niemi (translated by Laurie Thompson)

This caught my eye because it is half height and bright orange. On the strength of this and the fact I don't read enough fiction in translation I bought it. I don't exactly regret it but it wasn't a great use of my time or money.

This isn't a novel: the same narrator runs through it all but every chapter is a different contradictory anecdote and every anecdote is a broad existential farce. These occasionally raise a smile but the comparison to The Hitchhiker's Guide that the cover makes is laughably short of the mark.

#6 You Don't Love Me Yet by Jonathan Lethem

I am a massive fan of Lethem but I wasn't particularly looking forward to this book. The jacket describes it as a "romantic farce set among the members of an aspiring Los Angeles rock band" which makes it sound shit. It is actually very good, although it does tinge slightly into the fabulation and not in a good way (see also Fortress Of Solitude.) For the most it is sweet and silly and sexy. This is a good thing but though it is certainly not frothy it doesn't have quite the bite I would like. At the same time, this is part of its message: fucking up is inevitable and okay. Lethem's California novel with all that entails. (And it was nice to see kangaroos making a return to his fiction, although I'm not exactly sure what the point was.)

However. However, pages 117 to 135 were missing! Instead it just repeated the dozen pages. grahamsleight tells me that this is not that uncommon in the world of publishing but this is the first time I've come across it.

Have you ever complained about one of andrewducker's vaguely written polls with overly specific answers?

Yes
11(30.6%)
No
12(33.3%)
I don't know who andrewducker is
13(36.1%)

People who argue with the construction of polls

Are pedants
5(18.5%)
Are immensely irritating
0(0.0%)
Have stunted minds
1(3.7%)
Love the sound of their voices
2(7.4%)
Don't understand the point of polls
1(3.7%)
Don't understand the point of the internet
2(7.4%)

Tick

Happiness
16(45.7%)
Noodles
19(54.3%)

nwhyte brings the lists: 1001 books you must read before you die and the first part of the Guardian's 1000 novels list. The latter is in poll form! I managed 103 on the first and 15 on the second which is roughly ten percent. Since I am approximately 33% of the way through my life I'll have to pick up the pace a bit if I want to read them all (which I don't.)

Tags:

#2 The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves by MT Anderson

This quite rightly made abigail_n's list of best books of the year:

There's a lot that's remarkable about this book--Anderson's historical pastiche, which rivals and often surpasses that found in many adult historical novels, his fearless overturning of the traditionally accepted division into good and evil in the Revolutionary War, which he manages without ever forgetting the complexity of the situation in that fraught time, the expansion of the roles of the first novel's characters, in particular Octavian's foil and dark mirror Pro Bono, who in this half of the story emerges as a hero with a narrative weight equal to Octavian's--but perhaps its most stunning accomplishment is that, though we know that Octavian's cause is hopeless and his prospects grim, reading it is never less than an intense and completely absorbing experience.
I couldn't put it better. (Her review is also well worth reading.)

#3 Journey Into Space by Toby Litt

Read for review for Strange Horizons.

#4 The Final Solution by Michael Chabon

Sherlock Holmes comes out of retirement for one last case in Second World War Sussex. It is a lovely novella but by its nature pretty slight.

Is there a post about Doctor Who next to this entry on your friends list

Yes, above
11(23.9%)
Yes, below
4(8.7%)
Both!
10(21.7%)
No, my friends actually talk about interesting things
21(45.7%)

#1 Doctors & Nurses by Lucy Ellman

Ellman has her own INIMITABLEstyle which means paragraphs like this are typical:

In the STONE AGE, women didn't NEED handbags, not just because they didn't have money, keys, lipstick or cigarettes, but because they could show off their actual GENITALS. They were NAKED for chrissakes! The pursed lips of their cunts were on display ALL DAY.
The rest of that chapter is about handbags and vaginas, the rest of the book is a scabarous black comedy about an obese nurse and casual sex and casual murder. You are unlikely to read anything like this and it seemed like a good way to kick off the new year.

