Friday, December 26, 2014

Hags to riches

So, I finished Jaqueline Carey's Poison Fruit on the way into work this morning. Sadly, according to the library newsletter, this is the last of a trilogy. Sadder still is that it probably should have been at least two books, since the first half is a much different narrative from the second half.

This is not to say it's not a good book, but it is a bit of a disjointed transition from the quest to banish the night hag to a lawsuit designed to bring war to Little Niflheim.

We start with our protagonist, Daisy, learning that her sort of love interest, the Outcast Stefan, is headed back to Poland to take care of old business in his old domain. Which leaves room for her probably-not-gonna-happen flirtation with Cody Fairfax, the werewolf.

Unfortunately, this mainly comes up during a search for a Night Hag, which may or may not be real. (Since this is Pemkowet, Michigan, she is real; however, it is mentioned that there is a syndrome of people having realistic nightmares about hags sitting on their chest and suffocating them.) The Hag starts by attacking an unbalanced man recently returned from a war zone,  moves on to a seven year old, and winds up killing an old woman in a nursing home. The search on how to find her leads to an abandoned campground, where they meet the bogle Skrrzzzt who tells them the way to get rid of the Unseelie Hag (And therefor not particularly under the rule of the Oak King is to tie a piece of her hair around her neck. However, this requires Daisy to have a nightmare bad enough to draw the Hag to her.

So, being a good demon spawn, Daisy hits up her ex,. Sinclair, to curse her. This has the desired effect, and it also reveals Daisy's darkest fear: accepting her birthright and ending the world. More to the point, doing that and enjoying it.

After the Night Hag is resolved, we get a small interlude as Stefen returns and asks a favor of her as Hel's Liaison. Which is to kill a friend of his. This interlude is probably the best written section of the book, bringing up discussions on euthanasia, the downsides of immortality when one has a degenerative disease, and a bit of Talmudic thought to boot.

Then, we get into the second half, which really should have been a book of its own.

Our dear friend from the last book, the lawyer Dufreyne, is back, and buying up properties encroaching on Hel's domain. He's also quite busy suing Pemkowet over the Halloween adventures the past year. Turns out he's also Hellspawn, only he long ago accepted his birthright. (Then again, his was a planned pregnancy.) As he's working under the auspices of Elysian Fields, inc., it becomes fairly obvious a figure from the Greek Underworld is trying to muscle in on Hel's territory.And given his birthright includes powers of persuasion, it gets mighty ridiculous what happens as this part of the story progresses.

As I stated at the outset, this section would probably be better as a standalone book, instead of being layered in at the end of the Night Hag adventure. As the lawsuit storyline starts around Thanksgiving and ends in early February, there would have been much more room to explore what all was going on here, from Lurine the lamia's kiss, to the burgeoning relationship with Stefen, and it would have given much more room to fully flesh out the Greek underworld figure trying to muscle in on Hel's territory.  (Since I'm not in the mood for spoilers, let's just say the presentation of said figure is kind of flat until the end of the war. There's a heck of a lot that could have and should have been done with this presentation.)

There's also the end of the war, which I kind of had figured out the basics of long before the armies meet. It seems really rushed, and the epilogue discussing the aftermath again reiterates there are still stories to tell here. I'm kind of hoping that Ms. Carey writes more in this setting, since the writing is fresh and funny in several places, while being poignant and touching in other places. As it is, it reminded me a bit of Spider-Man 3, where two very different plots got shoehorned together due to a fight between the studio and the director. Thankfully, there's no My chemical Spider-Man moment in here, but the thought remains.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Why we wish young Anakin was part of this...

As part of a push to get back into series I've reviewed on here previously, but missed that installments have come out since I last read them, I managed to get Taken in by Benedict Jacka's third book in the Alex Verus novels. (The first two are here and here.)

Now, I'll admit, I'm noticing that much of the British urban fantasy I read falls into a cheeky hardboiled mode, and Alex Verus is much in a similar vein. We have a Femme Fatale introduced early on in Crystal, who wants Alex to work security at the White Stone tournament at Fountain Reach. The former being a mage tournament wherein they can all magic the poop out of each other with no real harm coming to either participant in the duel, and the latter being a strongly warded house with a permanent shroud effect.

We have Alex's apprentice Luna (who's technically an adept, sort of), who's classmates Anne (Life magick) and Variam (fire magick) are apprenticed to an ancient rakasha (Indian tiger demon). We also have Morden and Onyx making an appearance, as once again, Onyx gets assigned to help Alex solve the mystery of the vanishing apprentices. Because apprentices of both the Light Mages and the Dark mages are vanishing, and non of the more grey magicks (time, divination, space) seem to be able to break the shrouds that surround each vanishing.

A visit to Anne and Variam's patron as well as a mysterious text message winds up propelling Alex to Fountain Reach as well as entering Luna in the White Stone tournament.

Yeah, there's a mystery here, although I had much of the actual mystery figured out not long into the investigation. There are a few twists that I missed that come up towards the end that make it more satisfying.

Yes, I rather like this series. It fills a middle place between Simon R. Green's really overpowered protagonists and Paul Cornell's fairly human protagonists. While Alex has powers, they don't particularly lend themselves well to combat. This allows the action to focus more on cleverness in getting around obstacles. The only real issue here is that the use of divination to find the correct path gets a bit silly, as looking at multiple futures to eavesdrop on conversations probably would not really work as well as it does in the series. But honestly, with disbelief suspended this far, that's a minor quibble.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Deeper down the rabbit hole

Since it seems that my December is Fairy Tale month for me, I finally finished Indexing by Seanan McGuire. (Keep in mind I'm also reading the latest Fables compilation, Camelot.) (I also thinks this gets me current on Ms. McGuire, so maybe she'll quit taking up so much space on this blog for a while.) (And that's not a complaint. I enjoy her writing.)

Anyway, before really getting into the book, let me see if I can't summarize the world a bit. Throughout time, different narratives try to influence reality as we know it, usually taking theform of fairy tales. In modern times, more than a few examples of modern folklore (urban legends) creep in as well. A government organization uses the ATI (Aarne-Thompson Index) to figure out which narrative is infecting a person and work to stop it before it tries to reach a "Happily ever after". Because Snow Whites generally don't survive long in Glass coffins, and Sleeping Beauties tend to wake up after 100 years and die of old age.

Our main narrator through most of the book is one Henrietta Marchen, whose mother was a Sleeping Beauty who gave birth to a Rose Red and a Snow White. Henry is the Snow White of the pair, with black hair, pale skin, and red lips. Unlike Disney's version, this Snow White is rather hard boiled. She's the Field Team leader over a team that includes a Wicked Stepsister (Sloane), a Cobbler (with no elves)(Jeff, who works as the archivist), and a man who's sister got sucked into the narrative and wound up finding the bureau trying to figure out what happened (Andy). In the first chapter, they end up activating a Pied Piper (Demi) to wake up a Sleeping Beauty who they think was a Snow White at the outset. (In this case, the narrative used a variable to make the enchanted sleep happen via virus. The Pied Piper (or in this case flutist) treats the virii as vermin and pipes them out.

As the book progresses, we get deeper and deeper into the narratives and variations, particularly when we find the big bad out about halfway in (Mother Goose, who can stretch narratives to suit her needs, although too much stretching can cause them to snap).

There are notes at both the beginning and end about how Indexing started off as a short story that then developed into a Kindle Serial Novel, that in turn can now be had as a full novel in digital and paperback. This process shows, particularly early on, since the chapters are a bit disjointed, and it doesn't really start gelling as a connected narrative of its own until about the time Mother Goose shows up halfway through. (It could technically be argued that without a Mother Goose to collect the tales in one volume, they remained disjointed, but...) (Really, to use a metaphor that most of my readers won't particularly understand, the difference between the first half and the second half is a bit like the difference between Season 1 of Babylon 5 and Season 2 of Babylon 5. The disjointed nature also sets up the fantastic and much more complete second half.)  There's also a small issue with Henry's brother showing up towards the end, then vanishing from the book entirely while the climax happens, even though he's supposedly still in the damn location where the finale happens.

On the other hand, McGuire's use of GLBT folks is refreshing in fantasy. Andy has a husband, and also gets stuck in a version of "The Frog Prince" at one point. Henry's brother started off as her sister, and is terrified that if the narrative decides he's going to be activated as rose Red, he'll lose the life he worked so hard to build. And there's a Little Mermaid who might have been a Beast who inspired a Facebook status from me. (In a nutshell, his parents died in a car accident that left his little sister in a wheelchair, but able to swim. It left him disfigured. He got miraculous plastic surgery that also destroyed his larynx. His prince rejected him for being mute and therefore a "cripple".)

Another very bright spot in all of this is towards the end when Henry's narrative goes active, poison and all, and we go from Fairy Tale into Joseph Campbell. While not quite as in depth as Campbell goes, it's still a fairly good summary of the monomyth, giving readers who haven't jumped feet first into Campbell enough to go on to make sense of it all.

While this may not be her best work (it's narrative reminded me quite a bit of her Sparrow Hill Road), it's not anything near a bad read at all. Well worth picking up and spending some night reliving childhood memories in an adult setting.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

And there will come soft rains....

Once again, I find myself trying to figure out why I like Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's Long Earth series so much, given that there is no real overreaching plot, more just vignettes chronicling specific characters as they cross and recross several different iterations of Terra. (Or in the case of the latest installment, The Long Mars, Mars.)

In this case, we're still following Joshua Valiente as he investigates those who are evolving out of the Long Earth, Sally Linsay as she and her father cross "The Gap" to Mars, and Maggie Kauffman as she leads a crew out to Earth West 250 million. Lopsang is less of a presence in this entry, although he does have an overarching narration to try to tie together the disparate plot threads.

