May 19th, 2015


Scales of Gold, by Dorothy Dunnett

Fourth in the series of the adventures of Niccolò, the smart young Flemish merchant who travels fifteenth century in search of wealth and its inevitable political entanglements. This time, a cunning plan to penetrate deep into Africa becomes complicated by a new wrinkle in a long-standing family feud, and extraordinary dynastic and legal manœuvres from Venice to Madeira to Timbuktu. The ground has been well laid, as one of the supporting cast from the first three books was an African ex-slave who turns out to be extremely well-connected back in his homeland.

It's a good book, as they all are, but the portrayal of Timbuktu as a center of culture, learning, commerce and communication is particularly vivid, and directly challenges any perception of pre-colonisation Africa as somehow backward and savage. On the other hand the violence and illness endured by the protagonist and his friends are pretty graphically portrayed as well, so there is a certain squick factor. Still, very much recommended.

A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Non-Fiction, by Terry Pratchett

A collection of pterry's non-fiction articles (all of them? most? some?) between a single set of covers. There are some very interesting pieces. His reflections on the writing process, and how writing became his career despite academic discouragement, are very interesting. He refers several times to the influence on the young Pratchett of Roy Lewis's The Evolution Man, which I duly got hold of from Brian. His introduction to the latest edition included here, as is his introduction to the reprint of Dave Langford's hilarious The Leaky Establishment.

Given that it's a series of reprints, it's not very surprising that various points and anecdotes get made more than once, and the effect is sometimes a bit repetitive. I had already seen a lot of the best bits, including Neil Gaiman's introduction. Having said that, completists will want to have this, and I too am a completist.