Review: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Accompanied by a recent movie, and a near-legendary TV series before that, this novel has reached folkloric status amongst many of my reader friends. It’s convoluted, labrynthine in its twists and turns, and finely-balanced in its examination of the personalities drawn to the grey-washed world of espionage.

However, the book itself is dry and often dull, with great swathes of exposition as George Smiley and his cohorts wade through pile after pile of paperwork. Everything is claustrophobic, turning on a mis-timed phrase or mis-interpreted gesture. There’s little action, and the subtle variations in personality and tone begin to pale after a while, so that the whole thing becomes as grey as its subject matter by the end, and only the revelation of the traitor’s identity remains to drag the reader ever onward.

Le Carre is a master storyteller, and this book shows the full range of his storytelling techniques. But ultimately, the story itself just isn’t as gripping as other Le Carre novels, and it stands as merely a good book, instead of a great one.

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Review: Last Argument of Kings

Last Argument of Kings
Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A satisfying climax to Abercrombie’s trilogy, drawing the varied strings of his narrative inexorably together, whilst still leaving enough loose strings to provide numerous opportunities to expand upon his world in later volumes. Glokta and Logen grow in power as their compromises eat away more and more of their original desires and purpose; the First of the Magi comes further into the light, and what is revealed threatens the stability of the world itself; the careful power structures of the Union and the Northmen are explored and set to trembling; and the novel comes together in a shuddering climax of genuinely epic proportions.

The First Law trilogy grew in confidence and ambition as it progressed, and this volume provides a thoroughly satisfying climax to the narrative. The Bloody Nine comes into full focus, and finally begins to live up to the reputation the character has amongst readers: he never quite reaches full realisation, but it’s a good setup for revelations in further novels. Characters like Black Dow, the Dogman, and Vitari are set up well for further adventures, making their inevitable returns satisfying for the reader.

All in all, a bloodily fun and entertaining climax to the series, and worth the wait.

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Review: Before They Are Hanged

Before They Are Hanged
Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Advances and deepens the actions of the first novel in the trilogy in satisfying ways, drawing several of the chief characters together in an unexpected manner and providing a quest narrative to give them impetus. Despite Abercrombie’s best effort, his intended main character– Logan Ninefingers, ‘The Bloody Nine’– never manages to rise above a two-dimensional barbarian. Instead, it is the twisted torturer Glokta who captivates the reader and dominates the narrative with his wry, cynical commentary and cheerful obeisance to the cruel vagaries of fortune.

Had this been a standalone novel, with closed caps at beginning and end, it would have made for a perfectly satisfying text. As an adjunct to the somewhat underwhelming ‘The Blade Itself’ it goes a long way toward redeeming the trilogy and setting the reader up for an epic and thrilling climax.

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It was a good weekend, so it was: three days alone in Margaret River with the delectable Luscious Lyn, with no plans beyond writing, enjoying the view, and sampling the local produce. Having been excluded from recent Eastern states conventions by dint of skintness, we decided to dub the whole thing Battcon, and act like we were at a convention of our own.

Which, from my experiences, usually involves getting pissed as a weasel, facing fan abuse because I don’t like the same shows they do, and buying a metric fuckload of books I’d never find in the shops.

So, in the best Con tradition, here’s my Battcon Con report, with pictures.


Had the good luck to share a drive down to the Con hotel with the guest of honour, involving some fantastic conversation and only slightly dodgy music choices. Arrived at the hotel at just after 7. The opening ceremony was brief, but took in all the best Con traditions.

Battcon opening ceremony. By ‘opening’, I obviously mean the first bottle.

After a light dinner….

…. we wandered down to the video room and perused the roster for the video stream.

Settled on a comedy entitled Exeter: Space Douche, and spent the evening laughing at a time when Science Fiction was unabashedly misogynistic and racist. Unlike now, thank goodness.


Decided to take in breakfast at the Margaret River Bakery, based on fifteen-year old memories and recommendations from friends. Escaped injury when a jumble sale exploded during the meal.

After a quick visit to the Con Art Show, which was sponsored this year by the Margaret River Art Hater’s Association….

…we popped down to the Dealer’s Room…

…where we browsed shelves filled with the finest Australian authors, including such well known Aussies as Tim Winton, Tim Winton, and, uh, Joe Abercrombie.

 Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Ummmm!

After that, it was down to work. My goal for the weekend was to finish Disciple of the Torrent, an 8000 word story I had promised to deliver by a week after Battcon, and which I had written to the tune of 350-odd rocking words. 3500 words later, the day was pronounced a success.

I can’t remember if these were taken Saturday or Sunday, but I present them as proof that work was completed. By Lyn, obviously. me, you’ll have to take on trust.

After recovering from an exhausting spa session with a quick walk on the beach, we headed out to the nearby Con bar for Happy Hour drinks and dinner.

This is a French martini. It’s made by combining vodka and raspberry liqueur with pineapple juice and topping it off with a twist of lemon peel.

This is a second French martini.

This is a third.

This is a fifth. Somewhere in there was a fourth, but frankly, you should be impressed that I was even capable of holding a camera at this point, never mind counting to five.

After dinner, it was back to the hotel room, and a chance to watch a nature documentary for research purposes.


After breakfast it was back to the dealer’s room, this time to scope out the merch!

After filling up on essential con items like souvenirs, choc-coated licorice, chili-chocolate peanut brittle and more chocolate, it was back to the room and back to work.