Joshua's narrative involves what may or may not be a new speciation of humans, the youth who call themselves "The Next". We encounter them in both Joshua's tale and in  Maggie's journey when she fings the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald Neil Armstrong I. In Joshua's case, this involves dealing with a child he met in Happy Landings a few years back (Happy Landings being a very high numbered Earth West where people who fall through the soft places tend to wind up... It's also one of the few places trolls and humans live harmoniously.) He's on hand to witness as the the USLONGCOM (Basically what's left of the US government military operations, now relocated to Madison West 5 after the Yellowstone volcano pretty much wrecks havok on Datum Earth) takes "The Next" prisoner and puts them in isolation at Pearl Harbor on Datum Earth.

Maggie's voyage focuses on the variety of of life as it evolved elsewhere in the infinite Earths, and provides tales of human compassion missing elsewhere. Maggie is kind of the conscience of humanity in this. She takes a Beagle (sapient bipedal dogs introduced in the last book) onto her crew along with several trolls. This leads to revelations on why the Beagles really dislike some of the human scientists in their world. She tries to find a way to get medical help for a creature someone shoots at (through a window) in the really high numbered Earths. And she's the one who ultimately gets to decide the fate of the Next after running across a group of them from Happy Landings way out in the 200 millions.

Sally, who's not exactly happy with her father, none the less accompanies him to Mars. "The Gap" (the first iteration of Earth going West where there is no Earth [likely caused by an asteroid collision early on]) has a Mars with vegetation. (The idea that gets relayed here is that as life crossed the gap, DNA managed to hit Mars. There's also the idea that variations on Mars had the right volcanic melting of ice that allowed life to flourish for however long.) Their journey finds that there is life on "Joker Marses", where the conditions for life are still being met or have been met previously. And ultimately, their journey os one of trying to figure out if the ends justify the means. Yes, "Step Day", unleashed by Willis, wound up being a net positive, but the cost of life was very high. The sacrifices he makes on Mars looking for something specific may also have similar benefits for humanity, but there's an equally large sacrifice made in the process. The comparison to Greek mythology's Daedalus is made about Willis Linsay, which seems rather fitting in the end.

It's not a terribly long book, but it's fun to read. And it does seem to capture the essence of humanity in all of its narratives, capturing moments of fear, hatred, hope, and joy.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Go then, there are other worlds than these....

So, many moons ago, my friend Steve recommended I read Walter John Williams's Aristoi. It took a bit of doing, since the book is theoretically out of print, but I did find both a digital copy and a used paperback. The digital copy comes with a warning that formatting doesn't allow for one of the more interesting aspects of the print copy, which is the occasional section wherein Gabriel, our main character is doing one thing on the left hand side of the page, while he and his daimons and Reno unit all converse in a parallel column. It's a unique trick that does take more than a little adjustment when it happens.

Gabriel is one of the vaunted Aristoi, which could best be translated as royalty among the humans who have long since expanded out from Earth 2 (that's Earth to the second power, but I can't find the exponential on the character map) following the death by nano of Earth 1. Each Aristoi makes a domain out among the stars, running it as he or she sees fit. Pretty much everyone, not just Aristoi have Reno units (implanted in the thyroid, if I translated the Greek right) that connect them with oneirochron, which is more or less a virtual reality version of the internet. (The machine itself is called Hyperlogos, and it's said that Luna was long ago turned into a server.) Some rule as tyrants, some, like Gabriel, are more or less benevolent despots. Gabriel seems fairly content to create his planets, then let the people do as they wish. Mind you, his mother runs a church with Gabriel as the Godhead, but hey....

Gabriel is also seemingly bisexual (and a bit free with his morals), which we learn early on as he impregnates one of his boyfriends in Chapter 1. Mind you, later on we get a scene in which he has sex with his female doctor while his "avatar" in the oneirochron has sex with one of the female Aristoi. (Given this is done with the split prose mentioned up above, it's a

For the most part, the Aristoi spend much of their time debating philosophy and creating domains that reflect their ideals. Gabriel spends much of his time sleeping around and writing music.

(Something I neglected to mention up above is what a Daimon actually is. Basically, everyone has multiple personalities that get modulated by their Reno unit, which allows or much in the way of multitasking. One can run off and compose poetry while another builds warships.)

As the book progresses, we eventually get drawn into a plot by another Ariste out in the Gaul sphere who seems to be compromising the Hyperlogos. Gabriel winds up building a large spaceship, loading it up with collegues and lovers and heading out to the sphere. What he finds there goes against what his society believes in.

Without going much further into this, mainly because the Gaul sphere makes up most of the last 3rd of the book and contains one whole host of contradictory philosophy, torture, and quite a bit of violence.

It's a very interesting read. Based on the Goodreads reviews, this book falls into a love-it-or-hate-it category. While I wouldn't exactly say this is the best book ever, it's one I see re-reading at some point, since a re-read would probably be less distracted with all the the tech running rampant throughout the book.

One very major issue is that the science never really gets explained, although that never really affected Star Wars or Star Trek. However, most folks will be questioning exactly what magic is in use to make a journey of 40 light years in under 4 months, or how the heck VR internet is done in Real Time across a distance as vast as the galaxy. I hear Neil Degrasse Tyson making twitter comments from here. However, much like the adjustment to the oneirochron and the fact that everyone keeps taking on postures and making mudras like a kung fu movie, it's easy to forget this and just enjoy the story. Particularly since the themes of "What makes us human?" and "What's the next step in our evolution?" are facinating to me.

The ending is a bit open ended, which makes me sad that Williams never returned to this world. I would love to see what happens next in Gabriel's life.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Hakuna Fthagn

So, I finally finished a book I've been waiting to read for quite some time, and other than a few quibbles, I rather enjoyed it.

R. S. Belcher returns to Golgotha, Nevada, in late November of 1870. Well, minus a small prologue a bit earlier, involving a certain dinner party in the Sierra Nevada mountains. A special party, where the dinner menu includes long pork.

Anyway. Welcome to The Shotgun Arcana.

When we actually get to Golgotha, following the aftermath of the Donner Party and Biqa (nee Malachi Bick) and Raziel (nee Ray Zeal) having a minor tiff about the source, we join Deputies Jim and Mutt chasing down a vampiric lizard that likes to prey on goats. Which leads into discovering the body of a dead lady of negotiable virtue outside the Dove's Roost brothel. Well, not exactly a body, as someone has rather artistically arranged the interior of her to suit some kind of pattern.

We also have returning characters from the first book, Augustus, now married to Gillian, despite Clay building a new body for Auggie's dead wife, who's head is being kept alive in a jar. Maude and her daughter are still female warriors of Lilith; however, Maude and Mutt (the Indian coyote shapeshifter) are stepping out and Constance is sweet on Deputy Jim. Sheriff Highfather gets a minor love interest of his own with the arrival of Kate, who works for the Feds. We also have Black Rowan, who takes over the prostitution rackets in town, having retired from Barbary Coast pirating. Mayor Pratt is still in love with Ringo, but still not up to admitting to the relationship, since everyone is still keeping an eye on him in his new role of Defender of the Faith, since he wields the Sword of Labon. Malachi has a surprise of his own as his daughter Emily arrives on the coach.

There's a heck of a stew of gods and legends wandering through these pages, but unlike the first book, Malachi gives a better explanation to Emily about how so many things can fit in such a small place. (Short version: God is too big to wear just one face. It's much more detailed, but that works for the time being.)

The main plot, after all the subplots start coming together really starts picking up towards the middle, when Ray Zeal and his Praetorians ride towards Golgotha. Throughout the first half, we meet people who have teeth scattered from the skull in the prologue. All of whom are vicious killers, assassins, and cannibals. The skull was Raziel's to guard, and he abandoned it to Biqa. Now he wants it back. It becomes quite a ride, particularly as our protagonists all meet their opposite numbers among Raziel's forces.

A few scenes really stick out for me. When Maude, Black Rowan, and Kate meet for the first time, one can almost hear Fergie's cover of "Barracuda". It's less Maiden, Mother, Crone and more Lawful, Neutral, Chaos. Another involves the lynch mob that forms when people see Mutt stepping out with a white woman and Pratt rides into the rescue. Given Pratt and Mutt aren't exactly friendly, the conversation on what they have in common (society not particularly liking them for whom they love) is very telling and touched a nerve in me.

The resolution of the main plotline is satisfying, although the wrap up had one place that was like biting tinfoil. On the other hand, there are new threads for another book of Golgotha, and I look forward to returning.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Hollow Ending Part II

So, I was mildly wrong last year when I referred to Ever After as the last in Kim Harrison's Hollows series. Seems that title is actually The Witch With No Name, which actually is marked as the "Last of the Hollows". Well, other than a short story due out sometime next month.

Anyway. As the last book ended with Trent in financial and political straights and the demon Aligarept not speaking to her, we join Rachel and company in this one dealing with more limited resources than normal. We also have the undead vampire trying to give living vampire Ivy her first death, in an attempt to get Rachel to reattach their souls. (Which Rachel is loath to do, since it leads to the undead walking into the sun, consumed with guilt over what they've done without one. Think Angel/Angelus, only not as sexy, and much more angsty.) We also see the return of Landon and Ellsabeth, elves with agendas of their own.

Early on, during an escape from one of the traps designed to kill off Ivy, Trent and Rachel find what happened to the undead vampire's souls. Having this knowledge, Rachel, with help from Landon, reattaches Felix's soul under much duress. (Felix being the undead vampire currently acting as puppetmaster to Ivy's living vampire girlfriend Nina.) Which, of course, ends with Felix's suncide.

Mind you, regardless of how horribly the soul reattachment went, the undead still want them back. And Landon is more than happy to provide them. Which has the side effect of undoing part of the curse that binds the demons to the Ever After.

