Categories
Books

Sir Terry Pratchett, 1948 – 2015

“No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away…”

― Terry Pratchett, Reaper Man

I’m rarely out of words, but today’s one of those. It’s around 20 years since I wondered why everyone kept stealing these kids books from the school library where I worked. It was astounding, no matter how often we restocked, they were gone within a few days.

They weren’t gone, as it happens. Turns out there’s no appreciable difference between books that are taken out as soon as they come back in, and books that never get returned. However, there was my empty shelf in Fiction, P-Z, where books should be but weren’t. One day, I found Eric had been filed under Kirby instead of Pratchett, thus lasted long enough for me to book.

Shortly afterwards I bought Mort, and then every other book in a scatter-shot order that was based partly on characters and partly on the fact that if Sourcery was £3.99 and Moving Pictures was £4.99 I was going to either get a book this week or after my pocket money came in. Such are the economics of early years (and, indeed, later ones).

In 1995 I bought the Discworld Companion in paperback, which contained a lot of things I already knew, several things I didn’t, and a blurb at the back about some fanatics who lived on a Usenet group called alt.fan.pratchett. This was shortly after we got Compuserve, and thus the internet, and a long time before such things as always-on connections and free ISPs. I learnt how to get on the internet, how to find AFP, how to cope with 600+ messages a day, and how to post. Then I posted. Then Terry Pratchett replied to it, and then I ran THE FUCK AWAY FROM THE SCARY THING.

I spent a while in the quieter backwaters of Eddings fandom until returning to AFP as well, and spent several years pouring words by the hundreds of thousands into opinions, arguments, bricktext, filks and short stories on the group. I joined the IRC channel, I went to the gatherings. There is fairly literally no part of the life I lead today that isn’t in some way descended from being part of Pratchett Fandom since before I could legally smoke. Jobs, houses, friends and relationships are all tied up with people I’ve met and talked bullshit with, all tied together in the name of all liking Terry.

A story he told: Before he was a novelist, he worked for the nuclear power industry as a PR man. In the wake of the 1979 nuclear incident, he was in a restaurant and he ordered a salad. When they asked which dressing, he replied, distracted, Three Mile Island. A short while later they bought him a salad, a serving of thousand island dressing, and with careful reverence, a bottle of tabasco sauce.

And he was *nice*. I mean, he was angry occasionally, and had all the wariness of anyone given a large group of strangers who all want you to know how much they like you (I’d imagine), but he maintained a level of respect and humour in the face of a thousand fans that will remain my model for grace under fire for a while.

(CW: Alzheimers, assisted death, suicide)

When he announced “The Embuggerence”, there was an element of the unfair to it. The vacuum of an uncaring universe briefly found enough irony within it to condem such an amazing thinker to such an ignoble fate. But he fought. He fought equally by drawing attention to the Alzheimers research that was so poorly funded, and to the assisted death laws he hoped he wouldn’t need.

I’ve no idea if he chose his own exit. It’s something he would do, and the description of his peaceful death supports the plans he made. While I can’t understand, I think I can sympathise. I find assisted death to be tricky as a moral standpoint, because I know too many people who would not be enjoying their life now if it was an option for them before. But I feel that for people like Terry, and his position, it should be… possible, I think.

(/end CW)

I don’t have enough words to describe how much of an impact he had on my life. To say that he will be missed is to describe the sea as more than a mouthful.

And I liked his books, too.

Categories
Books Fiction media Thailand

Thailand Trip – Postscript – Entertainment

I have another five hours in this tin can.

I have watched The Mechanic (Jason Statham plays Jason Statham in a Jason Statham movie), the same half an hour of the Green Hornet that I watched on the way out (Because it’s awful) and “I am number 4” a fantasy origin story for an interesting universe that is probably not quite good enough to get beyond the origin story. (I later discover that a) it was a book first, and b) I’m wrong)

Over the holiday, I’ve read:

The first three Felix Castor books by Mike Carey (Still good urban fantasy novels)

I haven’t really reviewed any of these in any opinionated depth. Most of them were chosen on recommendation from friends, and because my friends are all awesome I loved every one of them. So you can take it as read that if you like the sound of the summary, you will probably like the book.

Court of the Air (Stephen Hunt), an original and great fantasy universe hosting a stock chosen-one plot, which is a comment rather than a complaint. Elements of steampunkery and well-realised and *different* factions who all believe they are doing the right thing, rather than an obvious moustashe twirling villian tying the world to the railway tracks.