I watched 69 films for the first time this year, exactly the same as last year. These were all logged over at 52filmchallenge and my end of year film awards are over at my blog. Full list:

1)Knocked Up - I had to put my hands over my ears and eyes for large parts of this film. I liked the bit with his dad though.
2) Curse Of The Golden Flower - Epicly overblown soap opera. Also: boobs.
3) Lust Caution - Well, he's not one for concise films, is he? Like Brokeback Mountain this was incredibly well made but ultimately a bit unsatisfying.
4) No Country For Old Men - Unbearably tense.
5) Science Of Sleep - Very much a thematic companion piece to Eternal Sunshine. There are a few quibbles you could have about theslightly adolescent nature of central relationship but I really liked this. Very funny and very moving.
6) Be Kind Rewind - Second Gondry in a row. This is a very odd film; an uneasy mix of Gondry's surrealism and feelgood small town Americana with a bizarre structure and slightly off pacing and acting. It absolutely reeks of artifice but only occasionally in a good way.
7) Chicago - Songs and that. Richard Gere made me feel ill.
8) Stardust - Just a load of stuff, really.
9) Live Flesh - Melodrama to the power n.
10) Rebecca - Olden days tosh.
11) The Scorpion King - Modern days tosh. Not fit to share a franchise with The Mummy.
12) Dead Man's Shoes - Revenge thrillers are always problematic but this is a particularly sophisticated version. Trademark Meadows and one of those films where no shot is wasted.
13) Ferris Bueller's Day Off - I'd somehow managed to never see this but it is so embedded in the popular consciousness that I often recognised parts of it. Fun enough - and the experience definitely benefited from taking place in the back of a pub - but I could have done without the Lessons.
14) Apocalypto - Jaw dropping.
15) Bender's Big Score - A bit rubbish really.
16) DOA - Very silly. Not enough nudity.
17) You, The Living - None-more-deadpan Norwegian tragi-comedy. Not one hundred percent successful but hits when it is.
18) The Nines - The US version of Life On Mars. On crack. Or something.
19) Southland Tales - Fucking mental.
20) Miami Vice - Now it would be naive not to expect a Michael Mann film to be ludicrously over extended but did they really have to pause the whole thing just so Colin Farrell could nob Gong Li?
21) Zodiac - Impeccably done period piece but I'm not sure its resistance to traditional narrative is as impressive as some have made out.
22) The Chronicles Of Riddick - Total shit. Nice costumes though.
23) Doomsday - Dreck.
24) Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skulls - Silly but much less silly than I feared.
25) AVP2 - So pointless I can't be bothered to give it its full name.
26) Blade Trinity - Now I know the origin of the phrase "cock juggling thundercunt". This is how you do a franchise.
27) The Day After Tomorrow - Oh noes, wolves! Everything you would expect from Emmerich.
28) Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby - Surprising hillarious.
29) Ron Burgundy - I should have quit whilst I was ahead.
30) Master And Commander - Fun stuff. Turned my understanding of history upside down by suggesting that the Napoleonic Wars were fought in the Pacific by ships rather than in Europe by Sharpe.
31) Phonebooth - Clever gimmick that isn't as clever as it thinks it is. (Obviously, this is Schumacher.)
32) Seed Of Chucky - Jennifer Tilly, Red Men, John Waters and Hannah S Club together at last. Awesome!
33) Sahara - Entirely unlike the trailer lead me to believe. More action than adventure and both surprisingly expensive and watchable.
34) Lord Of War - Poor man's Thank You For Smoking.
35) Still Life - Wonderful, spare portrait of life in transition.
36) Ratatouille - Rather more conventional than most of their films but still very good.
37) Cars - Much better than I expected, maybe better than Ratatouille.
38) Planet Terror - This is how you do a naked homage. And it is actually less exploitative than Sin City.
39) Deathproof - Unmistakeably a Tarantino film but an absolutely ludicrous one.
40) Smokin' Aces - Not as stupid as I was expecting but still pretty stupid. Overlong expository setup, big shoot out, lame denoument. The third film I've seen this year to fetishise the Barratt Light 50.
41) The Dark Knight - Awesome but suffered from cramming too much in. Another of those film series where you wish it was a really high budget TV series.
42) Bridge To Terabithia - Completely confounded my expectations. Very meta that the inspiration of the original novel was one of the scriptwriters.
43) My Neighbour Totoro - The best Ghibli film but still a bit long and aimless. Song is still stuck in my bloody head.
44) Mission Impossible 3 - Completely pointless, although Hoffman does a good line in dead eyed menace. Doesn't Tom Cruise look old?
45) Alien Resurrection: Special Edition - I thought it might be interesting to see how it anticipated Firefly but no. It is no wonder Whedon hates it. The Special Edition adds nothing and it remains made of stupid.
46) 30 Days Of Night - This got a place on Jonathan McCalmont's alternative Hugo list but although it is very atmospheric and well shot it is pretty broken plotwise.
47) Dude, Where's My Car? - I've waited ages to see this and it was as good as I'd hoped. I should have been high though.
48) I Am Legend - Not what I was expecting. Not a good film but certainly a more interesting one than I had been lead to believe. Marred by some really quite poor CGI.
49) Sweeney Todd - Good but uneven in the way of all Burton. It is worth a watch but is disappointingly bitty.
50) Before The Devil Knows You're Dead - One of those gruelling thrillers that consists of the protagonists digging themselves deeper and deeper into a hole. It is frankly bizarre that this is a 15 and Sweeney Todd is an 18.
51) The Assassination Of Jesse James - A spellbindingly queasy performance by Casey Affleck. It is deliberately slow and reflective but I felt it often pushed this a bit too far. I could have done without the voice over as well.
52) Harold And Kumar Get The Munchies - Would have helped if I was high but still raised a smile.
53) The Italian Job - The remake that is. Or rather the second film with the same name because it has nothing to do with the original. A bunch of actors I like doing not very much at all.
54) Jeepers Creepers 2 - I'd heard good things about the first one but they aren't present here. This isn't even really a horror film, just a bizarre monster movie.
55 Iron Man - A feeble, stupid plot mars an extremely cool films that otherwise avoids all the usual pitfalls.
56) Cloverfield - The problem with remaking Godzilla in the style ofBlair Witch is that every single second you are reminded of the inherent implausibility of the concept.
57) WALL-E - Awesome on toast.
58) 36 - French tragedy which is heavy on cigarettes, gun play, drama and prepostorousness.
59) Tell No One - Heavily contrived in the way of all modern thrillers but beautifully composed, intensely atmospheric and even surprisingly moving.
60) Enemy Of The State - Much, much more contrived but without anything but Will Smith's charisma to sustain it.
61) Assault On Precinct 13 (2005) - Following on from the above, this is a ludicrously contrived, charisma free re-make of Carpenter's classic. It is only notable for applying the brutal expendability of a B-movie cast to a much more high-profile bunch.
62) In Bruges - Finally a loveable hitman movie that confronts the massive moral problem with this premise. Good swearing too.
63) Persepolis - Beautifully realised autobiography.
64) Two-Lane Black Top - Resolutely period road movie starring the unlikely combo of Denis Wilson and James Taylor. Aimless in the way of these things.
65) Tropic Thunder - Mental. I'm not sure how they got this made considering it is such an expensive and bizarre comedy.
66) The Mist - Not as good as I'd hoped but every bit as bleak.
67) Honey - Only notable for Jessica Alba's constantly exposed midriff.
68) My Fair Lady - Not really feeling it, to be honest.
69) The Girl Who Leapt Through Time - Magic walnut-based bittersweet time travel romcom. One of the highest rated SF films on IMDB apparently.

