Having put my oar into the discussion about the 2010 Hugo Award for Best Novel in this post (all the books were reviewed under the hugo2010 tag), I feel I should probably report that the winners were announced this morning (or, in the timezone of AussieCon4, where they were announced, last night).

China Miéville's The City & The City and Paolo Bacigalupi's Windup Girl jointly won the Hugo Award; whilst I'm very happy at the Miéville victory, I'm rather more disappointed (though unsurprised) by the worthy, but poor, Windup Girl being awarded.  I must say that I'm rather annoyed that Julian Comstock didn't win; as I've said, I thought it was by far the best novel on the ballot, and it really deserved to win - I'll be interested to see how the voteshares fell out amongst the six nominees.

Either way, congratulations to all the nominees, and moreso to China Miéville and Paolo Bacigalupi.

The full list of nominees can be found here, and results will I believe be posted there at some nebulous future point.
Charles Stross’ 3rd novel in the brilliant Laundry series is on a par with The Atrocity Archives and The Jennifer Morgue, the preceding novels in the sequence. Once more we’re following Bob Howard in his battles with ISO 9000 standards, managers, auditors, and Lovecraftian horrors from beyond this dimension trying to eat his soul and mind…
This outing with Howard is possibly his darkest and most damaging yet. It opens with a well-deserved warning; however horrific Jennifer Morgue got, and whatever Howard had to do, The Fuller Memorandum goes beyond and makes it worse; Stross has conjured up some seriously awful situations for Howard to end up in, including kidnapped by crazed cultists and (once more) up in front of the Auditors – for something worse than ever before.
The plot’s the usual conceit – double-dealing, backstabbing, betrayal from unexpected sources, mind-eating horrors, computer geekery, domestic drudgery, zombie assassins, and Russian FSB agents dabbling with the occult and playing both sides off against the middle. We learn much more about Angleton, Howard’s boss, and about the Laundry, as well as the various threats-from-beyond that Howard has to deal with in this novel; the world of the Laundry is, in fact, given more fleshing out (perhaps an ill choice of term…) and background than it has ever yet had before, and Stross does it beautifully. The plot advances with our knowledge, and whilst some developments are obvious to a reader Howard himself also learns them (even if he doesn’t tell us, he acts on what he knows). Despite this, Stross still throws some serious curveballs; he’s a bit of a genius in that regard, dropping sudden switches on us at a moments notice.
All in all then, this latest outing of our favourite computer geek cum warrior against the Beings Beyond is a brilliant piece of work; whilst one does have to have read the previous novels in a sequence to get all the references and jokes, that’s a pleasure to do anyway! Highly recommended.
This book was won in a contest run by Graeme of Graeme’s Fantasy Book Reviews.
The Cambist and Lord Iron
This is quite a fun story, certainly one for the economists out there; a cambist (currency-exchanger) is presented with increasingly difficult dilemmas of exchange – pure economic exchange, if viewed in the right way (that’s a minor spoiler, by the by) – and has to solve them. It’s a lovely story, with the characters really well drawn, especially Olaf, the cambist; a great piece, and a really good explanation of a truly arcane piece of economics.
Flat Diane
This is a spooky story; it’s a bit of modern voodoo, I guess, and a tale of unintended consequences. Both Ian and Diane grow over the course of the story, and become strong characters in their own right; similarly, other characters appear and Diane changes. It’s a skilfully told tale, with the worst elements practiced effectively and efficiently; similarly, the best moments are really moving in themselves. A scary, and very different, story.
The Best Monkey
This is a rather Chiang-like story (although I’m thinking Abraham and Chiang belong in a very similar category…) about aesthetics and its effect on science, and on life. It’s a beautiful story, with a wonderful first-person narrator; set in the near future, it’s a piece of investigative journalism by Jimmy, who is old and nearing burn-out. It’s a good piece, and raises some really good questions without trying to solidly answer them – intellectual, without being pushy or obscure about it, and without trying to tell the reader what to think. Great stuff.
The Support Technician Tango
This is a great story of tech support, of tango, of self-help books being self-aware and evil… and of romance. Abraham has a wicked sense of humour, and in this story he really does let it show; the thing fits together perfectly, and whilst there are some genuinely grim and worrying moments, in more general terms its light-hearted fun. The characters are a little two-dimensional and stereotypical, although Sarah the receptionist isn’t; but the plot moves quite fast, and the whimsy doesn’t feel overdone. A hilarious story.
A Hunter in Arin-Qin
This is a good slow-burning tale that works itself towards a climax that, really, is a bit of a blinder. The build-up creates characters, and times, and events vividly without using the pen-stroke too precisely to allow the imagination to work; and the back-story told in the tale is invaluable and incredible. Abraham’s ability to create a story and an enemy is grand, and the climax of this one is unexpected and well-played, moving and yet (purposefully) it leaves one a little cold.
Leviathan Wept
This is an interesting story – very Hobbesian, as the name would suggest (and Hobbes does come up; it bears thinking about…). It’s a story of the near-future and of a Singularity event, perhaps; and about how peace can come. Abraham creates a cast of sympathetic characters and makes them do awful things – as soldiers, after all – whilst also throwing them into a problematic state; he also pushes an interesting and unusual political philosophy through the story. This is a nice little tale, well worth reading – and perhaps distributing to intelligence agencies the world over…
This is a really good one - let down by the beginning, but otherwise one of the absolute stand-outs of the collection. The description in the jacket flap is misleading, and the first part of the story is rather… melodramatic, in some ways, but the rest of it’s really good. Abraham’s discussion of maturity and how to deal with conflict is really interesting, and whilst the scaled-up versions of it are stuck in at the front (without really being explained… it’s a poorly started story, though it continues really well) the human version played out through its 15-20 pages is excellent and moving. Really interesting in this world of social networks &c.
As Sweet
This is a nice, sweet tale of love and romance – and what those really are; about how growing up and growing old are not the same thing; and about what the difference between Romeo and Juliet, and a couple married for years, is. It’s an interesting story, with a nice moral and a light touch; but somewhat heavy-handed in making its point blunt and clear. A sweet tale, though – as sweet as a rose, maybe…
The Curandero and the Swede
America is a land of immigrants, a “border town” as Abraham puts it in this story… and it’s a land of stories; Neil Gaiman’s American Gods demonstrates that well enough, for example. However, this story is more than just a story of America – it is an American story, and an American story in a very particular way. It’s a story about stories, about America, about people, and about all different “immigrants” to the story itself. It’s a really good tale, a wonderful piece of folklore, and really good on meaning and, again, at its heart, about romance. Wonderful stuff.

