Wednesday, July 24, 2013

It's like a Benji movie....

When last we left Atticus, Oberon, and Granuaile, two certain huntresses from the Greco-Roman pantheon were going to chase them to Briton. Which is pretty much where Hunted by Kevin Hearne starts.

And let me tell you, given that the run starts in Romania, it's a long trip by ground to Windsor Castle. Much of which is punctuated with occasional run ins with Diana and Artemis, the coven of witches from 4 books back, Loki, Hel.... It's almost old home week in this one.

We also get a few cameos of new antagonists, like the Life Leech who is more or less a psychic vampire; the Manticore out of Sumerian systems; and what's looking to be a conspiracy to bring about Ragnarok by interests with ties to Tir na nog. Oh yes. Mr. Hearne is settling in for the long run with this one, since the sirens of ancient Greece long ago prophesied the end of the world within a few months of the end of this book. Which gives him plenty of wiggle room to squeeze a few books out concerning the conspiracy, figuring out where and what Theosphlis the vampire is doing, what's going to happen with Ragnarok now that Thor's dead...

But, back in the current book, The Morrigan fights Artemis and Diana early on to give our trio room to start running.  (I'm sure a few Celtic fans will be annoyed with the character. However, one of her big plot arcs concerns trying to break out of patterns and personalities instilled by years of belief.) So, they run, including occasional narration from Granuaile, particularly after a run in with a vampire in the Black Forest. By the time they reach Windsor Castle and hook up with Herne the Hunter, the books 3/4 done, leaving us a bit of time for a resolution of the hunt and, later, a confrontation with the Manticore.

Really, this entire book, even during the chase, seems to be more of a transition into a larger metaplot that will extend beyond the trilogy system Hearne had been writing in. Which generally would suggest he just got a longer contract. (The first 3 got released every six months, then a year wait, then another 6 months between releases. I'm guessing this pattern will either continue, or we'll get a book a year, probably hardcover, if it follows the patterns of Jim Butcher and Laurell K. Hamilton and Kim Harrison.)

Any rate, the series is quite good, even if his portraal of Loki doesn't seem to fit the mythos. (Even is Loki was released from having snake venom in his eyes, and has been hiding and healing, he's still a god of chaos and trickery. That he seems to only show up and destroy godhomes with fire or throw a fireball at druids really doesn't do the Eddas justice. On the other hand, Hearne's portrayal of Thor probably annoyed his fan club, although Thor's mythos in no way really reflects Marvel's portrayal.)

 As and added bonus, there's a novella concerning some of the 22 missing years between Tricked and Trapped. It's pretty good.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

He's so prolific that his first book was in 1939 and his latest was last year....

A few dollars on Ebay later and I seem to have bought a few lots of Hardy Boys novels.

Which, given this blog is mostly devoted to adult reading material, the works of unappreciated ghost writers needs some recognition from the youngster in me.

Given how long the Boys have been around, I'm fairly certain most of you are familiar with their exploits, or that of their occasional cohort Nancy Drew (or Tom Swift, or Cherry Ames, or The Bobbsey Twins...)(or the TV show, which I watched on DVD a few years back for no real reason) and so I should be able to get by with a fairly short synopsis here.

The basic premise is that the Hardy Boys are brothers, Frank, 18, with dark hair and Joe, 17, with blond hair. Depending on what series you're reading in and what year will bring out a picture of what they look like for that era. Some of the older hardcovers have them in chinos, while the newer paperbacks involve jeans and tee shirts. Frank and Joe are Fenton Hardy's progeny, Fenton being a famous detective. The family lives in Bayport with Mom, Fenton, and Aunt Gertrude. They have a fairly diverse group of friends, like Phil Cohen  (Jewish) and Tony Prito (Italian immigrant). Chet Morton was chubby to fat, and Iola Morton was Joe's girlfriend until she blew up in a car bomb in Casefiles #1, Dead on Target. Frank, on the other hand was dating Cassie. Almost all of these characters got dragged in at one point or another, and usually in some kind of jeopardy by the end of it.

The cases rarely involved murder, although they did seem to wind up breaking up smuggling rings quite frequently. The usual scenario was people would seek Fenton out to solve something, and he'd either ask the boys for help, or being unavailable, the boys would take on the case. And they traveled extensively. I wish I had their travel budget at their age. (Mind you, based on the very few Carolyn Keene books I read about Nancy Drew, she also had a travel budget from hell. The one book of hers I bought involved Nancy and Co. in Venice, Italy.)

