The Royal Library of Alexandria (SP Book Discussion)


Alternate Routes, Tim Powers. Apart from being cursed with the cover art from shit art Hell (nice one, Baen), this is another fine novel you’ve gotten me into, Powers. Taking place in the established Powersverse, complete with thought-out systems for the supernatural, the book is all about the freeways of LA and the spiritual current they generate, creating ghosts, and ghost roads, and linking LA to the Labyrinth of Greek myth. I wouldn’t put it up against Declare, but it’s a good book from a consummate writer, in an established groove.

An Intimate War, Mike Martin. This is an oral history of the conflict in Helmand, Afghanistan, based on the usual research, but also more than a hundred interviews with Helmandis about the conflict in their province, with a little establishing history, but picking up from 1978 and going all the way through to 2012. Particularly enlightening, especially given the recurring nature of how a group rises to dominance, and then is subverted to the point of helplessness, if not outright overthrown, and the self-destructive Western efforts to uproot ‘corruption’ and destroy the very patronage networks they had set about establishing to counter the Taliban. Absolutely excellent, and not particularly long.


A wise move for most books.


I really need to read some Powers. Declare was a formatting nightmare on my Kindle, but maybe I’ll have to suck it up and either read the print version or deal with the digital formatting.


Baen’s covers are generally awful, which for a genre that can plumb pretty bad depths is some going.

Currently reading Bad Blood about the rise and fall of Theranos. At the time, I thought Theranos was just another tech company that over-promised and then collapsed under the hype load, taking VC’s money with it. In reality, the idea of a simple machine to carry out hundreds of test on a single drop of blood was vapourware from the start, and the company management was some mix of clueless, deluded, incompetent and criminal. An employee took his own life as a result of the company’s callousness, and Elizabeth Holmes not being in prison right now shows how the right connections can work out for you even though your tech unicorn turned out to be a con all along.


Really enjoyed Bad Blood. Usually not my kind of book, but I cranked through it in a couple days.



I’ve been working through the New York Times 2018 Top Books list.

Just finished The Great Believers. I really enjoyed how it was written and how the stories came together. Chapters switch off between the 80s and 2015 and start out seemingly completely disconnected but slowly merge.

NYT summary:

Set in the Chicago of the mid-80s and Paris at the time of the 2015 terrorist attacks, Makkai’s deeply affecting novel uses the AIDS epidemic and a mother’s search for her estranged daughter to explore the effects of senseless loss and our efforts to overcome it. Her portrait of a group of friends, most of them gay men, conveys the terrors and tragedies of the epidemic’s early years and follows its repercussions over decades. Empathetic without being sentimental, her novel amply earned its place among the contenders for the Booker Prize and the National Book Award.



I’ve been really enjoying the Jack Reacher books by Lee Child. I’ve kept current over the last few years, but occasionally pick up an older one as well (like the one I’m reading now, “Nothing to Lose.”)

I just love Child’s writing and it never fails to grip to the point where I read it a lot faster than I would have otherwise. I just want to keep going.

Highly recommended, though the coincidences that cause the whole situation to start can sometimes go a bit over the top.

Thinking of posting a review of one of these soon.


The Passion of David Lynch: Wild at Heart in Hollywood. There is absolutely no shortage of interpretation, particularly on the internet, of Lynch’s work, especially Twin Peaks, much of it execrable and/or incoherent. Martha Nochimson gives the best reading of Lynch’s earlier work I have yet seen. She has arrived at this reading in no small part through many open-minded and open-ended conversations with Lynch himself, which she does not extensively document but which clearly form the foundation of her interpretations. It is absolutely not a work of Freudian criticism; still, the word “castration” does appear too often for my taste. Regardless, it is absolutely required reading, I think, for anyone seriously interested in understanding Lynch’s project. Now, on to her later book, David Lynch Swerves.



Meddling Kids, Cantero. What if the gang from Scooby-Doo solved their last mystery and grew up? Shaggy is a major acid casualty, Velma an intellectual sexpot dropout, Fred’s a decrepit former hunk, Daphne’s on her fourth divorce, and Scoob is long dead. But enough of my fevered imaginings!

This is almost but not quite the plot; some characters have been changed to ensure there can be no lawsuit, but it’s still about two men, two women, and a dog, solving crime. Their last case concluded, the gang go their separate ways, only to reform like Voltron a decade later, around the trauma of the unfinished case that has scarred them all. Unevenly written with some unusual turns of phrase, I enjoyed the Hell out of this book anyway, for its determination to update the story, for its commitment to jokes great and poor, for its cheery profusion of references, and for its guiltless cheese. The last two series’ of Scooby-Doo were genuinely good, and this is another fine addition to my brain.


<takes @OhBollox’s temperature>



Some kinda Kindle history sale appears to be going on. I picked up volume 1 of 1809: Thunder on the Danube for a buck a couple years back, and since I’m in this Empires in Arms game on a whim I checked the prices of the other two volumes, and they were down to $1.30 each from $22 or whatever they had been. Got those and also Mike Snook’s books on Isandlwana and Rourke’s Drift for $1.30 and $0.99, respectively, and sawa few other titles on deep discount, too. If there’s something you’ve wanted but couldn’t stomach the price of, it wouldn’t hurt to check the current price.

EDIT: When you spell Rorke wrong on both sites where you posted this:



The Changeling, Lavalle. I thought, after the first part, that this book was going to be boring. I was wrong. It switches from the mundanity of parenthood to horror, to tragedy, to something quite different. Lavalle’s an exceptional writer, with skilled, economical prose and a good turn of phrase, combined with a knack for depicting the small details in familiar ways. The everyday root of the story makes the other elements more fantastical, while providing a grounding.


Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea, Adam Roberts. Tale of the French submarine Plongeur, which disappears on its maiden voyage into the depths of a literally unfathomable sea. Starts strong, stays strong, ends weak, I’m sad to say. I read it in less than 24 hours, I think, or maybe 48? Hard to say, I went through it so fast. Unusual for me. What I thought was turning into a very Barry N. Malzbergian exploration of the madness of exploration turned into something else…and I’m not entirely sure what, in the end. Not sure I would recommend, but not sad I read it, either.


Ladies and gents, Taiyo Fujii wrote Gene Mapper, featuring this, in 2013. I have never felt more like a dinosaur.


Fantastic recommendation on The Broken Earth, @Neumannium. Just finished the first and started the second!


Semiosis by Sue Burke is a novel of first contact, and like a lot of them these days, it doesn’t keep things simple and straightforward. The interplay of human biology with an alien world that is similar enough to be livable and different enough to be incredibly dangerous is fascinating.

Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth Powell. If you think Britain wasn’t defended against the Nazis by a one-eyed monkey pilot, A) Welcome to the same revisionist antechamber to Hell as David Irving and B) this isn’t the book for you.

Shelter by Dave Hutchinson. Hutchinson knocked out a series of novels that were spy thrillers but involving a kind of pocket-dimension-parallel-country in Europe, and they were excellent for their world rooted in the prosaic existence of their characters. So it is here, in post-Apocalypse (not Brexit, at least ostensibly) Britain; not in the immediate aftermath, but a hundred years later, with a mixture of old and new technology, competing societies and organisations, and the adventures and battles in a country wild and anarchic, with no ruling state.