Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy

I am talking about it over at Tor.com:

The trilogy opens with vultures, and it ends with them, too.

The prose is honed, lustrous, precise and pointed as a knife-blade. If it weren’t so sharply visceral, I’d call it “polished” or “elegant,” but it has violence as well as grace. Chiselled, perhaps, is one word for it: it draws me back and sweeps me along with it every time I open a page. It doesn’t efface itself, and I love it for its descriptive brilliance.

Links on CAPTAIN AMERICA:TWS and Roman Ostia

Rose Fox talks about Captain America: The Winter Soldier:

After all that stuff about how individual people can stand up and do the right thing and effect change, after that brilliantly tense showdown in the launch room (which looked just like a NASA launch room, by the way, in a little love letter to all the places where ordinary techs and scientists do extraordinary things every day), we’re told to just sit around and hope the superheroes will save us. We are supposed to tear down all the corrupt institutions while valorizing superheroes, even though people with superpowers are just as prone to corruption as any government agency or industrial project. I understand that the Marvel universe requires this, but it’s still really jarring. If this had been a novel I was editing, I would have told the author, “Having clearly laid out all these problems, you need to envision a possible solution and then commit to it.” And I suppose they did… but it’s manifestly unsatisfying, because it’s not a solution we can actually enact in the real world. Superheroes are a very personal sort of wish fulfillment, not a plan-for-world-peace sort.

New results from research out of the Ostia and Portus survey project looks set to change our understanding of the scale of Roman Ostia:

Previously, scholars thought that the Tiber formed the northern edge of Ostia, but this new research, using geophysical survey techniques to examine the site, has shown that Ostia’s city wall also continued on the other side of the river. The researchers have shown this newly discovered area enclosed three huge, previously unknown warehouses – the largest of which was the size of a football pitch.

Director of the Portus Project, Professor Simon Keay, said: “Our research not only increases the known area of the ancient city, but it also shows that the Tiber bisected Ostia, rather than defining its northern side.The presence of the warehouses along the northern bank of the river provides us with further evidence for the commercial activities that took place there in the first two centuries.”

Interesting link discussing CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER and Black Widow

CATWS gave us the most complex look we’ve seen of Black Widow so far. Her characterisation was just as subtle as we’ve come to expect, but this time round it fit much better with the film’s overall tone as an espionage thriller. Plus, she was actually given second billing on the cast list, which is practically unheard-of for a female character who isn’t a love interest. In the action/adventure genre, we typically see a central cast that either focuses on a male hero + female love interest, a team where men outnumber women by about five to one, or a female hero + large supporting cast of men to “balance it out.” Black Widow is a rare example of a female action movie character being given the kind of platonic ally/partner role that would usually be taken by a dude.

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier review, Part 3 — Black Widow & Falcon” – Hello, Tailor, April 7, 2014.

Books in brief: Moyer, Larke, Hodgell, Bourne, Duran

Jaime Lee Moyer, A Barricade in Hell. Tor, 2014. ARC courtesy of publisher.

Read for review for Tor.com. An improvement on the previous novel. Interesting-if-flawed ghost story/murder mystery set in San Francisco during WWI.

Glenda Larke, The Lascar’s Dagger. Orbit, 2014. Copy courtesy of publisher.

Read for inclusion in SWM column. Interesting fantasy clearly influenced by the mercantile 16th and 17th centuries. Pacing sags in the middle, much like Larke’s other books. Will discuss elsewhere.

P.C. Hodgell, The Sea of Time. Baen, 2014. Ebook. ARC courtesy of publisher.

Read for review. The latest P.C. Hodgell novel, which I’ve been gasping for. It is, alas, something of a middle book. But still full of Jame apologetically breaking things.

Joanna Bourne, The Spymaster’s Lady, My Lord and Spymaster, The Forbidden Rose and The Black Hawk. Ebooks, 2008-2013.

Romance novels set during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. Heard of via Marie Brennan. I have a serious weakness for spies. There is not enough entertainment with spies in.

Meredith Duran, Wicked Becomes You, Your Wicked Heart, That Scandalous Summer, Bound By Your Touch, Fool Me Twice, Written On Your Skin. Ebooks, 2009-2014.

Historical romance novels. I probably shouldn’t have bought them all, but I was at the point in the scrabbling anxiety cycle where I needed to read something – compulsively – and romance novels were safe. Duran is good at her chosen genre.


Failed to get very far into A.M. Dellamonica’s Child of a Hidden Sea (Tor, 2014, ARC courtesy of the publisher). There’s nothing wrong with this book, but it’s a sort of portal fantasy and the tone and approach hasn’t grabbed me.

Books for review arrived since last we spoke of such things…

I arrived back at my regular address to find that in my absence some review copies had piled up inside my front door:

Review copies!

Review copies!

I’m no kind of professional photographer, that’s for sure.

That’s Will Elliott’s THE PILGRIMS (Tor US, first published by JFB in the UK); Karl Schroeder’s LOCKSTEP (Tor); Katherine Addison’s THE GOBLIN EMPEROR (Tor); Ramona Wheeler’s THREE PRINCES (Tor), of which I already have a copy that I haven’t had a chance to read yet; Glen Cook’s WORKING GOD’S MISCHIEF (Tor), the fourth book in a series which no doubt I’d be more interested in reading if I’d read, or even had, the first three; Deborah J. Ross’s THE HEIR OF KHORED (DAW); Jane Lindskold’s ARTEMIS AWAKENING (Tor), and Tor’s publicity department must really want me to read this one, since this is the second copy I’ve received; Paul Park’s ALL THOSE VANISHED ENGINES (Tor); E.C. Ambrose’s ELISHA MAGUS (DAW); Joshua Palmatier’s SHATTERING THE LEY (DAW); and Ben Hatke’s ZITA THE SPACEGIRL, LEGENDS OF ZITA THE SPACEGIRL, and THE RETURN OF ZITA THE SPACEGIRL (First Second Books).

