Category Archives: Fiction

Book Review: “The Delirium Brief” by Charles Stross

The Delirium Brief by Charles Stross

And another fantasy from Britain…

As regular readers know, the Laundry Files are far from over.  Dark forces are gathering, and breaking through into everyday reality.  The defense forces are overstretched and beleaguered.

The Delirium Brief continues the story, starting from the fallout of the events recounted n The Nightmare Stacks. You can’t level half of Leeds without the public noticing, so there are many consequences.

This latest file is pretty dark and desperate.  It gave me nightmares.

This book is every bit as good as we expect from Charlie, with lots of witty banter and clever technology jokes.  The cast of characters is outstanding, and the catastrophe binds people deeply and brings out the best in even the little guys.

Stross works in his own brand of political satire, as well, though it isn’t really very funny in this case.  It’s one thing to joke about demonic forces taking over the government, it’s another thing when demonic forces actually are taking over.

But the events are so grim, as grim as grim gets.  Losses are heavy, and evil seems certain to win.  All seems lost.

But the story is not over.

One thing is for sure:  the Laundry Files put our own little troubles in perspective.  It could be worse.  A lot worse.

Get it. Read it.  But maybe not just before bedtime.


1. Charles Stross, The Delirium Brief, New York, Tom Doherty Association, 2017.

 

Sunday Book Reviews

 

Book Review: “The Management Style of Supreme Beings” by Tom Holt

The Management Style of Supreme Being by Tom Holt

I’m a long time fan of Tom Holt, and this book was what I expect from him.

Freewheeling fantasy, with a very British flavor.  Gods and demons and supernatural powers. A large dose of social commentary, starting with the title. Snappy rom-com dialog.

What more do you want?

The overall plot revolves around a buy out of Earth’s local supernatural being (an English Standard Version to be sure). The new owners are a multi-planetary corporation with a distinctly different management philosophy, little interest in good or evil, and a lot more emphasis on profit.

It’s quite a shock to everyone, to say the least!

The denizens of the nether regions are redundant to the new regime, but kept on as a condition of the sale. However, they will now need to find a path to financial sustainability. “Hand Basket Tours”, anyone?

For good measure, there is a jolly old elf up round the North Pole who wasn’t covered in the purchase. He’s not nearly as nice as the PR would have us believe, though he apparently is watching everyone, knows who is naughty and nice, and does give out prezzies in December.

God’s second son isn’t happy, and chooses to stay on Earth, whatever the terms of the sale said.

Multiple supreme beings, tussling for control of Earth? What coul possibly go wrong?

As always, we identify with the little people are caught up in the affairs of the gods, who are called on to be heroes, whether they want to or not.

As I said, it’s Tom Holt.  Get it.  Read it.


  1. Tom Holt, The Management Style of Supreme Beings, New York, Orbit Books, 2017.

 

Sunday Book Reviews

Book Review: “Woman No. 17” by Edan Lepucki

Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki

Edan Lepucki’s latest story takes place in contemporary LA and other parts of California. A recent college grad is hired as a live in nanny, and things get complicated. The household is shaken by the very recent separation, and is inhabited by an 18-year old son as well as the tot and the mom.

Moreover, the both the mom and the sitter have estranged relations with their own mothers, and other family complications, past and present.

The nanny is, for some reason, schitzing off in some half-baked “art project” that involves “becoming her mother”, including odd behavior, heavy drinking, and some kind of photography project. (I’m not sure that twenty-somethings should be allowed to major or minor in Art, at Berkeley or anywhere.) The mom is thrashing around with the implications of her faltering marriage, weirdly mute older son, her husband, and a languishing book project. And so on.

If there is a theme in all this, it must be that people both lie and misunderstand the truth, all the time. The truth is hard to find, even if you mean to.

I should note that Lepucki depicts the mischief that digital social media can play. In the age of too Much Information, Information is hidden, information is discovered, information is misinterpreted. Stalking is risky, and hiding behind digital masks is dangerous and damaging to everyone.

The whole show spirals into disaster, as the two women lean toward each other and at the same time are pushed apart by their men, mothers, and pasts. It’s painful to watch.

At then end, a new nanny is needed. Lepucki gives us the want ad, which reflects the lessons learned.

SEEKING BABYSiTTER FOR PRECOCIOUS TODDLER-
Hollywood

“Looking for a new babysitter or my smart and chatty toddler, effective immediately. 2-3 days a week, live-in option to be considered after a 6-week probation period.

