NineWorlds London Geekfest, 4 – 6 August 2017

This was my fifth 9Worlds London Geekfest, and it is a convention firmly in my calendar. It was in its second year at the Hammersmith Novotel, and once again the hotel staff were pretty good. Check in was certainly a much better experience for me this year. I do love the fact that the hotel fielded a team in the Shark game.

This year I had actually submitted two panel ideas, and I was delighted that both were accepted. The convention programme planners assigned me to two other panels: both squee (a word going in the Oxford English Dictionary). One on queer Dax (Star Trek), and one on the transgressive nature (alleged) of Miss Phryne Fisher. That last one proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that 9Worlds is not all about the SF/F/H.

This year is also the second year that I have done the 9Worlds one weekend, then the World SF Convention (WorldCon) the next. This time the second convention is in another country – Finland. More on that later. So, I intended on pacing myself, including in the hotel department. That meant I arrived on Friday morning rather than Thursday. Sad to miss the Cheese and Cheese – from all the reports I saw, people enjoyed it immensely.

Anyway, on arrival I met with several friends, but I sought out a space to get my head into panel space. Especially since I’d been told that based on the pre-con selections on the Grenadine app the first panel I was going on was among the most popular. In Cremant, the huge room, no less. That panel was one I had put forward and proposed to explore the police in the supernatural novel series of Ben Aaronovitch (PC Peter Grant) and Paul Cornell (Shadow Police) from the points of view of three women who work in policing. First thing a disclaimer – none of us were talking from the points of view of our agencies, but from our generic experiences. I’m really pleased that the audience enjoyed it – and the questions were thought-provoking and intelligent. Far from easy, but respectful, particularly about our views on inclusion and diversity in the modern UK police forces. I said it at the panel, I love the fact that both Aaronovitch and Cornell ensured their books are fairly representative of London, which the police do try to bring – following Sir Robert Peel’s ethos the police being of the people to police the people. The police lead in some areas, and do lag behind in others. We spoke about many other things, but that’s an important point for me. To bring home the point, quite a few colleagues of mine took part in Brighton’s LGBT+ Pride march on the Saturday of the convention, led by our Director General flying the rainbow flag that also has our emblem.

I’m a participant at a similar panel at WorldCon, and I’m fascinated to see how it will be different.

The rest of my Friday and all of Saturday I could attend what panels I wanted to, catch up with friends, and spend a bit of time in my hotel room to decompress. Plus admire the imagination of cosplayers – highlights were the 13th Doctor, the TARDIS full of bras, and the lemmings for their choreography. Loads of others, but they stand out.

I attended Marina Berlin’s talk on women writing about war, which skated over a complex topic. As she said, there is a long history of women writing war in SF/F, but she limited herself to three authors writing war in the 21st century – Naomi Novik, Karin Lowacher, and Kameron Hurley. I’ve not read Novik or Lowacher, but devoured Hurley’s Belle Dame Apocrypha. Berlin compared them with tropes identified in men writing war in SF/F, which irked even though I could see where she was coming from. Still, it gave me some pointers for the WorldCon panel I’m moderating on women writing Military SF at WorldCon.

On Saturday I attended the panel on race in SF/F with a wonderfully diverse panel in terms of gender and ethnic backgrounds. The panel’s strength lay in discussing the rich variety of experience through which they both write and read/consume. Pretty much all of them had grown up in one culture, some as part of a diaspora, others not, then all moved elsewhere. I agree with them that SF/F’s gift is the ability to grab tropes and tear them apart, and the issue of SF/F being metaphorical. They discussed the damage caused by people being scared of accusations of cultural appropriation – but that there is of course a responsibility to check and avoid stereotyping and making the alien other exotic. White-washing is damaging, and a panellist noted that other cultures (Han Chinese was singled out) do the same and it doesn’t make it any less damaging. They also discussed complex issues to do with translating from one (mostly English, but not exclusively) flooding out other voices. All in all, a thought-provoking panel.