I’m open to bids and recommendations (from this and from the previous review copy posts) on what I should read in the interstices of my already-contracted reading and reviewing.

WHILE WE RUN, on the go in Athens with CALIFORNIA BONES

Since taking a picture of a book in the agora yesterday, I decided I should chronicle my other paper readings.

I tried to take another picture from inside the agora, but the staff yelled at me and made me delete it. “You have no right to take this kind of picture!” the woman said. “This is a sacred place!”

I was practically on top of the Great Drain, but still on the path. I’m not sure how sewerage installations become sacred.

That rather baffled me. No putting inanimate objects in the picture? But, hey, I don’t want to get hauled off, and I’ve been a tourist-herder, so I obliged the woman.

And took my pictures from outside the fences.

At the Roman agora.

At the Roman agora.

Still at the Roman agora.

Still at the Roman agora.

At a restaurant on Adrianou.

At a restaurant on Adrianou.

Just squeezing the Hephaistion into frame.

Just squeezing the Hephaistion into frame.

A BARRICADE IN HELL

A Barricade in Hell, by Jaime Lee Moyer

A Barricade in Hell, by Jaime Lee Moyer

I sat in the agora today – it is useful to have an I-Am-A-Member-Of-A-Research-Institute free entrance card – for three hours, and read the above-pictured book instead of doing research in a library.

Reading Jaime Lee Moyer’s A Barricade in Hell is still work, since I’m supposed to be reviewing it… but it’s different work, and required a little less concentration.

Friendly cat!

Today I met three tortoises in the ruins of the Library of Hadrian – the ruins green with spring growth of all kinds of plants I did not recognise, apart from daisies and the odd dandelion and green barley, white butterflies and at least one small red and black butterfly that could have been this or maybe this – and later, one very friendly, playful young cat.

Who wanted head-scritchings.

Who wanted head-scritchings.

And to catch and lick my fingers.

And to catch and lick my fingers.

And to catch my camera strap.

And to catch my camera strap.

And generally to be admired.

And generally to be admired.

So of course I obliged the youthful catling with attention and the regard that is every cat’s due (according to them).

Libraries and cats.

I have been working in one lately.

This is the view of the outside of l’ÉFA’s (the French School at Athens) library building:

The French have nice premises.

The French have nice premises.

This is a partial view of the inside of Salle A:

Salle A

Salle A

This is a lovely flowering plant that I wish I could identify:

Anyone know what the pink thing is?

Anyone know what the pink thing is?

And these are two of the three cats I saw in the garden at lunchtime:

White cat.

White cat.

White cat enjoys sunlight.

White cat enjoys sunlight.

Sneaky marmalade.

Sneaky marmalade.

Hiding under bushes.

Hiding under bushes.

Two at once.

Two at once.

Django Wexler’s THE FORBIDDEN LIBRARY and Sophia McDougall’s MARS EVACUEES

I read Django Wexler’s The Forbidden Library back-to-back with Sophia McDougall’s Mars Evacuees. They’re very different books, albeit aimed at the same age-group (9-12).

The Forbidden Library is a fantasy novel set in a version of Earth around the turn of the 20th century. Alice Creighton overhears her father having an argument with a fairy. Soon after, her father leaves on a journey, his ship sinks, and Alice is brought under the guardianship of a man called Geryon, who almost certainly doesn’t have her best interests at heart. She learns that she has magical powers in a dangerous and forbidding library, and struggles to learn the truth about what really happened to her father.

Mars Evacuees is a novel set in a near-future Earth that’s been invaded by aliens, the Morrors. Alice Dare, daughter of ace pilot Stephanie Dare, is evacuated to not-properly-terraformed-yet Mars with a group of other young adolescents. But things go wrong on Mars, and Alice and a small group of others must make a dangerous journey alone across the planet to seek help.

Both of these books are an awful lot of fun, although Mars Evacuees is really more My Thing. I recommend them both.

How much do the insects of Athens love me?

This much.

This is how much the insects of Athens love me.

This is how much the insects of Athens love me.

There are two more insect bites under my watchstrap and another three on the underside of my arm. And three on my hand. My right arm has fared slightly better: there are only five insect bites in total.

They’re the large kind that start to leak a clear lymph if you somehow refrain from scratching them raw.

This one is the size of a twenty-cent piece.

This one is the size of a twenty-cent piece.

I am really, really glad that Athens is not malarial. That’s all I’m saying.

David Constantine, IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE GODS

David Constantine, In The Footsteps of the Gods: Travelers to Greece and the Quest for the Hellenic Ideal. I.B. Tauris, London, 2011. First published 1984.

This is a book about the image of Greece in the writing of French, English and German travelers to the Ottoman lands during the 1700s. Constantine’s background as a scholar of German literature is clear in his particular focuses. He deals with Winckelmann and Riedesel, Guys and Wood, Spon and Wheler, Chiseul and Tournefort, Robert Chandler, the reflection of Hellenism in the German literature of the late 18th century – but this is not the book I hoped to read. Its focus is literary, rather than technical and historical, and it does not ever give a Greek or even Ottoman perspective on all these interfering northern Europeans. Still an interesting book, but unsatisfying to the archaeologist.