February 2012

This is apparently the next-to-last Nightside book (the last being “The Bride Wore Black Leather”). As usual it features John Taylor saving the world. Well, he doesn’t always save the world. Once or twice he just saves a few people.  The plot for this one was set up in the last book, which combined John being asked to take over as the voice of the authorities in the Nightside, and dealing with the Fae (elves). The elves here, as with much of the setup for this world, are actually shared with his earlier one-off book Shadow’s Fall. That one ended up with a complete world-changing scenario, however, so it’s either a parallel universe to this one, or set in the future.

This tale begins with John Taylor returning to London proper and, as I mention in my review of the Secret Histories book From Hell, With Love, it slightly retcons the idea that John can use his gift in London Proper, but didn’t. It’s quite clear in the first book, Something from the Nightside, that John’s talent is supposed to not work outside the Nightside originally. Having decided that magic does actually work in the “real world” after all, not least so he could do the Secret Histories and Ghost Finders books in the same universe as the Nightside, he does a quick retcon to claim that John just had god reason not to use his gift in the real world.

This begins to tie up some of the loose-ish ends left over from earlier books in the Nightside and pays off a setup in Ghost of a Smile and From Hell, With Love, bringing in the London Knights (and their apostate Jerusalem Stark, as major players in this story having given them enough nods in the other two books to be a large Chekov’s gun sitting on the mantlepiece.

This is the usual Nightside romp. Lots of violence, some sneakiness, some downrights nastiness (on all sides) wth the good guys winning out as usual, but at something of a price.

John Taylor has been gradually getting more powerful through this series and he’s getting into serious demi-god-like territory here. I think this might be behind the wrapping up of the series. Once a character gets too close to god-hood it’s tough to give them an interesting opponent other than the devil and that can only be done so many times (and Green did it here in Hell to Pay).

As I mentioned in the review of Ghost of a Smile, Green mines his own and other people’s background with glee and verve. In this one, we get a sideways mention that his earlier Hawk and Fisher characters are sitting in Strangefellows. This is oblique, rather like his mentions of character for which he doesn’t have the rigts, like the Travelling Doctor, rather than explicit, such as his use of the elves as he introduced them in Shadow’s Fall.

I’m skipping around in my reading order again here. I was slow writing the entry on the next book I read (Simon R. Green’s A Hard Day’s Knight) and finished the subsequent one before writing up that entry. Although not in the same series, they are set within the same world and From Hell was written first and there are a few linkages that make sense to write this one up first.

So, this is the fourth book in the Secret Histories series, which as mentioned in the posts on the Ghost Finders Books, was the second sequence Simon R. Green started upset in the same world as the Nightside. The Secret Histories was originally planned as a trilogy but was popular enough that the publisher and the author decided to keep going. Despite the beginning of the Nightside books claiming, more or less, that magic doesn’t work in the “real world” outside the Nightside, or at least that gifts from within it such as John Taylor’s “find it” gift don’t work there, this book throws out that premise and has the “real world” be the usual covert urban fantasy world with all sorts of weird crap happening that most people are unaware of, ignore, explain away or have the Men in Black cover up.

While it starts with a quick introduction to the setup (a family with superpowerful armour provided by an nth-dimensional being protect the world from evilness) I suspect this series has a bit too much background intewoven into the plot for it to truly make sense without reading the first three.

This series differs in a few ways from the other two urban fantasy series in the same universe in that the books are longer and the plots more involved. The nature of the organisation involved tends toward large villain-driven plotlines on a grand earth-shattering scale. Much as the name suggests, this series is heavily based on the idea of a supernatural James Bond (later Connery, early Moore era). Like the Hawk and Fisher and Nightside books, it features a couple with a seriously warped view of the world who are nevertheless deeply in love with each other, even if they sometimes show it in really strange ways.

This is a decent addition to the series, though I think I prefer the Nightside and Ghost Finders sequences in this universe.

Like the second Ghost Finders book, there’s a significant mention of the London Knights in this one, and even mention of Jerusalem Stark, the apostate London Knight. He was clearly setting these guys up for A Hard Day’s Knight, where they both appear as major characters, at least for readers following all the inter-linjked series.