Naked (Audiobook, David Sedaris) is a series of autobiographical novellas, almost. I first heard of Sedaris on This Amercian Life and The Moth, basically applying weapons grade anecdotery, which is pretty much what you get here. Living as a somewhat obsessive-compulsive child, growing though the death of his mother, and finally how to survive a weekend as a naturist. I liked this a lot.

Singularity Sky & Iron Sunrise, (Charles Stross). I’m not much of a scifi reader, but I am a fan of Stross’s horror/spy/geekset Laundry series, and I enjoyed all of this. A somewhat whimsical universe with a rock solid base, it is Scifi as a platform to tell stories of how a new world works, rather than explaining a new world though stories.

13 Blue Envelopes is something I got free, and wasn’t expecting a lot from it. It’s a story of a shy american being given a box of said envelopes as her aunt dies, and the instructions within that take her out of her element and across europe. It’s well written and fluffy, even thoughout the occasionally dark subject matter.

Cryoburn (Lois M. Bujold). The most recent Miles book is mostly a swansong for the Miles The Imperial Investigator cycle within the grand sweeping arc of the Vorkosigan series. It follows the template – Miles is sent to investigate something. It’s bigger and more complicated than it looks. Hijinks ensue. It’s wrapped up, but not quite neatly enough. It’s still a very good story, and I’m not knocking the formula, but a lot of it appears there – especially a somewhat dechekoved special guest appearence towards the end of the main plot – to drive towards the massive kick in the balls that constitutes the last chapter, which spins the series into a new cycle, for which I can’t wait. Due to Bujold’s tendency towards non-chronological novels, it’s not even the last book with Miles in this position, but it spins up and resolves both itself, a few dangling universe threads, and several huge overhead arcs.

Rivers of London (Ben Aaronovich). Urban fantasy set in London. Absolutely wonderful from beginning to end. Run, do not walk, to your nearest bookshop or virtual equivelant.

Side Jobs – Stories from the Dresden Files. (Jim Butcher) A series of short stories set in the Dresdenverse, ranging from the standard formula condensed into fewer words to explorations of bits of the universe Dresden can never see. Plus, it has a never-published-before short story which is What Happens After The End of Changes, which is worth the price of admission on its own, although doesn’t resolve the important question. Though the title of the new book – Ghost Story, coming in July – might.

Four and a half hours left in the tin can. I think I need to go for a short walk.

Categories
Books computing

Kindling

So, a post not about computer games.

Also, not about the fact that I have been made redundant. Slightly before I was made redundant, I decided I wanted an ebook reader.

Actually, I wanted an iPad, and probably still do, but they’re a little bulky and heavy to cart around in my pocket, even if it fitted, and while my major reason for wanting a tablet device is ebooks, staring at backlit screens is bad for my head, so epaper it was.

I own a number of ebooks already, mostly though Baen’s Webscription store, which does open ebooks. I also own the Kindle app for Android, with a couple of books on it for “try out new software” purposes, and I quite like it, so I decided to take the risk and bought a Kindle and a cover for it. (Note, all the following Amazon links will supply me with a kickback if you buy though them).

The kindle registered as “Cheap for what it is” at £110, the cover (with built-in light, since the kindle doesn’t do backlights) as “Expensive for what it looks like” at £50. The light does, however, work perfectly and the cover does look great. Specifically, I bought the Wifi only Kindle and the Kindle Lighted Leather Cover, Steel Blue, instead of the Kindle 3G + Wi-Fi, 6, which is more expensive. The 3G option and data rate charges don’t seem excessive, but since my phone can act as a wireless router to its 3G connection, if I need mobile access I can just use that.

A few days later the device had arrived. It arrives semi-charged – much like the iPhone – and if you bought it though Amazon without selecting “as a gift” comes pre-configured with your Amazon account already set up. The ePaper screen is crystal clear, and it arrives already displaying a welcome message (The Kindle only uses battery charge to repopulate the screen, so even in the “off” state a message can still be on screen. When you put it to sleep yourself, your book text is replaced with a picture of a famous author or object of literary worth. It’s really nice).

After using touch screens, the arrow-key interface is a bit limiting at first, but works well enough. The UI touches have impressed me. Within a couple of minutes of lighting up, it had downloaded the books I’d bought for Kindle for Android (Empire in Black and Gold) and when I went into it, continued from the place I’d been at when I last closed the android application, after asking me if that’s what I wanted.

The Kindle will accept .mobi or PDF files by default, if you plug it in to your computer it’ll appear as a USB storage device. You can use the open source software Calibre to convert things to this format, and to manage what ebooks are on the device if you like.