I attended John J Johnston’s talk about archaeology in Doctor Who, which was great fun.

Sunday was my day of panels. I was on three, and I am so glad for the generous gap between them. My panels also bounced from squee to serious to squee.

The queer Dax panel was a lot of fun, but made some really good points. Neth is a great moderator who took pains to ensure that everyone on the panel had a different queer perspective. I had been a bit nervous that I wouldn’t be able to contribute much and I had to confess that I’m not a Trek fan. I do love the love of the Trek fans, though, especially those on this panel. But, my fears were unfounded, and once my brain busted through the laying Stargate memories over DS9 ones, all was good.

I had also been a bit nervous about the Robots, AI, and the Labour Market panel I had put forward, was moderating, and was in the second biggest room. Back in February 2017 I listened to a BBC World Service programme about robots and AI, and the fear of them taking over work as we know it. It was an excellent panel (available here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04rq0px?ocid=socialflow_twitter)  that I thought ripe for discussion at 9Worlds. Turned out I was correct with an incredibly knowledgeable panel from both a diverse set of writing and other work experience. To open up to the audience meant we could only really talk for about 45 minutes, and we could have spoken for a lot longer. I fear we only scratched the surface of some difficult questions, but I am pleased that the point of ‘AI’ coding being value neutral was totally trashed. It’s actually a really dangerous idea thinking that coding is value neutral. We also brought in a fair bit of real world stuff, and the role that SF can play – again the let’s explore and bust open the tropes point. I think the panel also strongly made the point that definitions matter – most of the robots and AIs cited as doing certain things are neither robots or AI. The audience again didn’t disappoint with some excellent questions, and also some good Twitter conversations.

Final panel for me of the convention and a fabulous one about just how transgressive the Honourable Phryne Fisher is. Wonderfully, one of the panellists cosplayed as Dr Mack and there are some fab pics out there of her with some Miss Fisher cosplayers. While the show does have its problems, the love we all have for it shone through (I adore the fact that Pat Cadigan is now going to give it a go on the strength of our enthusiasm!!). Personally, I am grateful for the audience member who knows far more about Melbourne’s socio-economic history than I do who chose to share that knowledge fully in the spirit of 9Worlds.

Then, all too fast, the inevitable end of another wonderful 9Worlds. My only regret – not being able to go to all the panels I wanted to, and not catching up with all the people I wanted to. Some of them I hope to see in Helsinki, but otherwise, next time.

I tweeted at some point that if there was a motto for 9Worlds it would be to: keep on learning!

Review: Kameron Hurley’s The Stars Are Legion (Angry Robot Books)

I had been looking forward to this book for some time, and finally got to it on my increasingly large to-be-read pile. The audience of a panel I was on at LonCon 3 (the 2014 World SF Convention) told me about Kameron Hurley’s God’s War trilogy, which I sought out and read with great interest. If you’ve not read them, and are interested in SF/fantasy/(body)horror that makes you think about more than what it throws in your face, then I strongly recommend them. They are also terrific adventures with a cast of astonishing characters.

The Stars Are Legion is a one-off (though the demand for other stories set in this universe is strong, and I understand if you support Hurley’s Patreon/sign up to her newsletter you may well get what is demanded). It is a totally different conceptual framework from the God’s War trilogy – the Legion is a fleet (?) of generation starships that have become organic (or so is hinted at the end), and are sickening and dying. Wars rage within and between the various peoples who inhabit the various levels of each. These generation starships are huge – world-size huge – and have existed for a long time. Hurley excels at conveying just how complex these two facts make world-building (a theme that captivated me in her God’s War books – these are not mono-cultures, but richly diverse, and internally logical).