“Requirements:

5+ years of experience working with kids
References from previous childcare positions
Driver’s license and full background check

“Also, I have another son who is (barely) an adult. He suffers from selective mutism. If you’re unlucky enough to meet him, I ask that you refrain from getting involved in his mind games.

“If you’re and artist of any kind, please look elsewhere. I’ve had enough of you for one lifetime.” (p. 298)

This novel is very well-crafted, if baffling in places. I had trouble identifying with these characters and situations , but Lepucki is such a good writer that I read right along, even through the really, really unpleasant parts.

Lepucki’s previous novel, California, is famous for receiving one of the most spectacular Colbert bumps in history. This is at least as good as California, which shows it wasn’t just luck.

  1. Edan Lepucki, Woman No. 17, New York, Hogarth, 2017.

 

Sunday Book Reviews

Book Review: “The Answers” by Catherine Lacey

The Answers by Catherine Lacey

Catherine Lacey’s latest novel is rather hard to really describe. The troubled narrator is looking for someone to tell her Answers, though she doesn’t really know what the questions are, and even if the Answers are wrong. This is not a promising project.

It was a relief for someone to explain what was wrong, what had happened. No one else, none of those doctors…has even tried to explain anything to me…. But now Ed was giving me an answer: the pneuma. It didn’t matter if I believed in the pneuma or not. It didn’t even matter if he was right. It was an explanation. A story” (p. 24)

The plot is preposterous. A gigantically wealthy and weird reclusive actor decides to conduct an “experiment”, trying to discover how to optimize and sustain the feeling of “being in love”. With money no object, the experimental design is insane (and arguably illegal). He has sliced up a relationship into what he imagines are the functional parts (the “maternal girlfriend”, the “angry girlfriend”, the “emotional girlfriend”, etc.) They recruit different women to enact these roles, with the notion that they will highly optimize each component.

This is “The Girlfriend Experiment”.

Responsibilities of the Emotional Girlfriend will include….:

“Listening to Kurt talk while remaining fully engaged by asking questions, maintaining eye contact, affirming his opinions, and offering limited amounts of advice or guidance that may or may not be entertained.”

“The Emotional Girlfriend should therefore never disagree, challenge or complain to Kurt. The motional Girlfriend will need to take care never to criticize him for anything, no matter how hones or caring her tone might be.” (p. 67-69)

Like I said, it’s preposterous.

It’s also obnoxious and abusive. But they find women who need the money to play these roles, so off we go. Sigh.

The cast of characters is a jumble. The main narrator is a very messed up woman, though the mess is so extravagant it’s ridiculous. Her background is an insulting stereotype, and her ailments are beyond belief. (No wonder her doctors can’t cure her—such ailments could exist only in fiction.)

The villainous rich guy is just as two-dimensional, and also messed up in extravagant and absurd ways. I’m not saying rich sociopaths aren’t screwy, but this guy is screwy in ways that are just insultingly two dimensional.

The characters also include a nasty stereotype of a new age healer, insulting stereotypes of behavioral scientists (as well as a slanderous rendition of how behavioral scientists behave), and, for good measure, an annoying depiction of a “gay personal assistant”. Sigh.

Oh, and there is a weird psychic best friend who disappears without explanation. Something to do with some kind of conspiracy or perhaps she has crossed over into the spirit realm. Don’t ask me, I haven’t a clue.

The crew of experimental girl friends (the actual term used) are surprisingly passive and accepting of this rich guy’s perverted war crime. OK, they need the money. But, really. Who would even consider participating in this deal? It’s nuts. They’re nuts to go along.

The final outcome of the experiment is awful (big surprise there), though it’s a bit difficult to figure out exactly what happened at the end.

The only thing that really rang true throughout is that people will agree to all kinds of bad deals if they are desperate and lonely and the money is good enough. And extremely rich people can manipulate people by throwing around huge mounds of money. Is this supposed to be news to anyone?

What is the point of all this? What is Lacey up to?

I really don’t know.


  1. Catherine Lacey, The Answers, New York, Macmillan, 2017.

 

Sunday Book Reviews

Book Review: “Rich People Problems” by Kevin Kwan

Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan

Singaporean ex-pat Kwan continues his tale of the globe hopping ultra-rich of Singapore, following the events in China Rich Girlfriend.

I’m not a great fan of soap operas or fashion porn, but I can’t resist his Singapore-Hong Kong-Shanghai setting, and the loving portrayal of Singapore and its foods.

