Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Play's the thing...

I mentioned Simon R. Green's Ghost Finders in passing a few books back, and I just finished the latest volume, Ghost of a Dream. (According to Wikipedia, the next volume is out, but I have yet to find it. So this is technically the most recent.)

Some quick background on how this particular series is laid out. JC, Melody, and Happy work for the Carnaki Institute, shutting down hauntings before the general public finds out what's actually going on. (Think Torchwood, only without Captain Jack.) Happy is a manic-depressive telepath and an improving drug problem. Melody is the super science brain, using instruments to figure out what's going on. JC, the team leader, had a bit of an adventure in book 1, and now has eyes that glow with brilliant light. He also has a ghost girlfriend, Kim, who has issues of her own.

Like other volumes in the other series in this shared world, Dream's first two chapters deal with our protagonists dealing with something totally unrelated to the bigger plot of the book. In this case, JC, Melody, and Happy deal with a haunted rail station in northern England. Which, it turns out, has to do with a train that went into a tunnel back in the late 19th century and is just now getting ready to come back. (Interestingly, the first book in this series, Ghost of a Chance, involved a haunted Underground station.) Once that situation resolves, we move on to the main focus of the novel, the haunting of The Haybarn Theater.

Now, the one thing I like about the Ghost Finders is that, unlike Secret Histories and Nightside, the three protagonists are basically fairly normal humans. No armor, no flying Valkyries on dinosaurs, no Merlin, no time slips. Basically them and their skills versus the supernatural.Which is to the good, since it allows the narratives to play out almost like a Role Playing Game, wherein the characters grow with each adventure.

And this one is actually quite creepy. Not only is there a normal haunting, but The Undying Flesh sends in his avatar, Faust, to take out the ghost hunters. Some of the tricks played between the haunts and the outside dimensional entity actually made my skin crawl on my lunch break. Which, given that I don't scare easily, I was in a retail store's break room at 1PM, and I was surrounded by people...that's quite an accomplishment.

Really, I can't wait to get my hands on the next volume. Hopefully I find it soon.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

For those that go down to the sea in ships

This would have gone up earlier, but I was camping last week, and I really didn't end up reading much, so I'm running behind on my lit.

Since Storm Surge by Taylor Anderson is book 7 in his increasingly misnamed Destroyermen trilogy, I'm going to have to recap a little bit of the metaplot to get everyone caught up.

When the series started with Into the Storm, the USS Walker and USS Mahan (Two WW I era destroyers stationed in the Pacific) were trying to escape the Philippines as the Japanese were invading towards the start of WW II. They were pursued by a few advanced Japanese shops, including Armagi, captained by Kurakowa. With chances of being sunk by the Japanese increasing exponentially with each passing minute, the American ships steered into a large storm.

And then it gets weird. As the storm clears, there is no sign of Mahan or Armagi. Instead carnivorous Mountain fish assail Walker. And then they see a giant wooden ship being attacked by another wooden ship. Taking their pick of the underdogs, the crew of the Walker inadvertently meet the Mi-Anaaka (or Lemurians, or 'Cats), who look like anthropomorphic Lemurs. Who are being attacked by anthropomorphic reptiles known as the Grik. By the end of the first book, we've found out the Lemurians speak English and Latin, Kurakowa has allied with the Grik to wipe out the 'Cats, and the geography of this new world doesn't always resemble that of the world they came from.

As the series has progressed, they've discovered others from their own time who've made the crossing into the new world, as well as cultures who've arrived from earlier time periods, which has managed to significantly expand the conflict. As of this volume, the fighting has spread into the Continental American Pacific, mainly because an alliance with the Empire (who crossed over during the age of exploration and inhabit the Galapagos and Hawaiian islands) have allied with the Grand Alliance, and managed to get everyone dragged into a war with the Central and South American group known as The Dominion (which is basically run by Conquistadors who seem to have mixed Catholicism with Aztec religious practices, or at least what stereotypical Aztec religious practices have come down from the exaggerations of the Conquistadors.)

Add into this makeshift technology to get war supplies (like oil, P-40's, and steel), and you have a very interesting alternate history series that doesn't rely on things from OUTSIDE to change the timeline around. And the books have improved over time. Unlike some military novels, the books don't get bogged down as much in tactics and weaponry specifications.