The display is sharp and clear, the slightly weird page refresh – which reverses video before changing the content – looks like it’ll be distracting when you first see it, but soon becomes unnoticeable when you’re following. The lack of being able to read it in the dark without the portable light is something it shares with real books, and the advantage that it can still be read in direct sunlight is also.

You can worry about Amazon acting the evil empire and removing books you’ve paid for – though after fucking that up once they’ve said they won’t do that again – if you like and just go with books you’ve downloaded and bought yourself that have no relationship with them. Even with wifi on and using the case-light (which feeds off the Kindle power supply) the batteries have lasted almost three weeks before needing charging.

I like it. It’s surprisingly natural to read, it Just Works almost all of the time, and it’s a quarter the price of the cheapest iPad. It’s not a tablet device as much as it’s just an eBook reader, but it knows what it is supposed to do, and it does that very well indeed.

Categories
Books food

Pears and Sausages

Lets start with a quote. From the Lies Of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch:

The white-robed boys swept back their hoods and Locke saw that they were twins; perhaps a year or two older than himself, and far sturdier-looking. They had the olive skin and black hair of the true Camorri; their identical long, hook-ended noses, however, were something of an anomaly. Smiling, they joined hands and bowed in unison from the waist.

‘Um, hi,’ Locke said. ‘Which of you is . . . which?’

‘Today, I am Galdo,’ said the one on Locke’s left.

‘Tomorrow, I will probably be Galdo,’ said the other one.

‘Or perhaps we’ll both want to be Calo,’ added the one that had first spoken.

‘In time,’ Father Chains interrupted, ‘you’ll learn to tell them apart by the number of dents I’ve kicked in their respective arses; one of them always manages to be ahead of the other, somehow.’ He stood behind Locke and placed both of his wide, heavy hands on Locke’s shoulders. ‘Idiots, this is Locke Lamora. As you can see, I’ve just bought him from your old benefactor, the master of Shades’ Hill.’

‘We remember you,’ said presumed-Galdo.

‘A Catchfire orphan,’ said presumed-Calo.

‘Father Chains bought us just after you arrived,’ they said in unison, grinning.

‘Knock that bullshit off,’ Father Chains said, his voice somehow regal. ‘You two have just volunteered to cook dinner. Pears and sausage in oil, and a double portion for your new little brother. Get. Locke and I will deal with the kettle.’

That’s what I was reading yesterday, and so, casting around for something to do for dinner today, the quote popped into my head. Pears and sausage in oil.

(If you like the book, you can buy it in most decent book stores. If you’re not quite sure, there’s another 29 and a half pages of the book in extract form on Mr Lynch’s site. I’d highly recommend both the book and the sequel).

Tescos supplied me with some “Cumberland style” sausages and a few pears, edibly ripe.

The frying pan has yet to recover from the weekend, so we won’t be frying them. Pears are quite delicate to the taste, and we want to bring out the flavour rather the bury it, so this is going to end up as simple as possible.

A roasting tin, into which we throw four of the sausages, each sliced into three. The pears are peeled (which is a bastard) sliced and then stripped of the core bits, then thrown in without any more slicing. Olive oil is drizzled over that to help it cook, and Onto that goes a sprinkling of basil with a dash of thyme, ginger, salt (Basil because I like it, thyme because I think it’ll work well with the pear, and a pinch of ginger to add an subliminal edge. The salt helps bring out the flavour too); some sliced tomatoes go over the top because I think that’ll help, and then the whole kit and caboodle gets thrown into the oven for an hour and a half on 150°c while I go attempt to work out why so many people like World of Warcraft.

A while later, I come to the conclusion this isn’t quite enough of a balanced meal, throw some rice on, and serve that lot over it about ten minutes later.

Then I have an idea.

Categories
Books

The “The weird shit all around” genre – Part II

Okay, only just “Tomorrow”, but I’ve been busy. Dragon Age, as a wise man once said, does not play itself.

The other two short stories in the Mean Streets anthology I mentioned yesterday were Remi Chandler and John Taylor. In the other order, then:

Into the Nightside, by Simon R. Green
Take Neverwhere. Neverwhere is one of my favourite books in the world, so this is a good start. Take the central conceit – a world parallel to London that is full of weird shit – and literalise it. The Nightside is a hidden world within London town, a classic fantasy subcity of out of time adventurers and out of universe horrors; of evil beyond your mind and technology beyond our ken; a world that normality may occasionally stumble into, but never lasts long within. Then put a PI there, give him a hidden backstory and a genre awareness, season with mixed metaphors, and continue into the future. It’s a darker side of the same concept Neverwhere explored, with back story and structure where Neverwhere had whimsy and flow. Where it occasionally trips over is a need to explain the world around it, though this builds a deeper universe you feel you comprehend. In both cases, you understand the world you’re in as the character does. Oh, and there’s always the rising tide of bad juju.

