Thursday, December 31, 2015

Who you gonna call?

I'm under the distinct impression that Forces From Beyond (or Bayonne, if you're from Jersey) is the last of Simon R. Green's Ghost Finder novels. It's actually a satisfying way to end it, explaining one whole heck of a lot of what's been going on over 6 novels and finally revealing what happened during JC's confrontation with Fenrir Tenebre back in book 1.

In this, we start with a haunted hotel room that confronts people staying inside with their own life purpose or lack thereof. After providing some team building for the Finders, we then move to a Carnacki Institute convention where we find out Lattimer (who runs the Institute) has decided to team up our heroes with their counterparts in The Crowley Project, since the physical location of The Flesh Undying has been found in the Atlantic Ocean.

The death of all the convention attendees, Lattimer being replaced as head, and a confrontation with the Faust winds us up on a boat floating over the Flesh with the overall plan being dropping JC, Melody, and Happy down in the depths in a bathysphere.

Anyway, there are quite a few revelations along the way, as Green does his darndest to wrap up multiple plot lines.

As I keep saying, if you've read any of his other work, you have an idea what you're in for when you crack open the first page. But he does so with skill and panache.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Wild Horses couldn't drag me away

Closer to the Heart by Mercedes Lackey is a better read than its predecessor in the Herald Spy series. Among other things, she's not twisting around a pre-existing story.

Mags and Amily are getting married. Finally. Not that the course of a big ceremonial wedding ever runs smooth, particularly in fantasy.

A civil war in Menmellith has broken out when the new king (at the age of 10) is having issues with an uncle trying to take the throne. Problem being the Uncle is using Valdemarian weaponry, thus making sure everyone gets split apart before the big day to prevent a war with a neighboring country.

It's fast, it's fun, and if you've read any of the other Valdemar books, you already have an idea of what you're going to get.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Magical politics makes for strange bedfellows

Alex Verus has a problem. Not only is his former Master back from where ever he'd vanished off to, but most of Light society seems to think he's still appretinced to Richard.

As part of image rehab, Alex contacts his sort of friend, the Keeper Caldera, to see about becoming an auxiliary keeper. Which is great, until he winds up getting attacked by a mute air mage assassin on the outskirts of London while investigating some kind of disturbance.

As he digs deeper into the case (as well as learning that the Keepers are less like pulp novels and more "Well, that's done, what's the next case?"), he gets caught in bigger webs of Magical politics involving the unbending Levistus on the Light side and the machinations of Richard on the Dark side.

In the center, with a loose data focus, is an independent organization, White Rose. White Rose, while run by Dark mages, caters to all factions of mage society, as long as they're willing to pay. Services include prostitution as well as things straight out of Hostel. Given the organization's access to conditioning techniques, you can sort of imagine what's involved here.

The conflict comes in that a few factions of the Light mage Council don't want the records revealled, lest their lily white image be tarnished. Dark mages, on the other hand, are using it as leverage to gain a seat on the Council.

It's quite ugly, and the Byzantine politics of the situation make it seem like a spy novel on speed in places.

Unrelated to the main plot line, Luna has a new trainer, who happens to be a Dark mage. While we meet her only briefly, it would seem that she will play a larger role in the ongoing metaplot.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Straight on til morning

While The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher is not a new Dresden File, it's still one heck of a lot of fun. (To be fair here, Butcher's Codex Alera was also quite good, even without a modern wizard narrator.) And hey, I'm not Annie Wilkes; I'm sure waiting a while for a new novel in either series will be fine.

Anyway, setting: We're on an unnamed planet covered in mist, where humanity lives on on giant spires with Habbles (giant platforms) holding residents at various heights up and down the spire. Most of this particular book is set on Spire Albion, starting on Habble Morning (where most of the great houses are as well as the Spire's political head) and on Habble Landing, a double decker platform where most of the commerce in the spire transpires.

Great ships fly on Etheric currents, including Captain Grimm's privateering Predator. When we meet Captain Grimm, he's busy trying to privateer a Spire Aurora merchant ship which turns out to be a dreadnought in disguise. Badly damaged, Grimm conscripted into service for the Spirearch. Not before we learn hints of his shady past, however. Seems Grimm got drummed out of the fleet for cowardice, although it's alluded that there's a heck of a lot more to the story. On his way to meet the Spirearch, however, he gets attacked in the ventilation tunnels by some kind of surface creature, which in turn introduces us Master Ferus and his apprentice, Folly. The two are etherealists, two folks who interact with ether in ways that most normal humans don't. They're also slightly mad.

Rounding out the eventual troupe in service to the Spirearch, we have Benedict and his cousin Gwen, as well as Bridget and her feline companion Rowl. Benedict and Gwen are of House Lancaster, which grow the etheric crystals that power pretty much everything in the setting. Bridget is of the lesser house Tagwynn, which grows meat. Rowl is a cat, with his own set of house rules that really don't involve the Human houses. Benedict is Warriorborn (or half-souled in the cat's terms), which seems to convey feline characteristics, greatly increased metabolism, and increased strength, dexterity, and stamina. (For D&D folks, he's a min/maxed twink.)

Spire Aurora ends up sending in a landing of Marines as an expeditionary force to recover certain items as well as cause chaos. While the leader Espinoza seems to be a fairly normal guy, the real leader, Madame Cavandish, is an etherialist who once apprenticed under Ferus. Her lunacy is a strict adherence to polite manners, thus making her likely to destroy people for not offering tea during parlay.

There's a heck of a lot going on, as the party winds up on Habble Landing trying to find the Aurorans as well as the plots of the Auroroans themselves, with the bulk of the book being pretty much about 24 hours of time. We get glimpses of possible future romances between the principles, as well as a vision of a greater evil through Folly's visions.

As stated above, I rather enjoyed this, even if Steampunk isn't my usual thing. But, as usual, Butcher delivers a strong plot, engaging narrative, and characters who are breaking out of the stereotypes they start out in. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

So sayeth the shepherd!

Before I start discussing Chris Sauter's The Flock, I must use a warning I've only ever had to do one other time on here. I know the author. Take this review with that in mind.

At it's most basic, the plot of this one can be summed up as "Gay boy in his senior year of High School falls in lust with nonreciprocating straight boy and starts a cult just to seduce him." Because essentially, that's what much of the first half concerns. Our narrator, Cole, now 17 years on from leaving the cult, is married to Remy (technically, with the timeline, they got married in CA before the Prop 8 business, so it wasn't recognized where they were), and losing his hearing due to cholesteatoma. As we start, Cole receives a nasty story about a guy with the same condition who eventually becomes invisible to the world at large.

Then other "gifts" arrive. Like a jacket left behind at an abandoned apartment that burned down with the jacket in it. This gets Cole to start blogging about both the gifts and his history which keeps coming up from the stuff he's receiving. We learn of the first boy he ever loved, who died, who later contacted Cole via Ouija board during what sounds a bit like a date rape scenario if not something more nefarious.

Anyway, Cole meets a guy in art class, falls in lust, that basically uses fake trance possession to increase Joe's interest in him. Which works, probably better than Cole expected, particularly when people start hanging out with cole just to get some of his channeled information from such characters as Jaques, the 18th Century French drunk or Erina, the succubus.

Then he starts channeling Beelzebub, or BB for short. BB helps set up the theology that gets The Flock rolling, and sets down the "rules" of the new religion, most of which are designed to further entrap Joe. Let's see if I can sum up the theology a bit here to give you an idea. God the creator created the world then went to sleep, waiting for his creation to catch up and join him. Beelzebub was the true antagonist, his fame usurped by Lucifer Morningstar. Beelzebub is the limit on the human soul, and true ascension is accomplished by not having limits. Cole is the Prophet, one of the few who can speak for the Creator. Joe is his chosen. Acts of heterosexuality create bodies, acts of homosexuality create souls. The Messiah will be born of two fathers and one mother, aka, Cole and Joe will father the soul, and eventually one of them will father the child.

See how well that one's going to play out?

Cole eventually fakes a few prophecies (more so than usual) as pat of an end game so he can go to college. Mind you, by this point, the core group of The Flock has more or less started living communally and finding ways around the law.

Of course, the fake prophecies come true, even though those fulfilling them and Cole all know it was faked.

This all goes really south about the halfway point, when (not a spoiler, since Cole pretty much tells you from the beginning) Joe hangs himself after a rather ugly lovers spat.

At the halfway point, Mr,. Sauter does something that would make Nick Mamatas proud. (Long story short, I once submitted a story to Mr. Mamatas. His advice was put the twist in the middle instead of the end.) And we get a really large twist at the separation of Parts 1 and 2, wherein The Prophet winds up returning to the cult he founded 17 years prior. And meets the Messiah.

We'll leave the synopsis there, since most of the rest of the book is a gradual unspooling of what's been going on behind the scenes for the past 17 years, followed by another twist toward the very end.

So, boys and girls, let's instead discuss the themes like good English students.

It seems most folks realize Cole's faking the possessions and the prophecies, but believe in him anyway. How are we doing this in our own lives?

Fate verses Free Will plays a part in this, since some of the groundwork suggests a longer play going on in the background that Cole more or less becomes a figurehead in. Where is the balance?

The narrator is the very definition of unreliable. How much of the narrative, including the seemingly coerced parts in the second half would you believe to be true if reading it as non-fiction?

The narrator's memories of events rarely syncs with other people's recollections of events. Compare this with Dali's "The Persistence of Memory".

Cole's narration is reminiscent of an addict recounting the bad things done while high. Which is to say bragging while begging foregiveness. How do you avoid such things?

By far, the only quibble I have with the entire book is that the timeline of when things go off the deep end seems a bit rushed. I mean, in the book, it plays out a natural pace, but honestly, looking at the time stamps, things go from "Hey, let's go live on a commune!" to "Hey, let's start killing people!" in the course of about 2 weeks to a month.