#1 The Glass Books Of The Dream Eaters by GW Dahlquist
#2 House Of Meetings by Martin Amis
#3 On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
#4 How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
#5 SFWA European Hall Of Fame edited by James Morrow and Kathryn Morrow (Strange Horizons)
#6 Put The Book Back On The Shelf
#7 The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall
#8 The Pesthouse by Jim Crace
#9 Selected Poems by John Claire (selected by Paul Farley)
#10 Choke by Chuck Palahnuik
#11 The Tin Princess by Philip Pullman
#12 The Unbearable Lightness Of Being by Milan Kundera (translated by Michael Henry Heim)
#13 Laughter And Forgetting by Milan Kundera (translated by Aaron Asher)
#14 Black Sheep by Ben Peek (Strange Horizons)
#15 Death's Head by David Gunn
#16 Happy Now by Charlie Higson
#17 Corpsing by Toby Litt
#18 What Happens Next by Jeremy Dyson
#19 Flanders by Patricia Antony
#20 The Steep Approach To Garbadale by Iain Banks
#21 Un Lun Dun by China Miéville
#22 Resistance by Owen Sheers
#23 The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier And Clay by Michael Chabon
#24 The Execution Channel by Ken MacLeod
#25 What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction by Paul Kincaid (Strange Horizons)
#26 Shadow Web by NM Browne
#27 Pretty Little Things To Fill Up The Void by Simon Logan (Vector)
#28 The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and KM Kornbluth
#29 The Electric Church by Jeff Somers
#30 The Night Watch by Terry Pratchett
#31 Lost Boys by James Miller (Strange Horizons)
#32 The Astonishing Life Of Octavian Nothing: Traitor To The Nation by MT Anderson
#33 The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (translated by )
#34 Bunker 10 by JA Henderson
#35 A Short History Of Tractors In Ukranian by Marina Lewycka
#36 Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
#37 Matter by Iain M Banks
#38 Clear Water by Will Ashon
#39 Ascent by Jed Mecurio
#40 Hospital by Toby Litt
#41 House Of Suns by Alastair Reynolds
#42 Exotic Excursions by Anthony Nanson (Vector)
#43 When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro
#44 Time's Arrow by Martin Amis
#45 From Alien To The Matric: Reading Science Fiction Film by Roz Kaveney (Fruitless Recursions)
#46 Farthing by Jo Walton
#47 Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell
#48 Skellig by David Almond
#49 Old Man's War by John Scalzi
#50 A Shadow In Summer by Daniel Abraham
#51 Orphans Of Chaos by John C Wright
#52 The Line Of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst
#53 Hurricane Gold by Charlie Higson
#54 The H-Bomb Girl by Steven Baxter
#55 The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
#56 The Heritage by Will Ashon (Strange Horizons)
#57 Death Of A Murdererby Rupert Thomson
#58 Everything Is Sinister by David Llewellyn (Strange Horizons)
#59 The Edge Of Reason by Melinda Snodgrass (Vector)
#60 Boy Meets Girl by Ali Smith
#61 Junky by William Burroughs
#62 A Maiden's Grave by Jeffery Deaver
#63 Cold Skin by Albert Sánchez Piñol (translated by Cheryl Leah Morgan)
#64 Anathem by Neal Stephenson (Strange Horizons)
#65 The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon
#66 Rite Of Passage by Alexei Panshin
#67 A State Of Denmark by Derek Raymond
#68 A Canticle For Lieberwitz by Walter Miller Jr
#69 The Black Company by Glen Cook (Strange Horizons)
#70 Life Class by Pat Barker
#71 The Knife Of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (Strange Horizons)
#72 Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve
#73 Shadows Linger by Glen Cook (Strange Horizons)
#74 Falling Man by Don DeLillo
#75 Feeling Very Strange edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly
#76 The Unblemished by Conrad Williams
#77 The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson
#78 Hot Head by Simon Ings
#79 Teacher's Dead by Benjamin Zephaniah
#80 The White Rose by Glen Cook (Strange Horizons)
#81 Weight by Jeanette Winterson
#82 Subtle Edens edited by Allen Ashley (Vector & Strange Horizons)
#83 Romanitas by Sophia McDougall