So, basically, it's mad chaos as Rachel is forced to try to save the world again, all while combating the Elven Goddess again.

Without going too far into the resolution here, it's very satisfying to read. Ivy plays a much bigger part in the proceedings than she has in a few books, which is good. (Ivy's been kind of fading from the series once the sexual tension between her and Rachel faded out.) Al gets his stuff together, which is also good, since he plays a trickster's archetype throughout the series. That he's also named guardian of Trent's children adds to his role.

It's kind of odd, looking back over the 13 books of the series, how two of the major protagonists (Trent and Al) started off as fairly nefarious antagonists. That they evolved into complex and compelling characters (even if that transition wasn't always smooth) that we care about is a testament to Harrison's writing skills.

It's even more interesting learning the details of the war between the elves and demons in more depth, seeing how the different strategies in the war ended up with unintended consequences and collateral damage.

In short, while I'm sad to see the series end, I think she ended it well and before it got stale the way other series fiction has become.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Nasty Little Hobbitses...

Full disclosure on this one. My half-brother, Charles Ebert, recently self-published his first novel. I was lucky enough to receive a copy as a gift. How that affects this review is up to you and your own perceptions.

As for the title of this post, as Chuck notes in his acknowledgements, it's his "Lord of the Rings", which really is kind of fitting. (We'll return to this here in a bit.)

So.... The Sword of Dalmar starts off fairly cryptically with some guy waking up on an island. We then proceed to meet Buckle, who handles most of the affairs of Roduct's Delamarian estate. Roduct is a Sarondak, a race of desert people who live east of the Barrier mountain. (Delamar, of course, is the far west, abutting the sea.) Roduct is one of the few Sarondakis to throw off Soowooli, which is a form of fire magic that, near as I can infer, imprisons the soul and Will of someone in a jar, making them more or less a slave. 

The Sarondaki are ruled by the Immortal Skrike, who, prior to the events chronicled here, once ruled all the way to the sea from their desert home across the Barrier Mountains. The story goes that Dalmar (He of the eponymous sword) and his girlfriend (who was more or less a lady of a lake) went to kill Skrike, failed, but managed to inspire the three western kingdoms to drive back Skrike's forces.(the sword was forged with magic of all the elements, and therefore the only thing capable of killing an immortal)

Roduct gets a Sarondaki visitor, in the middle of a dark and stormy night. After chasing the visitor away, Roduct draws up a new will leaving his estate to Buckle. Which is all well and good, until the next morning, when the corrupt sheriff of the district comes by accusing Roduct (now conspicuously missing) of murdering his late night visitor. As such, Buckle, along with estate hand Yazzle (who fills the big and dumb role) and female warrior Zabeth (who starts off as a scullion who trained under the armsmaster of the estate) take off for the East to find Roduct.

Along the way, they pick up Bindle (another warrior, who more or less deserted his post) and the Water Witch Krinseth (who uses her magic to track Roduct.) All of which eventually leads to a split party, with the asthmatic Buckle and Yazzle stuck in Skrike's dungeon mining coal, while Bindle and Zabeth join up with Constable Kebble raiding the Sarandaki parties in the desert. Since it is a desert, Krinseth spends most of the latter half of the book in a self created cairn waiting on a rain storm in the desert.

While the book has more than a few rough patches (In particular, the 3 Western rulers are basically plot expositions with names), it's quite readable. I rather enjoyed that Zabeth didn't fall into the old fantasy trope about the warrior woman who finds a man and calms down. When she does end up taking a lover, it's on her terms and in no way diminishes her chosen profession. Asthma was a unique quirk to give the main character, although I imagine some of that had to do with the author's own issues in childhood and beyond. The lack of some of the more abused fantasy tropes (there's no guiding prophecy that everyone is fulfilling, no real non-humanoid races) helps quite a bit. That this was technically written 30+ years ago (and has probably undergone several revisions since then)  also helps avoid the plague of either gritty realism with every major character dying or the sunshine and rainbows with everyone getting a happy ending. I also like that the full story of Dalmar and his lver is never spelled out in a long block of exposition; we get it in bits and pieces and are forced to infer the truth from various perspectives.

And yes, there are quite a few Tolkien-esque moments throughout the narrative, including a bit towards the end that while not quite driving Saruman from Hobbiton, it did echo that sequence. Then again, most of the sword and sorcery fantasy genre owes a debt to tolkien, although thankfully, most of those authors don't get quite so verbose with it. (Because, seriously, the wall of text that was Ent society and the wall of boringness that was Tom Bombadil.)

Since it is self published, I don't think it's available at a normal bookstore. So, in one of those rare instances where I link something... You can buy the paperback or kindle version from Amazon.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Coming full circle

Well, nearly 2 years ago, when I started this blog, I was reviewing Seanan McGuire's Ashes of Honor. Now, two days before 2 years, I'm posting my 100th entry on here with her latest October Daye novel, The Winter Long.

So, here we are. As mentioned last time I was in this world, the finale had left the door open for October to grow into a more mature role. As such, this book starts with her promotion to Hero of the Realm, and spends much of the rest of the book dealing with secrets hidden from October for the entirety of her life. That the murder victim from book 1 shows up alive an well early on, as well as Simon Torquill, last seen in book one turning October into a fish for 9 years...

We then spend much of the book on an extended chase, as we learn many of the Luidaeg's secrets, so much more about the progenitors of the fairie kiths.... (Honestly, I was reminded of the antediluvians in Vampire...)

We learn more of October's mother and her new family.

Again, it seems to be another set up to further adventures, since we end with a few new mysteries, plus several antagonists put to sleep for a century or so.

Anyway, yeah, fun read.

Now to figure out what to read next. The one book I have left from the library is a rather heavy tome about the fall of France during WWII, which would not be pleasant to lug to and from work. The two I have on reserve are not in yet, and probably won't show up for a week or so. (One the library has one copy of, and I'm second on the list; the other the library has several copies of, but I'm like 50th in line to get one.) This is good, since I have a backlog of books I've purchased/been gifted with of late, but choosing from among them will be interesting. So, we'll see in a week what comes up on here.

In the meantime, thank you to all of you who've been in and out of here the past few years. I know this has become much more archival than anything else, but it's a labor of love. The divine reader in me salutes and recognizes the divine reader in you.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Hitchhiking Dead

In part 2 of a two-fer (I actually finished The Cat Sitter's Pajamas a few days ago, but it took me a few days to do the write up), we find the Hitchhiking ghost Rose Marshall explaining the role ghosts of the road play in their corner of the InCrypted universe. (Rose gets mentioned very briefly in Half-Off Ragnarok.)

Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire takes a rather roundabout route in narrating Rose's story. rose herself states in the introduction that the dead's sense of time is off kilter. The narration also is told in a series of vignettes, which doesn't lend itself well to linear narration. The end result starts off very messy, but winds up becoming more and more engaging the further in you get.

In a more linear fashion, rose starts off as poor white trash south of Detroit. A better off boy in her class asks her to prom. The night of Prom, he doesn't show up. Rose decided to go out to his house and confront him. Out on Sparrow Hill road, Rose gets run off the road and dies. Her ghost catches up with her date, who had a car issue and was running late. Given this was the early to mid 1950's, cell phone was not an option.

So, Rose has become a double threat. She's a type of ghost classified under supernatural taxonomy as a Hitcher. She also works as a psychopomp, escorting those that die on the road to their final destination. As a hitcher, she can take a corporeal form if she's offered a jacket (traditional) or some other form of clothing. she can also eat that which is freely given by the living. She has several epitaphs based on ways her story has morphed over the years. (In some, she protects travelers, in others, she kills them.)

Her cosmology can be simplified to Daylight being the normal physical world, the Twilight dwelling of ghosts, and Midnight houses "deeper powers". Other supernatural things exist in here, with the crossroads being where people and people who used to be people can go to barter.

Rose spends much of her off duty hanging out with a Bane Sidhe at the Last Chance Diner.

As the book progresses, we learn that Rose's ultimate goal is to get one Bobby Cross off the road. Bobby being an old film start who bargained at the crossroads for eternal youth. As the price, he now much feed the souls of innocents to his car. Bobby drove the car that drove rose off the road in the 50's.

We also get strange reunions with people she either saved or psychopomped for, old family and friends.... even random strangers.

It's a very interesting, if not quite cohesive, read.  I'm kind of wondering if rose's story will continue or if she'll be relegated to occasional cameos, particularly since McGuire already has 2 series going on, and a third would probably kill quality. On the other hand, the expanded cosmology of the ghost roads is quite fascinating, and something I would love to see explored in more depth.

Dixie Hemingway, Pet Detective

Several years back, Blaize Hemmingway started a cozy mystery series concerning Dixie Hemingway, a former Sheriff's deputy, now working as a pet sitter. Dixie has a tragic past, her husband and daughter were run over and killed by an old man in a parking lot. Her mother abandoned her and her older brother at an early age, leving their grandparents to raise them. As such, Dixie now lives above the car port in her grandparents' house on Siesta Key, a barrier island not far from Sarasota, Florida. Her older brother, Chris, lives with his partner Paco in the house.

Dixie works as a pet sitter to make money, and the books use a certain formula to establish her routine. This also allows us to visit with characters introduced earlier in the series who provide information the narrator can't easily access on her own, or provide a way to help externalize inner monologue for character development.

Now, with Book 7, The Cat Sitter's Cradle, the author seems to have died, and her son John is ghostwriting the series. There isn't that much of a difference in the writing, making me wonder how much John has been writing anyway.