Also, I was under the impression that this was supposed to be fairly light. It's not. It's pretty much a psychological thriller, with an opening third that evoked a very visceral reaction from me.

I enjoyed reading this one. I'd recommend it to a few friends, but go in knowing forewarned that parts of it are very graphic in nature, and may cause some serious self examination.

(Another rarity on here: if you wish to get a copy, here's the Amazon listing .)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Break out the BBQ sauce

So, with World War Moo, Michael Logan returns readers to the Britain overrun by virus infected animals that essentially want to pass on infection via biting or sex.

Which is, of course, why Great Britain remains under forced blockade with no one getting in or out.

The zombies have set up BRIT, basically an ad hoc government to run things until the situation resolves one way or another, under Tony Campbell. Tony made a cameo in the first book, threatening to eat intrepid journalist Lesley McBrien during a televised interview. However, the Russians, Americans, and Chinese plan on using a series of nuclear weapons and planned invasion (Operation Excision) to eliminate the virus and make the Isle habitable for normal folks again.

On the islands itself, we have Ruan, who is immune to the virus, who ends up finding a group of infected who have learned to control the impulses associated with infection by sexual conduct, marijuana, and yoga. Unsurprisingly, Geldof Peterson's mother Fanny (who survived the pig stampede it seems) is running the resistance. This, of course, leads to Geldof and his grandfather hiring mercenaries to get her out. Geldof winds up going in with the mercs, because of course he does.

Tony, in the meantime is learning to control his viral urges by channeling Mr. Spock from Star Trek. Not easy, since a group named Blood of Christ is looking for ways to get the virus everywhere else, thinking it's G-d's judgement upon mankind. Tony is attempting two different plans to reconcile Britain with the world, one of which is dropping infected blood bombs on France via Britain's last remaining nuclear submarine, the other convincing people that Britain can control itself.

Lesley, bless her heart, winds up getting pulled in when she reposts about Operation Excision, then promptly gets extraordinarily renditioned (along with her source) to Scotland.

It's a little les subtle with its metaphores than the first book, and the rage virus seems to have been retooled for this one. But still, there are worse ways to spend reading.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

He's not lost anymore....

Well, I finished what as near as I can tell was Edward Lazellari's last Aandor book. Which is sad, since The Lost Prince was published in 2013, and ends without really resolving the ongoing crisis.

Which is fine, since it wraps up most of the Earth based business introduced in the first book.

But first, Lelani's spell to wake up the other guardian's hit during the prologue. Which introduces us to the Reverend, the Rock Star, the billionaire industrialist, and the English professor. (We find out the cook also recovered his memories, but we don't meet him until towards the very end.)

The Prince the book is named for is holed up in a trailer court in North Carolina Daniel, last seen fleeing Baltimore after killing his abusive step father, is more or less trapped with Colby, our literally heartless private detective, in Colby's sister's double wide, along with her 16 year old daughter.

Cal and Seth, on the other hand, on hot on his trail, although they get some help when Colby contacts them, after realizing the the antagonist wizard Dorn can't deliver on his promises.

In the meantime, the Billionaire Dwarv Malcolm (who's gay in the reality, since Dwarv women in Aandor are essentially men with female bits) is gathering those still in the New York city area at the Waldorf-Astoria. This includes Tim the minstrel (who fronts a popular rock band) and Balzac, the jester. Allyn, who's now a Christian minister with a wife and child, is also based in North Carolina, who also freaks out his congregation by using Clerical magic. As should not be a surprise to anyone, it's the reluctant Allyn who winds up saving Daniel during a rather large standoff between the Prince's guardians and his would be assassins, the later who have put out a rather large reward for his capture.

Eventually, we all end up back in New York, where Seth ends up making amends to people he'd hurt and eventually regains his ability to do wizard magic. Cat, Cal's wife, gets kidnapped, and despite being a lovesick ninny along the lines of Laurana in Dragonlance, does eventually get to go full Buffy.

We get a rather explosive final third was wizards duel from between the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building as flesh golems rise from the sewers and we find out who among the heroes betrayed the party.

The ending is satisfying, even if it does end on Earth, with Aandor left unseen. Even if the characters follow D&D archetypes, seeing that reinterpreted is terms of Earth translations is quite a bit of fun. Really, it's kind of like a reverse of Brook's Magic Kingdom of Landover.

I only wish he'd continued on.

Friday, October 23, 2015

A long long time ago in a galaxy far far away...

Let me preface this review of Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig by saying I never got into the Extended Universe (now Legends). I tried reading the Zahn books, but got about halfway through Heir before feeling like I was reading really pretentious and horrible fan fiction. I found out how they brought back Boba Fett and his sentient Sarlac and rolled my eyes. I played the old MMO Star Wars Galaxies, but never got into it, mainly because the timeline was so screwy.I recall playing Shadow of Empire on PlayStation, but even that smacked of silliness.

With that said, I picked up Aftermath because I read a bad review of it. I know this sounds odd, but someone was complaining quite vehemently about the inclusion of the GLBQAAT into the ostensibly white straight Star Wars Universe.

So yeah.

The one problem with not particularly breathing Star Wars is that without contextual clues, just saying X character is Twi'Leck doesn't help. Thankfully, Wendig does add in contextual clues, so when you meet Jas, a Zabrack bounty hunter, the horns and facial tattoos means she's one of Darth Maul's people.

Anyway, yeah, this is book one of an alleged trilogy fixing the timeline between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens and reclaiming the franchise from the horrors of the Extended Universe. As such, we're not focused on the original heroes (well, the ones from the classic trilogy) as much as we are new characters from both the New Republic and the remnants of the Empire. We do get vignettes throughout the main story giving glimpses at other worlds in the galaxy and what's happening there, and we get a brief visit with Han Solo and Chewbacca who are breaking Republic protocol to go help liberate Chewie's homeworld that I am so not going to try to spell again.

The main plot centers around the Outer Rim world Akiva, where Admiral Rae has assembled some of the last officers of the Empire to try to plot out where to go after the destruction of the Death Star and the end of Palpatine and Vader. Problem being Wedge Antillies stumbles across the meeting and gets captured. His distress call gets picked up by Norra, a Rebellion pilot who fought in the battle of Endor, who's come home to Akiva to get her son Temmin off the planet. Temmin is trying to take over territory from the local crime boss, and getting in deeper trouble by doing so. In the meantime, Jas, the bounty hunter, figures out exactly how many credits she can get after discovering that not only is the target she was after was on Akiva, but 5 other major bounties were there as well. In the process of assembling this disparate group, we also get Sinjer, a former Imperial loyalty officer who had a change of heart during the battle on Endor.

Ultimately, the book relies on ramped up coincidence and misinformation on everyone's part, with everyone believing that everyone else is getting fed information from an outside source. Which, as we find out at the end, they were, as someone we only meet as Admiral makes shadowy commentary worthy of Dr. Claw or Blofield. Also, in keeping with internet memes, Ackbar is back and still worried that taking part of the fleet to Akiva will be a trap.

By the way, the complaints about the queer characters seems a bit silly, since the lesbian couple who raised Temmin after Norra left to fly in the Rebellion exist mainly to provide exposition, and the other gay character mentions it once during the run up to break in to the Imperial meeting. It's not like any of them get graphic sex scenes right in the middle of the plot. for that, you'd be wating Mara Jade and Luke Skywalker's silliness in the EU.

When the next book comes out, I'll probably read it as well, since these are now canonical, but really, for me, Star Wars works better on a big screen with a bucket of popcorn in my lap.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Hello twelve, hello thirteen, hello nihilism

Long time readers on here will likely remember what a fan I was of R. S. Belcher's fantastic books set in 19th century Golgotha, Nevada. While I still hope he returns to Golgotha at some point, his more modern Nightwise is still a pretty good substituite for the weird Western.

Unlike Golgotha, here we're in a first person narrative, centered on one Laytham Ballard, a Wisdom out of West by-God Virginia. Well, sort of a Wisdom, since he's pretty much mortgaged part of his soul, doing drugs on the regular, and his Occult Rat pack is dissolved and dying off. One of his former cohorts, Boj lies dying of AIDS related complications in a Hospice, extracting a promise from Laytham to go after Dusan Slorzack, a Balkan bad guy who was responsible for many atrocities against Boj's wife.

Problem being that Dusan can't be found by any means, physical or mystical. And to be honest, someone really doesn't want him to be found. An investment banker with a tenuous link to Dusan winds up crucified in his office. That said investment banker is also part of the Illuminati isn't helping.

Which of course leads deeper down the rabbit hole, eventually involving a transgender Aborigine who runs a Nightclub in NYC, a hacker extrordinaire, the hacker's girlfriend, a gypsy girl with a touch of the power, and an acidmancer. (We're skipping a whole bunch of plot here, but....) We also get to meet a part fae girl who more or less acts as an intermediary to the gods. She gets a rather good line about discussing fan fiction with Etruscan gods of the harvest. Hell, even the Devil himself shows up at one point.

Based on my own readings into the subject matter, Belcher has done his research quite well into various occult practices of different cultures, which also came across in the Golgotha books. Ultimately, the takeaway here on his system of magic for this book is that will and intent matter much more than any particular system. Mind you, having Google translate handy for some of the Latin phrases Laytham uses as a focusing agent leads to some extra humor in a few places. (As an aside, I have to be amused that the idea of secret Occult knowledge can be found in a mass market paperback. Then again, a book can give you knowledge, but experience is how you learn what it really means.) also, some characters get mentioned who would make interesting additions to later installments, like the Twittermancer, who divines people 140 characters at a time.

Conspiracy theory also plays a large part in much of the plot. While Icke's lizard people don't show up, we get a alot about the Illuminati, the Masons, the US Treasury, 9/11.... In some ways, I felt like I was reading a novelization of someone's hand of Steve Jackson's Illuminati card game.

