For my birthday, my wife gave me a very nice pair of shorts, which should last me a long time, and a copy of Andy Weir’s second novel, Artemis, which I read over the course of two days and hence hasn’t lasted me very long. So on average, well, averages turn out to be an unhelpful way to construe gratitude.
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Visible Misery

I’m going to begin with a massive generalisation which oversimplifies things far too much, but does at least save time, and we’re all busy, right? Here goes: Americans love visible misery, whereas British people are the exact opposite.

Examples of this: the old joke about a Brit who goes to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting on his first week in L.A. Somebody stands up and croaks “I haven’t had a drink in 5 years.” Applause from everyone except for the Brit, who is choking and spluttering “You can’t have had to drive every night!”

Or computer games. In the 1980s, we had Chucky Egg, where you attempt to control a monochrome egg-shaped bloke wandering through a series of 2-dimensional landscapes, and he always dies. The Yanks had Oregon Trail, a text-based ‘adventure’ where your bold pioneers inevitably die of dysentery, their fate reported by a line of text inching across the screen. And people remember both of these games with affection. Maniacs.

Obvuiously, for a well functioning society you need both people who will get up and travel thousands of miles in the hope of something non-existent, and then come back to boast of their travails, and also people who will recline on their sofas going “Good God, man, what were you thinking?” You need Method actors like Dustin Hoffman, running up and down on the set of Marathon Man to get into character, just as you need louche people like Laurence Olivier, watching in bemusement and asking “why don’t you just act?” It takes all folks.

Unfortunately, in Cibola Burn, the fourth novel in The Expanse series, there’s a bit too much Oregon Trail for my liking, and not enough 8-bit egg=shaped heroes.
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Caliban’s War

Unable to sleep between 2 and 4 this morning, I finished reading Caliban’s War, the second novel in The Expanse series. So now I’m one third of the way through. 

Structurally it’s a little inferior to its predecessor. Perhaps it’s the Game of Thrones influence that made the writers think people love nothing more than political intrigue, when the fun part of space opera is usually the flying through space, the brainbending science and the cultural clashes. Or perhaps the whole thing is intended to satirise early 21st century geopolitics. 
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Diamond Dogs

I can’t remember quite why I was recommended to read Diamond Dogs, but I think it was somewhere on Charles Stross’ blog, and I bookmarked it and then didn’t get round to downloading it until I was on my way to Bangkok last week.

It’s one of two stories (the other, Turquoise Days, I find completely impenetrable) set in the far future. At the same time, it’s enjoyably Gothic (at least to begin with). The hero meets an old friend who he hasn’t seen in decades, is whisked away to a remote house where there are Mysterious Characters, and then gets involved in a strange quest. At the same time, there’s people who can voluntarily request to have memories of their ex-wife removed, there’s a cybernetic doctor who keeps doing horrible things to people (including a great twist near the end) and there’s a hilariously horrible building, the Blood Spire, which, in all its pulsing evil, is an enormous, veiny phallic symbol that ejaculates torn-up human bodies at regular intervals.

It’s also about complex mathematics, cheap rip-offs of 20th century films (there’s a call-out to Cube, and another to Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom that I noticed) and body horror, as the team climbing the Blood Spire keep getting injured by the Spire, and then returning to attack it again, each time more enhanced cybernetically or eventually modified until they’re posthuman, the eponymous diamond dogs.

It ends … badly, for everyone involved, but it’s fast paced enough that this doesn’t make it depressing, and despite being on the pretty hard side of hard-sf (the first chapter was tough) it was a fun little read. I’m not sure I’m strong enough to read any of Alastair Reynolds’ longer work though.

Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits

Last night I finished reading Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits, a novel by a Buzzfeed writer that would have been a lot more enjoyable if it had been just the first chapter. There’s some interesting ideas in there and some wilfully amusing abuses of science, but pretty quickly the plot degenerates into this-happened-and-then-this-happened-and-then-this-happened, as though the big reveal isn’t a twist in the plot, so much as the story is being written by an 8 year old with no attention span.
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The Rising

Today I devoured The Rising, Ian Tregillis’ second book about Dutch automata fighting French Canadians in an alternate 1920s setting. (Yes, it is slightly strange.) I enjoyed this more than the first novel, The Mechanical, perhaps because there’s less world-building going on this time and more action. (There is a bit too much action sometimes, but more of that later…)
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