Pirate Sun is the third book in the Virga science fiction series, set in a giant air-filled free-fall bubble, where technology is limited. Another strong entry. Takes the world building a bit further as you get to see a little more of what keeps Virga working. Plenty of action again. Schroeder's strategy so far has been to keep each book focussed on a different character: this one stars Admiral Chaison Fanning. That also helps keep things fresh.
Liked this book a lot, but again it would be better to start at the first book as there's a continuing storyline.
What I'm Reading 2
Tripwire is the third book in the Jack Reacher series of violent thrillers. Jack Reacher is a former military policeman: 6'5'' and 220lbs as we're often told, skilled in all forms of armed and unarmed combat, who grew up as an "army brat" on various bases as the son of a serving officer. After leaving the army he decides to go travelling around the nation that he's spent his life protecting, but has never really seen. What he discovers is that America is full of baddies. Practically every town he wanders into is under the grip of corrupt police forces, evil gangsters, psychotic militia groups and so on.
In previous books he's usually solved this by violently killing all the baddies in the organization. This time though he's faced with a small organization with only a few henchmen, and Reacher has to use his investigative abilities to track down the main baddie.
I liked this, expand on the character a bit but keeping the pace going. Plotting wasn't bad but was a bit spoilt by using a gimmick which has twice now been used in more recent franchises, which makes it a bit too predictable.
What I'm Reading 3
One Bullet Away is an autobiographical account of a junior officer training for the US Marines and serving in Gulf War 2. Quite interesting, especially the first person account of serving in a recon unit in wartime. However nothing is particularly surprising or unexpected.
What I'm Reading 4
The Park by Oscar Zarate. The Park appears to be Hampstead Heath, though it's never named and I doubt there are many postmen living next to it. It's a comic book about a confrontation leading to escalating consequences. Pretty good: a decent story, well drawn with some interesting characters.
What I'm Reading 5
The Faithful Executioner by Joel F. Harrington Fascinating biography of sixteenth-century executioner of Nuremberg Frantz Schmidt, largely drawn from his diary but also other contemporary documents. Has a lot of information I wasn't aware of. Apparently there was a social status of "dishonourable", somewhat similar to the Dalit/Untouchable status in India, which included executioners and other "unclean" professions.
The story begins with Frantz'' father, who according to family lore was singled out of a crowd by a tyrannical prince to carry out an execution: this automatically gave him and all his descendants the Dishonourable status. Born into the status, Frantz made it his mission to free his children from it. He strove to carry out his duties impeccably, he refused to drink alcohol (very rare in the period) and tried to avoid company.
Another thing I didn't know is that executioners doubled as healers, and were sought out for that. This was partly based on superstition: executioners were believed to have magical powers from their association with death, and had access to body parts and lethal swords that were believed to have magical benefits. But it was also because executioners, since they doubled as torturers, had experience of both inflicting wounds, and a rare knowledge of anatomy.
Another route to respectability for Frantz was building up his medical practice, training his children in it too. In old age he finally achieved his mission, successfully petitioning the Holy Roman Emperor to give him and his descendants honourable status.
Overall, a fascinating book, well worth a read.
What I'm Reading 6
Magician's Land by Lev Grossman. Final book in the Magicians trilogy. There's a strong continuing storyline, this would be more or less unintelligible if you hadn't read the first two volumes.
I love this series, but suspect some people would hate it. It's almost metafictional, with barely-disguised versions of Hogwarts and Narnia, but taken more seriously in and freed from the constraints of children's fiction. It's definitely a series of books about books though.
As before, there's plenty of action, some angst, some plausible and some exaggerated characters, and lots of imagination. It's a satisfying end to the series.
What I'm Reading 7
Crisis? What Crisis? History book about Britain in the Seventies. Good potted history of the period. Has a good overview of how at the very start the two main parties were very similar in policy terms, but drifted much further apart to the left and right under internal pressure: something similar might be happening with the Conservative party today. The sections on Enoch Powell are particularly interesting: a patrician who actually delivered the "rivers of blood" line in Latin (though he translated it in the press release) but ended up as a populist figurehead.
The author seems to be trying to keep a foot in the nostalgia market by tacking on a sort of "in popular culture" bit at the end of each serious section, explaining how the issues were tackled in novels, sitcoms and Doctor Who. Adds a bit of interest but could easily be skimmed over.
One of the more interesting ideas that gets thrown off at the end is that the Seventies has a reputation as an economic disaster period because its problems: (strikes, inflation) disproportionately affected the powerful and the media. (Newspapers were particularly affected by the unions closed shop). By contemporary standards, despite all this unemployment was still low, and housing and other living costs very affordable. By contrast, the cost of housing crisis, massive youth unemployment, and insecurity of 2010s are seen as just minor nuisances because the powerful and the media are indifferent to them.
Overall, interesting but not unmissable
What I'm Watching
Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Above-par action movie, better than the first one as the WW2 superhero is thawed out and put back to work in the modern world. Thankfully avoids crap comedy where he's bemused by technology: he actually seems to have mastered it quite quickly, but he's not too happy about the surveillance state. Worth seeing.
What I'm Watching 2
For a bit of balance saw The Cranes are Flying, the 1957 melodrama from the Soviet Union about a couple torn apart by the Great Patriotic War. It was lucky to be released in a period of the Kruschev era when a little more artistic freedom was permitted: the characters are allowed to laugh at some of the propaganda efforts ("double and redouble production!")
I liked this a lot, though it's a little cheesy at times. Has a strong storyline, good performances, and some impressive set-pieces with big crowds of extras. Worth a look.
What I'm Watching 3
Saw Fifties-made, earlier-set Hobson's Choice: comedy about tyrannical small businessman who forbids his three daughters from marrying. A bit dated, but benefits from a wonderfully over-the-top performance from Charles Laughton as the obnoxious Hobson.
We're still alive. No immediate threats to our actual existence. Baby's OK: doing a bit of walking, no real talking. Still a struggle to cope with the workload of childcare. Work's a bit bad too, on a Problem Project which is running late and causing problems. Spent two weeks getting up at 4AM every weekday to try to get some work done, then doing office hours and childcare/chores till 8 or 9PM: really wiped me out. Generally feeling a bit down, but one bright spot was that I managed to take the baby up to see my family for an overnight trip last weekend: he loved it, the family loved him, felt so good to just relax for a day.
Two different stories about the future of work. Where did all the women coders go? How far through the consolidation are we? Britons’ views on immigration are a perplexing blend of myth and reality
Politics. Government will use its new tax summaries to mislead the public about welfare spending . Dominic Cummings on Westminster and Whitehall (flawed but some interesting inside accounts).
Articles Bernard Hopkins, Boxing’s Oldest and Most Cunning Champion. Comic about therapy for abuse survivors: 10 things, complete book online. The Symbolism of a Medieval Haircut.
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