The second, so far, of the Ghost Finders series by Simon R. Green. As pointed out in the LJ comments on the previous post about Green’s books, he’s just about finished one of his other urban fantasies (set in the same world) the Nightside books with the hardback publication of The Bride Wore Black Leather recently. This second Ghost Finders book follows the format of the first, pretty much. Now that I think about it, it’s the same pattern he used for most of the Nightside books. A quick 50 pages of an introductory short adventure (to get new to the series people into the ideas, I suspect) and then the rest of the book covering the main adventure (approx 200 pages) which takes place over the course of a few hours. Green’s inventiveness doesn’t desert him and in the Moorcockian style I mentioned before he races the plot along pretty smartly throwing in lots of creepy, short-lived monsters for our protagonists to deal with. This isn’t just a repeat of the first book, though. That one was very much in the vein of William Hope Hodgson’s original Carnacki sequence. This one is more akin to the mix of SF and fantasy that makes the Nightside and Secret Histories books successful formulae. Yes, there is quite a formulaic approach to these stories, but then they’re pure pulp escapism, however drawing on over a century of the literature of the fantastic all put together with Green’s wonderfuly macabre sense of black humour. There’s also the deft setup of an ongoing storyline for these books in this one, just as an extra element to keep people coming back. He clears up that this is definitely the same world as the Secret Histories with a clear mention of the Droods and a mention of the Knights of London, who seem to be fixed up for a clear role in the next to last Nightside book A Hard Day’s Knight, which is what I’m now reading.

After my mammoth session of catching up with Alastair Reynolds books, I decided to move on to something a little lighter for a while. This is the first of two so far in a series (I’m now reading the sequel, Ghost of a Smile) by Simon R. Green. Green is another author who throws in ideas left right and centre, rather like Stross and Reynolds in that regard. He also mines his own past work and that of classic authors for throwaway links, somewhat like Kim Newman (Ano Dracula, Diogenes Club). In particular this series is probably set in the same world as both his Nightside sequence and his Secret Histories sequences, both also contemporary hidden-world urban paranormal. I say probably because although the Nightside and Secret Histories are clearly linked, this one hasn’t been brought in directly yet. Anyway, this book introduces the Carnacki Institute, who deal with ghosts and related weirdness. The name is drawn from William Hope Hodgsen’s classic tales of Carnacki the Ghost Finder (as is the name of the series “Ghost Finders”) which stories I have also read and enjoyed. As Hodgson died in 1918 his works are out of copyrght and Green is able to include his characters and settings (though bringing them up to date) without worrying about copyright problems. He throws in many other similarly-sourced things in the Nightside books particularly and even some where he skates close to the edge such as the “Travelling Doctor” (clearly The Doctor from Dr Who, but very carefully described at a distance in such a way as to avoid over-zealous copyright lawyers).

In many of his books, the Nightside and Ghost Finders series particularly, Green seems to subscribe to the Moorcock approach to fantastic fiction writing described by Moorcock in “Death is No Obstacle” by Colin Greenland (interviews of Moorcock by Greenland). These are short books by modern standards (about 250 pages) and the action races along. No more than three pages of description without something happening. Also in contrast to Reynolds work which typically covers months, years, decades, centuries, millenia or even aeons of subjective and/or objective time, the 250 pages here comprise of one half hour introductory episode followed by three or four hours or so of the main plot (the second book seems similar). In some ways this read more like a novelisation of a TV show episode than your usual novel. Green makes all of this work and I’m a big fan of his books. They’re not deep or highly stylistic. They are fun, light reads with well-drawn characters that you can get along with (but who have their own quirks). As another reviewer once wrote of David Eddings, these are two dimensional characters, but they’re certainly drawn in exquisite detail in those two dimensions. A distinct contrast to what I’ve been reading lately, but well worth it, particularly if you’ve read the earlier works in this oeuvre by the likes of Hodgson, Wellman or other modern heirs like Newman. Green seems to be churning these three series out one in each every year, but their quality doesn’t seem to be suffering at all, and he doesn’t seem to be running out of ideas, either.