I enjoyed the ride with this one. It was kind of like reading an American version of a Simon R. Green novel, only with more drugs.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Don't poke the Deep Ones

Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory invites a lot of comparisons. Given the plot is basically a Lovecraft story with some Rime of the Ancient Mariner thrown in for flavor, this isn't overly surprising. However, what this mostly comes across as is Cabaret as directed by Charles Band during his Lovecraft movie making phase. Because, seriously, there are some hard tonal shifts depending on which character we're following around at any given point in time.

So, we start the book with the arrival of Harrison Harrison the 5th (Harrison Squared x 5) and his widowed mother in Dunnsmouth, Massachusetts, where she has intentions of tracking down giant squid in the Atlantic. Dunnsmouth is at the uvula of a crocodile shaped bay, has no cell phone reception, no cable TV, and no internet service. Communication is only available via land line, making is hard for adolescent Harrison to get by.

Dunnsmouth High School is a bit odd, since it's one of the oldest buildings in town. Practical Skills class, which is the first Harrison attends, involves making fishing nets. Math covers non-Euclidian geometry. History covers great gales of Massachusetts and how to be a Tyrant.

Mom, in the meantime, goes missing after dropping a buoy in the bay. We catch up with her dealing with the Scrimshander, who paints people's souls into his scrimshaw. (Scrimshaw being using whale bones and cartilage as a canvas for art.) That he's also a fish man helping his mother, The Toad Mother, find vessels to host Urgaleth's present to Earth when the Stars are Right in the near future isn't helping.

This is what I mean by tonal changes. The parts involving Harrison are quite tongue in cheek. The parts involving the Scrimshander are universally terrifying. Nothing like a giant fish man attacking with knives to pick up the tension.

Anyway, The students at Dunnsmouth attend Voluntary before school. Where they chant to Urgaleth and what ever gods belong to the Deep Ones. As such, there's a resistance group known as the Involuntaries who work to break up the cult. The core group includes a talking doll named Isabelle. The leader, however, is Harrison's sort of girlfriend Lydia, who's parents also met the Scrimshander. Lydia's Uncle owns the Albatross, the boat that rammed the lobster boat that Harrison's mother's ship.

Harrison also picks up help from the strange explorer who seems to live in the library, as well as Lub, a Deep One adolescent obsessed with comic books. Lub is a bit odd anyway, since he idolized Aquaman. Partway through, Lub discovers Manga and starts giving everyone the -san honorific.

For the most part, it works. The humor in the narrative provides a nice counterpoint to the horror going on outside the main narrative. Unlike Lovecraft, the horror is much more personal than existential. The human villains chew the scenery quite well, while the Deep Ones (while also somewhat amusing), are less villains and more creatures following their calling.

This book will not be liked by Lovecraft purists, but for those of you who enjoyed such schlock as Re-Animator and From Beyond, it will provide a good escape.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Brisket anyone?

A story before we begin this. On a previous library run, I ran across a display title named World War Moo. I examined it, and found out it was actually book 2 in a series, which leads me to today, wherein I get to tell you all about Apocalypse Cow by Michael Logan.

A few notes before we really dig in to such succulent, tender subjects. Evidently this won the Terry Pratchett Prize at one point, and Pratchett did indeed write the forward for it. And, honestly, much of the humor is straight out of early Discworld. I almost expected a Rincewind cameo at one point.

Mind you, the book isn't afraid to wallow in tropes like a pig would.

We start at a suburban abattoir outside Glasgow, Scotland. Something is amiss, as the place is burning to the ground. Someone mentions seeing something getting away in the shadows, but no one seems to think there's any real risk. Really, much of this conversation is straight out of Return of the Living Dead. 

We then switch to Geldof, a 14 year old boy named after noted bleeding heart Bob Geldof by his very militantly vegan mother Fanny. Fanny insists on everyone being completely vegan in her house, including Geldof wearing all hemp clothing, despite him being allergic to the stuff. Geldof's father, James, spends most of the book in a pot induced hazed. Geldof is being harassed by the neighbor twins (Malcolm and Tony), while secretly fantasizing about their mother Mary. Mary's husband, David, won the lottery prior to the beginning of the book, and delights in baiting Fanny about her dietary habits. The twins, using bully logic, are convinced that Fanny's dietary habits and PETA style activism are behind the deaths at the abattoir that killed their cousin, and convince Geldof to go cow tipping with them to avenge humanity on the bovine killers.

Before that happens, we meet Lesley, a journalist at the local paper. Lesley, in fact, is about to get fired, since she's not a good journalist. She also loathes her coworker Colin, who seems to be the star reporter. After Colin goes out for a few brews at the pub as a business lunch, Lesley intercepts a call meant for him from a recorded voice offering proof that the virus was British created, and not part of a terrorist conspiracy. Having no idea what the heck the voice is talking about, Lesley records it anyway and prepares to investigate to annoy her editor and coworker.

Then we meet Terry, who managed to escape the slaughter at the abattoir. Terry is confined to a bed in some kind of facility by one Mr. Alistair Brown, who wants to make sure Terry can't incriminate anyone.

Finally, back in the cow pasture, Geldof, Malcolm and Tony meet the first bovine monstrosity as they attempt to go tip a normal cow. For those of you who have seen 28 Days Later, it seems that the animals have been infected with something akin to the Rage virus, causing them to want to copulate and infect the other animals. Mind you, cows are herbivores, which just makes them eating people more painful.

At any rate, as the book progresses, we eventually find everyone in the same place, namely Geldof's house. This leads us in to the tropes of what do survivors who really don't like each other are forced to live together. And find food.

Followed by the inevitable escape sequence... Since the virus is limited to Great Britain, the group tries escaping to France via the Chunnel while being pursued by Mr. Brown. They also briefly wind up in a refugee camp. Along the way, the party whittles down a bit, as happens in these situations.

As is normal also, there's some social commentary thrown in different places. Part of the virus is an urge to copulate, thrown in by the male scientists. David spends mush of his time whining about the lack of meat and insulting the French for stopping British beef imports. Frannie is convinced the military evacuation is the start of the government enslaving its citizens and remains convinced that the virus is punishment for people eating animals and her veganism means the animals won't eat her. When we get to the French border, one character takes great offense at being called English, while the French guard (who owes much of his dialogue to Monty Python and the Holy Grail) takes offense to being called German.

While the book is not exactly original, it is funny in places and quite readable. It's much less nihilistic than say Brian Keene, although the humor is less Pratchett in places and more Wayans Brothers. But yes, I look forward to checking out the sequel.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Activate the OMEGA-13!

So, I technically finished Kim Harrison's The Drafter yesterday, but I'm still napping on and off from vacation, which is why I'm sitting here updating at the start of the weekend.

Harrison's Hollows series was fabulous, but it also got started kind of rough. I found myself having similar issues with The Drafter, as, while really entertaining and readable, there were a few places where another revision for better clarity would have been really welcome.

Anyway, the plot centers around Peri Reed, who works as a spy for the government agency Opti. Peri is fairly well off, driving a snazzy car and wearing really nice clothes. Peri also has the ability to Draft, which basically allows her to rewrite the last 30 seconds or so of history to change the timeline in her favor. As we open, she and her Anchor, Jack, are breaking into an office to get files from a corrupt business. (Anchors are folks who help ground a drafter after a draft... basically helping reconcile two very different timelines and helping drafters recover memories that they lose for various periods after a draft. About 1/3 of the way though, for instance, Peri loses 3 years.)

Anyway, the job goes bad, as someone who isn't supposed to be there confronts Jack and Peri with a list of corrupt Opti agents, all while claiming Peri's name is on the list.

Of course, Peri forgets most of this after drafting to prevent getting shot.

In the mean time, we also meet Silas, who works for the alliance. Silas also wants the list of corrupt agents as a way to bring down Opti once and for all. As the book goes on, we find that he and Peri also have a bit of a history together that she has no recollection of.

The plot is convoluted, but very entertaining, as Peri works with both factions, slowly recovering her old memories on the way to the finale.

The problem I kept running into was all the varying timelines, missing memories, and the fact that people were talking as the draft was going on only to have the timeline restart got very disorienting. It had a tendency to derail the narrative, depending on what's actually going on.

While the ending has all the hallmarks of spinning off into a new series, which might really help iron out some of the issues, it also ends in such a way that one doesn't really know where she;d go next.

As with her previous novels, her supporting characters, like Howard and Taf (two alliance members who help out Peri for part of the book) are probably the best parts of the book as a whole. One wishes they'd have had more to do throughout the course of the book.

Honestly, it's a fun read, but wow, I really wish she'd done one more revision.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Mmm, blood roses and silence.

Well, given Seanan MacGuire has like 3 other series going plus a few hundred other projects, I was kind of surprised to see a new October Daye novel appear recently. Very pleasantly surprised, but still, surprised.

So anyway, long story short, mainly because I'm starting my vacation tomorrow and I have to be up early, October and crew wind up traveling from Mists in San Francisco to Silences in Portland after Silences declares war on Mists. Complicating this is that the former queen of silences, now missing her Siren essence, who put King Rhys on the throne in Silence, is now sitting beside him in Silence.

Toby is not a diplomat, but gets sent as one. Which goes over not particularly well.

Again, this series remains a fun read. I'm glad she returned to it. She also gets props for hinting around at one character getting ready to come out, and finding out that one of the other characters started life off with one gender, but has since transitioned into another. While I know some readers will see that as gratuitous, it honestly is just another piece of said characters in novels involving a King of Cats, a half-fairie who does magic with blood, and one really angry sea witch.

Friday, September 4, 2015

That sentence seems a little excessive.

As long time readers will note, it's a rarity for non-fiction to show up on here, and when it does, it's usually due to tracking down something else I was researching. Such is the case with Nathan Leopold's Life Plus 99 Years, which I actually put in a request for back in June after seeing a local production of the musical Thrill Me.