Anyway, the current volume starts with Dixie walking a schnauzer and finding what appears to be a homeless illegal immigrant having just given birth in a park. Whom Dixie rescues, along with a rare Guatemalan bird. She then meets her new client, a wealthy oil executive who needs someone to watch his cat and his tropical fish while he and his wife attend to business in Tampa.

She also has a date with Ethan Crane, a local lawyer of Native American ancestry who's becoming the love interest after the last one left for Louisiana.

While dropping in to check on Queen B, the oil guy's cat, she finds her client at the bottom of the swimming pool. And there begins the plot to figure out who drowned the Oil Exec.

These are short reads, and not necessarily aimed at me in terms of target readership, but the series remains fun and holds attention.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

WTMI, broadcasting at 10000mHz

As I've said in more than a few review on here, Simon R. Green is a little less like reading and more getting swept up in his silliness.

Voices From Beyond, the newest Ghost Finders, again keeps this idea alive.

The difference being, of course, that Ghost Finders focuses on 4 investigators, rather than narration by one particular character. These 4 are less super powered than other Green protagonists, however, they are just as cheeky.

In this case, JC, who's eyes have been changed by powers from Bayonne, finds out his ghost Girlfriend has been working for his boss under his nose. Melody and Happy (she of the super science and he of the telepathy) are still coupled and dealing with Happy's drug habit that would seem to make both Crowley and Leary seem like teetotalers.

We get a preliminary investigation into a suburban haunt where a Professor of Psychology accidentally opens a door to another realm, letting his 4 students get sucked into a rather obscene world. JC and Kim combine like the Wonder Twins to rescue the students and close the door behind them. Which leads into the main scenario of the book, wherein our team gets called out to Radio Free Albion to investigate voices breaking in during broadcasts warning of horrible fates befalling listeners. Needless to say, the staff isn't happy with this development.

We get a heads up of what awaits us, when a future version of JC greets him at the door, bleeding out and missing eyes of any kind. In fact, all the Finders (except Kim), manage to see future versions of themselves, destroyed by some great beast.

It's kind of disturbing in a few places (this particular series is good for that kind of thing), but given most of the mystery revolves around the future and present colliding, one can't help but wonder why no one realized that if they fail, time would loop around for another go, rather than fully manifesting the Hell on Earth people keep seeing.

As it is, and since subtlety is not one of Green's strong points, the story finds a way around the problem of multiple futures eventually. Much in the British tradition, it goes straight there, not hanging around for sub plots or much character development beyond "Oh gee, I still want a body" or "The drugs are killing me, why not let me die?"

It's not a bad read by any stretch of the imagination. It holds attention and is honestly good fun. But it's not exactly undying prose either.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

On the spaceship lollypop....

David Ramirez's debut novel, The Forever Watch, isn't nearly as dull as some of the reviews on goodreads would suggest. Really it's not. This is not to say it doesn't have issues, but....

The setup is fairly simple, grounded in some fairly common Science Fiction tropes. In the far flung future, the remnants of humanity are on a large space ship named Noah, traveling from a dead Earth to a new planet named Canaan. (Which I always read in the accent of an old teacher of mine from North Carolina. May she rest in peace.) The remnants live in a habitat dome designed to mimic Earth's climate and weather patterns, simulate seasons as well as create day and night. The society within is seen by most as almost utopian, despite strict rules and extreme censorship. (Seriously. This society has a type of caste system wherein everyone's placement within is based on testing scores.)

Humanity itself has evolved; humans now have access to different varieties of psychic powers, which in turn are augmented by implants, nanotech, and even wearable gauntlets that draw from the psionic power grid running Noah.

Our narrator, Hana Dempsey, who works in City Planning, wakens from a medical coma as part of her Breeding Duty. (Women with Breeding Duty get a 9 month paid vacation in a medical coma. It's mentioned men get off easy, spending a few minutes performing theirs.) She suffers from a bit of postpartum depression (the child is taken away to be raised by "Keepers" after birth), and spends time downloading memories off the Nth Web of people petting cats or breastfeeding to combat this. (One of the side effects of the neurological implants is that memories are recorded whole and are transferable between people.)

One of her friends, Leonard Barrens (alternately going by Barrens, Leon, or Leonard), is not in the same rarefied social strata that Hana occupies. He's a Bruiser, working in the cold case section of what amounts to a police force. (Security on all levels of the ship falls under the Ministry of Peace. Most of the Ministries on Noah echo Orwell.) Hana met Barrens during an attack on her by a Mission Critical engineer who was high on the drug Psyn. They've remained friends, despite the judgmental looks and comments from her more refined friends.

Barrens asks Hana for help with a programming issue. Namely, he found the mutilated body of a former supervisor, but the records indicate said supervisor went into Retirement. Also, Barrens seems to be the only one with a memory of the condition of the mutilated body. Hana creates a program that will try to find information regarding "Mincemeat", what the supervisor was researching before his murder. Mincemeat would appear to be a serial killer who mutilates his victims, and commits crimes that don't exist on official records.

As the book progresses, Barrens and Hana become lovers, and hook up with someone they find during their investigation. (In one of the biggest problems I had with the book, the passage of time is more than a little off. It's like someone presses a fast forward button to speed up progress between events.) Bullet, as he goes by, has the odd psychometry ability, where he can get memories off of objects by touching them. Which, as they find out chasing holes in the data, means Mincemeat has either been stalking the ship almost since it launched, or there have been multiple Mincemeats. Not long before Barrens leaves Hana to investigate without her (for fear of her safety, naturally), they find a memory floating around the fringe of the Web (the Nth Web has more servers than even Information Security even realizes) involving a race of aliens they think of as The Builders, who built Noah, and also don't appear in any of the censored histories any of the characters have access to. Before he leaves (about halfway through the book), he also gives Hana the code assigned her child.

From here, the book progresses in interesting tangents. At one point, Hana, worried that her detective work will lead to her being "Adjusted" by Information Security, becomes slightly paranoid. Which of course, means nothing when Barrens sends a summons telling her to flee, which of course leads her right into a group coming to collect her.

In quite possibly one of the dumbest moves I've seen by a heroine since Laurana flew to Kitiara in Dragons of the Spring Dawning, the lead Behaviorist pretty much lets Hana escape and get a new gauntlet. (Seriously, this has "TRAP!" written larger than coming out of hyperspace in front of a fully operational Death Star still shielded by the generator on the Forest moon of Endor.)

Barrens is now facilitating one unit of Archivists, who in this world are more or less the same folks that populate conspiracy websites. Problem of course being that there is an actual conspiracy, of which we, the readers gain access to as the book climbs towards the climax. Which is complicated, since Hana and Barrens become convinced that the conspiracy is in place for a reason, and disagree with the other cells of Archivists that releasing the information to everyone would be a great idea.

I disagree with Ramirez's conclusion that some information should be kept secret because the people might revolt if they knew the whole truth, much as I disagreed with Jack McDevitt and Mike Resnick about how humanity would react to the big secret at the end of their The Cassandra Project. While the secrets being kept from the "crew" of Noah aren't pleasant, the idea of laboring under false pretenses is one that annoys me. Particularly since we as readers get to know the secrets, unlike the majority of his characters. I will mitigate this by saying those who want to spread the information tend to be motivated by a mixture of "information must be free" attitudes combined with wanting the glory of being the ones to bring truth to the unwashed masses. That those folks are also manipulating the food supply doesn't exactly help bring any sympathy for them. Again, there really aren't any characters in this drama who are morally pure.  Hell, even the program that develops AI and passes the Turning test basically become a tool of the oppressors by the end.

It's an ugly book in places, and again, one that I don't particularly agree with the conclusions contained within. It's a bit like reading 1984, had Orwell been writing from the government's point of view, or more aptly, Rocky Horror Picture Show slanted to show Dr. Scott as the real hero of the piece.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

We're raiding Madagascar, where are the cockroaches?

So, either I wasn't the only one complaining about how jumbled Destroyermen's narrative was getting, or Taylor anderson's editor finally helped him create a better narrative timeline for Deadly Shores. This is not to say we don't spend a fair amount of time jumping around between characters and situations, but more that we're jumping around between characters involved in the same front. Unlike a few of the previous volumes, we're not jumping between continents and oceans every chapter, which makes this one a bit easier to follow.

Mind you, we start with Kurokawa's unresolved flight from India, which has been a major front for the past few books, and we still don't exactly know where he wound up. Which then bleeds into Shinya's land war in this alternate Earth's with the Holy Dominion. Which of course, brings the Empire and it's current ruler into the fray as supplies come from what would be Hawaii and the Galapagos islands. The Doms, it seems, are not particularly prepared for land war; as the Allied forces point out, the Dominion commander runs his side of the battle as a chess grandmaster whose only played chess against himself. So, this front is going fairly well, other than stretched supply lines. (Also, it should be noted that Sister Audrey, the nun from Belgium, has been working hard to return the Dominion captives to a more orthodox Catholicism. As such, she now has her own regiment of converted Dominion troops to command. While they didn't particularly show up in this book, we're left with knowledge that they will be soon arriving.)

Then we shift to India, which has been pretty much won by the allies, but Grik General Halik remains blocking further advances. His interactions with General Alden provide again the odd kind of battlefield camaraderie that we hear stories of when discussing the WWI Christmas truce. While it is doubtful Halik and Alden will ever be best of friends, there is a growing resect between them. I'm hoping this continues as the series progresses.

However, the bulk of the book concerns what's supposed to be an almost Doolittle style raid of Madagascar, and the Imperial City of the Grik. The idea is to raid the city and force the Grik to either withdraw from the war or at least slow down. The problem being Madagascar is the Ancestral home of the Lemurians (so named by the Americans because they look like humanoid Lemurs), so Adar, the Lemurian Chairman of the Alliance (and newly forming Union) keeps hinting around that this raid should be more of an invasion. Which is bad, since the fleet moving to raid Madagascar isn't particularly an invasion force.

