February 13th, 2011


February Books 7) Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes

This is the last of this year's shortlisted novels for the BSFA award for me to read. It's a remarkable story which picks up the urban fantasy sub-genre and takes it to a completely new place - specifically, Johannesburg, in a world very similar to ours except that in the last few years criminals have mysteriously acquired animal familiars similar to Philip Pullman's dæmons (Pullman is in fact referenced, with the suggestion that it's all his fault since the phenomenon only startedafter his books were published). The actual plot has our narrator, Zinzi December, involved with a missing persons enquiry because of her psychic location skills, which takes her deep into the criminal and somewhat necromantic underworld of South Africa; the environment is tremendously well realised, and the story and ideas mesh with total conviction. As I've said before, good on the BSFA selectorate for calling this one to my attention.

BSFA novels

So, my votes for the BSFA award for Best Novel this year:

5) Lightborn, by Tricia Sullivan, a story of cyber-warfare and devastation in a near-future California. Really failed to grab me. I note also that it has much the fewest owners on Librarything (10, to 35 for MacLeod, 65 for Beukes, 189 for McDonald and 1205 for Bacigalupi).

I very much like all the other four, and while I have special reasons for my first choice, would be delighted if any of the below wins.

4) The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi. Another near-future story about catastrophes, this time set in Thailand, the girl of the title being an artificial woman who must trade her body for her life. Won the Nebula and joint winner of the Hugo.

3) Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes. An urban fantasy set in South Africa, with necromancy, organised crime and animal familiars. Brilliant stuff.

2) The Dervish House, by Ian McDonald. Set in Istanbul in the year 2027, involves nanotechnology, arcane secrets, and terrorism on the Nabucco pipeline, in McDonald's trademark lush descriptive prose.

1) The Restoration Game by Ken MacLeod. I have a personal stake here in that I gave some advice on the parts of the story set in the fictional South Caucasus territory of Krassnia (the rest is in Scotland and New Zealand, in the years leading up to 2007). That aside, it's an excellent novel taking recent history, 70's radicalism and computer games and merging to a brilliant twist at the end.

Previous write-ups of this year's BSFA shortlist: short fiction.

February Books 8) The Prodigal Troll, by Charles Coleman Finlay

Picked this one up shortly after first publication and have only now got round to reading it. The central character is a boy brought up by trolls, à la Tarzan or Mowgli, who then seeks his destiny among his own kind; he wanders into a human war between subsistence pastoralists and settled agriculturalists (Native Americans vs European feudal settlers seeming to be the paradigm) and eventually, in an ending that came rather abruptly though did at least fit with what we had seen before, chooses his own way.

I was a bit dubious about the sexual politics of the book. The story is all about how Maggot (né Claye) becomes a Man; the only thoroughly evil character is a eunuch who was born male and is addressed by female pronouns; and Maggot's crucial decisions are about rejecting the women who might care for him. That may not have been what the author intended but that was what came across to me.

A more minor snark: "prodigal" does not mean "long-lost", it means "wastefully extravagant".

STV point

An occasional correspondent has asked me about transfers in STV elections, and why plumpers' votes don't get taken into account when surpluses are dealt with. It's an important point, if a little technical, so I expand on this below.

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Gibbon Chapter XLII: Justinian, Part III

Whereas the previous chapter had Belisarius' military campaigns to the West, here we are looking East: first to the Danube plain (Lombards, Bulgarians, Sclavonians), then to Persia in general and the Colchis war in particular, and finally to East Africa and what we now call the Gulf of Aden.

Demon Quest Parts 4 and 5

The fourth part of the Paul Magrs/BBC Fourth Doctor Demon Quest series of audios, Starfall, is set in 1970s New York and I think one of the better instalments in the series: it features good guest turns by Trevor White, whose character Buddy narrates most of the action, and Laurel Lefkow as his girlfriend Alice who slightly accidentally acquires super powers as part of the ongoing storyline. There is a very bizarre bit with a cult of people who dress up like the Doctor, which is obviously a wink at organised fandom but isn't well resolved in the plot. But the overall tone is well done.

I was less happy about the final part, Sepulchre, which not only relies rather heavily on reference back to the previous Hornet's Nest series, but also demands little of the actors, Tom Baker in particular doing much more Little Britain than Doctor Who; and the conclusion is very far from conclusive.

So in the end my recommendation is that this series is for completists only; the first and fourth parts are the best, the third and fifth least satisfactory.

Delicious LiveJournal Links for 2-13-2011

  • If the case that The Huffington Post were making to its bloggers were a little more frank, along the lines of the following: "Sure, we’d love for you to post here. And there’s the chance that your post could do very well. But odds are that only a few hundred people will see it, and we’ll be lucky to sell enough ads on it to afford a slice of pizza." …there might be fewer complaints that it doesn’t pay its bloggers.