Since Leopold refuses to discuss the whys on how it is he ended up serving Life Plus 99 Years, here's a quick recap. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb lived in Chicago. Much like others, the pair became obsessed with Nietzsche's idea of the Ubermench, and being fairly brilliant, pulled off the perfect murder. Well, sort of. Robert Banks' body was found before they could really demand the ransom for the kidnapping, and Leopold managed to drop his glasses at the place they dropped the body. Given he had one of 3 pairs in Chicago at the time...

Given that it came out that Leopold and Loeb were lovers, that they thought they were Ubermenchen, and that no one ever really found a motive for the murder (and it happened in 1924), it caused quite the sensation. "Crime of the Century!" the papers screamed.

Clarence Darrow, he of the Scopes Monkey Trials, wound up defending the pair. Darrow's summation managed to spare the boys (who were not even 20 yet) a long ride down a short rope. Instead, they got sentenced to Life plus 99 years.

Leopold picks up his narrative at the end of the trial and moving in to the ancient penitentiary in Joliet, IL. Policy in that era meant keeping them at first in separate wings of the prison, and later keeping one in Joliet and the other at Stateville. (This too eventually changed, as both wound up at Stateville in the same cell block.) Loeb got shanked in 1936, leaving Leopold with several lonely years in prison without his friend.

Not that he was bored. We hear in Leopold's narrative about his various jobs in the prison; running the correspondence school, X-Ray technician, cobbler, secretary.... we hear about the old punishment in The Hole, which used to involve chaining the prisoner to the cell door for long periods of time. We also spend much of the last part of the book with Leopold helping with research to find malaria treatment and cures, with the US Army testing stuff on prisoners to help solve the malaria problems in the Pacific campaign against the Japanese in 1945.

It's actually an interesting read, although Leopold isn't exactly what would constitute a "normal" criminal. (If you want that, I suggest Edward Bunker's Animal Factory [which, while fiction, Bunker was a prisoner much of his life] or Jimmy Lerner's You Got Nothing Coming [which centers around Lerner's manslaughter conviction and stay in the Nevada penal system]). Leopold was brilliant (he spoke something like 17 languages and did all kinds of correspondence work in prison), and he helped research much of the parole recommendation testing.

That all being said, there are a few downsides here, some of which actually add to those doing research on semi-related topics. The chief issue I ran in to a few times was that language has drifted quite a bit since 1957. Or heck, since 1924 when Leopold went in. This leads to a few occasions of trying to use contextual clues to figure out what the heck he's going on about. Another major issue I had was reading Erle Stanley Gardner's introduction, which is a rather stunning example of how far things have come in a rather short time. (I get the impression Gardner was liberal for his time. However, it's a bit odd reading someone making commentary about how Kinsey's sex research proves that Leopold and Loeb were just fooling around and probably would have grown up heterosexual had they not murdered Banks. Also, Gardner's rant about children disobeying parents rebelling is pretty much one of those issues that our ancestors complained about and our great grandchildren will complain about.) Given that Leopold was writing much of this with eventual parole board hearings in mind, he comes off rather saint-like in places, and some of the earlier chapters of the book feature him longingly talking about some woman he had a few really platonically boring dates with. (Mind you, it's not that hard to find the longing and loving of his buddy Richard in the places where Richard is there. But again, given the time period, a man loving another man probably would not have helped him get his parole in 1958.)

I spent much of the book wondering how it would read in the modern age. I'm sure had any of this happened in our modern age, the book would be filled with salacious details of the murder and his relationship with Dick. Modern psychologists would chime in about Loeb being a sociopath. We's here about modern illnesses rather than hearing about how one man's syphilis went far enough to drive him to insanity while he was on parole. By the look of his Wikipedia entry though, Leopold did as he set out to do on parole, which was move to Puerto Rico to work and teach in relative obscurity.

Worth the experience of reading. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

No, it's not a Robin Williams treacle fest

In what will probably rank as one of the shortest reading times this year, I finished Edward Lazellari's Awakenings over lunch today.

I think this one came via library mailing, and I'm happy I ended up checking it out. Because, even if it does get caught in trope, it's well written and engaging trope.

We don't actually meet our protagonists right off the bat. No, first we meet Colby Dretch, a PI getting ready to be indicted and pretty much lose everything he has. A client sets up an appointment to get Dretch to track down a child 13 years missing. said child doesn't have a name or a location anyone knows. To insure his loyalty, the client removes Dretch's heart and puts it in a bag.

Cut to: Cal MacDonnal, a cop working the south Bronx in NYX. His memories start 13 years prior to the start of the boo. We also meet Seth Raincrest, a photographer of a sort who also has no memories older than 13 years. Coincidence? I think not.

Into this, Seth meets a striking woman named Lelani. Lelani manages to get Seth out of his apartment for tea and conversation, only to get him back to find his apartment had exploded while they were out. since he's now homeless and penniless, he ends up following her around as she goes to find Cal, who's being attacked by strange men in the south Bronx. (Indeed, his partner gets beheaded by the men.)

In interludes, we also meet Daniel, a young adopted man who's step father bats him while his adoptive mother escapes with pills.

As things progress, we find out that the three are all part of a "Game of Thrones" of a sort; Daniel is the child with the blood of the 12 Empires who could inherit the throne of Aandor. Seth and Cal were part of a party who crossed between worlds to protect him. Somehow, Seth screwed up the spell to help them adapt to the new world, thus giving everyone amnesia. Mind you, the flow of time between Aandor and Earth are much different (Something like 3 days to a week have passed that compare with the 13 Earth years), which makes things a bit more complex, particularly since in 13 years, Cal married, had a kid, and possibly has another on the way, while a few days ago on Aandor, he's bethrothed to a politically important woman.

This one ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, and according to the library, the next (and only other listed book) in the series came out in 2013. However, I plan on getting it ASAP, since I'm curious as to what happens next.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Good night, funny man

Here, we reach what is almost the end of Terry Pratchett's career, with one last post mortum novel due out later this year in an offshoot of a series I love.

Not that I don't love the Long Earth series, but I find it sad that we'll probably never see another book in the series, unless Baxter does what Mercedes Lackey did with Bedlam's Bard and gets a new co-author.

Anyway, once again, The Long Utopia picks up a few years after the events of The Long Mars, with The Next living in a hidden Earth known as The Grange. Lobsang and Agnes move way out in the West worlds in a community named New Springfield, where the folks keep permanent residences, but mostly step around to follow the herds. Joshua spends most of the first part of the novel looking for his father, while Sally continues to be enigmatic and under-developed.

Again, we have many disparate plots flying around, and again, they don't particularly line up that well, although they do eventually tie in at the end.

See, out in New Springfield, the current incarnation of Lobsang (now living with his adopted son under the name George) runs across a mystery the local children have discovered, involving vaguely humanoid beetle like creatures made of both organic material and metals. The Beetles seem to be able to Step "North" and "South" verses the normal "East" and "West" on the Long Earth and the Long Mars. Stepping "North" winds up in "The Planetarium", which is essentially something akin to the Delta Quadrant in Star Trek.

In the meantime, the Next are trying to recruit Stan, a Next living in Miami West 5, where they're building a space elevator that Sally's father brought back the idea for from Mars in the last book. Stan isn't particularly thrilled with the Next, who seem to be fighting amongst themselves about what essentially boils down to a "Divine right" verses a "Benevolent Despot" approach to humanity.

All of this is interspersed with Joshua's ancestor, Luis, who started off life in Victorian London performing illusions by Stepping "Widdershins" or "Diasil" (Well, to be fair, Luis starts off calling them "Dexter" and "Sinister", but the latter terms become preferred among the group Luis gets recruited to help take care of those who would work against Victoria's consort, Albert. Who isn't in a can.) Long story short, Luis and his compatriots have a bunch of adventures in stepping through World War I, and eventually set up an arrangement to marry off their descendants in perpetuity to help the Stepping Gene breed true.

So, we get a lot of thought experiments around the time we find out exactly what the Beetles are actually doing out in the High Meggers. Most of which ties in with the themes of expansion at any cost, death, and religion. Some of this revolves around the idea of creating a seed that could go colonize another planet then have that colony go off and colonize another in an ever expanding colonization process. The problem being, much like Civilization, that's unsustainable in the long run. Plus it becomes like the aliens in any number of sci-fi media, there to drain the resources of a planet, rather than coming in Peace.

And in the end, we get what I'd like to think of as Pratchett's benediction for us, his readers. A vision of his Utopia, and a strange meditation on death and sacrifice.

While I would love to see another volume in the series, where this one ends is probably where the entire thing ends, except in the hearts and minds of the readers, to whom these characters will exist in perpetuity.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

No more ****ing ABBA.

I somehow missed that Seanan McGuire had released a new InCryptid novel. I have since remdided that situation and finished Pocket Apocalypse on my lunch hour today.

We're back with cryptozoologist/herpetologist Alex Price as he and his girlfriend Shelby wind up leaving Ohio for a trip back to Queensland Austraila to help her family deal with a lycanthropy outbreak. Because in Australia, even the invasive species want to kill you.

Shelby's family is part of the Thirty-six Society, who also dislike the Covenant of St. George, although they're not particularly fond of the Price family either. Particularly Alex, whom Shelby announces she's engaged to. Not to mention the Thirty-Sixers seem to be more interested in conserving indigenous non-sapient life, thereby ignoring the sapient cryptids in their own (metaphorical) backyard.

This being Australia, we also get funnel spiders, drop bears, and bunyip to go along with the problems of a lycanthropy issue. (In this world, Lycanthropy is a virus that affects mammals and spreads via fluid transfer. It evidently evolved out of the therianthrope community. Non-mammalian spec ies are immune, making the wadjet doctor invaluable for treatment.) Australia, being an island, has a fairly big issue with invasive species.