This is the most books I've read in a year since I started making notes. It is also the most I've ever reviewed in a year. As always general thoughts are found under the 2008 books tag but (although it was very difficult) here is my top five:

1) House Of Meetings by Martin Amis
2) The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
3) The Astonishing Life Of Octavian Nothing: Traitor To The Nation by MT Anderson
4) The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon
5) The Knife Of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

I have also inaugurated the Everything Is Nice Book Awards over at my main blog. Please note the management takes no responsibility for inconsistencies between different lists.

Finally, some stats:

SF: 66.3% (Up)
Books by women: 16.3% (Down)
YA: 14.5% (Down)
Short story collections: 6.0% (Down)
Non-fiction: 2.4% (Up)

But let's not forget there is no such thing as YA fiction...

#82 Subtle Edens edited by Allen Ashley

Read for review for Vector. And Strange Horizons.

#83 Romanitas by Sophia McDougall

I thought this would be a fat undemanding potboiler for the festive period and I was right. It isn't very good but it is an interesting and rather odd mix of elements: it is an alt history political thriller with Young Adult protagonists with psychic powers. McDougnall manages to do very little at great length with all this though.

Right, there are a couple of days left but I reckon that is me done for the year. Books of the year post to follow after breakfast.

Apparently Mama Mia has replaced Titanic as the UK's highest grossing film.

Have you seen Mama Mia?

Yes
3(5.4%)
No
53(94.6%)

Have you seen Titanic?

Yes
30(53.6%)
No
26(46.4%)

Tags: ,

#79 Teacher's Dead by Benjamin Zephaniah

Social issues novel for kids. The voice of the narrator is pretty unconvincing, the plot is ridiculous and the prose is dull.

#80 The White Rose by Glen Cook

Read for review for Strange Horizons.

#81 Weight by Jeanette Winterson

Best of the Canongate Myths series so far.

I've been doing less and less updates of substance here but you might be interested in these two reviews for Strange Horizons.

First up, The Knife Of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. This is a YA novel that is a strong contender for my SF novel of the year.

Then there is Dead Set, Charlie Brooker's zombie/Big Brother mash up.

