Books from February to May 2019

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I’ve got a fair bit behind on this log so the update’s taken a while to do.

Legacy: Life Amongst the Ruins (2nd Edition)
This is a Powered-by-the-Apocalypse game which operates at two levels; there is a family level, and a character level. It is designed to cover long periods of time as families rise and fall in a post-apocalyptic setting. Overall, it seems to work well but the GM needs to spend some time getting their head around when to jump from character to family level.

Legacy: Generation Ship (Aaron Griffin)
On reading this setting for Legacy I got very excited and decided to roll it out at Revelation in early 2019. I ran it for a group of experienced roleplayers, and overall we had a good time in the 9 hours or so we had with it. 'Generation Ship' is a plug-in that deals with multi-generational star travel with limited resources and knowledge. There are some issues we found in play with the playbooks and reference material not aligning with those in the book.

Shadow Captain (Alastair Reynolds)
The second instalment in the young adult series that started with Revenger. I enjoyed the developments in this, although at one point in the middle I was concerned that the story was losing itself, but I was wrong. Enjoyable. Looking forward to the next book and I really must hack this into a game.

The Tea Master and the Detective (Aliette de Bodard)
Set in the Universe of Xuya, this is an SF story set in an alternative history where China discovered the Americas before the West and as a result did not turn inwardly focused. There is a Chinese/Vietnamese flavour to this which makes it quite unique. In this story, a starship mind’s avatar works with a scholar to investigate a death because it pays better than eking out an existence making drugs. Different, and I enjoyed this.

The Citadel of Weeping Pearls (Aliette de Bodard)
The Empress of the Dai Viet Empire ordered the assault on the Citadel of Weeping Pearls, and it disappeared. Thirty years later, she is desperate to obtain the weapon technologies the Citadel had to defend the Empire. The repercussions of this ripple through the court. Good book.

On a Red Station, Drifting (Aliette de Bodard)
Prosper Station has thrived for years under the guidance of its Honoured Ancestress, an AI born of a human womb. As war rages through the Dai Viet Empire, the station begins to struggle as refugees arrive and trade is disrupted. A high profile refugee arrives, seeking sanctuary with her relatives, and tensions rise. Again, a good book.

Gnomon (Nick Harkaway)
I found this a hard book to read. There are a set of nested stories, and just as you start to get drawn into them it jumps. Several times I nearly put it down. My rating for Goodreads was jumping around from 2 to 5 stars, depending on what I was reading. Hard work, but ultimately I'm glad that I didn't abandon it.

Blue Planet: Player’s Guide (Jeffrey Barber)
Re-read in preparation for North Star. Synergy was more fiddly than I recalled, but the re-write for Blue Planet: Recontact seems to have solved that. Background material fantastic as ever.

Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies (Jared Diamond)
Jared Diamond’s award winning analysis of the development of societies was an audiobook I listened to on the commute. Definitely worth the time, and quite plausibly argued.

Permafrost (Alastair Reynolds)
Time travel story of a desperate attempt to stop ecological collapse by one of my favourite authors. I enjoyed this.

Tiamat’s Wrath (The Expanse Book 8) (James SA Corey)
The eighth part of The Expanse has the story continuing to move to an increasingly epic scale as the crew age. People die, shifting the balance of power, and the story moves on as Laconia tries to understand who and what built the network of gates. At the same time, the underground tries to break free of Laconian domination. Some of the events in this book are huge in their implications, yet dealt with in such a matter of fact way that it creeps up on you. I’m still enjoying the series, so look forward to the next one.

Cage of Souls (Adrian Tchaikovsky)
One of the best books that I’ve read recently. Set in the future where humanity has failed to leave the solar system and the sun is bloating towards it’s death, Shadrapur, last of all cities, remains. Built on the ruins of previous civilisations, the elite and rich retain power through ruthlessness, exiling political and criminal enemies to a prison in the swamp from which no-one returns. The story is meant to be the last testament of Stefan Advani, a graduate who becomes a political enemy of the state for proposing change and ends up exiled.

This is a fully realised world with shades of Perdido Street Station, the Dying Earth and Blades in the Dark. Shadrapur is begging to be a science fantasy D&D setting. I really enjoyed this book.

The Cthulhu Hack: Valkyrie Nine (Paul Baldowski)
An SF module for the Cthulhu Hack which has deservedly won awards at UK Games Expo 2019. I enjoyed playing this at North Star and I enjoyed finding out the backstory that we completely missed in play when I read it. I understand why Paul was looking on despairingly at us as a group of players. Definitely worth looking at.

The Cthulhu Hack: Mother’s Love (Buckley et al.)
A collection of three adventures based around the Shub Niggurath mythos. The first scenario is the one that is perhaps most easily dropped into another campaign (even a Delta Green one). The other two feel far more like one-shot con games. The adventure in Malta was my favourite of the whole book. Production values are extremely high on this with a lovely hardcover and good artwork.

The Mask Collectors (Ruvanee Pietersz Vilhauer)
I didn't really click with this. It went down the Big Pharma is evil route and the resources and ways that the company worked didn't feel believable. The whole line on Anthropology is not a real science was annoying, and the marketing plot line poor. The plot felt contrived and messy. There was a certain energy to it that kept me going but overall this was a missed opportunity.

The Sleeper and the Spindle (Neil Gaiman)
Neil Gaiman does what he does best and twists the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty. Very nicely illustrated.

Where Eagles Dare (Alastair MacLean)
Great book from one of the better thriller writers of the 20th Century. It's all action adventure Boy's Own stuff, and doesn't quite reach the thrills of the film (but with Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood that was a hard challenge to match).

A British/American commando team parachutes into the south of German to raid the Schloss Adler, the regional Gestapo headquarters hi to rescue an American General who has been captured and knows the plans for the Second Front. There's a reason they don't call in a squadron of Pathfinder Mosquitos and Lancasters with Tall Boy and Grandslam bombs to level the place, but you'll need to read it to find out why.

This was a bit of a guilty pleasure, but it was lovely to revisit it after a gap of many years. Film is highly recommended too.

London’s Overthrow (China Miéville)
Pretty much a rant about the inequities of society today.

Exit West (Mohsin Hamid)
I picked this up as I liked 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist'. Exit West is a blend of bittersweet love story which also explores the impact of migration and change on society and the protagonists through the SF Maguffin of doors changing so that they suddenly open in other countries. There's a feeling of claustrophobia as society collapses in the face of radicals in the unnamed Middle-Eastern country where the story begins.

Nightfall Berlin (Jack Grimwood)
It's not a le Carré by any means of the imagination (it's too far towards the thriller end of the spy genre), but this was an enjoyable 1980s story set mainly in Berlin (as you may guess from the title). The underpinning theme is pretty hard, as it involves abhorrent acts in the post-War period. I can't say much more without spoilers.

I liked Jack Grimwood's SF (writing as Jon Courtney Grimwood) and I like this enough that I'll pick up Moskva at some point. If I wanted a le Carré substitute then I'd go for Charles Cumming ahead of this.
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