Anyway, the whole plot revolves around new werewolves surviving the first change (which tends to kill smaller mammals) and keeping their human rationality to attempt to take over. We also get to watch Shelby's family dynamic and Alex dealing with being the outsider, flipping around the dynamic of the last book.

As a side note, two books back, I complained a bit about the "Strong woman being put in 'woman in jeopardy'" territory. In this one, we get to see the not quite as strong male lead get tied up and taken hostage at a few points. Kind of a nice turn on the trope.

I enjoy InCryptid. According to the autho, book 5 will return to Verity. Which is good, although I hope Alex does return sooner or later. Also, I'd love to see a book centered on the youngest sibling, antimony, since she's quite the secondhand character.

Monday, August 10, 2015

No gung ho lizards, but yeah...

Evidently not long before I started this blog, Ernest Klien released an absolutely fabulous book filled to the brim with geekery and a neat message or five named Ready Player One. I won't go into it here, but yeah, if you haven't read it, go do so now.

Anyway, he recently released a second novel, not set in the same universe, but with similar themes of geek saving the day. Armada starts with our narrator, Zach Lightman introducing his life as a Senior in High School in the Pacific Northwest. He has a reputation as a bit crazy, his father died not long after he was born, he works part time at a computer gaming shop, and he, like most of the world, is playing one of two MMO games by the same company. Zach is more involved with Armada, which is the space combat against the Europans, while most of his friends prefer Terra Firma, which involves the Europan invasion of Earth on the ground. It bears mentioning that Zach is number 6 on the pilot leader board.

Things get shaken up first by Zach seeing a real Glaive fighter flying around his hometown, which makes him doubt his sanity. He re examines some of his dead father's conspiracy theory filled notebooks. Then a real life ship from Armada lands on his school's lawn, his boss walks out and recruits him for the real life Earth Defense Agency that had supposedly only existed in the twin MMOs.

We come to find out that the Europan invasion is real, they're invading, and all the people who've been playing the MMOs have been being trained to pilot the real drones into combat both in space and on Earth when the first wave of the Armada arrives. We find out that we discovered the existence of life on Europa when Voyager 1 dropped by and found a giant icy swastika on the southern hemisphere. We sent greetings, and in return got warning that we had committed a hostile act, and that they were prepared to destroy humanity.

Mind you, the occasional invasion attempt has left humanity time to reverse engineer our own technology to better combat the Europan invaders.

If elements of this plot line sound really familiar, it's supposed to be. Seems that most science fiction has been designed to prepare the world for the oncoming invasion.

And what fun it is. The characters get mostly fleshed out enough that we care about their fates, we feel for Zach and his daddy issues. We even get to deal with one of the dumber tropes that plague genre fiction, wherein the noble gay folk sacrifice themselves to save the heterosexuals who can stop the whatever the big bad winds up being.

It's a really fun book. It reminded me quite a bit of the movie Scream, even if no one tried to fit a massive chest out a dog door. But the idea of characters knowing they're trapped in a trope and then trying to figure out ways to work within that trope or break out of it entirely

Well worth reading, even with it's few brief RUSH references.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

War is Hell.

Well, we're back in the alternate Earth wherein Captain Reddy took a WWI destroyer fleeing the Philippines at the start of WWII  through the Maelstrom into a world where the lizard like Grik are trying to annihilate the humanoid Lemurs, the mi-aanka.

So now, here we are 10 books in to what was originally announced as a trilogy.

Straits of Hell picks up with two fronts in the war, the allies holding Grik City on Madagascar and Fort Defiance in Costa Rica.

The book is mostly focused on defensive battles, with the exception of the naval excursion into Paso del Fuego by the Eastern navy. We do get some glimpses into other happenings along the way, including a Fascist state on the Mediterranean, "The League of Tripoli". Said League shows up first negotiating with Japanese leader Kurakawa who's busy trying to screw over the Grik.

The League is also in southern Africa interfering with USS Donaghey and their mission to rile up the Republik of Real People, who were supposed to be harrying the Grik further north to relieve pressure on Madagascar.

So, that makes our newest antagonist in the ever expanding war. Who seem to be mostly acting at diplomacy level intrigues rather than actually joining the war.

It's a long haul, what with the Grik trying to take back Madagascar and some political drama between different factions within their ranks, and the two fronts with the Dominion.

Again, we're also following around one whole hell of a lot of plot lines, which leads to Game of Thrones levels of giving major characters maybe one or two chapters throughout the course of the novel.

Good read, but wow, I think this has been going on longer than WWII did in our own world.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Sartre was correct.

Once again, this blog is descending into another version of Hell. Although this one had less to do with people going in or trying to get out, and more to do with the mechanics therein.

The Devil's Detective by Simon Kurt Unsworth focuses on Hell's Information Man (one of 3 at the outset), Thomas Fool. Fool's role in the afterlife is investigating crimes and passing the results up to the bureaucracy. He's also a lackey for said bureaucracy, thus why we meet him at the entrance to the tunnel to Heaven awaiting the Angelic delegation to arrive for negotiations with Fool's boss, Elderflower.

Said emissaries find out quickly that while in Hell, they must follow Hell's rules. Adam, of Gabriel's line is the nice one, while Balthezar is of Michael's lineage, and tends to think the current Hell of bureaucracy and random torment doesn't include enough suffering for the sinners within.

In this iteration of Hell, Souls swim in the ocean of Limbo, get fished out with no knowledge of who they were in life or why they're in Hell, only what role they are to perform in Hell until they either die again (and have to repeat the process) or they get elevated. Thus one of the major punishments is that of Hope. Hope of atoning enough to ascend, hope of surviving another day. (This differs from Dante's conception, where there was no hope in Hell. for that, one had to suffer through reading in Purgatory.)

Not long after meeting, Balthezar gives Fool one of his feathers, kind of as a joke. Mind you, everyone in Hell covets the damn thing, including the Man of Plants and Vines. Said man is somewhat like the sentient Vines in The Ruins, except he still has sort of a physical body. The Man trades in information and favors.

The major thrust of the novel, though, is the dead Genevieves, male prostitutes who whore themselves out to demons. The few witnesses (who don't really see much of anything) report nothing but a blue flash upon death. Those that Question the dead find that the bodies have no souls, leading to the conclusion that something is eating the souls, rather than sending them back to Limbo.

Fool, who spends most of the novel trying to avoid being noticed, gains notoriety among both demons and humans as he investigates, and by the end, we do indeed know whodunit and why.

While there are more than a few red herrings thrown in, it's not that hard to spot at least one part of the final twist fairly early on. Not a bad read, but not anything I see myself picking up again.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Why am I covered in tally marks?

On July 9th, 2355, at 11 AM California time, the last broadcast from Dr. Zeus Inc is broadcast across the temporal advisory channel to all agents of a certain security. "We still do not know..." This marks the end of the Temporal Concordance and the end of known time as near as Dr. Zeus's operatives in the past know of it. Known as The Silence, it's been foreshadowed since early on in The Garden of Iden, and every book in Kage Baker's The Company has inexorably lead up to the arrival of the end of time. Which is finally covered in the penultimate book, The Sons of Heaven.

As a quick recap, we have at least 4 known cyborg factions going into the Silence. We have Aegeus and Labienus, the two Executive Facilitators who want the Cyborgs to rule the world after taking down Dr. Zeus, but differ on how humanity should be dealt with after that; we have the Enforcer Bupu, who wants to kill off the human behind Dr. Zeus humanity alone, and we have Executive Facilitator Suleymen, who wants the silence to end without cyborgs particularly killing anyone.

We have the Homo sapiens umbratilis running around, with one hybrid (Bugleg) working for Dr. Zeus, and Bugleg's cousin Ratlin, who figured out how to disable Literature Preserver Lewis in the underhill. Ratlin is adding nanobots to chocolate in attempt to disable the cyborgs. In the mantime, Tiara, one of the female Umbralites, has managed to escape from Quean Barbie and found her own lair, which conveniently houses the remain of Lewis. Whom she rehabilitates.

The Humans who actually work for Dr. Zeus are paranoid that the silence will be like the game Cyborg Conquest, which sort of resembles The Terminator on speed. They become convinced that ALL of cyborg kind will rise up in The Silence and overrun them. To that end, they create an AI to house all of Dr. Zeus, and use a Hellenic statue as its avatar.

And somewhere out of time, we have Mendoza, who has Nicholas Harpole and Alec Checkerfield locked in her head someplace, as Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax managed to remove both Alex and Nicholas from Alec's body and lock them up in Mendoza's head at the end of the last book. He'll release them, but only if given immortality and only if Alec's AI program helps Edward and Mendoza have twin boys who will house the consciousnesses of Nicholas and Alec. While Edward has his own designs on ruling the world, most of his plans change after having children. Some of this is due to figuring out how to free himself and Mendoza (and the AI Captain) from linear time, and some of this is from having to raise children of his own. However, the children have to be raised in linear time, so...

There's a lot going on throughout the book, and given that time does not particularly follow linear progression throughout, one is forced to read with the assumption that everyone will arrive where they are supposed to WHEN the are supposed to. Particularly when Suleymen goes back to Alpha-Omega (back at the beginning of time-ish) the night before the Silence to get all of Dr. Zeus's store genetic information. (which Alec et al raided in the last book for his own genome.)

While the book takes some time to get moving, and having to make a few detours to show where in the end times events in previous books got their start, by the time we reach July 8th, it becomes a masterwork.

On Catalina Island, Aegeus and Labienus gather the night before the Silence with their entourages, sitting in the same room for the first time since probably early Egyptian civilization. Both presume Victor, the plague bringer, is working for them. And dinner is superb, with all the courses the same as what were served to the First Class passengers on the Titanic. We see the two argue over their ideals while Gotterdamerung and requiems play accompaniment. And as the last course comes around, The Commandant from Don Giovanni comes to dinner. And the cyborgs become reflections of Don Juan, the statue, and the demons. It's beautifully rendered.

