It seems that more than a year has passed since I last wrote about what I've been reading. Back then I was midway through Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, subsequently nominated for the 2006 Nebula award for best Novel, which I found to be one of the most enjoyable and unusual books I've encountered in a long time. I thoroughly recommend it.

The following is the first part of a summary of stuff I've read since that last blog post. Whilst the list is depressingly small for the length of time, It's nevertheless too long for a single blog posting, so I've divided it up into two parts.

Geoff Ryman: Air

Ryman's name seemed familiar when I came across this book: I thought perhaps I'd read some of his short fiction. As it happens he is in two of the "Best new SF" anthologies and he crops up in two Interzone issues I have. A story called Birth Days, about homosexuality and childbirth, was particularly memorable.

This was a great novel exploring the impact of technology on a culture very different to my own. The science had the sound-ness that you would expect in a Hard SF novel, but it didn't take centre-stage to the characters, which is refreshing.

This novel was shortlisted for the Nebula award alongside Jonathan Strange.

Iain M. Banks: The Algebraist

I found this slow to start and eventually abandoned it. I was reading (with great care) a signed, first-edition hardback, which meant I'd avoided taking it on the train to work.

I eventually picked up a paperback edition and persevered. It turned out to be a lot of fun. I particularly liked the closing scenes, which drive home the alienness of the dwellers in a very humerous fashion.

This was nominated for the Hugo in 2005 but lost out to Jonathan Strange. (can you see a pattern emerging here?)

Terry Pratchett: Going Postal

This is a strong contender for my most favourite Discworld novel, which I would never have expected from a recent offering. The story covers the rise of the Ankh-Morpork postal service, covering the Semaphore "clacks" in the process.

The con-artist protagonist is an entirely new character who I really enjoyed. I hear he is returning in the current novel in-the-works. The book is also peppered with jokes and references to hacking, cracking, phreaking, GNU, etc.

This novel was nominated alongside Air and Jonathan Strange for the Nebula.

Robert Harris: Pompeii

Kate bought this for me at Christmas. I was a bit concerned that I would not enjoy it: it seemed to be mass-market in the same vein as Dan Brown's novels (which I truly do not enjoy).

However it was a good fun novel. I get the impression that Harris has meticulously researched Pompeii and Roman history to set the scene for the novel, but you don't need to be aware of this to enjoy it.

The ending is far-fetched but on reflection, the novel is much more satisfying as a result.

Jeff Noon: Pollen

I enjoyed Noon's writing-style, but I was disappointed with the story. Some aspects of it were too far-fetched for me (the Canine humanoids for one). The ending was also too disatisfying.

Kim Stanley Robinson: The Wild Shore
Kim Stanley Robinson: The Gold Coast
Kim Stanley Robinson: Pacific Edge

These three novels form Kim Stanley Robinson's California trilogy. The first two novels I read a long time ago, but I only recently acquired the third, so I read them all in order.

All three novels are set in Orange County (or thereabouts) at the same point in time, although they describe alternative histories/futures/presents: The first, a post-apocalyptic vision of the county being populated by small fishing communities in the aftermath of a nuclear war; the second, a dystopean cityscape, with all trace of the agrecultural past buried beneath concrete and steel; the final novel Robinson's idea of a Utopian society.

There is one character common to all three books, which (if the reader realises) gives a means of comparing the character's situation in the different environments.

I really enjoyed this book. Robinson's idea of ecological Utopia may be a bit personal to him, but it is told convincingly. The book is very sad however, as human tragedy is inevitable.

Kim Stanley Robinson: Forty Signs of Rain
Kim Stanley Robinson: Fifty Degrees Below

I re-read Forty as a precursor to reading Fifty, which is fantastic. I think it might be Robinson's strongest work ever, which is saying something, compared to the Mars trilogy.

The books are concerned with climate change and American politics. The focus is divided between three sets of circumstances: The National Science Foundation and changes in their remit that would be necessary to counteract catastrophic climate change; the political powers in the capital and pushing environmental issues onto the agenda; the experiences of a small group of Buddhist monks, whose island home is in line to disappear under rising tides.

Reading fifty was one of those immerseful experiences where you enjoy it so much you grab every spare minute you can. As you inevitably get towards the end, you start to realise you're going to get minor culture shock when it's over.

The pressure is on for Sixty days and counting to live up to the first two parts. Unfortunately the amazon blurb is not very compelling.