The TBR pile March 2017

I have many, many, many, many books. Some of them are digital, most are not. At any one time I may be reading about three books properly, with others that I dip into.

So: here’s what’s on my bedside table, cued up for reading:

“Revenger” by Alastair Reynolds – basically pirates in outer space. I’ve loved pretty much all his gothic space opera before now, so while I have no idea what I’m in for, it looks fun.

“The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss – a high fantasy with a dry sense of humour so far.

“Fellside” by M.R. Carey – a thriller that looks like it’s going to some dark places.

“Alice” by Christina Henry – madness and an escape from the asylum with all sort of Alice in Wonderland trappings on the cover

“A Cornelius Calendar” by Michael Moorcock – continuing my rampage through all the collected Moorcock characters

“The Whispering Swarm” by Michael Moorcock – which looks like a fascinating alternate London story

“Indexing” by Seanan McGuire – fighting back against stories, or memetic incursions, where fairytales try to play out in the modern world.

Should keep me busy. On the Kindle I also just started reading Flex by Ferrett Steinmetz – which hits all sorts of buttons in the realms of madness, magic and karmic balances.

I’ll not read all of them in a month, but it should keep me busy… I’ll post in a while about what I’ve finished recently too.

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Short Story: Regrouping

We regrouped at a distinctly grotty pub just across the road from the flats to take stock. Boris reluctantly got a round of drinks in while I grabbed a semi-private table in the corner furthest from the toilets. This wasn’t due to concerns about people hearing us as they went by, the toilets just smelled awful.

Dyson hovered nearby briefly. Once he saw Boris gainfully employed, he drew up a chair and sat with his back to the wall and an eye on the door. We didn’t say anything to each other until the drinks arrived. Some behaviours can survive anything, and few things are as strong as the near reverence of the approach of the first drink of a session.

The first sip of what turned out to be a piss-poor fizzy lager was still conducted in silence, and then i pushed my pint aside. Boris and Dyson were united for a moment in appreciation of their own drinks at least.

“Well, that didn’t go to plan, did it?” I said. Boris’ face flushed with what I took to be anger. Dyson was still looking confused, but then we were well outside his comfort zone here. In some ways that was good. The longer he was off balance, the longer it should take him to remember that technically I was under arrest and that therefore he should be doing something about it.

“What happened to her?” Boris said. “There’s burn marks but no body.” He prodded at the tabletop with each word, presumably for emphasis.

“My best guess?” I paused a moment to make eye contact with each of them. “Your little helper has a new home from home.”

“What?” asked Dyson. The drink seemed to have settled his nerves a bit – at least enough that he wasn’t scratching at the bloodstains on his clothing so much. “I don’t understand.”

“Boris and his girlfriend have been very naughty people, quite aside from anything criminal you may have been investigating, haven’t you?”

“We broke no law.” His accent thickened, but he did look abashed.”

“Well, that’s a matter of debate. It was an unusual weapon but the intent was pretty straightforward wasn’t it?” I was trying to rattle Boris; I was reasonably certain he’d never been the brains of the operation.

“We…” He began to answer before self preservation kicked in and he remembered who Dyers was. For his part the detective was watching us both over his pint. He seemed a lot more composed suddenly and I remembered my previous feeling that he was a lot smarter than he appeared. Judging books by their covers again, I thought.

“They’ve been using magic to eliminate rivals.” I said. Part of that was our party-crasher, who you’re still wearing bits of by the way.” I gestured to the rips and stains he was trying to conceal. Boris was looking slightly ill. “When you did that, the thing they called up got pulled back to where it started, but you weren’t expecting anything like that were you?”

“I wasn’t there, she called it herself this time as I was busy looking for you!” He sounded sulky.

“She was over-confident and didn’t wait, stepped out of the protection, so when your pet demon or whatever it is got hauled back on a spiritual bungee cord it slapped straight into her. That’s what happened!”

Dyson looked at me as if I’d grown a second head. Boris looked aghast. “Really?” He rasped.

