The wolf in the attic, by Paul Kearney

The wolf in the attic Book Cover The wolf in the attic
Paul Kearney
10 May 2016

1920s Oxford: home to C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien... and Anna Francis, a young Greek refugee looking to escape the grim reality of her new life. The night they cross paths, none suspect the fantastic world at work around them.

Anna Francis lives in a tall old house with her father and her doll Penelope. She is a refugee, a piece of flotsam washed up in England by the tides of the Great War and the chaos that trailed in its wake. Once upon a time, she had a mother and a brother, and they all lived together in the most beautiful city in the world, by the shores of Homer's wine-dark sea.

But that is all gone now, and only to her doll does she ever speak of it, because her father cannot bear to hear. She sits in the shadows of the tall house and watches the rain on the windows, creating worlds for herself to fill out the loneliness. The house becomes her own little kingdom, an island full of dreams and half-forgotten memories. And then one winter day, she finds an interloper in the topmost, dustiest attic of the house. A boy named Luca with yellow eyes, who is as alone in the world as she is.

That day, she’ll lose everything in her life, and find the only real friend she may ever know.

The wolf in the attic was enjoyable to read - it read well, to convert a term from TV  cooking shows. The prose really does bring to mind dusty, mahogany-and-green offices laden with books and ashtrays and inkwells. I suppose "Oxford" can be effective shorthand for that.

Before I read this, I had unfortunately come across some oddly misleading blurbs - ones that led me to believe this would be a story about Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, which had me ruffling my feathers once it turned out their named(!) presence had no real impact on Anna Francis' story.   That sort of thing happens - it isn't the novel's flaw at all.

So: It read well, I devoured it fast, it was a nice time.  Unfortunately, I found it ended up somewhat limp and aimless.  All the more disappointing because there were good things going into the book - For instance, I found it educational - I didn't know much about the events that drove Anna Francis and her father away from Greece, so I sort of fell into wikipedia (because of my own curiousity, not plot necessity)  to read up on the Ottomans and the Balkan wars.  I mention this as a clear positive trait of the novel, because it made me want to know things.

Anna Francis is a very likeable young protagonist, which also helps a lot.  It is very much her coming-of-age story.

But then her friend Luca and his people make me squirm a little bit. There's more than just a whiff of other-izing a clearly identifiable ethnic group, which just doesn't sit well, no matter how much it "fits" the narrative.  For this reader, anyway.  It sours what would otherwise be a decent and utterly cosy option for times when you want some, uh, Oxfordian magic.

Central station, by Lavie Tidhar

Central station Book Cover Central station
Lavie Tidhar
Science fiction
May 10 2016

A worldwide diaspora has left a quarter of a million people at the foot of a space station. Cultures collide in real life and virtual reality. The city is literally a weed, its growth left unchecked. Life is cheap, and data is cheaper.

When Boris Chong returns to Tel Aviv from Mars, much has changed. Boris’s ex-lover is raising a strangely familiar child who can tap into the datastream of a mind with the touch of a finger. His cousin is infatuated with a robotnik—a damaged cyborg soldier who might as well be begging for parts. His father is terminally-ill with a multigenerational mind-plague. And a hunted data-vampire has followed Boris to where she is forbidden to return.

Rising above them is Central Station, the interplanetary hub between all things: the constantly shifting Tel Aviv; a powerful virtual arena, and the space colonies where humanity has gone to escape the ravages of poverty and war. Everything is connected by the Others, powerful alien entities who, through the Conversation—a shifting, flowing stream of consciousness—are just the beginning of irrevocable change.

At Central Station, humans and machines continue to adapt, thrive...and even evolve.

Central station is a collection of loosely knitted short stories - that's nice to know beforehand, which I didn't. I still very much enjoyed the reading, but was perhaps left with the impression of an even more gloriously sprawling mess than I would have, otherwise.

There isn't a lot of plot here, or, well, resolved threads of any sort. This normally makes me unhappy. But Central Station never feels like it's supposed to be setting up for that; Indeed, it feels like people-watching in an airport or train station, overhearing snippets of conversation, looking around at distinct groups and running children and individuals meeting each other, by accident or by plan.   The difference is that in Central station, all of these random people are very, very interesting.  So interesting, I want to know more about each and every one of them. I want to know about that implant behind the ear, I want to know about those immersion pods, I want to know why the kid is flickering, I want to know about those robotnik beggars, I want to know about the others. This is idea-dense enough to put me in mind of novels by Peter Watts.  Having read a couple of Tidhar novels, though, I sort of expect that if any larger story comes out of this, it'll be about the religious robots.  (Which I say in a very hopeful tone of voice, by the way!)

So - read it? Yes, if you want to sort of sail across the river in a glass-bottomed boat to watch, rather than put on the diving suit and get fully underwater.  Go for it.

The days of Tao, by Wesley Chu

The days of Tao Book Cover The days of Tao
Tao #3
Wesley Chu
Science fiction
Subterranean press
April 30 2016

Oh! Look, it's a new novella, The days of Taotaking us back to visit Cameron and Tao! It's been quite some time since the events of The rebirths of Tao, and Cameron is now 21 years old... though, not at all done being somewhat puberty-addled and awkward.  Relations between the Prophus, Genjix and humanity are tense. Worse, Cameron got a D in art history.

So he's in Greece.  Greece suddenly becomes a bad place to be.  Once things begin to happen, there's not even time for the good gyros with the cute girl in Cameron's study abroad class.

He was never supposed to be doing Prophus work while simultaneously repairing his grades, and then he wasn't supposed to be such a bleeding heart, and, oh, is someone going to remind him what happens when he trusts people too easily?  Oh, Cameron.

The novella is fast-paced and full of zippy action, and I tore through it in a short afternon.  So yeah, it's a fun ride, even to a reader who really would prefer, by far, more about the Quasing themselves and perhaps less of the human interpersonal drama. That's just me, though - you give me a universe with symbiotic aliens in it, I want to know about them.  But just because your favourite ice cream flavor is mint chocolate chip, it doesn't mean you'll turn down a scoop of the caramel.

Maybe I found the ending a little lacking, but at least there's Roen and junk food.

(And as a fan of the original trilogy's book covers, I'm a little sad about how this one looks, even if it is pretty!)