And towards the end, as the Silence descends, and all the characters wind up where they need to be for the end, Joseph finally reaches some kind of peace with his "daughter" Mendoza, and the world as was recorded ends. While I won't spoil the world to come, I was very amazed at how well Baker managed to reconcile so many disparate plot lines and give this series a satisfying ending. We've come a long way from the frightened girl rescued from the Inquisition, turned into an immortal cyborg, and then heartbroken as her first love, an English Lutheran/Calvinist is burned at the stake during the brief reign of Mary.

While I will admit concern as to how and indeed if the series would end, given that Baker died in 2010 and Wikipedia lists the last book in the series as being publish in 2012... However, a quick look at Amazon reveals that the books following this one are either set in the same setting, but not directly related to the main story arc, or are prequels.

Really, I wish more of my friends would read this series, since I'd love to have a big book club discussion on the series as a whole.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Here we are again

I've mentioned before that Simon R. Green tends to go over the top more than an 80's era Sylvester Stallone action movie. However, with A Drood to a Kill, we're not nearly as silly as some of the other volumes in this series.

We start with Eddie Drood returning to Drood manor for a conversation with the new matriarch. Which involves breaking in, because of course it does. He's seeking information on why  the family won't give him resources for figuring out what happened to his parents after the end of Casino Infernale. Long story short, he winds up getting suckered into going on a mission for the family to figure out why things are leaking out of a spy station run by the British government. This takes up most of the first half of the book, and includes Jack the Armourer giving Eddie the tricked out Bentley. That tends to take shortcuts through other dimensions.

Which leads, or course to meeting Uncle James' former Elven lover in the shifting lands. Who sends Eddie home without explanation, until he finds out the real reason, Uncle Jack died.

Which leads to a Drood funeral and a wake. From which Eddie's fiance, Molly Metcalf disappears. Which leads to a search to figure out where the Powers That Be took her to play The Game, wherein killing off the other contestants also gets rid of any infernal or divine contracts one may have pending on one's soul.

When Eddie finally makes it to the game, about three quarters of the way through the book, he not only finds Molly, but his parents.

It's quite a ride, and the plotting is extremely non-linear. Not to mention Green takes more than a few chances to tie in Deathstalker to the world shared by his other series.

However, there are a few themes crossing through this narrative that give it a bit more depth than normal. Among other things, after an encounter at the Department of the Uncanny, Eddie decides he doesn't want to kill anymore, regardless of who's asking him to. This gets explored quite fully during The Game. The other, as evidenced with the death of Jack and a few others, is that of old players leaving the spy game. It's actually kind of depressing.

Fun read.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Hopefully not the end.

While Kelly McCullough's Darkened Blade doesn't have a preview of the next book at the end, I can onl;y hope this isn't where the series ends. I've grown quite attached to his characters, and this one is quite a finale any way it goes.

We start not long after the end of Drawn Blades, with Siri, Faran, Aral, and Kelos in the city of Wall. We open on Aral dreaming/ visionquesting and meeting with Namara in a bar crowded with those he's killed over the years. While the goddess may be dead, a piece of her lies in Aral, and encourages him to continue the path he's been walking since the end of Book 1. Which means, at last, it's time to confront the strange Risen who currently heads the Church of Shan. Well, at least moreso than the occasion where Aral snuck in and cut the Son's face.

Anyway, a possible alliance with members of the church army fall apart as an army of Risen attacks the place where the meeting happens. The army of Risen actually act as a motivational device to get everyone to Jax's school and then on to the fallen Temple of Namara where they finally find a way to bind Namara's infused swords to their wielders, something that hasn't been done since Namara herself invested them with the Blades.

And then we journey into the Celestial city for the final confrontation, which pretty much takes up the last third of the book.

Along the way, we see Aral get appointed  First Blade by Siri, the students of Jax become full fledged Blades, and meet a few legends of the world in which this is set.

We also see Aral's final transformations into Campbell's Hero of 1000 Faces. Ultimately, by the end, Aral Kingslayer struggles with his desire to do justice without the deaths of millions in the Civil Wars to follow the death of the Son and his desire to become more than the tool of his mentor in Kelos' mad plan to upset the apple cart and create a new world without corrupt nobles and royalty.

It's really a fine book, although it feels a bit like the last chapters of a D&D campaign, with no real transition between plot points.

I do hope he writes more in this series, given the rather.... brief ending, but then I'm still hoping for another WbMage book which will probably never happen. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

A nice quiet cozy

Many years ago, a Fangoria magazine review of The Dead Hate The Living started off by mentioning that a Full Moon title without the words "Puppet" or  "Toys" in it was a good sign. Which is kind of how I felt about finding a new Simon R. Green without one of his usual series names underneath it. (Not that I don't like his other series fiction, but it's always nice seeing something new coming from someone who tends to write series.)

The Dark Side of the Road introduces a new character, a new series, and while I assume it's part of the shared world inhabited by Nightside, The Droods, and the Carnaki Institue, they aren't exactly mentioned in this text. While the cheekiness factor is there in these new characters, it's not nearly as plucky as Green's other series. Which does make for a very nice departure from everything else of his. (Then again, this is book one, so lord knows what sharks are going to get jumped further down the line.)

We start by meeting Ishmael Jones, who starts the narration by echoing Melville. Ishmael works for an organization so secret, he only knows of it as The Organization. His boss and only contact with The Organization, known to him as the Colonel, calls Ishmael and asks him to join him at his family estate for the Christmas holiday. Ishmael is a bit disturbed by this, as he and the Colonel are mostly business. Ishmael also spends his life trying very hard to avoid being noticed. Some of that has to do with his work for Black Heir, the British organization responsible for dealing with illegal extraterrestrials. Given that as near as he can sort of remember, Ishmael is an extraterrestrial, leaving Black Heir became important when the new director took on the attitude of "Let's kill and vivisect everything!"

So, Ishmael ends up driving through blizzard white out conditions to reach The Colonel's family estate, Belcourt Manor. Once there, he meets the Colonel's (now known to him as James)
 father, mother, step mother, and half sister, as well as their dates, escorts, and business partners.

All of whom have axes to grind with each other.

And a missing Colonel.

James shows up about a third of the way through the narrative, buried in a snowman and missing his head. About which time we find the blizzard has cut off the Manor from the outside world, and the murderer must be among the guests.

Oh hey! We have ourselves a little slice of English cozy here! I can live with this!

To be fair, by the time we find out what's going on, some of the Green we all know is back, since the murderer has their own hidden abilities, but honestly, it's kind of nice to read a nice murder mystery without valkyries riding on pterodactyls.

I'll be interested to see where this one goes, and how long before it goes off the rails.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

That's one Hell of a tale....

A few notes before we start this. First, the book I'm covering today and the mythology that surrounds it is very adult in nature. As this blog is normally "G" rated, be warned that adult concepts may appear. Second, due to the nature of the mythos, I'm using Wikipedia for background, which will take up the first few paragraphs.

So, let's start back in the year 1986, when Clive Barker first published The Hellbound Heart, a novella concerning Frank cotton, and his unusual nihilism and taste for the very exotic in the boudoir. Frank opens The Lament Configuration, a puzzle box that also serves as an interdimensional doorway. Promising pleasures unheard of, Frank instead winds up guests of the Cenobites, sort of extradimensional sadomasochists. Frank, as we find out, wasn't expecting that.  Anyway, Frank's brother, Rory, and his lovely wife Julia move into the house where Frank opened the box. And Rory bleeds on the spot where the Cenobites grabbed Frank. Frank comes back, he and Julia rekindle their... um... extracurricular activities. A friend of Rory's, Kirsty, who loves him, witnesses Julia bringing men home (to help Frank rebuild himself through murder), and goes into to confront the hussy. Long story short, Frank kills Rory, Kirsty opens the box, makes a deal, and everyone winds up dead but Kirsty, who not only gets to meet The Engineer, but also gets custody of the box. She sees Frank and Julia's reflection in the box, and wonders if another box would take her to whatever paradise Rory wound up in. Anyway, a year later, Barker adapted the novella into a movie. Kirsty becomes Rory's daughter, and we become acquainted with this guy:

Yes, that was supposed to hurt.

whom in the book and the movie is never really named. He did, however, pick up the moniker Pinhead from the special effects guys, who had to spend 4 hours making Doug Bradley look like that for what amounted to about 10 minutes or so of screen time. The movie series continued for 9ish movies, but only the second one had Barker's involvement. Then again, after the fourth one, they tended to shoehorn Cenobites into preexisting scripts just to use the Hellraiser franchise name. Also of note, despite the names, the dimension of the Cenobites was never really named as an Abrahamic place of torment. Later, Barker returned to his Cenobites in Comic Book form, and that set of stories (which I'm summarizing via wiki, since I never read them), involves Ol' Pinhead leading a revolt in Hell after Kirsty kills off the original appearing Cenobites. Somehow, by the end, Kirsty becomes Pinhead. (There was a bit in the second movie where we find out about the human origins of the Cenobites.)


Next up, we need to introduce Harry D'Amour.

Well, HELLO, Harry!
Harry first appeared in The Last Illusion (which evidently showed up first in Books of Blood, but I first ran across in a collection that also included Cabal, which was later turned into Nightbreed.) Harry is a paranormal Private Investigator, covered in protective sigil tattoos that let him know when trouble is coming. Harry shows up again at the end of The Great and Secret Show and becomes a major character in the follow up, Everville. (Harry evidently also becomes a Cenobite and leader of Hell's armies in the comic books.) 

Which finally brings us to Clive's new book, The Scarlet Gospels, which as you may have guessed, centers around Harry and Pinhead (or The Hell Priest, as he's generally referred to in the book. Pinhead is a derogatory nickname characters use to insult said Cenobite.) 