I still remember my 1st grade introduction to the boys. My classmate, with the name Sixten Otto (who'd write it out as 610 and a picture of a car and who also taught me to play Canasta) brought in either The Mystery of the Chinese Junk or Night of the Werewolf. Which of course lead to one of my family's visits to Upper Valley Mall in Springfield, Ohio, where my brother would buy music at Camelot and my Dad would escort me to B. Daulton, wherein I found shelves and shelves of Hardy Boys books waiting for me to blow my allowance on. (And oh boy, did I blow money on them.) I usually bought the paperbacks, numbered from #59 up, since they were cheaper  than the hardcovers. Well, that and the hardcovers got tripped up in archaic language and the aforementioned chinos. (I kind of thought The Missing Chums would be about stolen shark bait, actually.)

I used to half-joke that Joe was my first crush and a strong indicator early in life that I was gay.  I found out later that I obviously wasn't the only one with feelings like that when I found Mabel Maney's Nancy Clue and the Hardly Boys: A Ghost in the Closet at one of the small bookshops near Wright State. I still laugh at that book, what with one modern lesbian trapped with stuck in the 50's Nancy and her "friend Nurse Cherry Aimless and the Hardly Boys... It was a spot on spoof of the genre made even funnier by the straight faces all the principles had.

Some notable titles in the original 190 + a few one offs series include While the Clock Ticked, which featured Joe and Frank tied to chairs while a mas scientist tried to blow them up; Cave-In, where Frank and Joe wound up in California during ski season trying to figure out who the ghost miners were; Sky Sabotage, where Frank and Joe go to Florida to figure out what happened to a missing satellite and a pair of missing dolphins; and The Hardy Boys Ghost Stories, which involved 6 cases of the boys encountering the actual supernatural.

That list title bears mentioning since pretty much every other book in any of the various series  that had supernatural elements ended up being a Scooby Doo mystery, wherein the element was not real, and easily explained during the resolution. In the Ghost Stories, we get real ghosts and phenomena, but they of course do no real harm. Like the Scarecrow that comes to life and chases them out of an abandoned farm house just before lightning hits and burns the place down. (May I add that one gave me nightmares for a few nights.) Or a later tale where the boys wind up on an 18th century Ghost Ship filled with whalers, wherein the ghost on the ghost ship gets them to safety.

I mentioned the Casefiles above, and I suppose I should mention them in passing. In Book 1, Dead on Target, Joe turns 18. His girlfriend blows up in a car bomb. The series was aimed at older kids, and read a bit like Rambo solves mysteries. It was more miss than hit for me, mainly because I got sick of the whining that tended to become vigilantism in Joe following Iola's death.

I guess they have a newer series aimed at millenials and the generation that are kids now, but I haven't bothered, since the updated graphics make the boys look like escapees from 1 Direction.

I still love the boys, even if I long since outgrew them. So many memories of my childhood are tied to them. And I really hope that other kids find as many happy memories in them when they grow up.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Can't we all just get along?

The answer as presented by The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Laferty, is yes, with a few qualifiers.

Zoë, our protagonist, has recently moved back to NYC from the Research Triangle in North Carolina not long after finding out her boss at the publishing firm (whom she was sleeping with) was not only married, but his wife, who is also a cop, is a little upset that Zoë has been sleeping with her husband.

So, being a good travel guide writer/editor, Zoë starts looking for out of the way places in the Big Apple. Which leads her to Mannegishi's Tricks, a run down bookstore in Manhattan, where the proprietor refuses to sell her anything. She does, however, find a flyer looking for someone with publishing experience to work for Underground Publishing. The owner, Phil, tells her not to apply. She wouldn't fit in.

Next, Zoë hits Bakery Under Starlight, where Carl takes orders and Tenagne passes them out with constant insults. She sees another Underground Publishing flyer, and this time, John, a customer at the bakery who happens to work for Underground, talks her into sending in her resume, even as he tells her she wouldn't fit in.She also buys tea for Granny Good Mae, a slightly batty old woman who talks in riddles.

One interview later, Phil takes her to dinner in an attempt to explain why she won't fit in at Underground. Which consists of going to an Italian restaurant with Air Sprite waiters, a zombie Maitre d', and demons eating gerbils. Phil, on the other hand is enjoying a nice pint of A positive, as he is indeed a vampire.  He tries to hypnotize her with limited success.

As should be expected, Zoë gets the job at Underground, working with an all coterie staff. Phil gives her a reading list to help her wrap her mind around the various species she'll be working with. These include Phil, the vampire CEO; John, the incubus; Morgen, the water sprite; and Paul and Montel, the zombies.

Then we get the new CR (Coterie humans, other than Zoë), Wesley. Wesley is a construct (think Frankenstein's monster, although in this setting they get lumped in with golems of all shapes and sizes) with the head of Zoë's ex-boyfriend.

We also have Zoë's strange next door neighbor, Arthur, who works for Public Works, kind of the human coterie police. (If coterie members break the rules, Public Works breaks the coterie.)

