Six bullets and a gun to take me to Mexico. That’s all I’ve got now. And it’s a long, long way.

January roundup

It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to post much – I’ve been busy at work and then looking to move jobs (which I’ll be doing in July). Between the two I’ve not been able to be online much.

So, by way of catch-up I thought I’d do a series of three posts summarising my reading in January through March. Today’s covers January.

If you read through this post I’m guessing it’ll be obvious which book I took the title quote for this roundup from…

Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie

My first book of the year was Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword, the second in her Ancillary trilogy (SF writers and trilogies…). It’s a direct sequel to her highly regarded Ancillary Justice and I enjoyed it tremendously although the general view that it’s not quite as strong as the original is probably fair. I wrote a bit about Ancillary Justice here.

Ancillary Sword is a much more contained novel than Justice. For a far future space opera it has an awful lot of dinner and tea parties and there’s much more focus on the culture of Leckie’s setting, all of which I liked but it does make it inevitably a little bit less thrilling than the original. I still definitely plan to read the third in the sequence.

The Duel, by Joseph Conrad

This was one that Guy recommended – his review is here. It’s a really nicely executed little novella about a duel between two Napoleonic officers which lasts over twenty years off and on. It inspired the film of the same name.

The Melville House edition, which is the one I read, comes with copious end notes and historical background material much of which is genuinely fascinating and if the concept interests you even slightly this is an absolute must read. It’s a lot of fun, if fun is the right word.

The Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo

I’d read a lot about it so had a look at the book. Sadly I remain rather untidy. To be fair I haven’t implemented any of Marie Kondo’s rules so this may not be entirely her fault.

Rain, by W. Somerset Maugham

This is quite a famous Maugham novella and but for being a little over 50 pages long would fit easily into one of the Far Eastern Tales collections. It features various colonial types trapped on a small island for several weeks when their sea journey is interrupted by extreme bad weather.

Tensions rise, particularly when a rather puritanical religious couple object to sharing the limited island accommodation with a fellow passenger they suspect of being a prostitute. It’s classic Maugham – powerfully written with strong characters and yet an extremely easy read. He’s famous for his short stories for good reason.

That’s not the cover I have by the way – mine is much plainer. I just thought that one rather good and it does actually capture part of the story (the racier part, but publishers do have to sell books…).

The Thirty-Nine Steps, by John Buchan

A man becomes accidentally involved in a deadly attempt to smuggle defence secrets to foreign powers. There’s some good passages particularly as the hero is tracked across the Scottish highlands, but by the end it depends heavily on extraordinary coincidence and the proper authorities continuing to keep the hero involved long after he should have been thanked and sent home.

The Hitchcock film is better and neatly sidesteps the various massive jumps of logic in the book. This is my second Buchan and I’ve not liked either, so while I wouldn’t argue with those who love him I think I can say at this point that I’m not the right reader for him.

Again that’s not the cover I had, but it’s great isn’t it?

King City, Lee Goldberg

This is a solidly efficient thriller by Lee Goldberg about an honest cop who irritates his less honest superiors so much that they despatch him to an inner-city hellhole without any useful backup or support.

Naturally he doesn’t just get killed on day one and the two very junior cops he’s given turn out to be more useful than they look. It’s Hollywood stuff done rather by the numbers and nothing in it will surprise you, but it’s well done Hollywood stuff done by the numbers.

So, while that might all sound a bit dismissive, I actually somewhat recommend it provided you want what Goldberg is selling. I preferred his Watch Me Die though which was a bit more fun so if you’ve never tried him I’d start with that.

The Steel Remains, by Richard Morgan

I’ve reviewed a lot of Richard Morgan here and I’m something of a fan. This marked a departure by him from pure SF to more traditional sword and sorcery fantasy. It’s full of traditional Morgan traits including hyper-violence and strong sexual content, but none of that was ever what I read him for and I thought the story here depended more on that material than his SF did.

