False Value
February 25, 2020 4:22 PM - by Ben Aaronovitch - Subscribe

Peter Grant is facing fatherhood, and an uncertain future, with equal amounts of panic and enthusiasm. Rather than sit around, he takes a job with émigré Silicon Valley tech genius Terrence Skinner's brand new London start up—the Serious Cybernetics Company. Drawn into the orbit of Old Street's famous 'silicon roundabout', Peter must learn how to blend in with people who are both civilians and geekier than he is. Compared to his last job, Peter thinks it should be a doddle. But magic is not finished with Mama Grant's favourite son.
posted by dinty_moore (11 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Yay! A new thread! I’m only a couple of hours into the audiobook, so I will hold fire, but it’s pretty good so far. Also, the music is back between the chapters.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:46 PM on February 25, 2020

I have finished but also will allow my thoughts to bake a bit - but in general - everyone is so much less stressed out in this one, it's great.

My incredibly niche wish would be for more fiber arts history (I got excited by the mention of jaquard looms at the beginning and hoped for more looms, but alas)
posted by dinty_moore at 5:26 PM on February 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed it very much but I think Mr Aaronovitch's Australianisms need work. He has Skinner say "bonzer' at one point, which ... well maybe, if you were hamming up your own Australian-ness in a self-consciously ironic way... hang on maybe it's brilliant? I am unsure.
posted by Coaticass at 12:16 AM on February 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

Also it was nice to see Foxglove again.
posted by Coaticass at 12:22 AM on February 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

IDK, but having a character self-consciously perform their nationality (or at least their accent) is a pretty good way to lampshade around any possible issues, I guess.

For the US stuff, I had a lot less problems with the American characters (the Librarians generally seemed on-point for New Yorkers, some of the silicon valley stuff was a little too recognizable, and the second they talked about trying to set up a west coast call I got flashbacks). The stuff on all of the Americans being confused as to why they would call the police made me laugh, because I've definitely been on the other side of that conversation before.

But two of the American worldbuilding things really didn't seem right. The jump to 'are you sure it's not the Native Americans' jump at the beginning, with the explanation that the Bureau of American Indian Affairs keeps Native American magic on the reservation didn't feel right, but the explanation as to why I feel that way requires a lot of history and honestly I'd want to get a second opinion before going into detail. But the short version: this sort of assumes that the US was respecting tribal borders and allowing native cultures to thrive on reservations rather than pursuing a policy of assimilation and trying to get as many Amerindians off reservations as possible; assuming that most real natives live on reservations is a thing (only 20ish% of Amerindians currently live on federally recognized tribal lands) and that they are somehow more authentic than those who live off reservations is awkward; this draws an odd distinction between Indigenous people originally from tribal lands in the US and, for example, Native Mexicans or Guatemalans, who are definitely living in California. I'm not really sure why UK authors seem to think that writing about Native American issues isn't something that one can and should just jump right into without thought or nuance, but it seems to be a theme.

And also, I still hate the 'US Cops are killing people because of the supernatural' concept that was brought back in this book. Part of why I like this series is that it typically doesn't excuse police brutality or racism within policing, and it just seems like a way to excuse real shitty policing with the supernatural.

(In general, I really liked this book and these are like, two lines in here that I spent a lot of time talking about, but I think this is just me being more and more nervous about the upcoming Agent Reynolds novella)
posted by dinty_moore at 8:15 AM on February 26, 2020 [4 favorites]

Stuff that's probably more relevant:

Favorite part about this book is probably Beverley and Beverley adjacent dealings - dealing with Peter's discomfort about her powers, Beverley dealing with some of her discomfort about Peter's job, and that talk with Sahra (her reaction when he brought up love was the best). It's something that's felt lacking in previous books, and it was so nice to see it here. I also like that there's no easy answers or capitulation - there's friction, they're talking it out and dealing with it.

There was also so much good Nightingale and Peter interaction, too. I liked for once that the librarians didn't know who Nightingale was, but were probably coming home with tales of Peter.

Also, man, has his queer and trans representation gotten so much better than Moon Over Soho. Growth!

The pacing was still a little weird, I think - kind of slow and meandering and then suddenly takes a hard swerve before the last fifty pages.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:27 PM on February 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

I really struggled with the first few chapters - the plunge into the techbro kingdom with All The References to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy felt like they were swamping me. But things straightened out eventually and I enjoyed the rest of the book a lot, particularly in that I feel like Beverly has finally been given her full due as a character. She and Peter had so many good conversations, and although I liked them as a couple previously, I can finally see the shape of their relationship so much more clearly.

