Near my office is a cafe called Settlers; it’s in a row of shops and bars that starts with a vaguely lacklustre bar and ends with one of those karaoke joints where there are no windows and you have a terrible (but possibly unjustified) sense of foreboding when you walk past. Having said that, Settlers isn’t particularly dodgy; in fact, it won some sort of award in 2012 for being a good business in Singapore.
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I’m not racist but …

How come you never hear the phrase “I’m not racist but …” apart from when it suffixes something racist? To my knowledge, nobody has ever said “I’m not racist, but did you know that bauxite is the most plentiful source of aluminium in the world?”

Then again, you never hear anyone say

“I’m not hungry, but I’m just going to eat this sandwich”
“I’m not interested, but I’m going to listen to what you say anyway”
“I’m not medically qualified, but I fancy having a go at heart surgery”

Hmm. Needs a bit of work, that one.


Today I read another book set partly underground, the rather odd Ribblestrop. Rather than being full ofexcrement-encrusted soldiers, it’s populated with some fairly likeable children (one with an indestructible head, another missing a toe but with a mysterious fortune, a feisty heroine, a gang of eccentric Himalayans), some unlikeable or ineffective adults, an underground labyrinth and a series of twists that are sometimes obvious (the money that rescues the school part way through) and others not (such as how the backstory relates to the present day inhabitants of the school’s grounds).
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The Subterrene War Trilogy


After devouring the first two parts of Ian Tregillis’ Milkweed Triptych, I was given as a bonus item the first chapter of T. C. McCarthy’s Germline, which seemed a fairly gung-ho future war story. But it was for free and I was in a bookshop in Taipei two weekends ago, so when I found the trilogy I picked them all up and read through them in a couple of days.

Germline tells the story of a journalist, embedded with US Marines. In tunnels, deep underground, where there is no water. Do Marines do anything marine, I wonder? These are soldiers into heavy duty battlesuits, and McCarthy is the first author I’ve read who has engaged with the thorny question of how soldiers in heavy duty battlesuits go to the toilet. These guys are stuck deep underground, for months at a time. That’s why it’s called the Subterrene Trilogy.

Well, because they’re subterreanean, and because they’re military they have no time for speaking in unabbreviated sentences, because they are busy blowing things up. I had strange thoughts of some deaf marines, stuck in an old folks’ home, reliving the horrors of the Soup Tureen War, but that’s for another day.

There is no soup in the Subterrene War, and even fewer tureens. More’s the pity.
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