In the past three weeks, I've finished three books. Reading, unfortunately, not writing. Two of these have been rereads, which is unusual.
Return of the Living Dad by Kate Orman is classic prose Doctor Who, from the era when the novels were at their strongest -- far outstripping in sophistication and depth, anything a range marketed under the banner of an ongoing T.V. series could possibly be. Return is character-driven S.F., the story of Bernice Summerfield's search for her lost father, and of the rivalry and reconciliation between him, her new husband Jason and her mentor, the seventh Doctor. It deals with love, loss, friendship, betrayal, humanity, alienation, existential terror and a sentient spatula called Graeme, and presents them all with utter conviction (perhaps slightly less so with Graeme). It's my favourite of Kate's Virgin-era novels, and Kate's one of my favourite authors. Read this book! Read Kate's other books! Pre-order the book Kate, Jon and I are writing together!
Pashazade: The First Arabesk was my first exposure to the much-hyped Jon Courtenay Grimwood, and I'm unconvinced. Given the potential richness and complexity of the setting ("El Iskandryia", the German-Allied Alexandria of an Islamic Ottoman Empire in the post-cyberpunk mid-21st century of a history where the 1914 Balkans conflict never escalated into a World War), Grimwood provides remarkably little by way of detailed worldbuilding. A writer can expect a reader to extrapolate a panorama from a miniature -- building up vast imaginary worlds from throwaway lines -- but not vice versa. Grimwood seems more interested in his protagonist, who has the opposite problem of being given so many personal, psychological and technological quirks that he seems scarcely believable either. The detective plot's reasonably clever, however, and the prose, at least, is very slick and shiny. I'll probably read the sequels at some point.
I've written about The Pooh Perplex (1964) by Frederick C Crews here before... and with good reason, as I tend to reread it every couple of years or so. I doubt I own a book I've read more times, except for the Pooh books themselves, which like the Perplex itself I use for comfort reading whenever I'm feeling ill or unhappy. If you love Milne's work, and hold literary critics in a kind of suspension of affection and contempt, then it's one of the funniest books it's possible to read. I've now moved on to Crews' much savager (but equally funny) late sequel, Postmodern Pooh (2001).
In addition to PoPooh, I'm currently reading The Steep Approach to Garbadale by Iain Banks (who Silk and I are going, perhaps ill-advisedly, to hear speak after the Beer Festival on Saturday) and Accelerando by Charles Stross. I haven't yet got far enough into the Banks to form an opinion (though it hasn't grabbed me on the first page the way, say, Complicity or The Crow Road did), but the Stross is remarkable. I thought at first that it was just another trendy information-dense post-cyberpunk screed, and wondered whether mightn't actually be enough of those in the world already. A third of the way through, though, it's shaping up to be something altogether more interesting. More on this later.