The novel is told from the first person present tense views of two main protagonists – Zan and Jayd. They are lovers who concoct a terrible plot to save the Legion, but it’s far more complicated than that. I won’t go into how – spoilers! – but the two strands of plotting are neatly woven together so that the conclusions aren’t predictable, but are once you reach the end inevitable. The one criticism I have of the book is the use of present tense; there is a clever non-linear time component to the book (cycles within cycles) that the use of present tense jarred against. Emma Newman’s Planetfall needed first person present tense to carry off the denouement, but the Stars are Legion didn’t. A minor point, though, all things considered.

Fascinatingly, this book has no men in it. No males of any kind, in fact, because the world-building has rendered what males bring to reproductive biology redundant. What Hurley succeeds at in this book is making that absence not matter. In the lives of the characters, males have never existed.

The book is viscerally biological, and like Hurley’s God’s War trilogy not for readers who don’t like body-horror. It doesn’t revel in it, though. It’s not gore for gore’s sake. One of Hurley’s real skills as a novelist is to simultaneously make what is normal for one group of people monstrous for others without judgement. Everything in the Stars are Legion is the consequence of something else.

So, all up – this book won’t appeal to all (like any book ever does!), but I wasn’t remotely disappointed by it.

(Also posted to my Goodreads account, 7 May 2017.)

Nine Worlds Geek Fest 2016

I have been to each and every Nine Worlds to date, and have blogged my thoughts about them previously: 20132014 and 2015.

The big change was the venue. Nine Worlds has shifted from Heathrow to Hammersmith, in part because of the trouble that the last venue caused, but also because of location and the plans the organisers have (as I understand it – apologies if I’ve got that horribly wrong! Happy to amend). This year we were at the Novotel West London, a large convention hotel quite close to the bus, overground and underground hub and near a range of food options. Ironically, perhaps, because the venue put on reasonably priced food and drink, and a decent range (given the usual caveats of convention food). Not a lot of choice, but they did cater as far as they could for diverse diets. Even though it was in the convention handbook,  I think people didn’t realise that the convention had a minimum spend to meet – I don’t know if they did, but I hope they did.

The main bar was fab, and we were lucky with the weather being sunny. It meant we could spill out to the outside areas. The bar staff were such a contrast to the staff last year it’s really not fair to compare them. They actually worked as you would expect bar staff to – actually serve you drinks you want, and then deal with the payment, in a reasonable time. They responded to peak times, and were efficient in clearing away mess. They also replenished the much-needed water supply in a way that I don’t think people really noticed – apart from those of us who had noticed the tardiness at the last hotel over that very matter. The other bars were a not quite as well stocked, but that was to be expected, and all the staff I interacted with during the convention were polite and keen to help. I learned during the convention that Nine Worlds had trained some of them in diversity matters, which showed. I heard and saw a few people say that staff had commented favourably about the convention, too, which is nice.

I had no problems at all with the free wi-fi in any part of the convention space, or my room. That was an astonishing contrast to the last four hotels I’ve stayed at either for Sf conventions or my work where it’s been abysmal.

(Outside of the convention the hotel was a little bit less brilliant; the check in on Thursday was slow even for those of us who had checked in online, and I noticed the difference in breakfast – and reflected how I was more used to better service once the convention deal had stopped. Nothing dramatic, by the way, but noticeable.)

The convention itself featured many cool cosplayers, and I massively rate the tokens method having been at another convention this year where they have a costume event. I have too many to list that were amazing – I did think the Zombie London 2012 Gamesmaker was fab, and I loved the two EU flags.

There was the same sense of learning from errors of the past, but also settling into an expectation of being a safe space for the diversity of sexual orientation and gender, and disabilities (including invisible), and for families and children of all ages. There is still a problem with being overwhelmingly white, but I am aware the organisers are painfully aware of it and trying loads of things to address it. My own personal commitment is to step down from any panel if there is a person of colour who wants to be on it but for whatever reason wasn’t invited.

My interactions with the various volunteers were all positive, and helpful. Clearly they knew what they were doing, and loved it.

