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Posts Tagged ‘recommendation’

reading outside the box

I’m making this post mostly as a means of collating links so I can find them again, but also so they may be useful to others:

Carl Brandon Society, February recommendations — a spec-fic list for Black History Month.

Another from the Carl Brandon Society — this one for American Indian Heritage Month.

Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler — as near as I can tell, this is English-language fiction from authors in the Philippines, not translated materia. But I’m interested to see how their work differs from the stuff coming out of Anglophone countries.

The Sandbaggers

It’s come to my attention that there are people on my flist who have never seen or even heard of The Sandbaggers. I must do what I can to remedy this.

The show ran for three seasons on the BBC around 1978-1980. This being the BBC, that means there are only twenty episodes, all told. Almost every one is brilliant; the few that aren’t, were not written by the usual guy, and even then they don’t suck.

This is a spy show, but as the main character points out in the first ep, “if you want James Bond, go to your library. If you want to run an intelligence service, sit at your desk and think, and then think again.” 90% of most eps covers the planning, the piecing together of information, and most especially the politicking necessary to make the missions happen (or to stop them from going through). The fieldwork, when it happens, usually looks a bit cheap, partly because it isn’t the slick flashiness Bond has conditioned you to expect, and partly because it’s the BBC in the late seventies, and the production wasn’t exactly rolling in cash.

“Sandbaggers” is a nickname for a three-man special section in the Secret Intelligence Service, aka MI6. The main character, Neil Burnside, is the Director of Operations for SIS, but the show focuses particularly on the deployment of the Sandbaggers for particularly delicate or difficult missions. In practice, this means the plots often involve Burnside ricocheting back and forth between the offices of C (the head of SIS), the deputy chief, and the Permanent Undersecretary at the Foreign Office, as he tries to get clearance for or obstruct various operations. Also, thanks to a “special relationship” of information-sharing between SIS and the CIA, he’s usually wheeling and dealing with the head of their London station. Burnside, being a character somewhat of a type with Francis Crawford of Lymond and Dr. Gregory House, is very very good at what he does, but not remotely afraid to be a manipulative bastard in pursuit of that end.

I mentioned that a few of the eps are less good. This is because much of the show’s awesomeness derives from its scripts, written by a guy named Ian Mackintosh, about whom there is much mysteriousness. It’s widely speculated, even by people who worked on the show, that Mackintosh was ex-naval intelligence himself. The scripts certainly came close enough to realism that one of them was censored under the Official Secrets Act; that’s why there are only six episodes in the second season.

And why didn’t he write all of the third season? Because he disappeared. Without a trace. He was flying in Alaska with a friend who was (I believe) an ex-RAF pilot, and they radioed in a call for help just before flying into the one zone that wasn’t covered by US or Soviet radar. Nothing was ever seen of them again. It’s possible they crashed into the ocean and the wreckage all sank, but it doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to wonder; some of the people involved in the show honestly thought Mackintosh had defected to the USSR. They found no sign of him after the Iron Curtain fell, though, so it remains a complete mystery to this day.

So that’s why you get only twenty episodes. They hired people to fill out the remainder of the third season, but understood that nobody was up to Mackintosh’s standard, and decided to stop there.

You can get the show on DVD these days. The image and sound quality are bad enough that the disc puts up a disclaimer/apology while it’s loading, but the scripts and the acting are fantastic, full of twisty plot and authorial ruthlessness.

. . . and now I want to go watch more, instead of doing the work I should do. Siiiiiiigh.

last one!

Obviously I didn’t make it to twelve recommendations this year, but I realized today that I hadn’t gotten around to my annual Diana Wynne Jones rec. So this time it’s Archer’s Goon, which, while not in my first tier of favorites, is in about the first-and-a-halfth tier.

Catching up with a few more book recommendations:

To Say Nothing of the Dog, with which I have begun to mend my ignorance of Connie Willis’ novels, and

Uglies, in which Scott Westerfeld has fun with semi-dystopic near future SF YA.

If you have read either book, feel free to discuss in the comments.

more recs

Yeah, so I totally didn’t manage a recommendation every day last week, but I’m still plugging along. This time it’s Mary Doria Russell’s lovely “Jesuits meet aliens” religious SF novel The Sparrow.

Yesterday was crazy-busy, and I totally spaced on posting a recommendation. Have it now: Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear’s bloody-minded Norse troll-fighting animal companion fantasy critique, A Companion to Wolves.

recommendation #2

Next up to bat: The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, by Galen Beckett. Nutshell description is Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell meets a whole host of nineteenth-century literature in an alternate England that, now that I think about it, reminds me weirdly of George R. R. Martin.