This story recounts the turmoil around the last days of the great mother of the clan, which brings the whole family together—with predictable conflict. It’s great fun to read as conspiracies and even fists fly around the will and who will get the grand old house and all the Stuff.

As always, Kwan drools (indeed, slobbers) over the luxury goods and extravagant life styles of these insanely wealthy people. (They are, as his earlier title says, not just rich, they are China Rich.) But that’s all part of the fun, even though I have not the remotest clue about (nor interest in) all this stuff.

He also drools over Singaporean foods from his youth, and recalls the fast disappearing good old days of this thriving and crowded island.

I’m sure this book isn’t that different from many other fantasies about the ultra rich. It’s basically “Dallas” set in Singapore (not that these snobby folks would have anything to do with those upstart Ewings!) But, like any romantic fantasy, its fun to read about this ‘foreign’ place and time.

It’s just junk food, bu I like these books. So sue me.


  1. Kevin Kwan, Rich People Problems, New York, Doubleday, 2017.

 

Sunday Book Reviews

Housekeeping: Second Quarter Roundup, Books Reviewed

A bit of housekeeping at the end of Q2.

The usual

This quarter has seen daily posts, a steady stream of comments on research papers* and general articles on favorite topics including blockchains, the new economy, solar power, environmental sensing, computer security, and “brilliantly executed BS”.

I’ve begun to pay attention to Quantum Computing, which is surely a coming thing.

And Robots! And Dinosaurs!

*Note: discussion of scientific and technical research always refers to the primary sources.


Books Reviewed This Quarter

A summary of the books reviewed in the second quarter.

Fiction

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier
The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente
Touch by Courtney Maum
Mother Land by Paul Theroux
Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
Startup by Doree Shafrir
Off Rock by Kieran Shea
The Wrong Dead Guy by Richard Kadrey
Earthly Remains by Donna Leon
The Underwriting by Michelle Miller
Luna: Wolf Moon by Ian McDonald
Huck Out West by Robert Coover

Non-Fiction

Half-Earth by Edward O. Wilson
The Book of Joy by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams
Solve For Happy by Mo Gawdat
The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness by Paula Poundstone
Lenin on the Train by Catherine Merridale
The Spider Network by David Enright
Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare by Giles Milton


Some ideas for band names

 Following the lead of Sensei Dave Barry, I occasionally suggest names for bands.

This quarter’s harvest include:

Penguin Guano
Adelie Census
Fog Orchestra
Shape Changing Fog Screen
The Fog and the Eye
First Ringplane Crossing
Grand Finale Dive #2
The Grand Finale Toolkit
Last View of Earth
Final – and Fateful – Titan Flyby
Robots On Europa
Gay Robots on Europa

 

 

 

Book Review: “The Refrigerator Monologues” by Catherynne M. Valente

The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente

Yet another interesting work from CMV, who is becoming a rather versatile and imaginative  storyteller.

The collection of stories comes from a conceptual mash up of Gail Simone’s Women in Refrigerators, and Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues.  Get it?  I had to read the Acknowledgments to know what this is all about.

The stories are set in a sort of comic book Hell, which is wonderfully imagined and told. Being dead is bad, but it’s not the end of the world. Unfortunately, it’s actually forever, which is the opposite of the end of the world.

Valente kind of flips the old saying that ‘hell is other people’. The best part of this afterlife is that everybody is there. You can’t enjoy life (‘cause you’re dead, dummy), but you can still meet at talk and go to the clubs. Unfortunately, you have to wear whatever they buried you in, which is less than optimal, fashionwise.

The Hell Hath Club meets regularly to tell and hear these biographical monologues (a la TVM). The stories tell about the travails of women who have been written out of the plots of their boyfriend’s superhero story. I.e., they are Simone’s Refrigerator Women, depowered, tortured, and ultimately killed off as plot devices in superhero stories.  Male superhero stories.

It is clear that Valente cares about comics (more than I do), and also about feminism (more personally than I do), which adds a bit of spice both to her writing and to reading her stories. But honestly, I liked them fine as they are, before I looked stuff up. You don’t need to be a feminist superhero fan to like the book, though it might push you to be interested in both, just because its fun to read.

Valente is an excellent writer, and loves superhero comics. The stories are imaginative and funny and wonderful and larger than life. As she says, “creating an entire superhero universe to make a point was ridiculous.

Waiter! More ridiculousness, please! A round of ridiculousness for the house!


  1. Catherynne M. Valente, The Refrigerator Monologues, New York, Saga Press, 2017.

 

Sunday Book Reviews