All in all, this is a fantastic collection of stories, well worth reading, up there with Ted Chiang's Stories of Your Life, and deeply moving... I read them in a day, and it was hard to put them down, even when I needed to.  Few duff notes, and a powerful tour-de-force.
This pastiche spy thriller is the second in the Laundry series, following the Atrocity Archives and preceding The Fuller Memorandum, which is currently winging its way to me courtesy of Graeme's Fantasy Book Review. Whilst I wasn't too aware, whilst reading it, of the pastiches that underlay the Atrocity Archives - not in a specific sense, anyway - The Jennifer Morgue is much more bluntly a Fleming-alike (indeed, a riff of a few Bond novels/films) and makes that element of the novel utterly integral to the plot.

The story moves in a way somewhat like a James Bond novel - if you threw Lovecraftian horrors in as villains, an inhuman creature in as the "opposition ally", and a computer geek (named Bob Howard - homage maybe?) in place of James Bond.  Stross doesn't just create a fun scenario - which that definitely and undeniably is, no? - but also uses it to good effect to create a novel which goes beyond the Fleming source material to be a funny and thrilling novel in its own right.  The plot draws on a variety of Fleming's novels and the films, but most strongly on a combination of Thunderball and The Spy Who Loved Me; however, it doesn't slavishly adhere to their principles and there's a twist at the end which - whilst somewhat telegraphed - is still well handled, although it does rob one character of a lot of development and everything else.  That robbing is not ignored but is handled as the conclusion of the novel, thankfully; Stross isn't one to make the mistake of leaving untouched a problem he's created.

He is, as usual, pretty strong on characterisation; Bob Howard is drawn very well, as is Ramona - the spy who loved him, if you will - and they're more than just Bond-novel archetypes; in fact, Howard is anything but, being very much the computer geek who strayed into the wrong story much of the time, and some of the time a panicked Bond-style hero more worried he's going wrong than anything else.  The characters are fresh and human, worrying about human relationships and human matters as well as the cosmic chaos they're trying to police, which is a skilful line to walk; Stross, however, tapdances down it spinning a plate as he goes, never missing a note.

All told, Stross has once more created a brilliant piece of pastiche and made it, in its own right, fantastic.  Really enjoyable and unmissable, I can't wait for the arrival of the sequel!


Squeaking of the GrimSqueaker....

February 2012

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