In the relatively distant future, former soldier-turned-career criminal Takeshi Kovacs is killed resisting arrest, and a few decades later his consciousness is sent to Earth - distant cradle of humanity - where a millionaire wants him to solve his murder. This is all possible because in this particular future, all humans have their mind recorded on a 'cortical stack', so that it can be recovered after death, or transmitted across vast distances, to be rehoused in a new body, or sleeve. In an unfamiliar sleeve, on the unfamiliar streets of the homeworld (Kovacs hails from a colony world far from Earth,) Kovacs must use all his training as an Envoy - a sort of multiclassed diplomat/commando - to adapt, take in information, and complete his commission before someone kills him.
Perhaps due to the trappings of noir(1), Altered Carbon assures us that the gender binary will be alive and well in the post-human, body-switching, interstellar future. 'Cross-sleeving' is a thing, but it's still a thing, and despite several characters using custom-made, artificial sleeves, none of them are even a little bit non-binary(2). Sex workers are all female, and the wife in a tricentennial, ultrarich marriage is a jealous femme fatale with sexy super pheromones built into her cloned sleeve. Her sleeve is also significantly younger than her husband's. This is not to say that there are no good female characters in the book - tough cop Kristen Ortega, punch-clock enforcer Trepp and blue-collar hacker Ava Elliott - but that the world has a lot of retained monotony for a society in which you can, in theory, be anyone you want to be.
That aside, there's a decent mystery at play, integrated well with the sci-fi conceits. It is very heavy on the violence - in a world where it actually takes some serious work to actually and properly kill someone, Kovacs regularly goes the extra mile - and contains at least one sex scene which abuses the good name of 'gratuitous', but it also has a trigger-happy, sentient hotel, so there's that.
Giant Days Volume 6 is - and I know you may not be prepared for this - the sixth volume collecting issues of John Allison's Giant Days comic, and takes our heroines - Susan, Daisy and 'Dark' Esther - into their second year at Sheffield University. Second year means, as anyone who has been through the British further education system will recall, no University-supplied accommodation(3), so our young ladies are in a house-sharing situation, made more complicated by the shenanigans of the previous tenants, the proximity of McGraw (plus new girlfriend), Ed and their monstrous third, Dean Thompson, the irresistible onset of adulthood and responsibility, and of course the usual parade of social and romantic entanglements and, where unavoidable, education. Daisy gets a girlfriend, somewhat against her better judgement, Esther gets a job, and Susan throws a fancy dinner party.
There's not much to say about Volume 6 that I haven't already said about 1-5. I like it, if you hadn't guessed by the fact that I've got as far as Volume 6. I also found time to read the two Giant Days holiday specials, which are much the same, but more Christmassy.
Also in comics, I picked up Volume 2 of the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic comic book, collecting two two-part stories. In the first, Big Macintosh wanders around the Ponyville hoedown, looking for nails to repair a gazebo, while the second recounts the story of how Twilight Sparkle's brother, Shining Armour, and Princess Cadence became one another's very special someponies(4). The first is an amusing comedy of errors, while the second - called 'Neigh Anything' - is a razor-sharp parody of 1980s romcom, which also manages to avoid any of the pitfalls of that genre, by making Cadence an active participant in the comedy, rather than a prize to be won, and avoiding most of the tropes of toxic nerdery in Shining Armour and his O&O(5) group.
Finally for the month - lots of birthdays, lots of time off not listening to audiobooks as I travelled - is Blood of Elves.
Years and years ago, I picked up a short story anthology by Polish author Andrej Sapkowski, who at the time was a fantasy rock star in Poland, and almost unheard of in England. This was before The Witcher hit the fantasy action RPG computer game scene like a sledgehammer, so The Last Wish was pretty obscure at the time. I'd consider myself an early adopter, but I then didn't read anything much else by Sapkowski until well after I'd played some of The Witcher(6); until this month, in fact.
The Last Wish is an anthology of short stories, loosely inspired by fairy tales, but with more swordfights and explicit shagging(7). Blood of Elves is the first of the Witcher novels, and if I can say one thing for it, it's that it gives you a new appreciation of Tolkien's ability to weave backstory and character names into the narrative, especially in the opening scene, when the troubadour Dandelion(8) is grilled about his sources by a parade of people who insist on naming themselves and their affiliations as they speak in order to give some background on the political upheavals of the area, the impending threat of Nilfgaardian invasion, and the prophecied survival of a girl with more titles than Harry Potter - Ciri, Lion Cub of Cintra, eponymous Blood of Elves, the 'Child Surprise' - who is fated to come under the protection of Geralt of Rivia, most infamous of the self-mutated, monster-hunting Witchers.
This part of the story proves to be true, with Geralt taking in the girl some time after her escape from the sack of Cintra during the first Nilfgaard war. He takes her to Witcher camp for a while, where she trains in combat, cross-country running and monster hunting, then brings in the sorceress Triss Merigold to assess her magical potential. Finding her potential to be best described as 'ludicrously vast,' they move her to a nunnery and place her under the tutelage of Geralt's Facebook-it's-complicated, Yennefer of Vengerberger(9), while Geralt goes looking for whoever is asking questions about Ciri.
|Cover also available in macho.|
There is a spy searching for Ciri, and a bunch of political shenanigans, but plotwise that's about it, and I admit I was a bit taken aback when the book ended with little or no fanfare and no significant cliffhanger. It picked up a lot from the rather stilted opening, although its omniscient third-person narration leaves the characters as little more than cyphers. In particular, we never really get a handle on why the monster-hunting James Bond Geralt is so determined to protect Ciri, beyond a certain inherent bloody-mindedness and general feeling of Witcherly defensive duty. It's also difficult to get a handle on the general historicity of the world, which mixes high fantasy with fairly modern scientific terminology. It's not terrible, but I'm certainly not rushing to the next volume.