This is not to say that this book doesn't have a few issues, like a very long chapter dealing with "special weapons" and whether or not to use them, and the Eastern Front is very back burner in this one. (Mind you, two books ago, we were embroiled entirely in the political struggles of the Empire as the Company and the Dominion tried to take over), but we're also not bouncing around as much as that one volume in The Wheel of Time where every bloody chapter was a day in the half in the life of every character as Bran attacked the Source.

I will also say that he's so far taken a middle ground between Laurell K. Hamilton and George R R Martin in terms of character management. Which is good, since the major deaths in this are likely to affect you the way Flint and Sturm in the Dragonlance Chronicles (Which is to say I wind up crying a lot). He also has really managed to make some of the enemies much more understandable and sympathetic as the series has progressed. Which holds in this book during the Second Battle of Madras  as one of the newly elevated Grik generals defending India from Allied invasion became someone I wound up hoping wouldn't die.

Mind you, Kurakowa and Reddy have become Ahab and Moby Dick, but hey, that conflict has been propelling much of the series since Book 1.

Really, this is a fine series, and one I thought I would hate at first. Given most of my family who saw action in WW II were Pacific theater, I should have more interest, but I'm still much more fascinated by the European and African theater. But it continues to draw me in, even if I do have to get the atlas out every time they sail someplace new. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Thy torc and thy armour, they comfort me...

So, anyway, I'd have been a lot sooner in the posting of this entry had it not been for the sinus infection that joined an ear infection, both of which proceeded to infect the lymph node they drained into. All of which meant a few nights hallucinating alternate sequences from Casino Infernale by Simon R. Green. This would be book 7 in his Secret Histories, all of which so far are plays on James Bond titles. (The listing at the end of this one for volume 8 lists the title as Property of a Lady Faire, which doesn't correspond to a Bond novel or movie that I know of.)

Anyway, I can't really go into the review of this without some backstory, which even then will be incomplete, because evidently some of his earlier medieval/renaissance fantasy has common characters.

So, for the sake of simplicity, we'll start with the 12 books of the Nightside, which was kind of like London Below in Gaimen's Neverwhere, only with many more explosions, time slips, and organizations straight out of the old Illuminati card game. While that series resolved in book 12 (The Bride Wore Black Leather), after invasions by Hell, Heaven, Lilith, Merlin Satanspawn, time travel, and just about everything else, Secret Histories started publishing around book 8, maybe?

Secert Histories concerns Shaman Bond, who is secretly also Edward Drood. Of the Drood family. Who mainly exist to protect humanity, whether they like it or not. While they, by old pacts, will not enter the Nightside, characters do jump series here and there (and also with the newest series, Ghost Finders). The Droods are a very, very old family, we find out most of their origin in Book 1, starting back at the dawn of man. We've been through various betrayals, bitter infighting, the death of The Matriarch, the death of Eddie, the destruction of Drood Manor, and Eddie leaving the family (AGAIN) and Joining the Department of the Uncanny. Which is where we join him and Molly Metcalf, Wild Witch of the Woods.

As we've been finding throughout the series, things assumed about the characters' pasts are not always as they seem. Which is why Molly and Shaman get sent to the northernmost island of Scotland, at the behest of the Regent of Shadows, to spy on a new organization first founded by Molly's now dead parents. They do find the information they seek, but at a price. As they try to transport back to London via the Merlin Glass, they wind up at Drood Manor to help with a "Family" matter. Namely, a summit between several organizations who might be affected by the war over Crow Lee's Inheritance. This ends up happening in the tombs of Mars. After much posturing, a few fights, and general silliness, Molly and Shaman go back to the Manor for equipment as they go try to break the Shadow Bank at this year's Casino Infernale.

Which is fine, except that they arrive to find that Shaman's parents have already lost his soul to the Casino. Which means he gets to bet Molly's, even though several have claims on it already. They have only their wits, as Eddie's torc gets removed before they go, and the Casino radiates a null zone most of the time that kills Molly's magic.

What follows careens between outright silly to deadly serious, often in the same paragraph. It's honestly one of the things I like best about Green's writing. I mean, during one scene as they first arrive in France, the talking car with an attitude helps Shaman and Molly escape from Valkyries that ride pterodactyls. When presented with such a ridiculous scene that is both funny and nail biting at the same time, it's a magical moment in its own right. His writing may veer off into outright lunacy, but it's done with such flair and elan that it's very hard not to go cheering right along with the shared delusion.