This shows what can be done when the ridiculous excesses of copyright are removed from the equation, and a good modern writer gets to remix ideas from classics of the genre.

I’ve been meaning to post this quick one for a while. $WIFE was reading a biography of Agatha Christie last year and found one comment on Christie’s habits a bit odd. The translator had reported that her favourite drink was half-cream half-milk. $WIFE thought this sounded incredibly rich. Half’n”half may be fine as a whitener in coffee but it would be a bit rich. After thinking about it for a while, I realised that the translator must have mis-translated “half-cream milk” (an older term I remember from my childhood for what’s now in the UK called semi-skimmed milk). The translation was fairly recent, though I’m not sure when the original was written, so this may well be a case of an earlier term confusing the translator who know the usual current terms of whole, semi-skimmed and skimmed instead of the old “full cream”, “half cream” and “no cream” terms.

This is the most recent Alastair Reynolds novel published only last month, so i’m now up to date with his novels, though I’ve still go one of his short story collections which I own but haven’t read. I’m on to other novels for now, though. (more…)

An interesting departure for Reynolds here. It’s basically a steampunk. A far future steampuk reminiscent of a number of the others from the last few years in some ways. There’s some shades of Stephen Hunt’s work here. Airships, of course, steam-driven cyborgs. Also brain-eating cyborgs. But in true Reynolds style there’s a big incomprehensible “object” right in the middle of this, driving the story. This is a real contrast to House of Suns in some ways. House of Suns is a Deep Time story with characters trailing around for centuries during the story and millions of years over past history. The characters in this one, though, have histories of tens of years and tha action takes place over months on the surface of one planet, probably Earth, though a really changed one. There’s been a glut of steampunk in the last few years, much of it pretty derivative and apologist for rotten early-stage civilisations. This isn’t one of those. It’s a complex mix of hard science physics speculation, biological and nano-tech high concept, mysterious objects and a personal struggle against mind-bending odds. Wonderful stuff, basically.

I’m close to catching up with Alastair Reynolds’ novels now. As noted in my post on The Prefect I’d missed The House of Suns when it came out so ordered it, along with Blue Remembered Earth. I’ve had a cold the last week so didn’t get around to posting about Terminal World yet so I thought I’d do them in order of publication instead of order of reading. There’s a comment I want to make on Terminal World about House of Suns, anyway, so it makes more sense in that order. Warning spoilers ahead.

Still catching up with Alastair Reynolds novels. I’d missed House of Suns so I’ve just ordered that (and the very recently published Blue Remembered Earth) and am no onto Terminal World, but more of those when I’ve finished them.
The Prefect, as PurpleCthulhu pointed out to me, is set in the backstory of the main Revelation Space universe books, in the Glitter Band. There’s a pathos to this story caused by knowing of the events offscreen in Chasm City and Redemption Ark. It reminded me of the Restaurant at the End of the Universe where the Compere talks about struggling for a better future, when everyone who’s been to the RatEotU knows there isn’t one. THat’s just gravy to a brilliant meld of police procedural (I love cross-genre detective/SF and detective fantasy), Baroque Space Opera and hard SF. THe main character of Dreyfus is a brilliant viewpoint, and Thalia Ng is pretty good, too. For such a complex plot with post-mortal humans and AIs wandering around everyone’s motivations add up well and unlike Pushing Ice I didn’t find a discordant note in the whole space opera. A great addition to the Revelation Sace universe. Once I finish the novels I have the Galactic North short story collection (all RS stories, I think), though I may leave that aside for a bit and hit one of the other catch-up authors first. I was trying to catch up with Gene Wolfe but Pirate Freedom wasn’t as good as all the reviews (to me, at least) and An Evil Guest was just dowright BAD, which put me off Wolfe again for a bit, though I really must catch up with Soldier of Sidon, the Wizard Knight and the Books of the Long and Short Sun, which are all older ones and should be better than Evil Guest.