“Well, it’s just a guess, but I’m pretty good at those, and from what I’ve seen so far you’ve both been sloppy enough to be as big a danger to yourselves as anyone else. How the hell, pardon the pun, you got this far without it blowing up is anyone’s guess.”

“We had a book.” He said quietly.

“And this is why I should have become a librarian,” I said, “it always comes down to a book.”

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Games Roundup

I get bored very easily, and am always looking for some form of mental stimulation. Alongside the reading, TV, doodling, and writing, I also throw myself into games so I like to try and do a roundup every now and then on what is keeping my attention

At the moment, the bulk of my time is being spent is on the Skyrim remaster for the XBox One, and on Fallen London on any browser I care to use.

Skyrim has always been a favourite, but Lady M ran with it when we had it in the PlayStation, demolishing it while I worked on articles. Rather than retread her adventures with it so fresh out the corner of my eye, waiting for the relaunch has allowed me to take a different approach with a controller scheme I’m more familiar with. It’s therefore a comforting mass of epic entertainment that doesn’t require too much thought.
The writing of Fallen London has always attracted me, and with both Mre B and Lady G taking up the game recently it’s been fun to re-engage with it and in a more socially-based version of play. With its slow-burn play-style it fits well around everything else I’m doing.

Other games recently started but sort of in abeyance until I cycle back round to them include Titanfall 2 and Watchdogs 2; while I still have Dishonoured 2 in its packaging, and a download of Evolve that I got free as a Gold bonus the other day. Halo5 is still regularly uploaded, and it’s been a while since I played any of Overwatch or Doom, or Fallout 4, or Witcher 3, or Forza Horizons 3. You get the idea…

Oh, and I do also work and pretend to be sociable in there somewhere too.

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TV Binging

We have a lot of TV shows we’re following – and so far we seem to be managing a sort of sane balance between catching shows, playing games, working, and very occasionally pretending to be sociable.

This week we’re working our way through Iron Fist. We like it. It’s an origin story about identity and choice, and has eschewed wirework wushu for its fight scenes.

Controversial, I know.

It has totally overtaken our interest in the rampant barminess of the CW Arrow/Flash/Legends/Supergirl stable. It fills a nice gap before the return of iZombie. 

I’ll think more on why I like it, but I think a big part is that more of it is well lit, breaking away from the noir streetlife of Daredevil and Luke Cage, and even the stylised colour schemes of Jessica Jones. There are scenes taking place in bright sunlight where people smile! I know, it sounds stupid to fix on that.

There’s some smart storytelling here. It’s not without flaws, but the same is true of all the Netflix Marvel shows, especially when it comes to pacing. Still, I’m enjoying it, and am rather bemused by all the hate I’ve seen in some quarters for it.

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Short Story: Threat Neutralisation

If there’s one thing guaranteed to unite a bunch of fractious siblings, it’s a common enemy. You can see it in warring sisters who will round together in anyone who dares join in. You can see it in brothers closing ranks and suppressing all sign of dissent to the outside world in glowering unity.

If you want to extend the concept of siblings further, look at how members of an institution like teachers, firemen, armed forces, churches, or police present a cliff-face of passive resistance to external influences.

It’s tribalism in a small focused group, and the principle scales remarkably well. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s part of the social glue if you like, that enabled humanity to build it’s civilisation in the first place. An external threat, like refugees, immigrants, virulent illnesses, supply teachers, aliens that hatch from eggs and gestate inside living human hosts, or that new kid who keeps trying to get into the secret treehouse, all provoke visceral defensive reactions and a desire to club together to deny them a foothold.

So that’s why the Mulvaney brothers, or as the long-suffering parents in Riverhampton called them: “The Usual Suspects”, were so determined to beat their new childminder when she unveiled a game of Monopoly. Without even needing to say anything they all came to the simultaneous decision that they could fight it out later, as long as Karla Gabbis was first to be eliminated from the board. She would be forced to retire: broken and bankrupt, any properties to be picked over later as spoils.

