The Nameless Horror

A Note On Hibernation

I suppose if you’re going to miss a year out on a rarely-used blog, 2020 was a great year to pick. Sure, there have been worse ones, historically, and there’ll be worse in future, but still. Obviously I’ve not kept this place updated/in use the past couple of years. Pre-pandemic, that was down to the technical chicanery behind the scenes (auto-building it through cunning use of Dropbox) ceasing to function (the aforementioned Dropbox and AWS default server settings), making it a real pain to manage. And then everything ground to a halt, and here we are.

And that’s been the main reason for going quiet; between home-schooling during lockdown and a lot of people using their time shut indoors to write - and thus needing a freelance editor for their novel or short stories, I certainly haven’t had the time for this place even if I did have anything interesting to say.

Anyway, I’ve managed to replace the technical chicanery (all the files that make up the site are stored in Github, which can auto-build and send everything to AWS for hosting) and if you can see this post, it’s worked. In theory, and ideally, it might get more use because I can post from my phone like the Good Old Days. But don’t fret if everything goes quiet for another 18 months; it just means I’m working.

Review: Summerland

The stars have aligned. The Old Ones stir in their sleep. The great sky wolf has devoured the moon. And I have finished reading a book*.

It’s Hannu Rajaniemi’s Summerland!

Summerland

In short, it’s a pre-WWII Brits-versus-Soviets double agent spy thriller as both sides try to meddle in the Spanish Civil War to push either Franco or a little-known Georgian emigre on the run… from the overmind that now runs the USSR. And half the secret service are dead, operating from the afterlife - the titular Summerland. One of whom is a mole for the Russians.

That might sound more batshit than it is; the existence of Summerland - and the ecto-technology that allows communication with and exploitation of the dead and the land beyond - is presented as such a fact of life, that it’s clear from very early on that the story is going to be about questioning the effects of its existence both on the political world and on the human level, where the long-dead still run their affairs back in the world of the living, rather than about, hey, dead people, isn’t that weird.

Rajaniemi does a great job of humanising both central characters - demoted field agent Rachel White and Summer Court spy for the Soviets Peter Bloom (no spoiler on that; the story’s not a case of whether he is the traitor, but why, and whether he can be caught) - to the extent that the story doesn’t have an antagonist as such; it’s just a messy situation on all sides.

The plotting is intriguing, the pace snappy, and the style very lean. If I was to split hairs, I’d wonder (having gone through similar) whether the sequence of events in the closing section was as originally intended or changed in editing because as well as introducing concepts and capabilities much less steadily than in the earlier stages, it also greatly ramps up the physical action. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the climax, though; it’s just a little different tonally to what’s come before.

Summerland is a great book, and one I’d very much recommend.


* Obviously I finish other books across the year, but that’s work; dissecting something when the author’s paying for short story or novel editing services isn’t the same as reading a book for fun.

Oh God, It’s Been A Year

I remember the crazy early days of blogging. I know, I know - Grandpa Rickards remembering things! Ha! Yes, I know what you children are saying. Don’t know you’re born, with your Snapchats and your electronic-books and your Face Book. I used to blog every day. Twice, some days, if I was bored or drunk enough. And people used to read things on the internet back then. You had to make your own entertainment, see…

Seriously, it’s been a year since I’ve both remembered the blog exists and had a moment to type something. Must get better.

Part of the problem is I’ve been very busy with freelance editing work - I think I’m on four novels done (copyedits or critiques) so far this year, with I think a couple of dozen short stories thrown in for good measure. I tend to try to hide from words when I’m not working so typing blog posts for no one’s amusement but my own… no.

(Part of the problem is also: it gets harder to remember how each time since it’s such a peculiarly Byzantine system the site runs on. Smart Focused John set it up cleverly five years ago, but Modern Tired John only barely remembers how and there are numerous hoops through which to jump.)

Anyway. A lighter couple of weeks beckons and my god I need to look less like I’ve died. So, welcome to Stuff I’d Recommend From The Past 12 Months Or So! In no particular order:

  • Wonderbook, 2018 edition (Jeff VanderMeer): I’m an unashamed fan of VanderMeer and I enjoy a good storycrafting book, so this was a no-brainer. It’s different, looking more at the ideas side of the process than all that structural stuff that’s in every other storycrafting book (though there’s some here). Big, bright, colorful, and a thumping brick of a thing to actually try to hold and read - great. Thoroughly recommended.
  • Invisible Planets (Ken Liu, ed): A collection of 13 Chinese SF shorts. A couple didn’t quite hit the mark with me, but some are very good, and that’s the joy of collections like this; if one entry doesn’t float your boat, there’s always more.
  • Three Moments Of An Explosion (China Miéville): Speaking of collections, there’s this. Again, some stronger than others, but some are very good indeed.
  • Angels With Dirty Faces (Jonathan Wilson): There was a World Cup last year, and I ended up reading a bunch of history-of-football-related stuff, of which this, the footballing history of Argentina, was the pick of the pack. Fascinating, especially in the interweaving of the social and cultural context.
  • Most Of The Early Discworld Books (Terry Pratchett): Teenage nostalgia kick, from Pyramids onwards (I think - #4, right?), but I’d forgotten just how good - and how short - they were.
  • The Thing Itself (Adam Roberts): Weird meditation-on-divinity meandering SF(?)-a-thon. Good, though I think it was at its strongest in the opening stages, but whaaaaaat.
  • Normal (Warren Ellis): Fun novella, a locked-room mystery about a psychologically-damaged cultural trend analyst exploding into bugs.
  • The Victorian Underworld (Kellow Chesney): Research for a thing, but surprisingly interesting and engaging.
  • Junkie Love (Joe Clifford): Joe’s a nice guy (in digital form, certainly), and you need that wry humor because holy shit what a hole to climb out of when he was younger.
  • Annihilation: The film, that is. Not a slavish adaptation of the book (which is very introspective, and probably impossible to turn into a film), but a superb capturing of its spirit and themes. Beautiful, and also horrible.
  • Return Of The Obra Dinn: It’s a game, and one that topped just about every decent ‘best of 2018’ list in December for good reason. Not only is it a brilliantly-crafted, and beautifully presented, whodunnwhat covering the individual fates of the 60-odd (mostly missing, some skeletonized) crew of an early 1800s merchant vessel, it also makes you feel like an absolute Holmes-level genius when, through what feels like your own mental efforts, you correctly identify a man purely from the type of cravat he wears. My only regret about playing it through is that I’ll now have to wait until I’ve forgotten who everyone was and what happened to them all before I can play it again.

There’s probably more (and there’s loads I wanted to read over the past year - even now, Max Booth III’s The Nightly Disease is staring at me from the shelf - but haven’t because I also read a lot less when I’m working more), but the RSI is creeping up on me and it’s getting late.

tl;dr: Not dead, just busy.

First 100 - Instructions

MS ANNABEL BAILEY

PROCEED WITH YOUR DUTIES AS INSTRUCTED BY THE MAGISTRATE’S OFFICE UNLESS ORDERED OTHERWISE. IN ADDITION, YOU ARE TO PERSONALLY REPORT ALL OF THE FOLLOWING IMMEDIATELY TO UNDER-SECRETARY BITTENCOURT AT THE GREEN GLASS TOWER, IN ABSOLUTE CONFIDENCE FROM THE MAGISTRATE’S OFFICE:

  • DISCOVERY OF NODES OF POTENTIAL GREATER THAN Ø=0.02
  • PRESENCE OF FOREIGN INFORMATICIANS
  • OBSERVED OR CALCULATED INFORMATIK USE IN THE LOWER QUARTERS
  • OBSERVED OR CALCULATED INFORMATIK USE BY THE KRIMINALPOLIZEI
  • DELIBERATE WITHHOLDING OF PERTINENT INFORMATION FROM THE MINISTRY OF THE INTERIOR BY THE KRIMINALPOLIZEI

FURTHER, THE FOLLOWING IS TO BE REPORTED BY LETTER OR MESSAGE TO THE UNDER-SECRETARY AT YOUR SOONEST CONVENIENCE:

  • SUSPECTED PRESENCE OF FOREIGN INFORMATICIANS
  • ACTIVITY OF FOREIGN AGENTS
  • ACCUMULATION OF MATHEMATICAL MATERIALS
  • EXPRESSION OF SENTIMENTS WITHIN THE KRIMINALPOLIZEI COUNTER TO THE SUCCESS OF THE MINISTRY OF THE INTERIOR

YOUR THOROUGH DISCRETION IN THESE MATTERS IS ASSUMED.

— MINISTER TIMO SCHILLER

In a bid to get myself writing more by publicly tracking progress, the ‘first 100’ series is/will be the first 100 or so words spat out whenever I’m working on my own material, whatever they are, unchecked and unedited.

Review: Borne

I’m a big fan of Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, and thoroughly enjoyed the delightfully fungoid Finch, so my Christmas request last year was his newest - though not new; I’m behind the curve as always - Borne.

Borne

If you’ve read any of Vandermeer’s previous work you’ll know the running themes to expect: weird biological mystery, an uncertain world, traces of body horror and a fluid approach to identity all wrapped up in a gloriously steaming mass of freakish details.

In the case of Borne, all that and also bears.

The book is told as the personal recounting of Rachel, a scavenger in the ruins of a city ravaged by rogue biotech and the creations of the Company, who used it as a development base until one of their inventions (or conversions), the gargantuan bear Mord, turned on them and wrecked everything.

One day, climbing Mord’s fur (“gargantuan” isn’t an understatement) to look for salvage in the dust and rubble that clings to him, she finds a weird polyp/egg/seed and takes it back with her. That seed grows into the creature she calls Borne. And so things spiral from there in ways I won’t go into.

It’s fascinating, bizarre, unsettling - and in Borne himself, remarkably engaging. The backdrop - particularly the Balcony Cliffs - is never less than atmospheric and interesting, and remains tantalisingly unresolved in places. If I were to have any gripes, it’s that the Magician (a sort of secondary-ish antagonist) does less than I was expecting and isn’t quite the threat she’s built up to be - and her children are, but that’s very much small potatoes (and also possibly a factor of such a tight, individual POV). It’s a cracking book.

Also, bears.