Title taken from this discussion of the incomprehensible phenomenon that is Twilight.

Poll #1309213 L'heure bleue

Twilight

I've read the book
0(0.0%)
I want to read the book
0(0.0%)
I've read the sequels
0(0.0%)
I want to read the sequels
0(0.0%)
I've seen the film
1(2.2%)
I want to see the film
1(2.2%)
I want nothing to do with the whole shebang
30(65.2%)
What the fuck is Twilight?
10(21.7%)

Poor Simon Heffer has been wound up by the prose of his mnokeys minions:

The style book also reminds us that our readers tend to eat Christmas lunch, not Christmas dinner; this is not the Daily Star. Unless we are referring to a repast that is specifically to be held in the evening, be careful to refer to Christmas lunch in all those mouth-watering articles you are preparing about festive food. Somebody actually allowed a piece of copy through this week with the adjective "posh" in it (it was not a reference to Mrs Beckham, and nor was it being used satirically). It was lucky this was spotted and removed before a nasty accident occurred. I repeat: we are not the Daily Star.


What do you have on Christmas Day?

Christmas lunch
13(26.5%)
Christmas dinner
36(73.5%)

Prefered paper:

Daily Telegraph
5(10.4%)
Daily Star
2(4.2%)
I wouldn't even wipe my arse with either
41(85.4%)

Christmas Bird

Turkey
20(40.8%)
Chicken
5(10.2%)
Goose
9(18.4%)
None bird-based Christmas for mad meat reasons
7(14.3%)
None bird-based Christmas for mad vegetarian reasons
8(16.3%)

Define a pie

Layer of pastry on the bottom and top
30(65.2%)
Layer of pastry on the bottom
4(8.7%)
Layer of pastry on the top
3(6.5%)
Layer of any carbohydrate on the top
9(19.6%)


Bonus pie poll courtesy of despotliz.

Tags: ,

#76 The Unblemished by Conrad Williams

"A bit heavy on the old numinous" as one character puts it.

It is a long time since I've read a horror novel and I think I've simply forgotten how to do it. I was having a hard time with the literature of effect thing. The Unblemished seemed to me to be an incoherent jangle of images, purple prose and gratuitous nastiness. I imagine I am missing the point.

#77 The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson

Good.

#78 Hot Head by Simon Ings

This is Ings's debut novel from 1992 when he was considered the bright new thing of British SF. For some reason though, he never really made it. He recently had a career re-launch with The Weight Of Numbers but although that got good notices it didn't break him through either.

I'm not sure why Hot Head wasn't more popular. Perhaps it was just ahead of its time since this is the bread and butter of what Ken MacLeod and Charlie Stross where up to a couple of years later. Read from the vantage point of 2008 quite a lot of Ings's imagined late Nineties world has been overtaken by events so quickly and comprehensively that is quite distracting. It is not just that his world didn't come to pass but that it now seems impossible that it could. This is most obvious at the beginning though and once you are through this you are into the sort of dense, wild Sterling-inspired cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk novel that you don't see that often on this side of the pond. A never less than interesting novel and a very ambitious one (he was 25 when it was published.)

The mystery of the model's missing belly button.

Your navel?

An innie
32(97.0%)
An outie
1(3.0%)
A freakish smooth indentation a la Karolina Kurkova
0(0.0%)

Following on from the perfect sausage, here is the perfect Yorkshire pudding. Of particular interest:

"Some amateurs even place the batter in the fridge first. What kind of foolish act is that?"


Were you taught to put the batter in the fridge first?

Yes
6(16.7%)
No
11(30.6%)
Unaccountably I was never taught to make Yorkshires
19(52.8%)

Ideal Yorkshire size?

Small (the size of a cupcake)
8(22.2%)
Medium (a slack handful)
19(52.8%)
Large (the size of the plate)
9(25.0%)

Rectangular Yorkshires?

APPROVED
15(41.7%)
UNAPPROVED
21(58.3%)

Temporal-Spatial Meat Position

Traditional (meat afterwards)
0(0.0%)
Contemporary (meat at the same time)
28(80.0%)
Controversial (meat inside)
1(2.9%)
I'm a bloody vegetarian
6(17.1%)

Is jam an ingredient in bread and butter pudding?

Yes
3(8.8%)
No
31(91.2%)

Tags: ,

Following on from the American sausage confusion the other day someone mentioned to me that Americans eat lamb. This sounded like nonsense to me. Then I thought hmm, I don't think I've ever seen a sheep in an American film. Then I thought hmm, Silence Of The Lambs certainly implies their existence. Then I though hmm, why don't I do a poll?