A Kiss Before the Apocalypse by Thomas E. Sniegoski
An angel gave up on heaven and came to live on earth. He works as a private eye. He can understand his dog. Heaven occasionally needs his help to interact with humanity. There’s a rising tide of bad juju. It’s exactly like that, yes. It suffers somewhat from a lack of characters with a “normal” viewpoint, but given that this is a story about an immortal angel fighting his basic nature and trying to stay human against the background of aforementioned juju, that’s excusable. Possibly the weakest of the Mean Streets stories, but still pretty damn strong.

Now you should start recommending things at me 🙂

Categories
Books

The "The weird shit all around" genre

In the last couple of years, I’ve got into something of a subgenre. What it’s a subgenre of depends on who you talk to, or which bookshops you visit, but it appears to be the intersection of “Crime”, “Fantasy” and – in some shops – “Horror”. The best inclusive tag I have for it is “The weird shit all around”, but that probably needs work. They sometimes get lumped in with the rest of “Urban Fantasy”.

The format is generally “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio. I, $foo, am one of the few that am part of that world. Here are my stories”.

Storm Front, by Jim Butcher
I first got into them though Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, which I’ve talked about before, they are based on a Chicago Wizard – Harry Dresden – and his attempts first to help his clients, and then over the rest of the series to fight against the rising tide of bad juju.

One Foot in the Grave, by Wm. Mark Simmons
Next was Wm. Mark Simmons‘ Half Life Chronicles starting with “One Foot in the Grave“. The Csejthe books are mostly about vampires to start with, and branch out through werewolves into general horror mythology, and then over the rest of the series to fight against the rising tide of bad juju. They’re a little more pulpy than the Dresden files. Being on Baen, the first six chapters are available for free on the site to see if you like it.

The Devil You Know, by Mike Carey
While staying with Clare at some point last year, I picked up a book by Mike Carey called “The Devil You Know”. I vaguely recognised the name (I should have done, he wrote the comic graphic novel Lucifer and a large swathe of Hellblazer), and shortly afterwards bought the rest of the series. The Felix Castor books start out being about a London-based exorcist/private eye, but shifts over the rest of the series to fight against the rising tide of bad juju. The books are wonderfully written and occasionally truly creepy. The latest book closes out the longest running plot-arc, but since the juju’s still rising I can only hope there’s going to be some more…

Then Mr Cooke lent me “Mean Streets”, which is an anthology of short stories in this genre, primarily because it contained a Dresden Files story I hadn’t read yet. At the same time lending me the first book of one of the other series’ in the anthology. I promptly went out and bought the first couple of books of each. Mr Cooke is occasionally bad for my wallet.

Greywalker, By Kat Richardson
Greywalker was the book Mr Cooke lent me. In it, Harper Blaine is working as a private eye in Seattle until she dies for two minutes, after which she can see into the “Grey”, the layer of reality under this one which ghosts and such inhabit. Afterwards, she works as a private eye in Seattle attempts first to help her clients, and then over the rest of the series to fight against the rising tide of bad juju. I’m guessing about the last bit, as I’ve only read the first couple. She’s also coming to terms with her new status as a “greywalker” and learning how it works. They appear to be very good, with believable characters acting, for the most part, without the idiot ball.

…this is taking longer than I thought it was going to, and I have to go to work now. Part two tomorrow, probably.

Categories
Books

Books

So, New job, new commute.  Advantage over the old commutes is that instead of taking the bus to a station and getting on a train, I now just take a bus. It takes as long as it ever did (40-50 minutes), but is a longer block of time.

New job is at Skimbit, incidentally. Forgot to mention that here.

My girlfriend has introduced me to the series of alternative history books that begin with 1632. I’m enjoying them – mostly in ebook format from webscriptions. The basic premise is that a southern US town is sliced out of the late 90s and dumped into Germany in – drumroll – 1632, bringing modern diplomacy, weaponry and government to a world in the grip of kings and churches having petty squabbles. It has a kind of Tom Clancyesque obsession with the details of weaponry at times, but not enough to make me hate it. The gung-ho, overtly smug “America, Fuck yeah!” bits where they prove how much better Europe would have done had it been ruled by 21st century American ideals are slightly more irritating, but the number of books I’ve thrown out of a window count remains at precisely one, and this hasn’t even graced the doormat of the thousand foot tower representing reasons I threw “Mirror of her Dreams” across a room. The series is fun, and well written, and worth reading if being occasionally preached at doesn’t really irritate you.

