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Midnight Riot

Ben Aaronovitch

Ulysses, 318 words, 2013-02-09


This is a delightful supernatural detective story, set in London. It's written in the first person, following the viewpoint of Police Constable Peter Grant. I like the way they set up the magic system, but most of the charm is the almost constant stream of sarcastic asides by the narrator.

About the Book

Midnight Riot is the US title, the original UK title is Rivers of London. This is the first book in the Rivers of London series. The next two books in the series are Moon Over Soho and Whispers Under Ground.

The Story

Police Constable Peter Grant is a probationer, looking forward to being given his regular assignment. Because of his rank, he gets stuck watching a crime scene overnight, along with his fellow probationer (and somewhat love interest) Leslie May.

This is where he first sees a ghost.

While he considers himself a fine beat police officer, his superiors (and Leslie) aren't so sure. They think that he gets distracted too easily. He learns, much too his chagrin, that instead of working the street, he's going to end up at a desk, updating case files.

Salvation comes in the form of Detective Chief Inspector Nightingale. Nightingale heads up, and is the sole member, a Special Unit that deals with anything to do with magic or the supernatural. Also, he's a wizard.

As Peter Grant had inadvertently mentioned to Nightingale that he'd seen a ghost, Nightingale decides to take him on as an apprentice. Apprentice wizard PC Grant tries to solve a series of murders, meets and deals with a variety of river gods and goddesses, and learns some magic. Along the way, he manages to shine a little light on things.


There's a bit of gruesome violence, including some involving very young children. There's also some domestic violence and sexual violence. People die, some quite horribly.

Kindle 3


Ulysses, 479 words, 2010-10-30

I purchased a Kindle from Staples a couple of weeks ago, on Friday the fifteenth.

Why Staples? I prefer buying physical objects in person, though I will admit that that's somewhat odd given that the object in question was a Kindle. The two brick-and-mortar stores that currently carry Kindles are Target and Staples. Now, I like Target, and dislike Staples, but I'd called around to a number of Targets and they didn't have any in stock. The buying experience wasn't the best, but I ended up with a wifi graphite Kindle, so I was happy.

I loaded it up with mostly free books that evening, and the next morning purchased Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold. I plan to review Cryoburn soon, but for now, I'd like to talk about some different options for purchasing ebooks.

Baen Books is my favorite commercial site. The Baen Free Library has one or two books each from a large number of their authors. This is a great way to sample an author, and if you like it, the author's other books are just a quick click away.

They sell their books through Baen WebScriptions, which is a pleasure to use. You can pay with a credit card, or you can use your credit card to fill a micropay account. I like the micropay account, I always feel a bit guilty using a credit card for small purchases, since the transaction fees hit the merchant pretty hard.

The books are available in a wide variety of formats, and all of them are DRM-free. And you can set it up to email the book to your Kindle email, so it just pops over to your Kindle as easily as if you purchased it on Amazon.

The price is good as well, the prices seem to run between four and six dollars. To me, this is a reasonable price to pay for an ebook, and it's low enough that I don't mind paying it to replace books that I already have physical copies of.

Amazon is the obvious place to go, of course. And they have a huge selection, running the full gamut of free, cheap, reasonable, and overpriced. Their books are DRMed, as well.

The Gutenberg Project has a huge catalog (34,000+) of copyright-free books, and they now support the Kindle format directly. This is an amazing project, if you haven't heard of them before, visit the site even if you don't have an ereader.

Manybooks.net has most of the Gutenberg books, and well as books from other sources. Of most interest to me are the Lovecraft books.

Another place I've purchased ebooks is fictionwise. They have some titles that aren't available elsewhere. Look for the "MultiFormat" label, those books aren't DRMed and therefore can be read on the Kindle.


Charles Stross

Ulysses, 356 words, 2009-04-25

This is Charles Stross at his best. Tons of mind-blowing ideas, good characterization, and a bizarre and compelling plot.

It's hundreds of years in the future, in the Accelerando universe. You can rebuild your body however you want, and also change your memory. The main character, Robin, has had a major memory wipe. And he doesn't remember why.

As he's struggling with a number of post-memory-wipe psychological issues, he ends up getting enlisted in an experiment.

The experiment is an attempt to reconstruct a pre-singularity community based on a scarcity economy. Because of the Censorship Wars, not much data remains from those times. So the purported goal of the experiment is to get some first-hand data on people living in that era, targeted at roughly 1990-2010.

Of course, it's not that simple to do, given the lack of good historical resources. Also, the actual goals of the experiment may not be congruent with the stated goals. And so what we see is a community that is based on a particularly horrid prescriptive view of how that society should be, rather than an actual descriptive view of the way society was (is).

Part of the subtext is the effectiveness of social controls. By manipulating "bonus points", the controllers have the participants enforce all of the regulation. Creepy, and with a sense of plausibility that makes you start seeing an uncomfortable amount of modern-day parallels.