I wasn’t involved at all in the organising, but have always been on panels. I knew they experimented with a slightly different approach to the past organisation along tracks. I think it worked quite well, but there were a couple of things that need improving for next time. Timing being one – seemed a bit long at some stages, and then at meal times a little rushed. Not a drama, and I wonder if it was because there was a lot to do with the change of venue, and four years in a row is a substantial commitment for any convention. Words can be hollow, but I would volunteer in a heartbeat (or two) if my job, writing life and health weren’t quite so demanding. I don’t want to volunteer and then not deliver. If things change, then I will reconsider. I love Nine Worlds and its ethos, and enjoy being a part of it.

I was on three panels, all of which were tops. Really good other panellists, and terrific audiences. They were the one on Star Wars and canon, Doctor Who canon (2005+ series, but of course we went back – timey-wimey allows that, nay encourages it!), and Ewoks! I had been a little bit nervous about the Star Wars ones because while I love the movies (in general) I don’t consider myself a fan. My fears allayed very quickly because both panels were about diversity of experience, of course. It’s Nine Worlds. Which meant that the usually fraught with danger discussion of Doctor Who‘s canon was lovely and fun. Little note: we were able to talk about Rogue One for the first Star Wars panel in the light of the new trailer released just before the panel; and in total contrast, we held a minute’s silence for the memory of Kenny Baker, who died over the weekend and we got the news just before the Ewoks! panel. We then celebrated his life, especially his role as an Ewok.

No blanket forts this year (as far as I’m aware), but there was Panel Panel before Bifröst (the disco bit of it). I do hope it returns next year.

But, mostly, for me the three days were full of great conversations about all sorts of things with an incredible range of people. If there’s a mark of how much I enjoyed it, it might be this. I am going to World Con in Helsinki next year. There’s a little bit of uncertainty with my job next year (nothing bad, but I am aware that until I know for certain what I’ll be doing after May next year I can’t really plan beyond my already made commitments) and I had decided to give Nine Worlds a break and just do World Con. But, instead, I’m going to incorporate planning around the potential to do both Nine Worlds and World Con, and have a bit of a holiday in and around Helsinki.

Adam Sisman, John LeCarré: The Biography

A few days ago I finished reading Adam Sisman’s biography of writer John LeCarré, pseudonym of David Cornwell.

I think the first I ever read of LeCarré’s work was The Little Drummer Girl, and I saw the movie at around about the same time, which was I think when it came out on videotape. I was in my late teens and discovering the world and its politics, safe in my family home. My father is an academic, specifically an economist, even more specifically an economic historian. We had a fairly impressive library at home, and both my parents encouraged us (my brother and I) to visit other libraries. I read voraciously and pursued various obsessions. As a young teenager I had discovered Anne Frank’s diary while we visited Amsterdam, and following that read everything I could find on the Holocaust. Politics and current affairs were always discussed at home, and even as a young child I had been picking up on the terrorism of the 1970s as remote to Australia as it was then.

The Little Drummer Girl was an eye-opener for me. Charlie’s idealism spoke to me at exactly the right age, I think, and the tale is cautionary in the way it shows how complex these things are. How difficult – there is no single right or wrong side, but numerous of each. Makes it easy to cower in inactivity, but actually one of the messages I took from the book is that small actions build into more powerful changes.

I am writing this in 2016 with a Cold War between the USSR and the Western democracies having disappeared into a strange narrative, and the Middle Eastern and West Asian wars having fractured and splintered into multiple deadly offshoots that few understand but many worsen through a simplistic narrative. Spy thrillers like the James Bond books, the Bourne books and movies, etc, etc, etc, all play their part in shaping those narratives. As does political discourse, the advantage of hindsight, the stories written by the victors, the victims…

I majored in politics and political history at university, specialising in international affairs. I took multiple units in Soviet politics and history when the USSR still existed, and we were caught by surprise when the break-up happened so quickly. When George Bush Snr was up against Michael Dukakis in 1988 I took a year-long course in US politics. I dove into the safety of theoretical politics and related philosophies during 1989 and 1990, but dipped my toe into the broiling mess of what was then called the Arab-Israeli conflict. I learned to be wary of any simplistic dichotomous explanations, which I have applied to my work during my career. One of the things that appealed to me about LeCarré’s writing is how well he weaved those complexities and contradictions together.