It’s been a couple of years since I went to Amsterdam for Xalior’s stag party, and it was slightly before that that I stood in Waterstones in Tunbridge Wells casting around for books to take on the plane. There was nothing new from any series that I was remotely involved in, but I was drawn in by the cover of a book. It said:

“Magic. It can get a guy killed”.

It was styled like a notebook with coffee stains on it, and the blurb on the back introduced Harry Dresden, a wizard in Chicago. It looked interesting, and so I picked it up, bought it, put it in my luggage, and forgot about it until the trip home from Amsterdam. I failed to read it until I discovered I would have to wait an hour at Gatwick for the next train to London. A while later, I nearly missed the train out of Gatwick, and shortly after that I nearly failed to get off the train in Bedford where I was living.  It wasn’t long after I got home that I finished it, which saved me accidentally nearly missing anything else. Over the next few days I bought the next four books – wondering how Jim Butcher had managed to write so many without my finding out about them.

The basic premise is as described above, to start with. Dresden’s a wizard, he works in a world where that’s a real career choice, although the general public don’t know.  For the first few books it’s pretty much a thriller-mystery formula with more vampires and werewolves. As Dresden gets more and more involved in the cases he fights, and increases in power, and gains experience, contacts, scars and lasting status from being so involved in the other side, the crazy ramps up into war and chaos and a grand overarching plotline. It does this very well indeed, and as the series progresses the slightly 4-colour-comic original cast get depth and reason.

There has been a pattern over the last couple of years, starting with my parents, of my recommending or lending people the first couple of books of the Dresden Files, and then getting them back shortly afterwards with either a demand for the next four or the news that they’ve just bought the entire series. The books are good, and I’d recommend them. The first book is called Storm Front.

I’m rereading Pratchett, Gaiman and Neal Stephenson (pre-Quicksilver, anyway). You probably don’t need me to recommend those.

Last month sucked.

It didn’t appear here, mostly it was on other places or my ranting at people in the pub, but over the course of one extended fortnight  last month my bag was stolen – containing my brand new laptop, as well as passport, keys, wallet, phone etc – I left my job, I had a legal threat over something I had no idea about, and – to cap it all – had to go to an Industrial Estate in Barking at 8pm on a Friday.

After my bag was stolen, me and Clare wandered off to her parents’ house for food and mutual raging at the youth of today (Her bag was also stolen), and I looked for a book to read. I found one. It was called “The Devil You Know“, and it’s by Mike Carey. If you read comics (or graphic novels) then Carey is the man behind the Lucifer and also wrote for the Hellblazer series. Otherwise, he wrote (bits of) the books that the Keanu Reeves film “Constantine” was based on, and the movie isn’t a patch on the original.

Devil You Know is the first of the Felix Castor books, of which there are now four (The fourth came out in paperback this moth, the fifth will come out in September). If you’ve read the Dresden Files, then just go and buy them, you will like them a lot. They’re similar to Dresden, but start off as dark as the later ones and then get blacker faster. They’re all based around the post-death form of the supernatural, with Castor as an exocist in London after the dead have started to rise again. The London Carey presents is pretty much spot on, the characters are – where they are human – human, deep and empathic with a lot of the rough edges of the early Dresden books already shorn off Carey’s s style. I picked up the latest book on Friday at lunch time, started it on the bus home, and pretty much didn’t stop until I’d finished it in a way that only Pratchett’s books usually grab me. Highly recommended.

Continuing my advance into urban magic books, Kate Griffin’s “A Madness of Angels” is interesting. A book about urban sourcery set around a(nother) whodunnit plot based around Matthew Swift, a sourcer summoned back into this world by things he doesn’t understand yet. A mythical London based around small gods and a magic system based around the natural flow of power around the city, the concept is very interesting. I am patently not going to get to the end of this review without a comparison to the central pillar of mythic-London fantasy, Neverwhere, which is a little unfair. The works stand part, though the whimsical flow of language occasionally throws the comparison together again. For all that I haven’t finished it yet – it got broken up by my buying the latest Felix Castor – it is a well-written, well realised work that is a pleasure to read. For faults, it has the occasional opaqueness of major characters, the mistrusting of most of the cast for each other coupled with the confusion of the main character occasionally means it’s more difficult to get a grip of the story as it flows, but it’s not a major flaw. So get this too.

I’ll do one of these for Podcasts at some point.