Another 4500 words, and bugger me, but Disciple of the Torrent was declared closed! Following a hard-driving and keenly contested intellectual debate entitled “Which end of the spa do you want?”, we ordered some room service– in best Con tradition, some of the worst fucking food we’ve ever eaten– and took a moment to gloat over the Con swag we had assembled:


Then, with only a million billion trillion bottles of wine to console us, we once more delved into the best SF has to offer via the video stream.


Alas, it was time to leave the Con behind and trundle back to the world of children, day jobs, and fucking day jobs. But not before we dropped into the winery just down the road from the Con hotel.

And the one just out of town. And the one just the other side of Bunbury.

A casual day of wandering up the coast, watching Luscious Lyn engage in wine-tasting geekery, and generally just behaving like itinerant gypsies later, we picked up the kid and became normal people again.

Such is life.

But to prove that a picture tells at least one word, and that word is often ‘Whoops’, here’s a random gallery of images from the weekend. Enjoy.

Lyn Battersby, totally sober, your honour.


Margaret River graffiti humour. They’ll work on it… 
Where country people think the internet lives.

My wife is gorgeous.

 My wife is gorgeous.
 My wife is gorgeous.
My wife is gorgeous.


And what self-respecting Con would be complete without a gratuitous selfie?


There’s a con report coming, with lots of pictures and attendant revelry, but in the meantime, I thought I’d post something a wee bit of fun in the aftermath of Battcon: my task for the weekend was to complete Disciple of the Torrent, an 8500 word story based on the Batavia mutiny.

Which, he says backpattingly, I did.

Yesterday the Battfam and I took a stroll down to the Shipwreck Museum in Fremantle, where we had ourselves a wander around the Batavia gallery and I took me a few snaps as we went.

So, just for a laugh, have yourselves a gander at some snippets from Disciple of the Torrent, illustrated with pictures of the real-life inspirations behind the story:

The storm had turned the world into a swirl of broken lines. Jeronimus Cornelisz stood with his shoulder jammed into the slick wooden wall of the aft quarters and his opposite arm wrapped around the deck rail, and watched the water grab hungrily at the sides of the boat. He loved the storm, loved the way it destroyed the natural order of the Universe. The horizon was an unreachable ideal, the sky an enemy of life, the ordered hierarchy of the Batavia a maelstrom of shouting men and panicking women. This was June as Cornelisz wished the whole year to be. Back home it was a time of warm breezes, long summer days and picnics on the open lawns of Haarlem. But June on the far side of the world demanded rain, and wind, and the chaos of untamed winter. The Sun was low and weak, and fury ruled the elements. It was the torrent brought to life, and the perfect place to rescue his Master.

Above him on the upper deck, Pelsaert and the skipper, Jacobsz, were arguing again. Cornelisz grinned. Jacobsz had been a worthy ally on the long voyage south. Motivated by money, booze and sex, he was the perfect shield between Cornelisz’ ambitions and the ascetic, nit-picking Opperkoopman, always willing to flood his fat face with angry blood, and argue the slightest command. Jacobsz was the dough that soured the batch. It was all Cornelisz could do not to break into a jig to hear him screaming back at Pelsaert while the ship listed and fought the watery demons hammering at its hull.

     The waves receded. Cornelisz held his breath. The candles under his hands were hot, burning designs into his palms. His mind crumbled under the weight of the spirits leaning upon it. He tried to exhale, couldn’t, panicked for a moment before giving in to the airlessness and the odour of decay within him. The waves sensed his submission, confirmed his obeisance. They crashed once more against his mind, then just as suddenly, were gone.
     Cornelisz retched as the salt-and-sweat air of the ship reasserted itself, then quickly removed his hands from the candles. They were cold, of course, the skin of his hands clear and unblemished. He stared at them for a moment, then rubbed them down his vest. A dozen times he had performed this ritual, a dozen grovelling requests to the beings his Master, Torrentius, had introduced to him. Still, he was unnerved. He took a minute to control his ragged breathing, then swept the candles and chalk back into the bottom of his trunk and rubbed out the pentacle with the sleeves of his shirt.
     He had barely finished his task when the ship hit the rocks.
     Cornelisz looked over his tiny empire, and saw it divided. Then a fool named Woutersz got drunk—there was always drink, stashed in flasks and bottles by morons who would have been better served to pour them out and dip them in the barrels before they were lost—and bragged about his role in the aborted mutiny, and the treasure that was to be his.

     Cornelisz met with his lieutenants. And the braggart was killed, deep in the night, when nobody was awake to see the knife sliding across his throat, and the stein held beneath the cut, filling slowly with blood that bubbled and hissed as it struck cold pewter.

     Cornelisz drew designs in the wet sand of the tide line, and poured the hot blood inside. The laughing voices accepted his offer.

     Heat is the source of all change in the world. It can bend and liquefy metal; turn sand to glass; crack stone; turn sprout to full-grown plant. Heat is the lingua franca of the universe, the element that makes magic work. It opens up the walls between the worlds and makes all things possible. The closer to the life force of the universe the source is, the more powerful the magic it makes. Fire is close. Small magics can be accomplished with fire. But for great feats, for opening up a tunnel across the ether between Holland and the edge of the world and dragging a man through, something greater is required.

     In the hierarchy of magic, nothing is hotter than blood.

Disciple of the Torrent will be published in the anthology Terra Australia: Great Southern Land, by new press Satalyte Publishing, in early August. I’ll post details as they become available closer to the date.