Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone (Tor, 2019) audiobook read by Natalie Naudus (Dreamscape Media, 2019) Full marks to Gladstone for choosing long and self-contained over duology or trilogy. The story, however, is rather sprawling (even a batshit-crazy space opera should look beyond the moment and build towards emotional impact). Naudus’s audiobook reading adds significantly to the characterisation.
Jack Staff: Everything used to be Black and White by Paul Grist (Image, 2011) Dark-tinged speculative fiction rendered in black and white across 350 pages. Visually, Grist is always experimenting. His blocky, agreeably homespun technique is offset by a multi-viewpoint, intricately non-linear storytelling so oblique as to make following the plot a satisfying act of problem-solving.
Masters of Science Fiction: Robert Sheckley ed. John Pelan (Centipede Press, 2021) A vast collection (33 stories, 700+ pages) in stately hardcover. The selection is representative, capturing Sheckley’s mastery, his near misses, and his distended bouts of abject self-indulgence. Never lacking for voice, Sheckley championed narrative informality and shifted the frontier of satirical SF.
Sherlock: The Blind Banker by Stephen Thompson; dir. Euros Lyn (BBC, 2010) Not as quirky as episodes written by Moffat or Gatiss. The mystery is relatively straightforward and its pursuit mundane (within Holmes’s preternatural range). Not a bad thing, though it does rather feel like a stretched-out 60-minute story. Zoe Telford is good value.
Market Forces by Richard K. Morgan (Victor Gollancz, 2004) audiobook read by Simon Vance (Tantor, 2006) Near-future dystopia that mashes brutal, corporate-driven world politics with Shakespearean tragedy. Though deeply flawed, antihero Chris Faulkner almost charms as the embodiment of an increasingly dog-eat-dog society. It’s hard not to imagine him and Mike Bryant as Sam Tyler and Gene Hunt.
Rivers of London: Night Witch by Ben Aaronovitch & Andrew Cartmel; ill. Lee Sullivan (Titan Comics, 2016) The graphic novel format seems tailor-made for Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, Night Witch offering commensurate strangeness but a punchier delivery than the novels (albeit in this case with glossy, night-for-day art and a manufactured plot complexity rendered damp-squibbish by the resolution).
Triplet by Timothy Zahn (Baen, 1987) Zahn finds a fresh way to mix fantasy and SF but becomes too caught up in worldbuilding and posing scenario-specific problems for his characters to solve. The actual story is little more than advanced role-playing, the high-stakes threat just another intellectual exercise.
Till Death Do Us Part by John Dickson Carr (Hamish Hamilton, 1944) audiobook read by Kris Dyer (Soundings, 2022) A thoroughly ingenious locked room murder mystery, but one in which the author focusses too much on obfuscation. The narrator stumbles from confusion to confusion while the detective (Gideon Fell) skirts the main issue and sits pretty but silent on the…
Serenity dir. Joss Whedon (2005) A semi-decent attempt at a self-contained big-screen continuation of the cancelled TV series Firefly, lacking most of its humour (and dancing on the edge of a limited budget) but featuring the same cast and offering a modicum of closure for its fans.
Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott (Seeley & Co., 1884) audiobook read by James Langton (Tantor, 2009) A mercifully short ‘mathematical’ SF novel in which a square, learning of the hitherto unknown third dimension, narrates the workings of his own two-dimensional world. Flatland is readable as a (late 19th Century) social satire, but the story has…