And, as I'm sure he intended, it gave me an intense visceral reaction of loathing for modern-day society. From insane, sexist religious doctrines, to the horrifyingly inadequate state of current medicine, to the inevitability of death after a mere few 7 or 8 decades of life -- gah! Get me out of here!

At its heart, it's a mystery, and it supplies quite a satisfying number of twists and detours as it progresses, all the while slowly revealing more and more of the fascinating future history of the previous century. Add in solid romance, and a wide variety of villains, and you end up with a very good, and quite mentally engaging, read. I highly recommend it.

Goblin Hero

Jim C. Hines

Ulysses, 370 words, 2009-04-01

Goblins! Nasty, brutish, short, vile, cruel, and treacherous. The common footsoldiers of fantasy villains. Alternately, an easy way for a low-level adventurer to level up in an RPG.

I love the little bastards.

Now, kobolds are my favorite race of short, malevolent humanoids. But kobolds are harder to find in print, so I, like a jilted lover, take solace in my second pick, goblins.

I think my love of goblins really took off when I was playing Magic. I'd build all kinds of goblin decks, and then when I got a card called "Goblin Warrens", I could sacrifice two goblins to get three goblin tokens. I'd represent the tokens with keys and I'd–

What? Oh, right, the book!

Goblin Hero is the second in a series, the first being Goblin Quest. They feature Jig, a goblin who's even more helpless than usual. He gets forced into going into the depths of the mountain to help an ogre. Once there, he discovers the true problem is an incursion of pixies. And nasty, mean pixies they are indeed.

His party consists of an extremely ancient goblin from the creche, a large and tough but amazingly stupid goblin, a goblin wannabe-mage, and a hobgoblin.

A fair amount of the plot revolves around the mage-wannabe, who also has decided to follow the Way of the Hero. And, in so doing, often works at cross-purposes with Jig.

Many things mark it a juvenile: the level of humor, the way the depiction of the violence never gets out of hand, the moral sensibilities that run through it.

I enjoyed it quite a bit, and I thought that some of the ideas in it were really cool. If you like goblins, it's definitely worth reading. If you're into D&D, you might find his take on the monster viewpoint interesting. I don't think I'd recommend it to someone who didn't fall into one of those two groups, though.

The Jennifer Morgue

Charles Stross

Ulysses, 575 words, 2009-03-24

This is a sequel to "The Atrocity Archives". That universe, or at least Bob Howard's part of it, is a delightful mix of Lovecraft, Brazil, and The IT Crowd. The book I read also contained "Pimpf", a short story set in the same universe, and "The Golden Age of Spying", an essay that delves into some of the history of James Bond.

The Jennifer Morgue

The Laundry is a secret British government agency that tries to keep Earth, and humanity, safe from the creeping horrors from neighboring dimension that are always scratching at our metaphorical, or metaphysical, door. You see, all it takes is one incautious mathmetician trying to prove the wrong hypothesis and the next thing you know there's Nyarlathotep running rampant sucking out people's brains.

Bob Howard, IT support and occasional field agent, is sent out to investigate the activities of Billington. Billington, a classic multi-billionaire Evil Villain, has set a Hero Archetype geas, which protects him from anyone who doesn't fit the Archetype, in this case James Bond. The geas is a destiny-entanglement spell, its core material component is a mock-up model of the ships involved, with dolls and a bunch of James Bond paraphernalia. It's meant to keep everything running along Billington's desired path; his plan is to short it out just before the ersatz Bond can fulfill his function.

Bob's management are well aware of this, and after binding Bob to a demon-bound Deep One, send him in (with little explanation) and try to manipulate events to work through the geas. His management chain, headed by the enigmatic Angleton, isn't precisely evil, but is ruthless. After all, defending humanity against ultra-powerful, inimical other-dimensional entities really is a no-holds-barred fight.

While I enjoyed it, and liked several of the twists, the story didn't quite work for me. It was a rather complex set-up, and I didn't always follow, or buy into, the motivations of the various actors. It's possible that stylistically, he was going for the feel of the Bond books; I can't really say, as I've never read the originals.

Overall, my take is that if you liked "The Atrocity Archives", you should probably give this one a try. If you haven't read "The Atrocity Archives", try that one first.


"Pimpf" is a short story set in the same universe. In it, Bob's new intern runs afoul of Bob's NeverWinter Nights demonologist honey-pot. Having spent years as an avid NWN player, I probably should have enjoyed the virtual-reality part of this much more, but overall, the story just came across as muddled.

The Golden Age of Spying

If you're interested in Bond, this piece may be worth getting the book all in its own. It's only 13 pages long, but I found it both informative and amusing. It goes into the history of the Bond universe, and also Ian Fleming's background. He give a pretty good argument that Bond is a Mary-Sue, living out his dream of working in the field. Ian Fleming worked in intelligence during WWII, but in a desk job.

It also has a quite amusing long "interview" with Mr. Blofeld, the head of SPECTRE. Why, they were just venture capitalists specializing in disruptive new technologies, not criminals!


All material Copyright © 2009–2014 Ulysses Somers, except where otherwise noted.