I have Been Away, both literally (visiting family during the summer break), and metaphorically (having slipped into a sort of online ninja smoke cloud that renders me unseen and unheard, otherwise known as being mostly rather busy). During this time, I have read things and been shown things, and now I arise from beneath the waters, squamous and non-Euclidian, to share them with you. So, in no particular order, here we go.
Mockingbird (Chuck Wendig): Second in the Miriam Black series. I very much liked the first. This, probably a shade - but only a shade - less so. Something to do, I suspect, with the peculiar ease with which Miriam repeatedly makes her way around the reclusive girls’ school in which much of the action occurs, and also with the bad guys not being, to me at least, either as entertaining or as fleshed-out as in the first. Again, only a shade - I pick holes because I care; for the most part, this book is still great fun. And I’ll still read Cormorant when the chance arises.
The Blue Blazes (also Chuck Wendig): It’s a gangland NYC organised crime story, only with goblins and vicious snake-people. It’s also very good. The world-building for it (on which the story hinges) feels sound, and the characters, Mookie and his daughter in particular, are solid indeed. There are some lovely imaginative touches in here that I won’t spoil. Great fun. I can’t remember if it has/will/might someday become a series, but I’d hope so.
Finch (not Chuck Wendig for once but Jeff Vandermeer): I started reading this ages ago, but even though other stuff (work, mostly) got in the way, I stuck with it because this is a wonderfully-imagined world and the story is thoroughly compelling. If I were to pick holes, perhaps the ending doesn’t quite compare to the build-up beforehand (the close of Heretic’s part of the story, for instance, happens off-camera and largely off-hand) and lacks some of the grimy, fungal flourish of the earlier parts, the nature of the Resistance is a little odd, etc., but it’s still OK, and what comes before is gloriously written.
Inverting The Pyramid: The History Of Football Tactics (Jonathan Wilson): Been meaning to look at this for ages. Obviously it’s non-fiction, and obviously it’s about sport, and not everyone has an interest. But if you do have any at all in football/soccer, this is a superb read. Excellently structured, with one piece of history in one part of the world flowing neatly into another in another, and very smoothly written. And genuinely fascinating too, far more so than perhaps the title suggests. It’s a very broad history of the game told through the tactics, philosophies and developments that have shaped it and reshaped it down the decades.
The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Football Is Wrong (Chris Anderson, David Sally): I grabbed this alongside Inverting The Pyramid as a sort of football reading twofer, but it’s a whole ‘nother world. Claiming to be a sort of objective statistical analysis of the game (Moneyball, mentioned repeatedly, is probably a fair analogy), its occasional good points are let down by some glaring errors in its methodology, most of which involve treating one side or element as existing wholly independently of others. For example, a key claim of the early stages of the book, one outlined at great length, is that 50% of games are decided not in fact by talent but by luck. Due, so the statistics go, to factors outside a team’s control, such as the ‘beachball goal’ at Sunderland a few years ago or a misplaced pass or missed tackle in defence. Sadly, which getting a goal via a deflection off a beachball that’s blown onto the pitch is genuine chance (and mighty rare), a misplaced pass or tackle can easily be argued to be the result of either a relative lack of skill or else deliberate tactics by the opposition to force such errors (such as Dortmund’s pressing game) and thus not chance at all. Likewise, arguing that goalscorers are rare in football and thus more prized because ~50% of players in a given Premiership season won’t score anything is crazy since you’re completely ignoring the fact that this is largely the result of formation; all 11 don’t take turns up in the opposing penalty box, and that a goalkeeper, four defenders and a holding midfielder or two generally don’t appear on the scoresheet shouldn’t surprise anyone at all. Again likewise, arguing that Chelsea should have signed Darren Bent because he scored the most key goals (that is, ones that win matches rather than, say, the third in a 4-0 thumping) two seasons running while players like Didier Drogba were further down the list ignores the fact that Chelsea, like other high-placed teams, were far more likely to thump teams 4-0 (and thus had fewer key goals as a ratio of goals scored) and had more goalscorers overall (with their talent-rich front line) than Sunderland, who lost more games, and squeaked more narrow wins as a ratio of their overall victories. (And who quite possibly also rotated their squad less, being a smaller side, giving him more match time.) I could go on. I’m sure the methods of statistical analysis employed are impeccable, but there’s so often an apparent lack of consideration for the structure of the game in reality that picking out the good bits is an exercise in frustration.
Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat: The Graphic Novel (Andrez Bergen): I liked this a lot back in the day, and Andrez sent me - and, I imagine, half the population of the planet, being the cunning devil he is - the newly-minted graphic novel in digital form. If you haven’t tried out TSMG, you now have another option by which to do so. He also sent me the upcoming Bullet Gal (spun-off from Heropa). In both cases he mostly uses photomanipulation rather than line drawing for the art, which is both clever, and hard to pull off well. If I’m honest, it doesn’t always completely work for me - there are pages where definition loss through filtering makes it a little hard to follow (less an issue in TSMG, which has a more surreal air anyway), but again, I’m only picking. I’d still happily point your filthy view-holes towards both, and the digital copy of TSMG is only a couple of bucks so what’s the risk?