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Three books completed this week - all good.

The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter is the authorised sequel to The War of the Worlds by HG Wells. I found this instantly engaging in the way it adopts the narrative tone of the original and then abruptly dismisses it by revealing an unexpected new narrator. I have to admit I was surprised to find the narrator was female, and also by the presence of several other strong and interesting female characters in the story. Perhaps this is because the original is a very male book, and both the author and likely target audience for the sequel are male. It was a pleasant surprise, and made my experience of reading the sequel much more enjoyable.

The device of having the original exist as a book written by the original narrator within the fictional timeline of the sequel worked really well. It allowed an entertainingly meta discussion of the merits and issues of the original by the characters who appeared in it, and added an extra layer of interest to the story.

Overall, I enjoyed this book a lot, though it borrowed two stylistic aspects from the first one that I wasn't so keen on. There was a lot of very heavy-handed foreshadowing ("little did we know what would happen next..." or "it would soon become apparent that..."). It also used a rather dry reportage style for the sections where the narrator wasn't actually present. This accurately reflects the idea that she would have recorded those people's stories in interviews later, but it does also set the reader slightly at a remove for some of the most exciting bits.

I did very much like the prediction that the humans would have prepared for a second invasion based on what happened the first time, and then were caught off-guard by the fact that the Martians changed their approach. The humans do have a bit more agency in the conclusion this time around, but not much, which felt a bit anti-climactic after the "deus ex machina" ending of the first book was actually criticised in the narrative. But fans of the first book will find a lot to appreciate here and I do recommend it.

This week, I also finished listening to In the Labyrinth of Drakes, which is the next in the Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan. It felt a bit slight compared to the previous books in the series, but I still really enjoyed it. I love spending time with Isabella, and the audiobook narrator imbues her with tremendous character. I really like the other characters and her interactions with them, and I was particularly pleased in this book when she took charge of her romantic future with a very satisfactory conclusion. There is another follow-up book that came out last year, and I shall look forward to listening to it in due course.

Adrian Tchaikovsky was recommended to me as a fantasy author who has managed to write several standalone books that are completely different to each other, which is what I ideally want to do. And Dogs of War came up as a potential GYWO Book Club book that I thought sounded interesting, so I decided to give it a go when I found it in the library. It is mostly told from the point of view of Rex, a genetically and mechanically modified dog, who is used by a private military company to engage in war activities in Mexico. It's a masterful example of a narrative viewpoint where the narrator knows and understands a lot less than the reader, and it's extremely effective and emotive because of that. The book is horrifying and sad and funny and tense by turns, and it kept me so gripped that I read the whole thing in less than 24 hours. It has incredibly complex themes of AI ethics, genetic engineering ethics, warfare ethics, questions about levels of consciousness and culpability, all wrapped up in a heartbreaking narrative of Rex just wanting to be a 'good dog'. Really excellent stuff.

February 2019

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