As such, Chack's Marines, making their way to the Grik capital from the south wind up wandering through the Grik preserve of Worthy Prey. Whereupon they discover what I assume to be the Scots.

II Corps General Queen Safir Maraan leads her forces through a heavily fortified trench system to reach the city, taking heavy casualties. Walker and the fleet manage to destroy much of the Grik fleet in harbor, but Walker winds up hitting a sandbar in the harbor as the tide ebbs, leaving them open to Grik invasion. The Amerika (representing the Republic of Real People, formed by 10th century Romans and absorbing some alternate universe WWI Germans; the Republic is centered  around Cape Horn) is commanded by a senile old man who screws up by following orders without thinking about them. Silva leads a guerrilla team to the palace itself to try to take out the Grik Queen. The Grik Queen is amazed at the attack, since War in Grik society is viewed as entertainment for the lesser classes. It's ugly all the way around, and it leads to conversations that need to be had.

We end again with a small epilogue setting up conflicts hopefully covered in the next book, as the Doms prepare to move their fleet across a much bigger passage where the Panama Canal is in our world, a mysterious iron clad shows up in the Republic of Real People, and Halik and Miyata leave India.

As I said the last time I reviewed a book in this series, this normally isn't my cup of tea. However, I find the characters remain compelling, and the writing is not the hyper macho sensibility that infests other writing in the fantasy war genre. (Seriously. Much as I sort of enjoyed E.E. Knight's Vampire Earth series, it got to a point where I expected everyone to eat raw meat while smoking cigars and beating up women after a while.)

*Came back and re-edited, since I had Rolak listed as Chairman, when it's really Adar. Don't know what I was thinking.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

My beautiful wickedness! What a World, what a world!

This will likely be a short review, since Christina Henry's Black City is short on plot and much more about the emotional development of Maddy and her relationship with Nathaniel. Oh yes, and day walking vampires courtesy of Maddy's deceased brother Azazel.

It's kind of silly, since most of the plot has to do with fighting the horde of vampires taking over Chicago, and yet they really don't play much into anything, since we're busy rescuing JB from Titania, watching Maddy grow intimate with Nathaniel, whom she has a love/hate relationship with, and all kinds of conversations about how Maddy is slowly allowing Lucifer to make her his hound.

Honestly, it's a quick read, and it develops the characters a bit more, but other than explaining the relationships between Puck and Lucifer and adding a few other major players to the mix, it's fluff waiting for another book to happen. Also, there's so much angst (and a cliffhanger ending) that I felt Ms. Henry should include a copy of "Nadia's Theme" in each copy as a soundtrack.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Haven't been here in a while...

Here recently, I went through this blog and goodreads and found out new books had come out in series that I completely missed. Kelly McCullough's Bared Blade happens to be the first one to come in at the library.

I started the series waaaaay back here, so here's a quick refresher on setting. Aral lives in the city of Tien, doing work in the underworld. He started life as a Blade, a servant of the goddess of justice, Namara. Namara got killed by the new gods and her temple razed; he servants were mostly destroyed, although a few remain, working clandestinely for the new King. (Aral killed the old one.) Aral has a shadow familiar, Triss, who provides much of the comic relief.

Aral ended the last book crawling his way out of the bottle and getting a new lease on life, which is why it's kind of amusing that he's in a bar at the start of this one. (His struggles with drinking provide an undercurrent of conflict throughout.) However, like any good noir (even fantasy noir), trouble walks in wearing the form of two beautiful women, one of whom resembles Aral's old flame.

The fact that both women share a mind with a meld has kind of an effect on their relationship with Aral. (They're the visible parts of a Dyad, two bonded mages who also share a third mind, in this case named Valor of Steel.) The Dyad also happen to be targets of the local Elite Kingsguard, who break in and tear up the bar where Vos is talking with Aral. Upon escaping, Aral runs afoul of Qethar, a Durkoth seeking the Kothmerk. (That's a lot of gobbledegook. Durkoth and an Other race, beings purely of the Earth. As such, he's kind of a moving Greek statue. that can make the Earth move under his feet. And more.) Qethar and Aral enter an uneasy truce to find the Ruby ring that confers rulership of the Durkoth that was last seen in the slaughtered parter the Dyad was part of.

There's a lot of crossing and double crossing, plus more revelations from Fei, the shadowside Police officer who knows exactly who Aral is. And ongoing revelations from Aral as he tries to figure out what justice actually is without a goddess providing it.

Once again, McCullough writes an excellent yarn, and I'm kind of curious as to what the next book in the series (that cam out last December) has in store, given some of the plot development in this one. As I said last time, everything of his that I've read has been worth the time investment.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Reptile WINS!

So, I actually finished Seanan McGuire's Half-Off Ragnarok a few days ago, but I've been lazy on updating. (Hey, I leave for Vegas tomorrow. I have other things on my mind.)

While technically part of her InCryptid series, this one switches narrators from Verity Price to her brother Alex Price, currently working as a visiting herpetologist at the Columbus Zoo. Alex is staying with his grandmother (another cuckoo, like his cousin Sarah, who played a major role in the first two books) and grandfather (a revenant, sort of like Frankenstein's monster) in Bexley Ohio. (McGuire's geography is a bit off, but given the nightmare Steven King made of NYC in the Dark Tower series, the few minor errors in Ohio geography can be forgiven.)

Alex has a thing going on with the visiting Australian big cat keeper, Hannah. However, due to his hidden life (living with two cuckoos and a revenant, running a basilisk breeding program, figuring out that the fricken are replacing frogs in the local ecosystem...), going on dates with Hannah gets a bit... complicated. This relationship gets further vexed when during a lunch date in the tiger garden, they find a coworker stoned in the bushes. And not on reefer. No, the coworker matched gazes with one of my biggest Nemesis-es in the original Final Fantasy, a cockatrice. At first he was afraid, he was petrified... well, the coworker stayed that way.

For those not versed in such esoterica, a cockatrice is a chicken with a lizard tail and the ability to turn creatures to stone. (Or at least partially turn them to stone.... there's a long conversation on the eating habits of petrifiers.) Given that Alex's assistant, Dee, is a Pliny's Gorgon (middle powered, between Lesser and Greater), she and her Gorgon enclave get dragged into the investigation, particularly after the cockatrice shows up at Alex's house, nearly stoning him for saying "This fish is so good, it's fit for Jehova!" (Ok, I'll quit with the stone jokes before I hit Steve Austin.) As it turns out, Hard-Hearted Hannah, the vamp of Savannah (There's a Savannah in Australia, right?), has her own secret, which comes out right after the chicken attacks. Which, admittedly, isn't nearly as West Side Story as Verity's romance with the Covenant of St. George scout, but it does introduce a new dimension into the world.

I'll admit, changing setting and narrators really helped me like this series, since the last book went a bit off kilter towards the end. As stated above, the geography is a bit off, but while I assume the Gorgon enclave is probably more towards Amish country or further into Appalachia on the Eastern end of Ohio, but given it's near a swamp, I can't help but think that maybe it's really in southern Champaign county, near where I grew up. (Cedar Bog Fen, home to many Eagle Projects I worked on, is a swamp with a lot of area for the Gorgon enclave nearby.)

According to the end notes, The next book will also follow Alex, before switching back to Verity in book 5. Which is cool, since I rather like Alex. I kind of wish Book 5 would do more to introduce us to the third Price sibling, the often mentioned Antimony.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Just what we need, a Druish Princess.

When last we saw Atticus O'Sullivan, he was getting an old friend off an island in Tir Na Nog where time runs slower than it does for the rest of the world. Thus why Owen Kennedy, who should have died a few millennia ago, is still alive and berating Atticus. (Owen, who's real name involves symbols I can't find on my character map, is Atticus's Archdruid from back when Atticus became a druid.)

Owen has much catching up to do, particularly since he doesn't speak English or any modern language. which leads to much fish out of water comedy in the first part of then book. This improves after Owen hooks up with a werewolf and goes to Tir NaNog to present himself to Brighid, where he also delivers a message for Brighid that came from the Morrigan as he was put onto his time island.

Granuaile, in the meantime, is dealing with the witch who had possessed her earlier in the series. Laksha calls Granuaile with news of Gran's father. Seems Daddy has been taken over by a raksoyuj, and said possessor is summoning as many rakshasas as he can, creating a very strange plague in the area of India that Gran's father had been digging in. (i.e. people getting possessed by rakshasas and appearing to be very sick.) This plot line eventually leads Gran to the Himalayas to get a weapon of water magic, from one of the other supernatural races making minor appearances in this book.

Atticus's plot takes him through both Gran and Owen's plot, but detours into Japan for a meeting with Inara and her kitsune helpers. It's here that Atticus finds out about the 9 gods who are intervening with him to stop Ragnarok.

By the end of the book, not only have we met Durga on the Indian subcontinent, Hearne has redeemed his portrayal of Loki (in previous books, the freaking trickster archetype has been going full steam ahead with direct confrontation and blowing stuff up like a Die Hard movie. Which was annoying, particularly after his fabulous portrayals of Coyote earlier on in the series. In this book, we get some exposition that redeems to portrayal.), and we have a much better idea of what set the current story arc in motion and why. We also learn that have Bane sidhe written into a battle tends to create spoilers, since they wail out the doom of the fallen.

Something I'm noticing here that's becoming the formula for series urban fantasy is that it's like reading a long running D&D campaign after a while. We start with small confrontations that lead to boss fights. Then, as things progress and the characters become more knowledgeable, we begin to see a larger plot spread across the campaign, and may journeys to reach a finishing point. Perhaps this is a modern take on Campbell and his Hero of 1,000 Faces. But once you see the monomyth appearing, it becomes a case of how entertaining the telling of tail is.  In this case, Hearne is telling his version of the myth in a compelling and fun way. I look forward to seeing what the next volume brings.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Over the moon....