Anyway, it’s (of course) part of a trilogy and I’ve picked up the second. There’s some linkages to his SF work so I suspect by the end I’ll discover it’s all set in the distant future and isn’t really fantasy at all, but I’m not sure how much I care. I trust him as a writer though so I’ll stick with the journey.

One is a Lonely Number, by Elliot Chaze

Chaze is famous for Black Wings has my Angel, which I read in April, but I actually preferred this. A con on the run comes to a small town where he finds himself caught between two women each crazy in their own special way. It’s full-on classic noir with an evidently doomed protagonist and a whole lot of bad choices.

If you have any fondness for slightly pulpy noir it’s one of the good ones. Worth checking out. Here’s an early quote:

It was stinking hot, Chicago hot, tenement hot, whore house hot. The dribble of sweat combining on both their bodies was slimy. He rolled away from her, not that he thought it would be any cooler because the whole bed was steaming, but because he always needed a cigaret desperately, afterwards.

January summary

My January reading reflects the fact I was absolutely flat-out at work. It’s heavy on genre reads and shorter reads, and I don’t think any of them will make my end of year list (except maybe the Chaze). February however was much stronger – I’ll post on that tomorrow.

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8 Comments

Filed under Conrad, Joseph, Crime, Goldberg, Lee, Leckie, Ann, Maugham, W Somerset, Morand, Paul, SF, Short stories

8 responses to “Six bullets and a gun to take me to Mexico. That’s all I’ve got now. And it’s a long, long way.

  1. Good to hear from you again, Max, after the hiatus. I particularly liked the Conrad novella, which oddly enough I reread myself not so long ago after catching the Ridley Scott film version (1978, I just checked) on Netflix (or somewhere). Looking it up again brought back to me the wealth of detail I’d forgotten, and that weird heightened sense of ridiculousness in the ‘code of honour’ the duellists abide by, yet neither of them can even remember what the original reason was for the protracted hostilities. The film I thought was pretty good, too: interesting choice, and way ahead of its time. Btw, I’ve got a bit behind myself with posts at my place, with a bit of a backlog developing.

  2. I really liked the film myself, I thought it captured the book well without hewing too it too closely to be its own thing.
    The notes in this version are very good by way of social and historical background, but the story itself remains the star. It’s funny, given I didn’t particularly take to my first Conrad (Heart of Darkness) I’ve certainly taken to him since.
    I’d prefer not to do a summary post as it’s a bit unfair on some of the books, but as you probably know at this point backlogs can be kind of oppressive and it’s not as if we’re paid for doing this so sometimes just clearing the plate is the best way forward.

  3. I do like your response to the Kondo book! I considered that kind of thing briefly, and decided to live with and love my clutter. Let’s face it, I have too many books to ever be a minimalist….

  4. The Chaze sounds great – and good to know there’s more by him in print. I also read Black Wings Has My Angel last year, and while I liked it well enough it didn’t quite end up in my notional list of favourites.

    I love the cover of the Maugham, so evocative. He’s a writer I’d like to return to.

    Wishing you well with the job move. It sounds as though you’re going to be busy for a while…

  5. I don’t particularly love my clutter, but I also don’t actually have that much of it since I tend to be ok at throwing things out. Still, I could do better, the question is devoting the time to do so in priority over other things…

    You’d like the Chaze Jacqui. The Maugham too – he’s great and this is a good one.

    Thanks for the best wishes!

  6. Thanks for the mention, Max. Maugahm, btw, is one of my favourite writers although I’ve seen him referred to as ‘second-rate’ more than once. have you seen the old film of Rain?
    I loved Black Wings and I have the edition shown here so I’m really looking for ward to the second title in the book.

  7. I’ve not seen the film of Rain, but I would imagine it would transfer pretty well. I did enjoy Black Wings, but I preferred Lonely Number.

  8. Pingback: I cannot surrender my soul to any nation state, or to any set of beliefs. | Pechorin's Journal

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