As the biography points out more than once, one of the reasons for LeCarré’s success as a novelist was his apparently uncanny ability to anticipate changes in the world. I don’t think it was uncanny, or particularly prescient, but does illustrate a mind able to see patterns in chaos. I think LeCarré keeps his eyes and ears open, and at some point fairly early on in his life was able to work out that human beings are bundles of contradictions. He is clearly very clever and quick – all great ingredients for an author of books that, for all their adventures and thrills, have people at their heart.

One little scene has remained with me from that first reading of the Little Drummer Girl. When Charlie tells the Mossad recruiters the story of her father returning home from prison, broken, and waiting for someone else to open the doors in her home for him. Then, later, them disabusing her of that tale. The vignette fascinates me because it neatly encapsulates the human capability for self-delusion.

When I read in the biography David Conwell’s description of his father returning home from a stint in prison for fraud it clicked immediately with Charlie’s story as told in a novel written decades later. Self-delusion is a key theme of the biography; the very human way in which we create our narratives about our lives, often without realising it. Sisman’s description of his process in writing a proper biography of a subject who is still alive (at time of writing – 2016 has been a cruel year for celebrities), who has part of his life shrouded in secrecy because of where he worked (MI5 and MI6, variously during the 1940s and 1950s – a very different time and place to now), and who has such a difficult relationship with his constantly scamming father. Then there is the media lens, assumptions made, perspectives filtered through new events and disclosures. Different points of view.

Cornwell strikes me as a principled man who has his flaws, but who doesn’t? I am impressed by the research he does for his books, but also when it’s clear he is writing from his heart. I was interested in what Sisman was able to write about Cornwell’s times with the two British secret services, and also interested in learning more about LeCarré’s writing processes. I am sure that some of my readers will find the tales of book-to-film/TV series to be interesting. For those bits I recommend the book; but if you’re after tales of real-life spying derring-do, then I suggest you stick with the stuff about Ian Fleming… although the notes about the veracity of autobiographical narrative are pertinent.

One last thing – I am amused by the biographer’s name being Sisman. SIS being the initials for the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6. Sadly, though, I know there will be those who will read far more than amusement into that coincidence… (as I write this I have been reading conspiracy theories stating that MI5 or MI6 will be erasing pencil votes in today’s referendum in the UK…).

Wolf Hall / Bring up the Bodies

I read Hilary Mantel’s novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies pretty much when they were both released. I’ve always been interested in the history of Henry VIII and his daughters Mary and Elizabeth. Such a turbulent time of England and Scotland’s history, with so many lasting effects. The story of Henry and his wives has often been told in fiction, and just before embarking on reading Mantel’s novels I had watched the most recent TV version of Henry VIII’s life and death – the at times astonishingly good (yes, really!), but mostly wildly entertaining The Tudors.

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Hampton Court Palace: once Wolsey’s home, taken by Henry VIII

Mantel’s novels tell the story of Henry VIII through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, a lowly born London lad blessed with a head for finance and the law, and an excellent memory. Wolf Hall begins with Cromwell in the service of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. Henry VIII has been on the throne for about 20 years, with a kingdom geographically including England, Ireland, and parts of France . The winds of change in the church are blowing from the continent, and various characters are caught up in spying and intrigue in incredibly dangerous times. Thomas More staunchly opposed the reformation in the church, and the run ins between him and Cromwell are fascinating explorations of the theological debates of the time.