We open with a necromantic rite designed by the last Magicians of a secret order to raise Joseph Ragowski, former leader of said order, from the dead. Joseph isn't exactly happy about being woken up, and pretty much tells his raisers that it's kind of pointless, since a certain demon has pretty much killed off everyone in the order to get at the rarest magical tomes each hoarded away. We get graphic descriptions of how said demon dispatched folks, then ol' Hell Priest shows up in the flesh, so to speak. Let's see... all but one of the summoners dies, one after giving birth to Pinhead's baby. The survivor is to become HP's puppy. 

Cut to: Harry D'Amour is in New Orleans on a mission on behalf or Norma, a blind woman who sees and talks to dead folks. (Pretty sure Norma showed up briefly in Coldheart Canyon.) A dead gent who was quite the upstanding man in life had quite a secret life hidden away in New Orleans. Which means Harry's on payroll to go clean up his affairs post-mortem. Well, among some rather... um... explicit games the man had been playing with barely legal boys, Harry finds the Lament Configuration. Which does indeed open somewhat of its own accord, and Harry meets Hell Priest. Only there's no "I'll have what she's having" in this meeting. HP wants Harry to chronicle the undertaking he's working on, or else. HP uses large hooks on chains and his "puppy" to try to convince Harry to do so. HP doesn't really want to take "No" for an answer. Harry escapes, and winds up getting healed with a little help from Dale, who dreams the future. (Most of the healing comes from a Hoodoo woman, but she tries to kill Harry using a monster straight out of Dogma.) 

Anyway, Harry heads back to New York, which is about the time the book starts getting interesting. 

See, we get an idea of what HP is actually doing, as he is found in violation of his Order's rules of NO MAGIC. As such, he gets kicked out by the Cenobite's leader. So, like any good S/M demon, he uses his magic to kill off everyone else in the order. After doing so, HP and his "puppy" make a visit to New York, where they wind up kidnapping Norma, which winds up with Harry, Caz (Harry's tattoo artist), Dale (who dreamed of coming to NYC), and Lana (a stone cold woman who's probably buried in one of his other books) descending into Hell to rescue her.

What follows is a travelogue of Hell, as the Harrowers chase the Hell Priest on his quest to meet his maker. While the journey is fascinating, I can't go into great detail in here without spoiling some of the bigger surprises in the narrative. 

What I will say is that some of the plot threads reminded me of some of the bigger stories in Neil Gaiman's Sandman graphic novels, and as I stated above, there's a scene early on where I half expected Silent Bob to show up with air freshener. Also, I think he raided some of his own comic work from the Pinhead series for some of the plot. Which doesn't really matter, since the narrative as a whole holds together, despite retconning the original source material to a large degree. Not that pretty much everything that came after The Hellbound Heart didn't change things to suit their need as well. The Hell Priest's motivations are a bit shaky, and his turn towards chaos seems a bit oddly defined after an eternity of ordering the Damned, but honestly, it seems more a case of demons being bound to the rule that affects humanity: there are things Man (and Demons) aren't meant to know.

I will also say Barker writing, as usual, is filled with a visual flair, his words paint such pictures in the mind. It's been one of his gifts from the beginning. I also love some of the droll references that slip in, like the largest city in Hell being built on 8 hills, just to outdo Rome. While this won't replace Imajica as my all time favorite Clive Barker novel, it is probably one of the best things he's written in a long time.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Non-Smoking, please

I was a bit concerned when I picked up Kelly McCullough's sort of most recent Fallen Blade novel, Drawn Blades, mainly because it's book 5 in the series, and his other series, WebMage, ended after 5 novels.

Thankfully, as we find out after this one ends, there is indeed a 6th one that evidently got released this month.

None of which is helpful here, beyond letting readers know that Aral's adventures will continue.


We rejoin Aral in the city of Tien not long after the end of the last book;s tales of government restructuring. To that end, Aral is back again sitting at his favorite bar (although he's now sober) when a smokey ghost forms from the tavern fire, looking nothing so much like Siri, one of the other blades who's nickname was Mythkiller. Siri's avatar performs a pantomime ceremony of handfasting, leaving Aral with a rather interesting ring made of smoke on the 3rd finger of his left hand.

After an attack by a mythic beast and some assistance from Aral's librarian contact and his familiar, contact is made with Siri through smoke again, and the end result Faran and Aral are off to The Sylvani Empire. Which is an adventure in and of itself, since in quite possibly the most unique way of gaining travel speed, they wind up traveling by Dukoth as far south as the Wall. (Note here: The Dukoth are a race of First Ones who are more or less Elemental Earth. Aral's smoke ring gets their attention, and the need to speed Aral and Faran across the land.) Along the way, we learn more of the First Ones, races created by the gods prior to humans. Seems the First Ones rebelled again being slaves to the gods, and there was a war in Heaven. The gods won. As such, most of the First Ones live behind the Wall that separates the Empire from the human lands. Mind you, a few of the First Ones rose to a level near Godhood and were punished to be buried and never dying. One of the Buried Ones was dealt with by Siri before these novels began, thus her title of Mythkiller.

However, due to magical principles and a dead goddess, when we finally meet Siri in the flesh, we find out her smoky nature is due to her becoming part of the binding holding The Smoldering Flame in his burial. Namara, before she died, helped keep his influence over Siri in check, but after the Emperor of Heaven killed Namara, the binding weakened a bit, giving Siri and her Shade some smoke overlap.

Not longer after the touching reunion and consummation of wedding vows as part of the deeper magics, Kelos enters the picture, making for a Namara's disciples reunion from Hell. Kelos is working to find a key that will resurrect a god before the Son of Heaven finds it, and before one of the Buried Ones finds it and tries to use it.

There's much going on in this book, including filling in much of the metaphysics of the world. things like the true nature of the blades Namara gave her acolytes, the nature of the Son of Heaven and his end goals, and the rather fractured relationship between Kelos and Aral and Kelos and Siri.

I reserved the new one this evening, and I look forward to seeing where this goes next. McCullough may miss a few dangling plot threads (like the attack by the mythic beast that never really gets explained), but his world building is nothing less than spectacular.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Go ahead and make the scene all day, but tomorrow there'll be hell to pay

It took a while to warm up to Ofir Touché Gafla's The World of the End, but by the end, I was sort of in love with it.

We start by meeting Ben Mendelssohn, a fairly recently widowed man in Tel Aviv, who throws a party for his now deceased wife Marian on her birthday. The night ends with fireworks, after which his friends come back in to find Ben has shot himself in the head to be with Marian.

Ben becomes aware again in a white room being provided an orientation on how to deal with the afterlife along with a multitude of folks who died on the same day he did. This covers how to entertain one's self in the afterlife, what jobs are available, the lack of any kind of trade or commerce, the idea of Vie-deo (where one can watch one's life played back), and a general overview of how housing is assigned to souls. There's also an explanation of the fancy neck gadget one presses buttons on to make phone calls, sleep, etc. If one punches the 3 button 7 times, one also can sleep eternally.

What Ben does not find after exiting the orientation is his wife waiting on him. He does meet a wheelchair bound Belgian who tells him of his love, whom he (the Belgian) waits on every day as the doors open. The Belgian does give him contact information for the Mad Hop, one of the Other World's private investigators.

In the mean time, we get wrapped into life in the world of the living, where people tangentially related to Ben keep winding up in comas under the care of Ann, who spends most of her nursing career getting people to provide euthanasia to their spouse or loved one, with the goal of retiring after 100 deaths. Ann used to watch Ben working out in the window of a gym and fell in love.  Adam, a game programmer and celibate pedophile thinks she was staring at him and asks her out. Adam;s brother, Shafar, is an actor with his own connection to Miriam.

We also meet two very passionate people who love Salman Rushdie and meet in Tel Aviv for the first time. Problem being that Yonathan has a heart attack and goes into a coma before he can meet his lady love, Marian.

Ben's search for Marian in the Other world keeps getting nowhere, although we do meet his entire family and get a bizarre explanation of his family's death curse courtesy of the Aliases. (Aliases would be the souls of children never born. They, like the Charlatans (people who are in comas or between worlds), are among the only people who wear clothes in the Other World.

Eventually, this all gets wrapped up and we finally towards the end find out how all of these disparate plot lines tie together.

While the book was originally written in Hebrew, the copyright on the English translation is by the author himself. While this is good, since it better preserves the flow of the narrative and allows the word play to stay intact. On the down side, some of the idiomatic phrases don't translate well, making a few passages a bit rough to read. There's also the entire subtext of Rushdie, which largely flew over my head. (Honestly, I tried reading The Satanic Verses about 25 years ago and couldn't get into it. YMMV.)

But honestly, it was probably one of the better books I've read this year, and his vision of the afterlife is rife with some very interesting ideas and some very vivid mental pictures.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Return of the master

So, I finished Benedict Jacka's Hidden on the way into work today.

Much like Simon R. Green's work these days, there isn't much material here to really review without getting spoiler heavy, sadly. Which is bad, since this book delves deeper into themes about the differences between Dark Mages and Light Mages, and the grey area Alex operates in.

But basically, Ann, the life mage gets kidnapped early on after dropping out of the Light Apprentice program. This sucks in the usual cast to figure out where she is and why she was kidnapped.

When they finally get that far, it ends up being Alex on his own entering a Shadow Realm owned by Ann's former master, Sagash. Which also allows for the first current time appearance of Alex's former Dark master, Richard. Whom, it seems, has returned from where ever it was he vanished off to before the series started. Richard, who offers a deal that both Ann and Alex refuse.

However, we also learn of Ann's training under sagash and why it is she's such a pacifist.

It's a fun read and addition to the series, although much of it seems to exist mainly to beef up plot lines down the road.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

That's a lot of cardio

I actually finished Robert Jackson Bennett's City of Stairs a few days ago, but I was on vacation and trying to type a review on a tablet didn't seem like the best idea ever.

