I've been reading stuff. Here's some of what I have been reading.
Leviathan – Scott Westerfeld
Official review will be out in the New Indian Express at some point in the near future, but I loved this. I'm rather wishing I'd managed to get the edition with all the gears and suchlike on the cover, but the artwork really is phenomenally good, and Westerfeld is an amazing writer. I like his main characters (even more so on a reread) and from the hints given about the second book in this series, Behemoth, I suspect that it has been written entirely for my delectation. I cannot wait. Here's the trailer, anyway. It's rather amazing.
Unseen Academicals – Terry Pratchett
In recent years there has always been a new Terry Pratchett book on my birthday. This year's seemed like it would be a good one: a return to the Discworld (after the rather awesome detour into Nation, his alternate history Victorian YA that came out last year), a return to the Wizards, who haven't been heard of in a while, and some football. The Wizards are required for reasons of economy to field a football team – a task for which they are spectacularly unsuited, though the Librarian is an excellent goalkeeper. Luckily, Trevor Likely, son of legendary Dimwell captain Dave Likely, works at the University and is able to initiate them into the world of the Shove, where who you support (and how you show it) matters far more than the game itself, which most of them have never seen. Meanwhile, Trevor must also look after his friend Mr. Nutt who says he's a goblin but is possibly Something Else altogether and looks suspiciously like Wayne Rooney on the cover. The Nutt plot is something of a return to the earlier Discworld books; Pratchett uses the character to take on an element of a classic work of fantasy (I'm trying very hard not to give the plot away). Unfortunately, while I agree entirely with the conclusions he seems to come to, it comes across as rather too earnest. Then there's Glenda, who I ought to have all sorts of problems with – she's fat and competent and has a secret weakness for romance novels, and when she gets her romance it's with a character who no one else particularly wants. I love her anyway.
The Reef – Mark Charan Newton.
I'd been wanting to read this for a while, particularly since reading Newton's second book, Nights of Villjamur (which I really liked) this summer. I finally found it a couple of weeks ago in the secondhand section of Chapters and was unreasonably excited. The Reef is a coral reef that becomes the focus of a number of interconnecting plots involving scientists, terrorists and various forms of aquatic life including sirens, ichthyocentaurs, and (it's not a spoiler if the cover illustration gives it away, is it?) a giant squid/kraken-monster. It's obvious that Newton's writing (and, I think, his gender politics but that's another matter entirely) have matured considerably since he wrote this, the prose occasionally shifts from brilliant (luckily there's plenty of that) to a bit awkward and it could have used more editing. However, in terms of ideas I found it richer and more ambitious than NOV. I'm not sure how far it's supposed to be set in the same universe as his Legends of the Red Sun; elements (the Rumel, the random bits of old machinery lying around) from one seem to have made their way into the other. I'm hoping he returns to this setting at some point in the future (after the current series is finished with) – there's a lot in it that is fascinating and that I'd love to see developed. In any case, I feel that the Legends of the Red Sun books would be vastly improved by the addition of a Squidbeast.
I am Scrooge: A Zombie Story for Christmas – Adam Roberts
Like most people, I'm a bit sick of zombies at this point. Adam Roberts' Zombie infested version of Dickens' Christmas Carol sounded like a good idea had I not been suffering from zombie overkill. But the preface (in which Roberts hopes that the idea behind the book will “thump upon the boarded-up windows of [the readers'] houses pleasantly, and no one wish to remake it as a major motion picture starring Will Smith”) sold me, and with such gems as “the churchman's nose was bulbous and red, a fleshy appendage, but Marley bit into it as eagerly as if it had been a ripe strawberry” on the first page, I assumed this would be entertaining. And it really is, but I don't think you could read it all at once. In small doses, well spaced out, the zombie jokes are funny and the illustrations (credited to one Zom Leech) are hilarious. Read at a stretch, though, Queen Victoria saying “we are not Zom-used” might drive anyone to commit violence.
Things We Are Not – (ed) Christopher Fletcher
I'm no good at reviewing anthologies of short stories by different authors. But this is a really good collection of queer short fiction. The title story, by Brandon Bell, is probably the best thing about the collection; working within a whole set of popcultural references that delighted me, Bell still manages a story that is not about these references. Eden Robins' “Switch” was another story that stood out for me, with the sort of nonchalant weirdness that I actually associate more with the beginnings of speculative fiction novels. Perhaps this is why I was so annoyed when it ended. Then there's “Reila's Machine” by Therese Arkenberg and “The World in His Throat” by Lisa Shapter; good, classic science fiction – and “Pos-psi-bilities” by Jay Kozzi that is a sort of coming-of-age story with a comparatively slight Sfnal element. It's a fantastic collection, it's available here or on Amazon, and I think you ought to read it.
The Ask and the Answer – Patrick Ness
When I read Patrick Ness' The Knife of Never Letting Go in January I was rushing between continents (it was something I bought in an airport and read on a plane) and as a result I don't think I ever officially gushed about it here. But I did thrust it at a lot of people I met – as dystopian, science fictional, gender-aware (it won a Tiptree award earlier this year) YA literature it was exactly the sort of thing I was likely to love. The Ask and the Answer takes off from the rather cliffhanger-ish moment that ended the previous book. Todd and Viola, Ness' protagonists, are separated, and set to work in different parts of the town. While Todd's work lies among the Spackle, the original inhabitants of the planet, Viola becomes entangled with a terrorist group of sorts, that wishes to remove the truly sinister Mayor Prentiss from power. As Martin Lewis says in this review, this is not an adventure story, but a war novel. I'd forgotten just how relentless Ness is sometimes; I don't know when I'm going to read this again because it is emotionally so exhausting. I don't know where the third book (which I expect will be every bit as brilliant as the first two) will take the story, but I can't imagine it'll be anywhere pleasant.
What have you been reading?