In fairly short order, they achieved their goal, and crowed as Karla graciously retreated to let them carry on while she did the washing up. Then she sat down with a big bar of chocolate, a glass of red wine, and Netflix to enjoy the quiet.

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Short Story: Echoes

Graffiti covered concrete walls beneath the thrumming motorway and a sky the colour of a decayed mushroom; Jules strides through the cavernous space with hands deep in pockets and hood pulled forward. Caricatures of faces and locations nearby stare down; some are bright and cheerful, others defiant or defied.

A few have lines across their faces, hastily scrawled defacements that echo feuds between the artists or the people depicted. It is a form of sympathetic magic akin to sticking pins in voodoo dolls and carrying as much effectiveness for anyone not intimately involved in the community..

The slap of running footsteps ahead alerts Jules to company, but the only response is a lengthened stride and bowed head to avoid eye contact. A drift closer to one side of the underpass provides even more room to avoid contact. The owner of the feet gives Jules a wide berth as they pass, so perhaps the only view of them that Jules sees is their trainers. They are here and gone in a moment, their identity never to be known.

As their echoes fade, Jules looks up to scan the way ahead. It is clear, not even dust dancing in the airflows whipping erratically through the opening. Jules keeps going, and is soon round the corner and out of sight. After a moment, the air seems to sigh, and I see Jules reappear back at the other end of the tunnel.

I don’t know why Jules’ ghost keeps making this journey, caught in this loop. Perhaps the invisible runner is key to it all; but in all the times I’ve been here, drawn by morbid curiosity, I’ve never seen more than this or heard any exchange between them. I’ve sat here on the floor with my back to the concrete and memorised every detail over the years. Every now and then someone else comes along who can see Jules, and we sit together in silent fascination.

Jules just disappeared off the face of the planet that day. This was the last time anyone saw them that we know. I don’t even know if Jules died, or lives on happily somewhere far from here. This recording of this moment seems to be the only memory left anywhere – and I wonder in the quiet if my own memorial will seem just as unremarkable to those who chance upon it.

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Short Story: The Cradle

The caverns of ice had originally been carved by meltwater, but the servitors had widened and straightened them to accommodate the prefabricated shelters and equipment. They had installed lighting, set up generators, even laid down decking to insulate the feet of those coming after them.

The vaulted ceiling that arched overhead shimmered with refracted colours sometimes. Condensation misted the air, and sometimes became a drizzle when the cavern’s ambient air temperature raised too far. As for the original meltwater stream, that still ran through the centre.

Sometimes it was visible, either where aesthetics had suggested it, or where materials were being conserved. For the most part though it was buried beneath the swathes of decking. That had presented a sufficiently flat surface that vehicles and buildings competed to use the new real estate.

The servitors had done their best to prepare the way and secure the site. It wasn’t perfect, but then you couldn’t expect even sophisticated automatons to be able to adapt to everything. Nonetheless, the habitat on this new world conformed to specifications well enough that stage two had been set in motion after a mere five local years. The incubators and soil reserves had been deployed, along with a tailored selection of biodiverse microfauna to create a reasonably stable biosphere and the conditions for a form of agriculture to be an option.

The clone banks swung into action after that. The new world was too far for a crew to survive the journey, and generation ships had proved a difficult sell to many. A seeding approach was deemed statistically effective, especially given the state of the origin planet at that stage. Panspermia had seeded the Earth, so why not use it to push back into the void? It wasn’t the only option, but it did offer a chance that the scattered worlds may find each other at some point in the future. Records of their cultural heritage, and technical templates and tools would allow the clones to bootstrap their societies so that they wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel.

The failure rate would be immense. No one would know if the effort succeeded, but the risks were worth it. Would this cavern bring forth the heirs of empire, or would it be a tomb for the ages?

The clone banks are ripening now. We’ve read their files and media, and we’ve analysed what we can of their systems. They’re a strange race, these humans. Shall we see what these newborn invaders of our world have to say for themselves?

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