Do Americans eat lamb?

Yes, of course
16(39.0%)
I guess
11(26.8%)
Hmm, I don't know
8(19.5%)
No
6(14.6%)

When in the pub of a Sunday and faced with the roast selection, what do you pick?

Beef
12(29.3%)
Lamb
12(29.3%)
Chicken
3(7.3%)
It depends whether beef is the only one that comes with Yorkshires
9(22.0%)
I'm a bloody vegetarian
5(12.2%)

So, you are a vegetarian in the pub of a Sunday, what do you pick?

The vegetarian roast
2(5.1%)
Something else off the menu
5(12.8%)
I'm not a robot, it depends on my mood
4(10.3%)
I'm not a bloody vegetarian
28(71.8%)

Beef sausages

APPROVED
22(53.7%)
UNAPPROVED
19(46.3%)

Tags: ,

Nas is like...

Life or death
0(0.0%)
A rebel
0(0.0%)
Half man, half amazing
7(100.0%)

Nas is like...

A street sweeper
1(14.3%)
A thug poet
1(14.3%)
Ecstasy for ladies
1(14.3%)
Beef, bustin heat through your windows
4(57.1%)

Nas is like...

A whole lot of loot
3(42.9%)
Crisp money
1(14.3%)
The feeling of a millionaire spending a hundred grand
2(28.6%)
A poor man's dream
1(14.3%)

Nas is like...

I don't know!
10(100.0%)

Tags: ,

Semi-inspired by this baffling question in which an American is perplexed by a sausage:

How do you cook sausages?

Fry 'em
21(48.8%)
Grill 'em
22(51.2%)
I steam them in beer like an American mental
0(0.0%)

Do you prick them?

No, of course not
30(69.8%)
Yes, I am a fool
12(27.9%)
I butterfly them!
1(2.3%)

HP Sauce

GOOD
24(57.1%)
BAD
18(42.9%)

Whilst reading the paper on Saturday there was a noise of shock and alarmed from my girlfriend. This was the reason why:



John Lewis Reversible Upside Down Christmas Tree, Black, 6" - You can either have it standing the traditional way or the modern way with the tip down. Includes stand.
WTF? I'm guessing it is not only six inches tall either...

Poll #1290072 This is the modern way

Were you previously familar with "the modern way"?

Yes
2(6.9%)
Hell no
27(93.1%)

#71 The Knife Of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Read for review for Strange Horizons.

#72 Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

Read to my girlfriend as a bedtime story. This is my second or third re-read and there are a couple minor flaws but it is stil bloody good. My original review is here.

#73 Shadows Linger by Glen Cook

Read for review for Strange Horizons.

#74 Falling Man by Don DeLillo

"Bill Lawton has a long beard. He wears a robe," he said. "He flies jet planes and speaks thirteen languages but not English except to his wives."
So, Don DeLillo has written a novel about 11th September, full on, four square. Does it help us to understand the event? No, there is nothing to understand. Does it advance his own personal canon? Sort of. The rhetoric, the repetition, the bending inward prose is more present than ever. To take an example at random:
"This much, yes, it may be true. Because they think the world is a disease. This world, this society, ours. A disease that's spreading."
This is a sort of prayer but in the end it amounts to less a requiem than a lullaby to be mouthed whilst gently smoothing out the wrinkles of a shroud.

#75 Feeling Very Strange edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel

I wrote about these stories individually as I read them over at my other blog. I have now finished. Three out of five for quality but only two out of five for actually being slipstream.

Favourite muse?

Calliope
6(20.7%)
Clio
4(13.8%)
Erato
0(0.0%)
Euterpe
3(10.3%)
Melpomene
2(6.9%)
Polyhymnia
1(3.4%)
Terpsichore
4(13.8%)
Thalia
5(17.2%)
Urania
4(13.8%)

Did you secretly want to answer "The Matt Bellamy one" for the last question?

Yes
3(10.0%)
No
27(90.0%)

Pick one:

Black holes
20(66.7%)
Revelations
10(33.3%)

Which of these names do you like for girls?

Lily
0(0.0%)
Poppy
0(0.0%)
Heather
0(0.0%)
Rose
0(0.0%)
Tulip
0(0.0%)
Azalea
0(0.0%)
Daisy
0(0.0%)
Iris
0(0.0%)
Jasmine
0(0.0%)
Red Hot Poker
1(3.4%)

Tags:
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