Once again, Simon R. Green has written the literary equivalent of jumping iover the moon to avoid the shark.

This time, Eddie Drood and Molly Metcalf have to solve who killed off all of the Department of the Uncanny (including his grandfather, the Regent of Shadows) and find the mysterious Lazarus stone that's currently Property of a Lady Faire. (Yeah, not sure what Bond title that's a play on.)

The Lady Faire in question is more or less Dr. Frankenstein's version of an incubus/succubus; s/he is a combination of genders and more or less exists as the ultimate honey trap. Seems that Eddie's Uncle, the Grey Fox, gave the Lady the Lazarus stone, which the person who killed everyone at the Uncanny wants back.

So, Eddie, (who was given another chance at becoming the Drood Patriarch if he gave up Molly) goes on a quest to find the Lady Faire, who's hosting a party for all her lovers past in Ultima Thule. Mind you, it takes 3/4 of the book to get there, including a detour in a place off of the Nightside to meet the Doormouse.


Like almost all of the books in Green's shared world, this is a quick read with lightning pacing. His cast of characters remain almost comical in their exaggeration, and his mythology is vastly entertaining. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

An honest man in Parliament

Paul Cornell's follow up to London Falling is one wild ride with a few surprises I wasn't expecting.

The Severed Streets brings us back to Quill, Costain, Sefton, and Ross (and in a more prominent role, their direct supervisor, Lofthouse), the detectives who have the "Sight", the ability to see quite a bit more of London than the average person. Things like demons, hell, spectres... you know, the invisible things trying very hard to kill everyone. At the end of the last book, we found out bits and pieces of an organization not there anymore that helped police the supernatural world, and were lead to assume that the fab 4 here (and Lofthouse) might become that group again.

Which doesn't exactly happen in this book. We do get some new concepts (the last book focused on "Remembering", this book focuses on "Ostentation"), we also get what I thought was a cameo by Neil Gaimen, who instead turns into a fairly major supporting player. (We'll come back to that here in a minute.)

The books opens with the British equivalent of Anonymous here in the States (in here, Toffs... I'm kind of wondering about the Toff masks, since Anonymous here wear Guy Fawkes masks. I'm curious what the Brits would wear... Nixon masks?) protesting outside Parliament While a Liberal Democrat MP tries to get through the crowd. We get a bit of his thoughts on compromise with the Tories (I had to look up a bit about them, since Tory here in the states usually connects with the Loyalists who didn't support the Revolutionaries), and then our PM encounters a Toff who somehow manages to get in the car without opening the door. Said Toff proceeds to butcher the MP in the backseat while the chauffeur sees about what Rod saw in the original Nightmare on Elm Street when Tina dies. (Which is to say, seeing the murder, but not the entity doing the murdering.)

This of course leads to Quill's team getting involved, which is made more difficult by rising austerity measures and cuts to public funding starting talk of a Police strike.

We find out Lofthouse knows some of what's going on, but doesn't have the Sight. She does, however, have a key charm on her bracelet that's implied to have something to do with her knowledge.

Quill's team's investigation takes them to a gathering of the Sighted, which reveals a split among interested parties. Seems two young bucks on the block (The Keel Brothers) are working on opening up the occult community to more people, and getting rid of the barter system in favor of money. (IE buying an object for Pounds sterling instead of a pint of blood.) It's here that Gaimen makes his first appearance, talking about how he was given the Sight by a fan.

Gaimen appears a few more times, explaining Ostentation (the idea that things have their own momentum... like protests getting bigger because of one or two Twitter posts entering the collective unconscious of the Toffs) and pointing out how his sight lead to the huge difference between the original BBC Neverwhere and the book that followed. (And if you haven't read the book, go do so now. I'll wait.)

Anyway, as the killer strikes a few more times, it gets wrapped into Jack the Ripper mythology (Without spoiling anything, Cornell does reveal his pick for the real Ripper in later chapters.), only this ripper strikes at rich white men.

The last third of the book plays around with time to a very large degree, as chapters go back a day or two at a time, revealing bits of story that need unveiled slowly.

We get much character development in here, from Ross (the only female on the team trying to find a way to free her father from Hell), to Costain (trying to find a way to avoid Hell), to Sefton (gay, and dating a nice, normal man), to Quill (who's wife's newspaper gets bought by a Rupert Murdoch type magnate. Or Randolph Hurst. More Murdoch though. His back story is very similar.) We also get a new character, The Rat King, who finds things lost in London who takes a bit of a shine to Sefton.

A few notes here: This setting is kind of like Lovecraft writing Narnia books. You can tell Gaimen influenced the writing here, and a note at the end does acknowledge Gaimen's approval. (Which is good, since Gaimen the character is kind of shady in a few spots.) Also, even though The Smiling Man (a shadowy antagonist from the first book) is in here, he's even more in the background in this one. He's quite a bit like the Cigarette Smoking Man on The X Files

Really good read, and much more cohesive than the last book.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

He should have called it Reservoir Wizards....

I'm a bit behind on posting this, but it's been a very busy week.

So, Skin Game, Jim Butcher's newest installment in the ever expanding Dresden Files, has our wizard narrator and Winter Knight, Harry Dresden, working with old foe Nicodemus.

Due to Mab owing Nic a favor, Harry gets dragged into the heist from Hell. Almost literally. The book jacket gives away as much, Nicodemus needs Dresden's help to spring the Holy Grail from Hades' vault. (Yes, THAT Hades. Whose brief appearance is still better than Disney's portrayal. And includes yet another take on Persephone.)

But, before any of that happens, we have almost 2/3 of the book just preparing for the heist. Given that the team is made of several amoral to downright evil people, there gets to be much moral ambiguity in people's actions here. Which I assume helps bring out Harry's struggle with Winter's Mantle, but really just made me wish they'd hurry up and break into the vault. (I mean, it's good reading, but many of the conversations during downtime seem to be Waldo Butters and Karrin Murphy discussing whether or not Harry is the same man he was prior to dying and coming back. That and a few dream sequences.

But once they actually get to the vault, the pace picks up and the entire thing goes off the rails in ways that only Butcher seems to be able to pull off. (Simon R. Green does similar, but he starts off the rails and the question becomes where is this train going to land?)

Like any good heist, there are crosses and double crosses, and not everyone is who they seem to be. There's a large twist towards the end which pretty much comes off as Deus ex Machinae, but even that doesn't really make it a bad read. Like most of the Dresden Files, it's not exactly undying prose, but Butcher spins a good and entertaining yarn that makes for a good few days of reading.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

God save the King of N'awlins

Zoë Norris has issues. Most of which stem from the events of her debut in Mur Lafferty's  The Shambling Guide to New York City (reviewed here). Her boyfriend is slowly becoming a zombie, her best friend is missing, she can't get a grip on her new powers...oh, and she has to take the new ghost train overnight from New York to New Orleans to get started on the next Shambling Guide, this one focused on New Orleans, natch.

The trip gets off to a rocky start, mainly because non-human coterie members are the only ones allowed in first class. Zoëtists, thralls, and other humans (coterie or not), have to sit in coach. And unlike the non-humans, the club car only serves a few varieties of soft drinks. Her subordinates therefore are sitting in first class, while Zoë and Arthur (the boyfriend, along for the ride because his sister destroyed his supply of "prevent me from becoming a zombie" herbs thinking they were marijuana, and therefore he needs to go find his supplier's supplier, the Doyenne) are sitting in less wonderful seats. Arthur, of course, takes Benedryll and sleeps through Reynard (another city talker) making strange conversation with Zoë, a little girls zoëtist playing with her golems, and a ghost train robbery attempted by real ghosts. Real ghosts who died during a corporate training event that left them dressed as cowboys for all eternity.  Since ghosts can be corporeal on ghost trains, this gets problematic when the guns start going off.

Things keep escalating in the Big Easy. At least two characters have connection to Freyja, who went missing in NOLA a few centuries ago. Japanese demons attack the party. A god of disease shows up. (He's actually one of the best new characters in this.)

Really, this one is an improvement over the first one, which got bogged down in the climatic battle of New York. (It was till a heck of a lot of fun.) The characters have some room to grow, a larger plot is being hinted at, geekery is on display (Zoë plays in a D&D 3.5 campaign based out of North Carolina via Skype), and best of all, Zoë so far has managed to escape from some of the worst romantic tropes that tend to infect Urban Fantasy.

I really look forward to the next one, hinted around as being London.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

There's a plot in there somewhere...

I have yet to figure out why the blurb on the library suggestion list drew me to Simon Morden's Arcanum. It's alternate history, it involves Middle Ages Germanic peoples, and has bunches of Norse mythology at its core.

The setting itself is interesting. We're in Carinthia, a southern German country backed up on the Alps in the south, Bavaria to the North and East, and the protectorate of Wien North and West of Carinthia. The Romans never converted to Christianity (For all practical purposes, Christianity never happened. The author notes that to keep it fair, in this time line, a prophet never appeared in Arabia in the 900's to found another Abrahamic faith. Given a bit of discussion is glossed over about control of Jerusalem between the Arabs, the Byzantines, and Rome.... I think that would be a much more interesting book to read. Without religuion fueling it, why fight over the city?), and therefore our German speaking characters are worshiping Wotan, Thor, and the rest of the Norse pantheon. Carinthians rely on the Hexmasters of the White Tower to destroy enemies with magic. Therefore, taxes get split 50/50 between the Hexmasters and the Throne. Jews exist in this timeline, and start out in the book living in Jews Alley in the principle town of Juvavum.