The first parts of the novel detail Cromwell’s relationship with Wolsey, and cleverly traces how Cromwell gained favour with the King while Wolsey fell out of favour. The court intrigue centring around Anne Boleyn, who is portrayed as a complex character making what happens incredibly tragic. She’s bright, with a lively mind, and the intellectual attraction between her and Cromwell is one of the key features of the novel, counterpointing with Cromwell’s discussions with Thomas More.

Court intrigue and the jockeying of various families to gain power are the other strands of a complex history where a considerable amount is on the record, but there are gaps. This is the skill of a novelist writing historical fiction based on real people and real events. Choosing the lens through which to view the events, and being careful to bring each to life in a way both believable to a modern audience and yet as true to the feel of the time as is possible. Mantel’s style is clean, crisp, and incredibly efficient as well as evocative.

Wolf Hall takes us up to More’s execution. Bring Up the Bodies traces Anne Boleyn’s fall and Catherine Seymour’s rise in Henry’s favour. There are flashbacks to Cromwell’s childhood and adolescence in London and the continent, which provide a richness to his character.

During 2014 the Royal Shakespeare Company produced a play of both Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies in the Aldwych Theatre in London. I saw them back to back and it was a fascinating experience to see both in that way in the same theatre in the same seats. The adaptation itself was brilliant, and staged in a minimalist way.

With a certain sense of inevitability the BBC also adapted the books, which I just caught up with this week via DVD. Unfortunately they chose to compact down the two novels into one six part series, and it showed. The complexity and nuanced nature of Cromwell’s relationship with Anne Boleyn just wasn’t there, and as a result her execution – incredibly powerful in both the book and play – left me cold. A real shame, because the acting and sets were as lush as you’d expect. I thought Damian Lewis was particularly noteworthy as Henry VIII.

Shetland: the TV series

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A lonely phone box, Isle of Skye (not Shetland, I know)

I first read Ann Cleeve’s first two books in her DI Jimmy Perez series while on holiday in Uig, Isle of Skye. I enjoyed them enough to track down the series and read them, too. In many ways, they are a fairly typical police procedural series, with a bit too much murder to be entirely realistic, but engaging characters and a fantastic setting.

Skye and Shetland are not the same. I’ve yet to visit Shetland, but from what I’ve seen in pictures suggests that it has similar greys and greens, the occasional piercing blue, as its colour palette as Skye and other parts of northern Scotland.

Anyway, I had been aware that a television version of the stories had been optioned, and then made, but I missed them on broadcast. I managed to pick up the first three series on DVD a few weekends ago. I watched them all in about a week. My immediate thoughts are how well the television series grabbed what I liked about the feel of Ann Cleeve’s books. The characters, their interactions. The realities of life in a small and isolated place. The tensions of generations seeking different things from life. The tensions of not having wall-to-wall communications coverage when you have a murderer or two on the loose.

The first two series are adaptations of some of the books in the series. The first ‘series’ being an adaptation of one book, the second proper series of three of the books in two-part blocks each. Each part long enough to do the characters, scene and story justice, but without having to change the material to an episodic format. That would ruin the pacing of the story-telling, and it doesn’t suit every tale to be told.

The third series, first aired in 2016, was not based on any of Ann Cleeve’s material outside of the characters. It was one story, told in six one-hour blocks, and travelled quite a lot to Glasgow and Gartcosh (the new Police Scotland HQ). While I enjoyed the first four stories, this one did grab my attention far more after a bit of a slow but unpredictable (in a good way) start. The tale is about witness protection, corruption in the legal professions, and old-fashioned Glaswegian organised crime in this modern world. Sexual assault features strongly in it, but what impressed me was the way that was handled – especially given some spot-on criticism of the way other series use sexual violence as a bit of a plot crutch, or worse. For a start none of the assaults are shown at all, not even in that camera-wanders-off-but-you-still-hear-it way. But what I though was amazingly effective was the complicated reactions to it – not just from the victims, but everyone around them.

I was also pleased to see some south Asian actors playing people who aren’t terrorists, or suspected of terrorism.