I also found the American magical landscape a bit jumbled - West Coast chaos, a few mentions of Native American magical systems still around, and then the more realized Librarians. It just seems that there is probably so much more going on - in New Orleans alone, which was mentioned, I guess. Wasn't there a different group of Americans from one of the previous novels, too - the Sons of somebody?
posted by PussKillian at 10:09 AM on February 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

Things I liked:
1. The usual Peter Grant things like deft characterization, nice development of secondary characters, Peter’s voice, and so on.
2. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith does his usual expert work in the audiobook, which features an extra 30 minute interview with him and Aaronovitch, which was a nice, if somewhat slight, bonus.
3. Putting Peter into new settings usually pays off.
4. It’s a nice change of pace from the grimness of the end of the faceless man plot line.
5. The accuracy of his Australianisms aside, I liked Skinner as a villain, since he could be either a mastermind or a useful idiot right up until the end.
6. Everest and Victor were a lot of fun.

Things I didn’t like:
1. Aaronovitch really needs to work on pace and plotting. Almost all his novels feel like they need about an extra 25% to really tell the story. He often seems to rush his endings. I wonder if this is a result of his television work, since he would’ve had to work to a specific length with every project.
2. A bunch of the US stuff is really disconcerting. I nearly yelled “what the hell“ on the bus when the Native American stuff came up. Aaronovitch does a pretty good job with “happy melting pot” multiculturalism, but I don’t think he does as good with depicting oppression in a sustained way.
3. The SCC was too comical a setting.
4. I was a little annoyed at the low stakes of trying to make the reader worry that Peter had actually had to resign for the first 20% of the book, especially because it then just gets dropped.
5. I wish the Cthulhu stuff had been left with the other British occult policing (ok spy) series.
6. The sting of betrayal scene felt really flat.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:08 PM on February 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

I was not at my best when I was reading this, but it definitely took me a while to figure out whether or not he was actually reinstated. I do kind of wish there was more time with him being suspended, though I could also see that being a lot of trouble logistically - in the rules of this universe, Peter getting involved in an investigation as a private citizen probably wouldn't help his case.

(Also, this might just be me having applied to jobs that sounded way too much like SCC, but it didn't seem too outlandish to be unbelievable, towels and all)

Aaronovitch does a pretty good job with “happy melting pot” multiculturalism, but I don’t think he does as good with depicting oppression in a sustained way.

I don't think it's necessarily being better at multiculturalism vs. systemic oppression - Aaronovitch does just fine with the horrors of colonialism and empire, not to mention microaggressions. I think it's more that the UK sections do their best to be based off of 'realism' - up to a point, but there's a lot made about police accuracy and taking things from life. And with the US, it's based off of pieces of pop culture - maybe somewhat unconsciously, but Reynolds is deliberately patterned off of Scully instead of real FBI, and the Librarians definitely have more of a superhero bent to them than anything else. (I mean, think about it - cool hideout, working outside the law, adopting runaways with pluck to teach them magic, questions about where they get their funding). Which is fine - I really like the Librarians as quasi-antagonists, and some of the other stuff - their respect but fear of nature spirits thematically works well for me, too - it reminded me of some of the conversations we had about dutch droppings, and countryside vs. wilderness.

But when trying to piece together an X-files style of FBI with the actual systemic racism in the US - it just doesn't quite fit right, and he doesn't really have the same sort of experience with US-style racism or the same conception of how different regions might interact (There was also a lot of confusing conflation of central/southern California with Montana, but IDK, maybe Stephen is bad with non-east coast geography). There's a lot of conversations about policing that just sound different in a US context, not to mention how much more fraught water rights can be. Or put it another way: If you're talking about Native Reservations, rivers, and 2016 - I can think of one really obvious story going on, but I really wouldn't want a FBI agent to be the protagonist.

There were a couple of individual characterizations that seemed a little iffy, but I'm more likely to let those slide, since people are weird. But the general worldbuilding framework is harder to ignore.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:22 PM on February 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

I found out about this one from this post, so hurried to read it over the weekend.

My main takeaway is to not get on Jessamyn's bad side, just in case.
posted by Marticus at 3:04 PM on March 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've been slowly getting overwhelmed with this series -- so many characters to keep track of, who is evil, who isn't, all the nicknames -- so I appreciate that this feels like a fresh start (maybe a second season).
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:02 PM on March 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

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