Which should send at least a few of you leaping to follow that link. <g>

back to the recs

In the vein of “writing-related program activites,” I’m trying to catch up with my book recs. I’ve read a bunch of good things lately, so I’m going to try to post one each day this week. May not succeed, but hey, it’s a goal.

Today’s rec, therefore, is Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi. Fun and funny military SF. The short form of the rec is, I picked the book up to read five pages and see what I thought of it, and a few hours later I’d finished the whole thing. Which is very nearly the best recommendation I can give any book.

how scary is this business?

Word is in from matociquala (author Elizabeth Bear) that a clerical error, made when her most recent novel Ink and Steel was put into one major distribution system, may be the reason why it isn’t showing up in a lot of bookstores, nor in their computers when booksellers search for it by her name or the title.

Which is threatening to kill the series, because unsurprisingly, when your book isn’t there, and isn’t easily findable in the system, your sales figures don’t look too good.

First of all — god, that’s scary. Somebody types something in wrong, and there goes your book. The situation may be salvageable, but right now, things aren’t going well.

So the other purpose of this post (besides saying what is wrong with our industry?) is to make a quick rec for the book. I’ve been too busy to keep up with my website recommendations, and I’m slated to write a proper review of I&S and its second half Hell and Earth in a little while, but a decent number of people reading this journal would probably be interested in her novel. How do I know this? Because this is, as she said in her comment on my book, the summer of the Volcano Asteroid Impact Alarmingly Well-Researched Elizabethan Faerie Novel. Ink and Steel takes place three years after Midnight Never Come, with a different selection of historical figures (we only overlap in a few small places), but it, too, has faeries and espionage in the streets of London. And if you’re reluctant to pick it up knowing it’s only the first half of a very large novel, Hell and Earth is coming out next month, so you don’t have long to wait.

If that appeals, then, go now — not later; there may not be a later — to your bookstore and check for it on the shelves. If it isn’t there, ask for them to order it. And if they can’t find it in their system, give them the ISBN (978-0451462091), since that’s the only way to get around the error. (Also think about looking for the earlier books in the series — earlier in terms of publication date, that is. Blood and Iron and Whiskey and Water are set in the modern period, and you may be able to find them in trade paper still, or mass-market paperback where B&I is concerned. I recommended that one here.)

You may have no trouble at all; it may be on the shelves. But if not, please consider putting in the extra effort. It’s a good book, very full of plot and characterization and faerie lore, and I’d hate to see it killed by a clerical error.

Elizabethan extravaganza!

All you Kit Marlowe fanboys and fangirls out there may be interested to know that Issue #12 of Paradox Magazine is now available to order, and within its pages you may find my story “The Deaths of Christopher Marlowe”. No relation to Midnight Never Come, despite that title coming from Marlowe, but I welcome speculation as to how the two might be made to connect. (I suppose the answer might be Ink and Steel.)

Also, C.E. Murphy’s book The Queen’s Bastard debuts today. I mention this because it will always hold a special place in my heart as the first book I blurbed. Yes, ladies and gents, somebody at her publisher decided that Marie Brennan was a name worth putting on the cover! Oddly enough, the letter I got with the review copy connected it to Warrior and Witch, but it’s far more like Midnight Never Come, so that’s the vein I will use to pitch it to you all here.

The Queen’s Bastard, much like Michael Moorcock’s Gloriana, takes place in a setting that is sixteenth-century Europe in almost everything but name. (Unlike Gloriana, at no point did I want to throw it across the room and light it on fire with the power of my rage.) It has espionage and magic and is way sexier than MNC, and it’s the first book of a new series called The Inheritors’ Cycle. Short-form synopsis is, Belinda Primrose is the unacknowledged bastard daughter of Elizabeth Lorraine, queen of England Aulun, and she’s been trained by her father Robert Dudley Robert Drake in the art of international spying and assassination.

Belinda isn’t an entirely likeable character; she takes several actions in the story that had my skin crawling. But that’s clearly deliberate, and tied in with the growth of Belinda’s powers; I suspect that when it’s viewed in the larger context of the series, that will become an interesting facet of her character development. I’m certainly very curious to see the next book. This is clearly based on Reformation-era Europe, but taking it one step aside means Murphy can play with some elements of her own creation, and I’m looking forward to seeing where those go.

Finally, I’m hard at work on creating content for the dedicated Midnight Never Come website. (That’s just the holding page, until the thing goes live.) The plans, they are glorious. I have no idea what this stuff will look like in execution, but the ideas have me hugely pleased.