recent reading

A.A. Attanasio, Wyvern. Intense, violent, mystical re-imagining of the pirate tale. A half-white, half-native man raised in the Borneo jungles and trained as a shaman gradually sheds his animist, Castaneda-psychedelic belief systems as he moves "up" through stages of Dutch/English/American society: first as pirate, then as husband of a renegade English noblewoman, and finally as Gentleman merchant in colonial Brooklyn. Bloody, exciting, unpredictable, ultimately somewhat narcissistic novel with a continual focus on masculinist coming of age tropes. Our hero becomes the mercantilist power ideal he despises but this is treated as inevitable, hard-won growth rather than a disappointment. Attanasio's tripped-out, poetic writing enchants through every level of the adventure.

Four by Charles Stross:
In Accelerando's and Glasshouse's post-human milieu, materials and consciousnesses are uploaded and shunted around the galaxy by means of A-gates and T-gates (I forget which is which). Glasshouse imagines a group of re-embodied souls participating in a voluntary Psych experiment modeled on 1950s suburbia inside a hollowed-out asteroid cut off from the rest of society. Or perhaps it's a captive breeding program run by a repressed faction that once thrived during an earlier, Balkanized phase of the cosmos-spanning Net...
The Atrocity Archives. Some interesting ideas of combining technology and magic but Lovecraft and breezy do not mix well.
Rule 34. The best of the four, a more or less pure cyber-thriller with scheming Turing-complete beings who may have more control than anyone knows.

Richard Stark's last three novels, episodes in a single narrative. In Nobody Runs Forever, amoral tough-guy hero Parker and two other hoods rob a string of armored cars using anti-tank weapons. The gang's exit doesn't go as planned so the men hide the money and separate. Ask the Parrot, one of Stark's most gripping novels, concerns the detour Parker takes as he holes up in a nearby town and plays mind games with the locals in order to survive -- and still has time to commit a second robbery. In Dirty Money, the gang returns to the scene of the original heist to claim the cash; they're now at cross-purposes after one is arrested spending some of the bills (which turn out to be numbered), and escapes, shooting a guard. The writing is terse and economical but Stark has a strong sense of place: the rural and post-industrial locations of Massachusetts and upstate NY seem vivid for only being rendered with a few strokes.

Mark Mellon
Roman Hell. Horror novel set in 1st Century Rome. Mellon's trademark unsympathetic characters, including a weaselly emperor Domitian and a down-and-out poet who attempts to curry his favor, become snared in a plot involving vicious and powerful witches. Story and characters are secondary to a historically researched Rome that is almost hallucinatory in its detail: sounds, smells, architecture, and customs contribute to a mood of mounting strangeness. The alien-ness of the setting and uncertain morality of the distant past keep the reader on edge.
Napoleon Concerto: A Novel in Three Movements. More dazzling, incantatory detail, this time concerning a naval plot to conquer England by an Irish patriot working for Napoleon and aided by genius steampunk-transplant Robert Fulton. The English are such asses that you actually want Napoleon, richly depicted in the novel as strutting, order-barking maniac, to clean their clocks.

Two by Jeff Noon
Might have been blown away by Vurt if I read it in my teens but its world of club kids racing around in a van in post-apocalyptic Manchester, with bureaucratic authority almost completely absent, just seems unlikely. There are token cops but they are mostly buffoons who disappear for long stretches as the kids trip out on hallucinatory feathers and navigate various parallel universes. Nymphomation, a prequel written later, at least has recognizable antagonists and a plot structure that doesn't entirely involve questing in videogame-like worlds. Noon's language play scintillates in both books.

Minor edits.