What I’ve been reading lately, part 8

[See also previous and subsequent posts in this series.]

Summer came, and I started to read a lot more books. But my diet became quite limited, because at any given moment while lying in the sun, it was more appealing to read another Agatha Christie or Terry Pratchett than to launch into something less comfortingly familiar. As a result, those two authors will dominate this installment, and I won’t have that much to say about some of the books. Wow, I really know how to sell a blog-post, don’t I?

Death in the Clouds — Agatha Christie

More Christie, this one a nicely constrained scenario in which the murder happens on an aeroplane with Poirot himself one of the dozen or so suspects. An old friend of mine, when asked to comment on a mutual friend’s poem, said that it “passed the time painlessly enough” — a turn of phrase that stuck in my mind, and which perfectly encapsulates my attitude to DitC.

Carpe Jugulum — Terry Pratchett

I remember this as being one of my favourite Pratchetts, but this re-read showed it to be not quite as good as I remembered. The central moment — the outcome when Granny Weatherwax is bitten by a vampire — is a sly, delightful and exhilarating as ever, but other parts of the book feel a little padded, and perhaps somewhat like a retread of the generally superior Lords and Ladies.

Silo 49: Going Dark — Ann Christy

Another BookBub-recommended freebie, and yet another that is part of a series rather than standalone. It describes how post-apocalyptic silo, one of a hundred or so, cuts itself off from the increasingly dangerous rule of Silo One. I enjoyed it for what it was, without feeling any great need to read on to the subsequent books in the series. And this in fact has been my response to many, perhaps most, of the BookBub recommendations. I may look for a different service in the same vein — one that lets me be more specific about what I’m looking for.

Maskerade — Terry Pratchett

Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg go to Ankh Morpork to solve a Phantom of the Opera-style mystery. This one completes my non-chronological tour of the main-sequence Granny Weatherwax novels. It’s a shame to have ended on this one, which is probably the weakest of the six. The plot feels arbitrary and contrived, and the witch characters never really feel at home in Ankh-Morpork. It’s still a fun read, but very far from Pratchett’s best.

The Caves of Steel — Isaac Asimov

The first of a pair of sci-fi detective novels written by Asimov basically as a response to a dare from editor John Campbell. It pairs Earthman Elijah Baley with the Spacer robot R. Daneel Olivaw to solve a politically important murder. (“Spacers” in Asimov’s universe are the human descendants of the colonists who left Earth many years ago and founded new planets where the standard of living is much higher than on Earth.)

I read this because of the way it ties into the Foundation series, but actually it stands up well in its own right — as, I suspect, most of Asimov’s earlier works do. At any rate, I found it compelling enough then I went straight on to …

The Naked Sun — Isaac Asimov

The sequel to The Caves of Steel, this time with Elijah Baley having to leave the domed indoor cities of Earth for a Spacer planet and overcome his own phobias to solve another murder. The best and worst things about this one are the same: the attempt to paint a wildly different civilisation from our own on the Spacer planet. When this works, it’s fascinating and truly thought-provoking. But sometimes it feels as though Asimov has lost concentration, and the aliens seem very much like ourselves (or, rather, like North Americans of the 1950s).

Still, having worked through to the sterile end of the Foundation series with Foundation and Earth, it’s great to come back to the lively and endlessly inventive stories that gave birth to that whole mythology. I plan to push on to the sequel, Robots and Empire, at some point — and maybe re-read some of Asimov’s short stories.

The A.B.C. Murders — Agatha Christie

This one, I like. It might not be a bad starting point for someone coming to Christie for the first time. The setup is interesting — a series of murders committed in alphabetical order; the investigation is engaging; the murderer’s motivation, when it eventually emerges, makes perfect sense. In fact, I see from the Wikipedia page that The New York Times Book Review described this book on its release as “the very best thing she has done, not even excepting Roger Ackroyd”.


The comic-strip xkcd has already said everything that need be said about this book:


All I will add to this description is that I absolutely loved this book — it gripped me from the start, and kept upping the jeopardy in the most believable possible manner. I highly recommend it.


9 responses to “What I’ve been reading lately, part 8

  1. Don’t know if you know this, but Silo 49: Going Dark is fan-fiction set in the universe first created in Wool, by Hugh Howey. You should really check out those books, which can be had cheaply at Amazon, and are really great. Not too long, and I found them hard to put down at least.

  2. Thanks, pnb. I was aware that they were a spin-off, though I somehow had the impression that they were more authorised than I usually think of fan-fic as being. I didn’t know that the originals were good, though.

    Looking at Amazon, it’s £6.99 for the Kindle edition of the original trilogy. Even laying aside my deep-seated distaste for paying for DRM’d material, that seems expensive, especially when a second-hand copy of the paperback omnibus can be had for 2p (plus of course the usual £2.80 delivery charge, but still). In this silly world, it may make most sense to buy the paperback, then secrete it in storage somewhere and pirate the e-books.

  3. Andrew Hickey

    I wouldn’t bother with Robots And Empire or The Robots Of Dawn if I were you — they’re *far* closer to the tedious 80s Foundation books than to the other Daneel and Baley books.

    On the other hand, that XKCD description sounds *exactly* like the first two thirds of Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, so you might like that…

  4. Oh, that’s disappointing about Robots of Dawn. To a first approximation, it seems that the quality of an Asimov book is inversely proportional to its length. I may try Seveneves: I’ve mostly enjoyed every Stephenson I’ve read (Snow Crash, Diamond Age, Cryptonomicon, Quicksilver, Anathem), though not without occasionally wishing he could focus a bit more tightly. (By “mostly enjoyed” I mean that for each book, I’ve enjoyed most of it; not that for most books, I’ve enjoyed the whole novel.)

  5. Andrew Hickey

    The first two thirds of Seveneves is very tightly focussed — but then it jumps seven thousand years into the future for the last third, and isn’t so good.

  6. Hi Mike…glad you enjoyed Going Dark enough to keep reading to the end of it. :) Yes, it was authorized by Hugh, written using the canon of his series. Still FF…but more a spin-off of the original series.

    As for BB and most of the other lists…it’s becoming MUCH harder to get a return on anything other than a first in series. Since they either require the book be free (or seriously discounted to 99 cents for most indies) there’s almost no way to make a profit otherwise given their hefty fees. I did a BB with a standalone novel, and it was a break even situation. Just thought I’d chime in on why you see so many first in series there.

  7. Hi, Ann, great to hear from you. Sorry I wasn’t able to be more enthusiastic about your book. I did enjoy it, but it didn’t capture me strongly enough to be ready to spend £6 on the other three books in the series, even though the individual prices of £1.99 are very reasonable. It’s tough for authors right now — there are so many free books. I think a new author has be really outstanding to win a following. Being merely very good is no longer enough.

  8. Pingback: What I’ve been reading lately, part 9 | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  9. Pingback: What I’ve been reading lately, part 15 | The Reinvigorated Programmer

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