Monthly roundup culture consumed – November 2016

Hope everyone has had a great November, and you’re not freaking out about how close Christmas is all of a sudden.


As foreshadowed last month I finished Revenger by Alistair Reynolds during November. This is an excellent book. Set in the far, far future, the matter in the solar system has been reconfigured to be a lot of small planetoids, using tame black holes and other sciencey things to maintain things like gravity at Earth levels. There have been a series of civilisations that have risen and fallen in this environment, and as a result the planetoids are littered with the junk of many civilisations, some of it much more advanced than the current civilisation. Treasure hunting spaceships travel between worlds, and the whole thing has an 18th century naval adventure feel to it. I won’t give away much of the plot – you should go and read this book.

I started another couple of books – a new anthology edited by Jim Butcher called Shadowed Souls and the second book in Ken Liu’s Dandelion Dynasty series, The Wall of Storms. Not far enough through either to have much to say as yet, although I can say that I really enjoyed Liu’s last book, and this one seems to be continuing on in a very satisfying way.


I’ve been watching The Expanse on Netflix. The special effects on this series are amazing, and while it is a while since I read the book, the plot seems to follow pretty faithfully. Still got a couple of episodes to go, but a great show so far.

A couple of years back I watched the first two episodes of the sci-fi series Orphan Black, and while I enjoyed them I never got around to watching any more of it. I watched the first couple of episodes again in November, and again enjoyed them but I’m not finding myself drawn back to them. I’m going to try to power through at least a few more episodes – I’ve heard so many good reviews of this series and I feel like I’ve missed an essential part of the shared community experience.

The new Australian animated series Pacific Heat has started. At the time of writing, I’ve only watched the first episode. Very much like the American series Archer – same style of animation, very similar premise. I suspect the series will take a few episodes to find its feet – the humour was a bit hit and miss. The voice actors are a lot of the crew from the D-Generation (an Australian phenomenon) so there is a nostalgia angle here as well. If you’ve watched Archer and liked it, give this a go.


Didn’t go to the movies at all in December, but I did finally get around to watching The Martian. I found it surprisingly enjoyable. In some ways it is very old fashioned sci-fi, where the main enemy is a cold, uncaring universe and the problems can be solved by science and engineering. But Matt Damon played the main character with just enough wry humour to make him sympathetic and as a result the movie kept me very much hooked in.


One of the podcasts I really like, Tea and Jeopardy, is starting its annual “Advent Calendar” style run – with very short episodes being published every day in the lead up to Christmas. An excellent podcast – usual format is a speculative fiction author interview with a small “radio play” around it.

Another favourite podcast, Sheep Might Fly, has just started a new audio story –  “Dance, Princes, Dance” by Australian author Tansy Rayner Roberts.

So, what have you been up to?

Monthly round up – June 2014

I took two novella length works for my plane reading when going down to the Continuum convention in Melbourne. Horn and Bleed by Peter M. Ball were published by Twelfth Planet Press a few years back. Both have the same main protagonist, who is a burnt out ex-cop with a strong connection into the world of the fae. I enjoyed both works, I liked the hard boiled main character, the story lines were entertaining and moved along at a good pace. I think both could have stood to be a little longer, but that is probably because I was enjoying them and didn’t want them to end quite so quickly!

I also read the latest Jim Butcher novel, Skin Game. What can I say, I like the series. Not much really to add to previous reviews – this one was a heist novel, moved along at a good pace and I liked the unexpected plot development towards the end involving a particular kind of sword. I think the novels are starting to overly rely on the intervention of the Christian God, with a little too much “let me explain away this giant coincidence that resolves the novel in a  very convenient way by invoking one religion’s God and his/her ineffable plan” for my liking. But hey, when you back your characters into the kinds of corners that Butcher tends to, you probably need an all powerful deity save the day.

Apart from that I’m still working on Ancillary Justice and Winter Be My Shield. I’m enjoying both books but not getting a lot of time to read.

On the TV front, I started watching the new series of Defiance which is being fast tracked from the US on Foxtel. I enjoy the show – feels like a well used universe and I like the interactions between the alien races (feels a bit like Farscape from that perspective). Will be interested to see where they take the season this year.

I’ve also been watching the new season of ArcherArcher: Vice. Ah, Archer. So problematic. So funny.

Continuum is a good Canadian sci-fi series, well worth checking out. I’ve also been watching the remake of The Tomorrow People, but mainly in solidarity from vague but fond memories of the series from my youth. I don’t necessarily recommend it.

That’s all for this month. Stay tuned.

Cold Days by Jim Butcher – review

Cold Days cover

Look, I like the Dresden Files series. I understand that there are some problematic aspects to the writing, that they don’t subtly explore the human condition and that they don’t extend the genre in innovative new ways.

Don’t care. Hell, I even liked the short lived TV series. (1)

The books are very old fashioned action stories, in a “how much damage can the lead character take and keep on ticking” kind of way. Think Die Hard but with spells.

Cold Days is the 14th book in the Dresden Files series. If you haven’t read any (and this is not the jumping on point if you’re new), Harry Dresden is Chicago’s only wizard for hire. Down and out, unloved by the wizarding establishment, treated with suspicion by the police – the series started with Dresden as a noir style private investigator, with a paranormal twist.

Over the course of 14 books Butcher has steadily raised the stakes and extended the scope of Dresden’s adventures to almost unrecognisable levels. The world building has been extensive, cohesive and in a lot of ways very impressive. The various warring factions are well thought through. I assume Butcher hadn’t mapped out all 14 novels when he started out, but he’s been able to “retro-fit” a lot of world building so the previous stories make more sense as he builds more backstory into the later novels. It would be interesting to go back and read the first couple of novels to see if there are any glaring inconsistencies that time has dulled in my mind. I won’t, because my to-be-read list is scary enough without adding in a Dresden Files re-read. But it would be interesting.

While a few of the more recent Dresden books have felt a bit “papa needs a new swimming pool”, I’ve enjoyed the last couple of books. Butcher shook things up in the last novel (Ghost Story) and the consequences of those changes are still playing out in Cold Days.

There is probably not much point in going through the plot – if you read the Dresden Files you’re going to read the book no matter what I say. If you don’t read the Dresden Files, you should be starting way back towards the beginning.

I did want to comment on the evolution of female characters in the series. The Dresden Files series is told very tightly from Dresden’s point of view, so you don’t get any direct female perspectives. At the start of the series, I felt that the way women were described/characterised was the big flaw of the novels. To be fair Butcher has evolved some very strong and interesting female characters over the years, and the perspective of his protagonist has become a lot less patronising/patriarchal as he has grown. Having said that, Butcher has to have some of the most blatant “male gaze” physical descriptions of female characters I think I’ve ever seen, and that was particularly evident in this novel. I understand that given the point of view character is male and under the influence of some primeval forces in this story in particular, there is some justification. But considering Dresden spends most of the novel taking major beating after major beating, I’m surprised how often he stops to check out someone’s “physical assets”. I wouldn’t have the energy in his position, I’d be too busy saying ‘please stop hurting me’.

Look, high literature it ain’t but I’m always going to grab the latest Dresden Files novel almost as soon as it comes out. If you like your fantasy urban, your action fast paced, your violence uber and your wizards… well, wizardy then this series could be for you. If not, well, there are plenty of other fish in the sea!


(1) Yes Sean I know, even less genre cred points. I must be down below level 10 by now.

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.

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This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.