Oh, and another little thing I thought was handled in a rather lovely way – the revelation of who Alison Graham’s character loved and for whom she was planning her move from Shetland to Glasgow. No fuss. Nobody freaking out. Believable.

So, all up – a good little series that I hope is picked up for more. Nothing flashy, just good and solid scripts, stories, acting, and amazing scenery.

Reviews: Planetfall, the Ancillary series, and the Traitor Baru Cormorant

Planetfall, by Emma Newman

I follow the lovely Emma Newman on Twitter and had read with growing interest snippets about her novel Planetfall. I’ll be honest; the publicity for her Split Worlds series hadn’t inspired me to read them (I’m not a fan of romantic urban fantasy), but Planetfall intrigued me.

Written in the first person present tense, it’s an intensely personal book. Ren, the protagonist, has a flawed view of the other characters and events, and especially herself. That leads to the terrifically tense parts of the mystery that runs through the novel. Emma has spoken and written about her own  anxiety, which is not the same illness that Ren suffers from.

It’s beautifully written, thought-provoking, and like all the great SF stories combines the great questions (does God exist, and is belief compatible with science?) with the ordinary everyday questions (how to live with an anxiety disorder?), with a curious mystery and a dash of adventure. I highly recommend it.

I am delighted to learn that Emma has been commissioned to write more of the Split Worlds series, and once I get through the rather large pile of books / collection on my Kindle I shall be adding these to my list to read. (Turns out marketing labels aren’t the best guide…)

For news about Emma Newman, her blog, audio work, and writing, check out Emma Newman.

Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie

I probably don’t need to introduce the first book of the trilogy – it’s the first and to date only book to win the Hugo, Nebula and Clarke awards in the same year. Ancillary Justice is the one with the weird genders, meaning just about everyone is referred to by the narrator as ‘she’. It also starts with chapters alternating between the past and present, and in the past the narrator is fractured. Confusingly so, until you realise what’s going on and it all clicks into place. I really enjoyed it, once I got into the swing of it. The empire building is sublime, as is the science being quite firmly in the science fiction.

The second book, Ancillary Sword, has a straightforward narrative. While the fresh ground was broken in Justice, I found Sword to be a more rewarding read. The third book, and technically the conclusion of the trilogy (other stories, including apparently another novel, are set in the same universe), also follows the straightforward narrative. However, I found it less satisfying than the first two. Almost like the story couldn’t quite live up to expectation. Having said that, and especially given the break I had between reading the first two and the last, I was pleasantly surprised by characters and situations from the first two books having extra depth added in the the third. I also appreciated what Ann was doing by stating that real life is not a story with neat endings, but still felt slightly cheated.

A fascinating universe, and I love Breq (the narrator), and the explorations of power and corruption.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant, by Seth Dickinson

Nearly all the books I’ve read recently have been either autobiographies or fiction written in the first person. Kameron Hurley’s God’s War trilogy wasn’t, but I often surfaced from reading them feeling as though they were the writing was so intensely caught up in the lives of the protagonists.

The Traitor is written in a distancing style, and while I wanted to get in the head of the protagonist I found I couldn’t. Note I said head and not heart – it’s a fabulously cerebral book, which I adore, but it did mean that the power it should have had was diminished.

I don’t read fantasy because of the odd style its writers tend to use. It’s not the genre – I love the dramatic adaptations of these books that despite their bold and magnificent stories leave me cold – but something about the very writing. It’s a taste thing and nothing about quality.

I have found myself thinking about this book a lot since I finished it. Mostly my thoughts revolve around how I should have felt winded at the end, but I didn’t. Since I’ve stopped myself getting lost in that odd little cul-de-sac I have found myself thinking about the broader themes – about empire, and power, and the meaning of resistance. In so many ways this book and the Ancillary series by Ann Leckie occupy the same space. Both authors are, I believe, American, and I think both are prodding and poking at the ideas inherent in a great power declining slowly and painfully.