What follows is a really strange mix of mystery (who's behind the formaldehyde in the zombie brain supply?), invasion (the plot hinges on the person behind everything trying to take over the whole of the city), a bit of romance (There's almost an office romance when Zoë accompanies John to a succubus/incubus feeding ground/bondage club; later on Arthur and Zoë figure out they have a lot in common). For the most part, it works, although there are a few places where the narrative gets a bogged down, or characters vanish for no apparent reason. Or some foreshadowing that borders on spoilers in the excerpts from the guide Zoë is writing in the book.

Regardless of any narrative issues, and also regardless of the rape trigger inducing incubus scene that toddles a fine line between creepy and erotic (and was not meant to be read while on public transit), it remains a fun read, in the spirit of the InCryptid novels.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

And after his divorce, he wrote Paradise Regained...

I dislike Paradise Lost. I've probably mentioned this before. Even with an English to English translation, Uncle Milton's seminal poem about Satan and his rebellion.

Wrong Uncle Miltie.
I understand why it remains popular; among other things, his version of Satan is one of the original templates for an anti-hero. Yes, Satan ruining Eden to get his revenge on God is a bad thing, but because he did that, God can send a saviour a few millenia later. 
Adam said, "Thanks. Thanks a lot."
And Satan, not understanding sarcasm wandered off sort of happy.
Which brings us to  The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper. 

Our narrator, David Ullman is one of the preeminent scholars on Milton and (you guessed it) Paradise Lost. David teaches at Columbia in New York City, when not going to various gatherings of people who want to know more about Milton. The irony here is that David, who also specializes in religious texts, is a big ol' atheist. David is married, although his wife is cuckolding him with a hot young Physics prof who specializes in String Theory. His daughter, Tess, shares his unnaturally dark melancholy. And his friend Elaine, who teaches psychology, is dying of cancer. 

All of which comes out as Spring term is ending and Professor Ullman receives a strange female visitor in his office after he finishes his last class of the term. The Thin Woman (there are more than a few characters in here who don't get names as much as descriptions. The Thin Woman is the first of several.) offers David a bunch of money to fly out to Venice the next day, go to a specific address, and then return to New York. David laughs it off and goes out for drinks with Elaine. Well, after a brief confrontation with the String Theory Studbiscuit. 

When David returns home, his wife announces that she wants a divorce. He can keep Tess, she wants the Physics professor. As such, David and Tess fly to Venice, Italy, the next morning to give wifeypoo the chance to start moving her crap. 

Oh, and what fun we have in Venice. David goes to the address, is given a camera, and lead upstairs to see a man tied to a chair. Said man pulls a full Linda Blair. The man, speaking in several different voices, says proof will be delivered on a certain date. It quotes Milton at him. At the end of his speech, the man in the chair's voice changes to that of David's father, echoing the father's last words to David. "It should have been you."

David, understandably upset by this, races back to his hotel, concerned for Tess, who was left in the hands of an Au Pair. Said babysitter isn't in the room, and Tess is poised to take a dive off the balcony and into the canal below. Tess speaks first in the voice of The Unnamed, and then in her own voice, telling David to find her.

And oh boy, does it get weird from here. The Venice police are convinced Tess was washed out to sea. David returns to the states, and we meet The Pursuer. We don't find out until the end much about this guy, who claims to be a fairly good Altar Boy from Brooklyn. He wants The Document from David. David says he has no idea what the guy is talking about. 

Somehow, David begins a very long journey that starts in North Dakota, winds its way across much of the US and into Canada, and all of which is framed by passages from Milton that give David clues as to where his next stop is. He has six days to save his daughter. He has six days to figure out who The Unnamed is. He has six days to stop the Pursuer from trying to stop him.

While the climax is quite satisfying, the actual ending falls more than a little flat, as at least one part of the conclusion makes absolutely no sense at all. But then, given the nature of the narrative, I suppose this is to be expected.

All of this is narrated in first person present tense. Which takes more than a little adjustment. 

Amusingly, for a book about demons, religion is downplayed. It's about at the level of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, wherein it exists as background noise, present, but not really the focus of the narrative. G-d's part in this narrative is exceptionally quiet, only really showing up in quieter moments. Interestingly, organized religion gets knocked a few times in the process, and not just by The Unnamed.

And the horror aspects really weren't all that horrifying for me. Then again, I don't have children, and most of the horror is centered on the idea of "Demons ate my baby!"

I'll also admit I was a bit disappointed that The Unnamed wasn't Louis Cypher, the rather enigmatic character in Angel Heart, who basically wanted Mickey Rourke to find the devil and prove he exists.

Overall, a good read, even if I did feel like the author (despite having a good grasp on the concepts of Milton) was treating Paradise Lost like a salad bar, grabbing out passages that best suited narrative needs.