The book starts with one Peter Büber, Huntmaster for Prince Gerhard V, checking the passes to see if the snow has melted enough to allow overland trade. While it's close, and should be open by the time he returns to Juvavum, he still has to fight off giants that came down to attack a trade delegation from the Doge of Venizia. Thus begins our tale, with giants. Upon his return to Juvavum, Büber meets with apprentice librarian Frederik Thaler, mainly to drop off a contraband magic item. Namely, a unicorn horn. Thaler has his own concerns, namely a missing book of Euclid's that one Aaron Morgenstern bought, but did not receive. Morgenstern's daughter, Sophia, has her own role to play in all of this, but that all comes later in the book.

See, we find out a few chapters in that Ragnarok has evidently occurred, because magic no longer works. There are exactly 2 folks who seem to retain magic, one by sacrificing children and the other through pure talent. None of which save Prince Gerhard from death fighting off Teutons, who's glorious leader he had pressed. Which leaves his 13 year old son, Felix on the throne, and being advised by a Machiavellian Swordmaster from Milano named Allegretti.

Every section of the book is a war, as folks try to figure out how to do things without magic and prevent invasion from other sources. As magic goes away, the Dwarfs grow into human size and the giants shrink.

And no where in here is a cohesive plot. Yeah, we get scenes of various conflicts, but it never really gels into a compelling narrative. It's a bit like an episode of ER where the ER shuts down due to plague quarentine and the staff outside continue surgery in the parking lot. While related, there's no real compelling cohesion among the elements.

While the characters are mostly likeable and well fleshed out, it's hard to find an emotional attachment with any of them, particularly since the narrative keeps switching between them every chapter.

At 735 pages, it's also a bit bloated. It's a good read that will hold attention, but the flavors never mesh well, leaving the palette craving something more...

Monday, May 12, 2014

F-Trope.... er Troop!

So, the library recommended The Troop by Nick Cutter in one of its monthly recommended reading e-mails.

To say I was a bit disappointed would be an understatement.

The basic setup is 5 Scouts go camping on uninhabited Falstaff Island off the north coast of Prince Edward Island. We have Scoutmaster Tim leading this glorious expedition. We have Kent, the Sheriff's son, who's the nominal leader of the boys. We have Max, son of the coroner, and his best friend Ephraim, who's dad is in jail. We have Newton, the fat geek who's the group scapegoat, and we have Shelley, who's the slow one in the group.

A few pages in, we also get The Hungry Man, who shows up at the cabin emaciated and begging food from Scoutmaster Tim. Tim also is a General Practitioner on PEI, so he attempts to treat the emaciated man who's pretty much eating everything. And I do mean everything.

Without getting too deep in to the plot here, what follows is finding out The Hungry Man is basically a human test of the Two Pill Diet, involving swallowing a genetically altered tapeworm. Problem being said Hyatid pretty much takes over and starves the patient in around 24-72 hours. (The book never gets into too much detail, although one of the infected goes about 48 hours in the narrative after infection.)Meanwhile, intermittent documentation recorded after the events of the main narrative fill in blanks on what's actually going on. Including the complete quarantine of Falstaff Island, thus cutting off most of the escape routes.

So, given the Scoutmaster is one of the first to fall, this gives us the whole Lord of the Flies vibe mentioned in most reviews, as the pubescent boys struggle with the new situation.

Now, Steven King wrote a big old cover blurb for the book, talking about how much he loved it, and the author does say he borrowed some of the structure from Carrie. (Mainly the documentation between chapters.) However, Carrie isn't the only King influence here; about midway through the book one of the characters more or less becomes a transplanted Patrick Hockstetter from It. Seriously, with a few very minor changes, the characters are interchangeable.

The horror is visceral. Blood splatters everywhere and quite frequently. The documentation about the origin of the worms reveals a few things that add a bit of paranoia to the proceedings. But honestly, most of the scares hinge on the whole "Children losing their innocence" that King loved back in the day. (Children of the Corn, It, etc.) And that just doesn't scare me. Nor does the little serial killer in training sub plot, since, as I said, it was done better in another book by another author.

The satire in using the modified Hyatid as a diet plan, on the other hand, is amusing. After all, people do worse to their bodies to lose weight. Just not quite as quickly as what happens in The Troop.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The cold never bothered me anyway....

I'm really debating how to go about this review, since it's a case of enjoying a book, but finding faults with it all the same.

Christopher Golden is an engaging writer, and I've liked most of his stuff that I've read. The problem I keep running in to when I read his stuff is that alienation is a recurring and heavy theme. Unlike Brian Keane and his nihilistic writing, Golden's writing tend to read like My Chemical Romance in prose form. Seriously. It's not hard to picture his characters in a bad Lifetime movie about secret cutting.

Anyway, Snowblind Enjoins us in Coventry, Massachusetts, at the outset of a fairly major blizzard. We meet several characters, most of whom die. Including little Issac, who tells his brother Jake about the ice men dancing outside the window before being pulled through the window to his untimely death.

Cut to 12 years later as another blizzard starts coming in. And people who lost family 12 years ago get tense, and other people in their lives start acting very strange.

At which point the book becomes It crossed with The Returned. Because the folks who died 12 years ago are mostly possessing bodies of other people in town, hiding from the ice men. And of course, the dead are trying to tie up loose ends in the middle of a horror story.

It's readable, and fun, but most of the characters are one dimensional, entire personalities defined by who they lost 12 years ago and how they felt about that person.

I realize Golden wrote for comic books prior to his novel career, and it shows. The writing is very visual, but the characters remain mostly flat. All in all, worth getting from the library, although this isn't one I'd be inclined to buy.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Left me breathless.

While I was dealing with Dan Simmons back in March, I started some research into Everest, mainly in an attempt to get a better idea of what he was going on about. Bits of that lead into the 1996 disaster on the mountain, which in turn lead to Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer.

For those who don't remember, on May 10th and 11th, 1996, three expeditions attempted to summit Mount Everest from the Nepal side. (There was also a team ascending from Tibet, but they evidently didn't summit. Their fate, however, was just as bad.)

Jon Krakauer was on one of the 3 Nepalese-side expeditions that summited during this period, having joined Rob Hall of New Zealand's Adventure Consultants for the long journey to the roof of the world. (Jon was/is writing for Outside magazine, who ponied up the cash for Jon to go. They did this partially by giving Rob Hall advertising in the magazine for a reduced fee. Which, given the amount spent on equipment, permits, travel, Sherpas etc. adds up to be more cash than I'll ever see at one time.)

Krakauer suggests at the outset of the narrative that half of what he wanted to discuss was the severe danger of overcrowding on the mountain, as more and more people trying to make summit attempt in a very small window presented by the weather as the typhoon moves in and the jet stream moves out. Also, given that anyone with the money can buy a chance at the summit, regardless of experience or fitness.

Not that it still happens at all in the new millennium, as this photo by SubinThakuri
(published by National Geographic) shows. (Yep. That's the line to the summit in 2012
on the Hilary Steps on the way from the south summit to the summit.)

Rob Hall's Adventure Consultants is one of three expeditions at the base camp planning on a summit attempt on May 10th. Another, Mountain Madness, is being lead by Hall's friend and competitor Scott Fischer. The third, which, like the South African expedition, weren't really interested in participating in negotiations on which teams would be trying for summit when, was the Taiwanese group. (The South African group get almost a full chapter devoted to their drama. Which has to do with names not being listed on the permit, passports of countries other than South Africa, and the leader being something of a fascist dictator. And not in the way a mountain guide should be.)

I should mention here that the book starts with Krakauer waiting at the top of the steps after summiting trying to descend back down to Camp IV, only to be delayed by the number of folks climbing up the steps. (See above, although the picture above is a few more people than what Krakauer is faced with.)

Most of the first half of the book is devoted to travel to Everest from Kathmandu and the acclimatization process employed by Hall to keep his clients from passing out and dying even with oxygen at the higher camps. (Which mainly seems to involve climbing up to various camps, staying for some period of time, then returning to base camp.)  A few of the expeditions attempt the summit in the days preceding the May 10th attempt Hall and Fischer's groups are shooting for. Due to weather, none of those groups make it. However, as May 10th rolls around, the weather looks good and both Hall and Fischer's groups roll out at some ungodly hour of the morning to begin a summit attempt. (As a fun sidebar to this, David Breashears had a group recording an IMAX movie of their attempt, and they got involved in the issues happening higher up. As such, if you watch Everest: IMAX, you get to see live shot footage of some of the events in this book.)

Krakauer and a few others from Adventure Consultants and Mountain Madness manage to summit fairly early, well before the 2PM turn around set by Hall. (The idea being, for safety concerns, no matter how close to the summit you are, at 2PM you turn around and head back to Camp IV.) This is in spite of a few missteps along the way, such as two portions of the summit route not being roped before climbers arrive. (This is largely placed at the feet of Sherpas from the different groups being mad at each other and refusing to work together.) 

Which brings us back around to the book's opening. Except now we hear from one of the climbers, a former airline pilot, that the clouds rolling in on the path look to be thunderheads. And thanks to a confused guide at the south summit (given the conditions, probably suffering with hypoxia), no one thinks there's any more oxygen waiting at the south summit for the climb down to the South Col.  There are also people still ascending even as the thundersnow rolls in, creating a nightmare blizzard of zero visibility. (I'm skipping bunches of stuff in here in the name of keeping it short.)

So, basically, even as Krakauer passes out from exhaustion and lack of oxygen, people are getting quite stranded trying to get up and down the path from Camp IV and the Summit.  (Among other issues, somehow, one client, Doug Hansen, had failed to summit the past year. That the guides got him to the summit at 4PM, much later than the turn around time didn't help. Doug and two of his guides died about 500 feet from each other around the South  Summit. It's assumed that Doug and Andrew "Harold" Harris managed to pall off the ridge. Hall died a few days later of exposure. Fischer died in the same general vicinity.) 