There's a heck of a lot going on in here, and much of the setting details get dumped early on.

Basically, in this world, there is a continent that once upon a time enslaved the island nation of Saypur. However, a man known as the Kaj rose up and slew the gods of the continent, and the roles sort of reversed. Saypur now controls the continent and enforces strict rules about what people are and are not allowed to study under the Worldly Regulations. The theory being that the less the continentals are allowed to display of their now deceased gods, the less they'll attempt to subjugate Saypur again. The continent is still divided into districts based on the Gods that one built them, with Bulikov at the center of it all. Bulikov, once the Seat of the world, remains fairly backwards as compared to other districts. We hear of the Blink, when all the godly miracles  vanished, causing much of the continent to contract, and The Plague Years when plagues prevented by the divinities suddenly came roaring back.

As we start forth in this world, we get an idea of how this system works in a trial setting as a Continental merchant defends himself in court against charges of violating the Worldly Regulations by putting a symbol of one of the dead divinities on his door. His trial is interrupted with the news of the murder of Dr. Efrem Pangyui by persons unknown. Dr. Pangyui, of course, being a Saypuri historian with unfettered access to the histories of the divines and their miraculous objects.

Into this hornet's nest walks Shara and her secretary Sigrud. Shara is a descendant of the Kaj, and in service to the Saupuri Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Which is to say, she's a spy. Sigrud, on the other hand comes from a nation that has descended into piracy and lawlessness following the coup of their king.

Shara starts her investigation by getting back involved with an ex-schoolmate of hers, a Bulikovian City Father named Vohannes Votrov who's currently trying to modernize Bulikov, against the wishes of the Restorationists, who want everything back the way it was. Shara and vo have a bit of history together, given they were romantically involved in school, although his interest lay in his own gender for the most part. Vo also wants Saypur to stop oppressing the continent and to invest in it. What follows delves into the relationships between nations, the nature of the divinities, and one whole heck of a lot of fun as some miracles still work, what's left of the divine makes its presence known, and a beast with Hell for its stomach makes an appearance.

Ultimately, the author tips his hand a few chapters early with the solution to one of the major mysteries, but the big one at the center is well hidden until the very end. The cast is well drawn, and as motives become clear, it becomes amusing at how muddy the waters really are in this world.

Much of the book is written in present tense, which becomes less noticeable as the book picks up steam.

I think Goodreads lists at least one more in this series, which I'll have to find before too long. It's well worth picking up if you're into some grnd mystery hiding in a whodunit.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Up time, downtime, and in m'lady's chamber

So, given the last book in Kage Baker's The Company series was more or less an anthology that filled in narrative gaps from previous volumes, it was interesting picking up The Machine's Child and picking up from where The Graveyard Game as well as The Life of the World to Come left off. Which is to say Facilitator Joseph is regenerating his "Father", the enforcer Budu, last seen hacked to pieces by Victor in 1906 San Francisco; Mendoza is being dismantled somewhere in prehistory; and Alec, the third and final incarnation of Project Adonai, living with the other two incarnations living in his head. All three incarnations of course being Mendoza's lovers. (This would be Nicholas Harpool, last seen burning at the stake in The Garden of Iden, and Edward Bell-Fairfax, last seen being shot to death towards the end of Mendoza in Hollywood.)

There's a lot going on, including a few seemingly unrelated stories concerning a non-immortal cyborg back in 500,000 BCE dealing with office politics near The Silence in 2355 CE, as well as Facilitator Suleyman gathering Immortals near and revealing the facility Mendoza had been held captive in. He also marks a spot 2 years from The Silence towards the end, when all the operatives are given a special emblem of service.

But that's neither here nor there. Most of the book is focused on Alec learning to live in his head with the rather disparate personalities of his prior incarnations. His AI, The Captain. helps the three of them go back in time to save Mendoza from Operations Research, currently headed by Marco, one of the old Neanderthal enforcers. Using the same poison used on Budu, he does get what's left of Mendoza out, which leads into the parallel regenerations of Mendoza and Budu.

Budu is dealing with a slightly off kilter Joseph, who's obsessed with finding Mendoza and Alec. Which, given Alec can move through time, and after experimenting with Mendoza's chrome radiation, finding they can move past the point where she got sent back into prehistory....

There's a lot of time jumping going on. Joseph and Alec meet about 2/3 of the way through, leading to more than a few revelations.

We also have Alec chasing after his DNA so that The Captain can make him immortal as well, and Alec and Mendoza  going through time dropping off literal time bombs, set to go off when The Silence happens.

It's kind of jumbled in places, and the ending asks more questions than it really answers. But, after reading so much series fiction, it's kind of nice to find serial fiction, where everything is building off of everything that came before. Although no one as of yet has figured out about Homo sapiens umbratilis, nor has anyone found Literature Specialist Lewis, he's still being discussed, since they assume Dr. Zeus took him out. Which, well, sort of.

Anyway, I'll be returning to this sooner or later, since I'm really enjoying the series, and I'm really wondering how finished it was when the author died. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Going to a dark place.

Benedict Jacka decided to expand quite a bit on Alex Verus's back story in Chosen. See, we knew from prior outings that Alex started out as an apprentice to the Dark Mage Richard Drake, but we enevr really heard much about it, beyond the occasional hint here and there.

We start with Alex living what passes for the normal life of a Divination Mage with his apprentice Luna, and two other apprentice mages looking for a mentor whom we met in the last book in service to a rakasha. (That would be Varian and Anne.)

Anne, who's a Life Mage, senses someone spying. After more than a bit of chase and spying, we find out 6 Adepts (basically one trick mages) are out to get Alex based on one's vendetta due to something Alex did in his past.

Given that there's a bunch of stuff Alex doesn't know about the situation, we cross into a subplot wherein Alex winds up in "Elsewhere", sort of an Astral/Umbral/Ethereal Plane. It's here where we meet Shireen again, one of the other three apprentices Alex studied under Richard with. Shireen ends up giving Alex a tour of Rachel's (now Deleo, another apprentice of Richard's. The fourth, Tobruk was killed by alex before the series began.) memories concerning the events in question. Namely, kidnapping the girl who's brother is now stalking Alex, convinced he killed her.

Ugh. It's well written stuff, but it goes much darker than this series has gone before. I mean, yeah, Dark mage carries its own connotations of evil and such, but it's really quite a bit like reading how Lucas SHOULD have handled Anakin's transition to Sith Lord.

Without going into graphic detail, dealing with themes on when murder is justified is not something I really expect out of these types of books. I mean, yeah, the series is kind of Magic noir, but....

Anyway, Yeah, kind of glad I came back to this series now.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Someone queue up the AC/DC!

So, I picked up a book recently that that I assumed was a bit like Snakes on a Plane, wherein one only needed the title to get an idea of the plot. 

Because, with a cover like this, what else could one expect?

Certainly not this....

Or this....

Anyway, gif soup over with, what I found reading Christopher Fowler's Hell Train was a narrative much better than the title or cover art would allow anyone to assume. 

We start in 1966 as an American screenwriter currently on the outs with Hollywood's horror factories with such luminaries of shlock as Jack Nichelson, Roger Corman, and Vincent Price, makes his was to the UK to try his best to get a job writing at Hammer Studios. Hammer, of course, would be the UK studio behind schlock starring such luminaries as Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Usually featuring Dracula, boobs, and blood. Shane, our writer friend talks a bit to Michael Carreras, the most senior production assistant he can find at Hammer. (This conversation also fills in the gaps on what was slowing killing Hammer Studios and their competition.) Michael gives Shane a week to write a script with the help of the busty Emma. 

What follows is almost a portmanteau as defined by the studio towards the beginning. In this definition, a portmanteau is a bit like, say, Creepshow, where several individual stories are told with one book ending story to tie them together. In this case, Shane's script writing brings us out of the narrative that is his script on a few occasions.

.The script, however, is the main thrust of the book. In true British horror fashion, we start off in small village Romania not long after the start of The Great War. Romania is about to start a civil war as Bulgaria and Transylvania are set to invade. Nicholas Castleford, a British ne'er-do well in Romania scamming money for the most part meets a nubile young virgin named Isabella at her father's Inn in Chelmsk. Since no more trains run out of Chelmsk for the evening, Nicholas is of course stuck. Isabella, of course, is betrothed to Josef, who works at the local foundry. Hearing rumors of both the armies coming to town that night, and rumors of a train running at midnight, Nicholas convinces Isabella to accompany him back to London via the mysterious midnight train. 

It takes a bit of doing, mainly since the locals as well as the armies attack around the time the train rolls in. But Nicholas and Isabella do wind up on the train, along with Thomas and Miranda, a married couple on holiday to celebrate Thomas's new assignment as a Vicar in a small town. The Conductor doesn't take money for tickets, merely choosing who's allowed on by those he thinks the train can win against. 

Because, yes, in a book called Hell Train, I'm pretty sure everyone can take a stab at what the name of the obscured last station is. The trick is that the train will challenge each living passenger with their own deepest flaw. If they lose, they get round trip tickets for life. If they win, well, no one's ever one, so why bother asking about that?

In between scenarios on the train, we get to meet the Hammer cast, all discussing what roles they'd like to play in the movie. For those of you who have seen a Hammer film, you'll probably already be picturing some of the stars in the suggested roles. 

It's a fun read, and the sacrifice that starts the games on the train is breathtaking in its use of setting to have fun with history. (Basically, the first death is a former Austrio-Hungarian chauffeur who had to fill in for the regular driver in Sarajevo when Archduke Ferdinand went visiting. However, when he got back to Vienna, the regular driver got all the blame for what happened.)

Like most Hammer films, neither the end of the script nor the very end of the book itself make a heck of a lot of sense. However, the path to get there is well worth the ride, filled with a rather fun homage to 60's horror films and the trade offs made to get stuff past the censors.