Now, the remains of the two non-Taiwanese groups that were still alive and not stuck above the South Summit did manage to get down to the South Col and get stuck in zero visibility away from Camp IV. Of these, only one died of exposure. Beck, who was part of the Adventure Consultants group, was left for dead, woke up the next morning and walked into camp. He almost died again, but was managed to get down to Camp II at the top of the Western Cwm, where they managed to land a helicopter to get him evacuated. 

Again, we're skipping a lot of narrative here. 

Most of the disaster portion of the book is centered around survivor guilt, for lack of a better term. what Krakauer could have done to save people if he;d been in better condition. (For instance, in his hypoxia, Krakauer managed to mistake a 130 pound American for a 200 pound New Zealander guide. Thinking the guide had returned safely to camp, he reported it as such. Then he found crampon tracks leading off the Lhotse face that he thought might have belonged to the guide. Found out those belonged to one of the Sherpas who'd overshot the Col. Come to find out the guide had gone to find Hall and Hansen to deliver more oxygen.)

Anyway, Adventure Consultants managed to lose 4 of the 6 members who summited. Mountain Madness managed to lose one guide, who happened to be the owner. On the other side of the mountain, 3 Indo-Tibetan climbers managed to die. Including one who now has the ignominious role of landmark and the nickname Green Boots.

Green Boots, as photographed by 
Dominic Goff, published in Smithsonian

There were other fatalities that season, but the 8 killed in one day was something of a record. Although, as Krakauer points out, the grand total of 12 fatalities for the 1996 Spring climbing season is lower than normal. 
I knew from previous research that there was a bit of controversy with Into Thin Air, mainly with his portrayals of Mountain Madness guide Anatoli Boukreev, and to a lesser extent, socialite climber Sandy Hill Pittman. In fact, Boukreev and a partner (Gary DeWitt) wrote a rebuttal titled The Climb. The rebuttal to this rebuttal makes up an postscript in Krakauer's book. 
For my part, I'm not a climber. The closest to high altitude I've made it involves a trip to Colorado at a much younger age. I will say that I understand why Krakauer thinks Boukreev was in the wrong for not using oxygen and descending well ahead of any of the folks he was supposed to be guiding up to the summit. But, oddly enough, had Boukreev done that, he likely would have died with the others above the South Summit instead of being able to run search and rescue in the storm. By all accounts, Boukreev and Krakauer had reached detente prior to Boukreev's death in an avalanche on Annapurna I in 1997.

Really, I enjoyed this book. It makes an interesting companion to Everest: IMAX, since thinks glossed over in one are discussed more thoroughly in the other. And particularly in light of the current Sherpa strike in Nepal, it's quite interesting to see how long the problems have been here, and how few answers are available that would actually be feasible.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Still in Hollywood

So, Walter Jon Williams' most recent Dagmar Shaw entry has less to do with Dagmar than the last two books, but oh, wow, what a read. The Fourth Wall mostly concerns Sean Makin (who narrates most of the book in First Person Present tense. (which seems to be a thing anymore, since several of the more recent books post on here have used the same device to build tension.)

Sean, whom we meet as he's wrestling in cottage cheese against another former child star, used to star in an 80's era sitcom called Family Tree with a tagline of "Whatever lifts your luggage." However, following a less severe career trajectory than say, Dana Plato, still leaves him in a financial crater of sorts, thus why he's on the wondrous Celebrity Pit Fighter reality show.

Long story short: despite laws designed to prevent it, his mom and dad more or less walked away with the majority of his enormous earnings from Family Tree. Dad mainly spent it on scams and gambling, while Mom spent money getting closer to her guru, who she thinks is an incarnate God.

His agent, who's pretty much the only rep willing to touch him, sets him up with an offer from on Dagmar Shaw, who's producing a new kind of serial movie. The idea being that the plot branches at the end of every installment based on what the viewer chooses.  Viewers would then be encouraged to share versions, since, with only one branch per device, people would want to see what they missed out on. (It should be pointed out Dagmar is pregnant with Ismet's baby now.)

Anyway, there's much less emphasis on the ARG in this installment, beyond Sean signing up for one early on and getting strange phone calls from one of the characters. Sean's blog also becomes part of the Game created to promote Escape to Earth, as well as providing insight into Sean's life story. (Mind you, we really only find out about some of his worst moments through the regular soliloquies throughout. Like how his test run for a DUI comeback attempt derailed when a friend of his died as he was trying to engineer a crash for himself. Or how he sold video of a younger pop star having a melt down to a tabloid to make money.)

Throughout the course of the narrative, we get a rather cynical look at fame and Hollywood, reality show competition fixing, and several murders. Oh yes. while Dagmar faced small amounts of danger in the last book, Sean gets to deal with a psychotic devotee of his mother's guru, a black SUV that tries to run him down a few times, and many of the cast and crew dying not long after their part in the movie is finished.

Oh yes, Sean is a trouble magnet. And that's half of what makes him so fun to read. I look forward to any future installments, since this series is quite engaging and fun.

Now, as I was reading this, I was reminded of another series, which in turn may be mentioned later this week when and if I get around to doing a survey/synopsis on gay mystery series.

The Actor's Guide series by Rick Copp also involves mysteries being solved by a semi employed former child star. Namely, one Jarrod Jarvis of Go To Your Room! and "Baby, don't even go there!". His career decline starts with him making out with another guy at a rodeo, thus the whole gay mystery thing. Again, it's full of Hollywood cliches, and lots of gay references, but the books themselves are fun to read, and worth trying to find on Amazon. (There's only 3. Murder, Adultery, and Greed.)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Moving right along

The Great A'Tuin moves. On his back, 4 Elephants. (There was a 5th elephant, but it crashed in Uberwald and left fat deposits.) And on the elephants' trunks, a flat surface with hub and rim.

Yep, Terry Pratchett released the 40th installment of Discworld, Raising Steam, in which Moist van Lipwig (Of Going Postal and Making Money fame) gets to help start Discworld's first railroad. Not that he's alone in this, as just about everyone from Ankh-Morpork makes at least a cameo in the course of the narrative. We also get a peek at how politics on the disc have evolved following the events of both Thud! and Snuff, which is to say the truce between the dwarfs and the trolls still holds and goblins are quickly becoming a civilized race. (In fact, it turns out the goblins love technology, and have become adept at running clacks towers as well as helping with the railroad. Also, Adora, Moist's wife, is doing for the goblins what she did for the golems. Looking out for their rights and protecting them from exploitation.)

As Lord Vetinari is involved in the railroad building (essentially making sure Moist is protecting the city's interest in it), politics ensues. Beyond the normal stuff (the railroad connecting with the Sto-Lat plains allows for urban flight to happen to a degree), we also get to deal with the grags (Dwarven fundamentalists) who remain unhappy about how Dwarf culture is evolving. This leads to burning down Clacks towers, sabotaging the railroad as the Uberwald Express comes rushing through, and also usurping the Scone of Stone while the king is in Quirm having parley with the Diamond King of the Trolls.

As this is Discwrld, there's a heck of a lot going on. As usual, Pratchett (and probably his daughter*) does a marvellous job of balancing several different story lines, from the Goblin workforce to the sentient locomotive engine, from Moist selling the railway to Blackboard Monitor Samuel Vimes. (Sadly, the witches don't show up, although Nanny Ogg is mentioned in passing as visiting the Lancre Clacks towers.)

To go too far in depth with the plot would ruin the book for folks. so let's leave it at Although Moist is not among my favorite characters in the Disc, Raising Steam is still an exciting ride that advances Discworld into 19th centure fantasy technology.

*Pratchett has Alzheimer's dementia, sadly. By all accounts, his daughter Rhianna is poised to continue the series when Sir Terry reaches a point where he can't write.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A Hollow Ending

In what's supposed to be, I think, the last book in Kim Harrison's The Hollows series (The Undead Pool), we get to see Rachel Morgan deal with Elvish religion in the only way she knows how.

We begin with Rachel, day walking demon who started off as an Earth witch, working security for Trent, the elf who's father developed a cure of sorts for Rosewood disease. Trent wants to date Rachel, but really can't because of his impending nuptials to Elizabeth, the elf who's acting as mother to two elven babies in Trent's care.

Then things start exploding.

As the book progresses, we find that Living vampires in league with the Dewar elves are using bits of the elvish goddess to knock out the Undead vampire, which is causing chaos with any form of magic. (It's a very convoluted plot.)

As an ending, it works, I guess. It's not nearly as bad as the epilogue Charlaine Harris gave her Southern Vampires, and thankfully, Harrison hasn't dragged the Hollows out the way Laurell K. Hamilton has dragged out Anita Blake.

There are things I really like in here. I love the idea of the elvish goddess being less a being than a collection of infinite awareness that form a kind of hive mind. I love that she's managed to give the cast a spot in here without having to shoehorn in stragglers.

There are things I wasn't as fond of, since Rachel and Trent's relationship over the course of the series is a bit like the early seasons of Moonlighting. You know, frenemies. In this book, it seems more than a little forced.

There's also some fairly uncharacteristic erotica slipped in the middle third. While the series has used sexual tension quite effectively, it normally doesn't delve that deeply into the play by play. On the bright side, it's as awkward for the characters involved as it is for the reader. (This is not some other series, where the sex is always mind blowing and perfect. This is much more of the "I just got an elbow in my face" variety.)

If this is indeed where Rachel's story ends, I'll miss her. If it's not, hopefully Harrison has a way to rekindle the magic after such a fairly final end.